Local Beef, Bulk Spices, and Simple Living with Kids (It’s Q&A day!)

Every Monday, I answer a few of the questions that my readers send me. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future Q&A post, just leave me a comment here or email me (thefrugalgirl [at] gmail [dot] com) and put Q&A in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

I have been playing with the idea of buying a deep freeze and stocking it with a 1/2 or 1/4 of beef. I like that I can get grass fed, hormone/antibiotic free beef for a similar price that I would pay in the grocery store. Have you ever bought meat in large quantities? What have you found were the pros and cons?

Yep, I’ve been buying a quarter of local beef for the last few years, so we’ve pretty much gone completely off of grocery store beef.

That’s crock pot BBQ beef, which is about the only thing I use my crock pot for!)

If you can get the beef for a price similar to what you’d pay in a grocery store, then I’d say go for it!  You’re supporting a local farmer, reducing demand for conventionally-produced meat, and you’ll be getting a healthier, tastier product to feed your household.

The only budgetary downside would be the cost of the freezer, but if you’ve got the money in the budget to swing it, I’d make the plunge.  Chest freezers do also cost a little bit of electricity to run, but it’s generally only a couple of dollars per month*, especially if you get one with a horizontal lid*.

*This site says $2.39 a month if you pay $0.12/kwh.

**The idea is that when you open a horizontal lid, the cold air will not fall out the way it does when you open a vertical door.

I’ve been buying my spices from a store that sells in bulk and they come in a plastic container.  They are taking up way too much room in my cabinet.  Do you have any suggestions for slice containers?

-Angie

I’m assuming you’re talking about bulk spices like the ones at Costco and not bulk spices as in the sort that are in open bins.

I buy some of my spices from Costco, and I just use the large containers to fill small, regularly sized spice containers.  For instance, I just pour my Costco cinnamon into the McCormick cinnamon container and then I store the large plastic containers of spices out of the way on my laundry room pantry shelf.

I’m sure some of my readers will have more stylish or creative suggestions for you, but that’s the unimaginative way I handle it!

I have an area that I haven’t noticed you address directly and was wondering if you could on a Monday -and that is being frugal with younger kids. We have a newborn and 2 year old and was curious about things that you did to save and maintain quality of life. We are breastfeeding and doing cloth diapers as our big financial (and health) decisions but any ideas on other things? Or things to invest in buying higher quality? And other things you did with young kids that you look back on and are glad you did?

-Brittany

We talked about the whole baby gear issue in a recent Q&A, so go check that discussion out right here.

(For the moment, I’ll just say that you don’t need everything the baby industry tries to sell you [Question it all!!], and you can save tons of money by buying used or borrowing stuff.)

As far as the bigger picture goes when you have a household with small children…well, I’d say that it’s important to remember that small children really don’t need all that much to make them happy.

I think we parents often get sucked into thinking we need to buy/do so many things “for our children” when really, we might be buying/doing it for ourselves.

I don’t know if that makes sense.  Hmm.

For example, babies do not care if they have an expertly decorated nursery.  Parents are the ones who care about that. For various reasons, I had a nursery set up in advance for only one of our four children, and she doesn’t seem to be any better off than the other three.  ;)

Babies just want to be fed and held and changed, and you can do that without a $3000 Pottery Barn room.

baby hands

And honestly, what makes toddlers and preschoolers happy isn’t a whole lot more complicated.  More than stuff or fancy trips or expensive outings, they want your love and your time and your attention, and you can give that no matter the size of your budget.

Go for walks, read books, play games, sing songs, visit the library, eat meals together, let them help you around the house, and they’ll probably be just as happy as they’d be if you spent a gazillion dollars on them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You asked if there’s anything I look back on and am glad I did, and I think it would be just that we kept things simple and within our means.  We didn’t have a lot of money, and instead of buying into the culture’s assumptions about what babies and children need, we did what worked for our budget.

Note: I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to decorate nurseries or to take children on trips.  What I’m saying is that these things aren’t essential to a happy babyhood or childhood and that the things that ARE essential (love, attention, and time) don’t cost much at all.

