Marked-down meat is a frugal treat
'Manager's special' hamburger or chicken means big savings for you. And yes, 'old' meat still tastes good. Ask me how I know.
I see two options for shoring up your grocery budget. One is vegetarianism, a perfectly viable lifestyle choice. The other option is to change the way you buy meat: Choose only the cuts that are on sale, and begin all your shopping at the "manager's special" section of the meat department.
A friend of mine calls it "used meat." I think that's funny. I also think it's smart.
This animal protein is marked down -- sometimes considerably -- because it's close to its sell-by date. But not past it, so why are you making those faces? (Post continues after video)
If you're trying to trim your food budget and you don't want to go vegetarian, check out this source of cut-rate protein. Just be prepared to use or freeze it quickly.
Late-date carnivore bait
I'm three-quarters of the way to meatless living myself, since I buy and consume relatively little animal flesh. Most of my meat purchases are used as flavoring: a little ground chuck in a pot of chili, some neck bones in a mess of pinto beans, a pound (or less) of beef cubes for stew.
Those "beef cubes" are sometimes home-hacked: I'll find a deeply discounted steak for $1.50 to $1.75 and cut it up to make stew or vegetable soup. In other words, multiple servings versus one slab o' steer with a baked potato and salad.
- Bing: What is "flexitarianism"?
But I always check it, even when I've just stopped in for milk and bananas. You never know what you're going to find.
When I do find the super-cheap stuff, I stock up. Always having extra flesh in the freezer keeps me from having to pay full price. I can't remember the last time I bought meat that was not from the markdown bin or at a major loss-leader price.
When you buy ground meat close to the end of its useful span, be ready to cook or freeze it immediately. It probably won't hold over for long in your fridge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's fact sheet "Ground Beef and Food Safety" tells you everything you need to know about chop meat.
Larger cuts in the markdown bin usually have more than a day left before their sell-by dates. Even so, I'd suggest you err on the side of caution and throw your finds into the freezer unless you're going to cook them right away.
Ask the meat department manager if there's a particular time or times when the marked-down goods are put in the meat case. Maybe it's first thing in the morning, or just before closing.
But do give it a try. If you're like me, you'll relish that meat all the more knowing its original per-pound cost equaled an hour of work at the federal minimum wage.
Readers: Do you pounce on "used meat"? Or do you say "eewwww" and move on to the full-freight steak?
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This is a great idea, especially if you have some freezer space. By the way, I am loving Frugal Cool. It is neat to get frequent posts by Donna!
At Safeway and Fred Meyer I also consistently find that evening's fish entree at half price. Crab seems to go in the reduced-price fish bin very quickly, and still has plenty of official shelf-time left. I paid $3.71 recently for enough cooked crab (legs and body, in the shell) for two people, served it with leftover spaghetti and a salad and we felt like we had enjoyed a special-occasion meal.
Bread available for 99 cents a loaf? Fine, I'll take four. Butter a dollar a pound with sale/coupon deal? Into the freezer it goes.
Big score in the used-meat bin? Stock up, without worrying how I'll fit it all in the tiny freezer atop my apartment-sized fridge. Last year I found bacon being remaindered for 99 cents per package even though it was a couple of weeks from its sell-by date -- and once it's frozen, it'll keep.
I love the chest freezer.
Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.
A while back I figured out what the lowest possible sale price was for meat at my local stores (I'm in Massachusetts) - it was $2 per pound for boneless, $1 per pound for bone-in (including whole chickens and turkey). Save your sales flyers for 8 weeks and then compare what the highest and lowest prices are for the meat you like to buy. You will know when meat is at its lowest price (without worrying about sell by dates) and you can buy several weeks worth at once - portion it out and freeze and you're good to go until the price drops again. If you haven't already, invest in a chest or standing freezer, ours paid for itself before the end of the first year with what we saved.
I can easily use for a meal.
About a year ago I found a hand crank meat grinder for 5.00 at a rummage sale. Since our stores won't grind meat cuts that are on sale, I do my own. Like Donna, I am not a great meat eater (never have been), but recognize that it's needed in my diet as a protein. So 2x a week I add meat to a meal. Chili, yum and meatballs for my grandmother's sauce recipe. Bring on the crock pot and I'm in heaven.
As far as marked down meats, we have an older couple who hits the store at 7 AM each morning and buys it all up. I can't imagine they eat it all. Maybe they have dogs or something.
I bowed out of buying ground beef, after learning about the "Pink Slime" as it's called ( leftover trimmings that are normally processed for cooking oils and are not for normal consumption that are treated with ammonia and then made into bricks, then added to ground meat as a filler) is used in 70% of ground meats that are produced in bulk. I bought a 4 pound roast on a Manager's Special for $4.25 total, ground it up myself, made 8 packages of ground meat ( It's only me I cook for) and am now set for almost a month.
The lowest sale price I have seen for packaged ground meat is $2.99 per pound, and to get the sale you must buy 3 pounds or more at once, for 85% lean.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.
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Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
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VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
Tired of your wallet taking a beating at the grocery store? Here are some creative ways to save big on food costs.