Comments

  1. says

    We have four kids (all girls, so the clothes thing has been easy for us), and I wholeheartedly agree with you on the baby stuff. For the first child, we got practically all the gadgets and gizmos (first grandchild, you know). So, with each subsequent child, we’ve done a purge of sorts, seeing what we really need vs. what just got in the way after a couple of months. Plus, my wife breastfeeds, so the baby is always in our room for a while (the youngest just turned one and is still there), and the need for her to have a separate “nursery” wasn’t there. Even though I’m the Dad, I’m the one who stays at home and all that, so I feel like I can confidently comment on this. :)

  2. says

    That’s so true about spending money on decorating a nursey – it’s really for the parents (and probably to show off!). We also have that same kind of mindset about clothes. We never pay full price for our kids (ages 3 and 5) clothes. Used clothes and clearance racks are the way to go – they don’t care and they either grow out of them way too fast or dirty them up!

    And I agree that kids don’t need a lot of stuff. Time together is most important. We spend as much time together outside as we can. There’s so much to explore – God’s creation is not boring!

    • MelissaZ says

      I agree that kids do not need a lot of stuff. I’ve gotten a bunch of toys from my sister-in-law, and they sit in baskets while my 18 month old plays with everything else in the house!
      Shoes, empty vitamin containers, measuring cups, empty peanut butter jars, and books seem to be her favorites.

      • says

        That’s so true that kids would rather play with just random stuff around the house haha! I’m glad you mentioned peanut butter jars because I just used up the last of some peanut butter and was wondering what I could do with the jar and thought…beans. My kids love to play with dried beans and that’s how I can store them! :)

  3. Karen. says

    Our spices come in sealed cellophane bags. I put the contents in a quart jar and then otherwise do as Kristen suggests with reusing the smaller shaker. If you don’t want to buy the pricey small amount of spice just to get the container, a little shaker with a screw-top cap is usually not too expensive. Just have to do your own label. :)

  4. Keaghan says

    For spices, I put them in half pint or smaller jars. I love the jelly jars with the diamond pattern – super cute.

  5. says

    I do as Kristen does with storing spices, just reuse old, smaller containers. If you plan on storing your spices in a closed cabinet, then it doesn’t really matter of the containers match. Many of my containers came from my sister-in-law. I was buying spices from bulk bins and she was buying the tiny jars. On day, I just made a comment to her, that when she went to buy new spices, I’d happily take her old jars. Many of my jars were duplicates (like several small cinnamon jars). But that’s not an issue, as I just soaked off the label and made my own.

    For matching containers that will be on display, I like the look of small, tins (from places like Michaels). I’ve seen clever DIY projects turning small tins into a magnetized spice storage for the back splash behind the counter.

  6. WilliamB says

    I buy spices from Penzey’s, usually in bulk – typicaly 4 oz or more. As a result I have a gallon of spices in bags, which is a very inconvenient way to store spices. What I do is decant some spice from the bulk bag into glass spice jars and keep the rest in the deep freeze. That way I have what I need at hand, the rest is preserved for longer in the freezer, and I get excellent quality spices for less.

    • KimN says

      I whole heartedly second buying spices from Penzey’s. There spices are much much better than what you can buy at the grocery store and for not much more cost. Once you try a higher quality spice, you won’t go back, especially if you enjoy cooking. We are lucky in that we have a store local so I don’t even have to ship them!

      • WilliamB says

        I get all my spices but salt from Penzey’s now. Many are just better quality versions of what everyone has (peppercorns, cinnamon) but they also have things no one else. Freeze dried garlic, for example, which really packs a punch! Whereas most dried garlic tastes like dust. They also have fantastic spice mixes for a hundred different purposes: salad dressing, dip mix, rubs and marinades, … If some evil deity restricted me to one thing from Penzey’s, I would choose their Brady Cheese Sprinkle.

        The Spice House is also good. The founders are cousins (in-laws?) of the Penzey’s people, but they decided to focus on stores before online sales. Now both companies do both but Penzey’s has a bigger market.

        A word of warning: do NOT, for the love of whatever you hold holy, assume “the spice house” is the website address. Especially do not do this in front of your teenage or delicate children. Use a search engine instead. Trust me on this one.

  7. says

    I totally agree with your answer to the last question. Babies want our time and attention, not money!

    As far as spices go, mine do NOT look pretty. Sometimes I buy them from the bulk bins and keep them in the plastic baggies to save space. I’m sure it isn’t the best way to preserve the flavor, but it works fine for me.

  8. DawnF says

    Some of our most special times with our toddler son (who is 11 now ~ yikes!) were trips to the library, hanging out at our community swimming pool, blowing bubbles in the backyard, going to the local parks to play, coloring with sidewalk chalk, having an indoor picnic on the living room floor and playing hide-and-seek at grandma’s. A lot of his (and our) favorite childhood memories really didn’t cost much at all. Meaningful never has to mean high-dollar…

    Regarding the nursery, we bought a wonderful, well-made crib that converted into a toddler bed and then the long sides converted into a headboard and footboard for a full-size bed. That was a great purchase for our family!

    Love your blog, Mrs. FG! LOVE. IT. :)

  9. says

    I totally agree with what you said about babies. We also noticed that when the kids were small that the less money we spent on the kids, the happier everyone was. It never failed that things went wrong on expensive outings like the zoo, and the kids like playing with boxes more than expensive toys.
    I think it also had to do with our expectations. If we did something for free or low cost, we weren’t as put out if we had to leave early with a cranky baby or toddler.

  10. ~Dorthey says

    Growing Up we had a Chest Freezer & a Up Right. Every Year My Grandparents would give Us a Side of Beef & My Uncle the other Side :)
    It was Nice to get such a Generous gift but it got Boring to Eat …
    Now I’m Grown up & hv my own Family.

    We HAD a Upright Freezer from 1995- 2010 -11 ? & We got rid of it FAST after I found out We were Paying $30- a Month to keep our Food Frozen ……
    That’s CRAZY $30- a Month for Food that IS PAID FOR ….
    WE ARE DEBIT FREE -( except for our House ).
    & Paying $30- a Month for a Freezer was like having a Credit Card, Buying Something on Sale & Putting it on Credit & Making Payments on it with Interest :(
    Not Much of a Sale if Yah gotta Make Payments on it .

    & What if the power Goes out for a Long Period of time WHAT a Loss that would be :(
    My Opinion is that I will Never buy a Freezer again.
    We can’t eat that Much Food anyways. Stuff goes bad or gets forgotten about & then has to be tossed :(
    I wish we had bought the Electric Measuring thing aloooong Time ago :/
    I Buy only what I need for the Week & maybe a few things I might use in the few weeks -month ahead but that’s it or the Food in My House will go to Waste.

    Good Luck with Ur Decision :)
    Everyone has their Own way of doing what they feel Comfortable doing.
    Sorry if mine sounded negative but like I said I was just Shocked to think that I had been Saving $ When I actually was paying More :/ a Sad Find for me

    • Jewlz280 says

      I wonder, though… are you sure you read that right and that it wasn’t $30/yr? I’ve NEVER heard of a freezer using that much. When we got ours (second hand, too), we didn’t even notice a change at all. So it makes me wonder if your reading meant that’s what it used in a year. And if not, then I wonder… was something wrong with that particular freezer. Because if it was $30 over a year, that works out close to what was mentioned in the blog about it being around $2/mo. And for me, well, that is saved in one beef purchase! Not to mention the other sales I get at Costco and Kroger. There are trips where I’ve come home from freezer stocking and I’ve easily saved over $50 in that one trip (and that’s on top of the beef).

      It’s too bad the freezer thing doesn’t work for you, but you know, it doesn’t for everyone! Most Europeans don’t do food storage, either. They shop locally and almost daily — which would drive me bonkers! I have a house full of boys and pets, so someone is eating almost non-stop here and we don’t have a ton of food waste. HA! That is why bulk and Costco are our friends. But it isn’t for everyone and I think it’s good you’ve figured out what does and does not work for you.

  11. KimN says

    We have a deep chest freezer and for the second year bought a quarter of a grass fed, non GMO, etc etc cow. It was purchased from a local family which is great b/c I know where it came from. The meat was/is delicious! Plus as an added bonus, I got the bones so now I can make homemade beef stock all year round. Our portion this year was about 100 lbs of meat which came out to an average of $4.70 per lb. Pretty good if you ask me and we have good quality beef for a year for our family of 5. The only downside I see is that you don’t have any say in the cuts and there is an up front cost of paying for it at once. Also, depending on your situation, you may need to find other people to go in on the remaining portions of the cow which can take some coordination.

    • Jewlz280 says

      They don’t give you options on cuts? Maybe ask them about it. Ours did! But we mostly wanted the ground beef and all the meat we could get cut in fast cook thickness (1/2″ or less). We also wanted as many roasts as we could get and they said that was great because most people just want steak steak steak. I was like NO! Hit me! Perfection in the crock pot! They were happy to oblige! I never thought to ask for the bones — will have to do that next time!

  12. says

    I like when you stressed that kids don’t need expensive stuffs. I know a lot of parents who drown their kids with gifts and things they really don’t need,a lot of them feel guilty of not spending so much time with them because attention requires time which a lot of parents don’t give to their kids.

  13. Kris says

    A quick comment about the chest-style freezer–please take into consideration your age and the condition of your back before you dismiss using an upright freezer. Lifting items while bent over (i.e. a chest freezer) is an invitation for a back injury and you aren’t saving money if you hurt yourself.

    I will join the chorus saying that you don’t have to spend a lot to keep little ones happy. I found that shorter, less expensive expeditions were actually more fun for my kids. Kids who are exhausted an off-schedule are no fun to be around. Either are their parents. ;) Free kid-friendly museums, trips to the beach (we are fortunate to live close to several beaches), reading time at the library and Barnes and Noble (as well as summer kid-oriented programs at the library, which were free AND often offered freebies for the kids as prizes) … if you start looking around, you may be surprised at what you come up with. A lot of times I found my children liked to do the same activities in a different setting. For instance, a picnic in the basement instead of outdoors may be a grand adventure … blowing bubbles at the park instead of at home is somehow more exciting …

    While I DID have a decorated nursery, it was both inexpensive (around $60 for the decorations if I remember right) (SO many inexpensive cute ideas–that’s what Google is for!) and it was gender-neutral so I used it for both my son and daughter. Along the same lines, when I decorated bedrooms for my children, I went with items/themes that, with a little tweaking, can carry them into high school.

    In thinking about gifts and gadgets for your kids, what I have found is that today’s “must-have” item is tomorrow’s garage sale fodder. Your children won’t know if you bought the $130 matching kiddie table and chairs or the $10 garage sale item, but your pocketbook will!

    When I read Kristen’s comments about kids not needing expensive trips, I was reminded of friends of mine who went to Disney over spring break. Two families, a combination of 5 kids, and they all ended up with a nasty stomach bug. Not to say that couldn’t happen with older children, but can you imagine how un-fun that trip was???????????

    • Jewlz280 says

      I’d wager to say that irregardless of where the trip was, that would be an un-fun trip! And I have to say, Disney is one of the few trips that I really feel are worth it. I’m 34, and I still remember every trip! You may have a few who thought it was ‘meh’, but most people, most children, LOVE Disney. And it isn’t that crazy expensive to go if you do some research and take your time. :)

  14. Creshia says

    A full freezer uses less electricity than an empty one. When my freezer is low I take empty soda bottles or empty milk jugs fill 2/3’s full with water and freeze. When I need the room I take them out. Plus, they are great for the ice chest. Here in the south during the summer I take my ice chest with me to the grocery store to keep my items cold. Mainly, so I can my multi stops to hit all of the sales that week. :)
    I have had a chest freezer. It worked great for my needs at the time. I needed a bigger freezer, but for space I got a upright. For me I like that the best. If you don’t have one in your budget like I didn’t I started telling my mom and in laws that I wanted one. My in laws gave me a few dollars on my birthday, Christmas, and Easter to save for it. (they normally don’t do that since there are so many of us) My parents got me it for our wedding 12th anniversary. The money my in laws gave me with to meat I found on sale to stock the freezer.
    I know for some this is a weird thing to ask for, but my in laws are used to my frugal ways and I learned it from my mom so she didn’t bat an eye.
    And I would talk to your friends. I asked all my friends if they wanted a free chest freezer. I had no takers:( I sold it on craigs list for $75.00.

  15. karen b says

    on another note about a freezer that hasn’t been mentioned yet…..if you garden its an awesome way to store your veggies & fruits during the year. even if you pay a little extra in electricity its so worth it……..there are certain things we DO NOT BUY IN THE GROCERY if we run out during the year we just wait until garden comes in again. it also saves money in the long run because you always have your frozen items handy. we are farmers & have a beef & pig butchered every year…don’t buy much meat either from the grocery.

    about the spices…tupperware sells little spice containers which is great to store smaller amounts of spices in….a little costly but has been so worth it to me, of course I have had mine for probably close to 20 years :)

  16. Janknitz says

    Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of tiny 1 oz glass jars meant for spices. They have black, plastic screw on lids (mostly from Penzeys!) and I have some plastic 1 0z bottles when buying spices from Schilling McCormick at the grocery store.

    We are blessed with TWO spice shop chains in town, Penzeys and Savory Spice Shop. I prefer Savory, because you can buy bulk spices in 1 oz increments. It’s less expensive than Penzeys because Penzey’s is either already packaged in bottles (1 or 4 oz) or you can buy a lot in a zip lock package. I just fill the little bottles, and use chalk to mark the initials of the spice on top of the bottles. They are stored in a drawer, so it’s easy to see whether it’s “G” for ginger, or “A” for allspice. And spices that we use all the time are bought in bulk and used to refill 4 oz bottles we’ve collected over the years.

  17. says

    For the last poster, it might be helpful to check out Free Our Kids. I actually did a whole blog post about how I don’t totally buy into the idea (you buy nothing at all specially for your children except for, at most, one purchase per month), but it’s interesting to see what all is possible.

  18. Barbara says

    Had to chime in on the spices. They lose potency after about 6 months. I buy Penzey’s, too, but also from big box stores, & bulk from Amish Market (all are way cheaper than chain grocers per lb.). Keep “name brand” bottles (or other small containers), to use on shelf in kitchen, and store the rest on door of upright freezer. Especially cinnamon, chili powder, cumin, anything with a potent smell. Separate gallon ziploc to hold baking spices in one, and another to hold cooking ones. If it has no smell left, it probably has no taste either :-)

  19. Julie F says

    We split half a local cow with another family (so basically we get 1/4 cow). We get a wide variety of cuts and the burger is put in 1# and 1.5# increments. We have the option of changing how we process our cuts. I would do a “standard” order and see what you use and what is more difficult for you to use. Ours comes out to about $2.30/ lb and I have steaks, roast, burger, stew meat, etc. We have a second refrigerator with the top freezer in our garage and it takes up 3/4 of it. We use the fridge to cool beverages, store extra gallons of milk and when we entertain or take meals to holiday meals, I have a space to store those items. Also, this meat is phenomenal… it is lean and wonderful and tastes soooo much better than anything you buy at the store. You won’t be disappointed. Plus, I like knowing my cow came from a happy farm that is close by….

  20. says

    Our family has considered buying an upright freezer to store meats and frozen vegetables and fruits (for smoothies). It would allow us to buy in bulk at wholesale warehouse or when on sale at local grocery store. We ran simple estimates and it would pay itself off between 1-2yrs. Now we just need to both save up for one and clear out some room in our garage for one. Maybe we can look around Christmas when the sales are happening. :)

  21. says

    We also have a chest freezer, and we get a whole beef at a time (plus half or more of a hog and whatever game comes our way). An unmentioned plus for getting a half or whole beef is that you also get cuts you might not normally buy, so you learn more about making beef in different ways. Then if you buy a freezer, it opens up possibilities for saving more by buying more things in bulk.

  22. Laraba says

    Totally agree with your frugal ideas about life with small children. Our 9th child is due in about a month and we have a place for her to sleep in a little room adjacent to my bedroom, and we have diapers and blankets and clothes and that’s about it. I’m an engineer by background and have never cared about decorating, so we’ve kept it simple with all the kids. Like you said…there is nothing WRONG with decorating a nursery but do keep in mind it is more for the parents than the baby :-). We’ve accepted tons of hand me downs through the years and bought other clothing at thrift stores. We have gone with disposable diapers and unfortunately I’ve not been able to breastfeed as long as I have wanted to with the last few kids but if you can do cloth and breastfeed, that saves a lot (plus breastfeeding is SO much better than formula.)

  23. Lilia says

    I’m a new mom to a 10 month old and I couldn’t agree more. We tried to keep things as simple as possible and repeatedly were pressured from family to register for more, or buy more, or have more! In the end you get so many gifts of things you don’t need (I returned them and used the $ for diapers and kept some that seemed useful). Also, because every baby is different we chose to buy used whenever possible (i.e. swing, bouncy etc… my daughter didn’t like either so I’m glad we didn’t spend much). In the end, the only space where we said we would not buy used was with car seats. We figured if it was meant to save her life, it was not worth saving a few dollars. Instead we will save it elsewhere.

    • Kristen says

      Yes, used car seats can be a bad idea, unless you know they’re not expired and haven’t been in a car crash. Better safe than sorry in that regard, I think.

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