Dealbusters: Our quarter beef is here

Beef in car

This Monday series checks out whether something that sounds like a good deal — or takes a bit of extra work — is a good deal. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through my individual experience. Please chime in with your take.

Last Friday was a beautiful day, and Little Cheap and I spent part of the morning driving about 68 miles northeast of Denver to pick up our meat.

We saw a little of this, and a lot of that …

Sights 1 Sights 2

And came home and filled up our freezer with meat.


Before freezer


After freezer

What’s in 105 pounds of beef? We received:

  • 40 lbs. of ground beef
  • 3 packages of soup bones
  • 2 packages of short ribs
  • 24 steaks of various cuts
  • 6 packages of sirloin tips (and I didn’t know what those are)
  • 7 roasts
  • 6 little packages of filet mignon
  • 3 packages of stew meat

So far, we have eaten one package of New York Strip steaks (verdict: Delicious — Mr. Cheap’s red wine-and-shallot sauce made even me, not normally a big fan of steak, enjoy it) and one pound of ground beef (Mr. Cheap and Little Cheap had hamburgers yesterday. After turkey mole the day before steak day, and Spicy Chinese Chicken on Friday night, I was meat-ed out). Both were excellent.

The cost breakdown:

The total weight of the beef came out to about 105 lbs. Our costs were:

  • Meat = $310.50 (live weight was 1,150 lbs; 1/4 = 287.50 lbs x $1.08/lb)
  • Slaughter charge = $5.00 (1/4 of a $20 charge)
  • Processing = $87.53

TOTAL = $403.03, or an average $3.84 per pound.

If I add in the cost of gas for the trip, it was another $19.78. (I don’t know how to calculate a deduction for the “get out of town” break I really needed, or the enjoyment Little Cheap and I got from our fleeting glimpse of a rancher rounding up calves on horseback.) That brings the grand total to $422.81, or $4.02 per pound.

The normal price for naturally raised ground beef at our grocery store is around $4.99 per pound, and the natural roasts that I purchased last fall were about $6 per pound. Online today at King Soopers’ HomeShop site, it averages $5.99 per pound. (Conventional ground beef is $2.79 a pound or can be found online for $7 for 3 lbs … but I never buy conventionally raised beef.)

Cost for 105 pounds of store-bought meat at $5.50 per pound = $577.50

Savings (I hope for about a year) = $154.69 or $13 per month. We are spending about $130 more than if we bought conventional beef at the store.

The winner:

Our bulk beef, for cost, humaneness and quality.

The priceless factors:

  • We know our meat was locally, naturally raised, given free pasture and plenty of good care, and butchered and processed at a local business that we got to see (and if their process is as clean as their restroom, we’re in very good hands).
  • Eating meat this consciously. Little Cheap got a little teary in the office at the processor, and again when she first looked at the steak on her plate the other night. Her concern about animals has helped us re-focus on eating meat only when it has been humanely raised. I reminded her of that regarding the steak, and she recovered to her natural carnivorous nature to enjoy the meat. I can relate to her quandary – I was a vegetarian for 10 years, and I could survive happily with little to no meat. But we’re all built differently, and my family really enjoy and thrive on meat. I know there are environmental arguments against eating meat, and health arguments against eating too much red meat. On the other hand, the cattle industry is an important one in Colorado. Our family’s eating vegetarian won’t change that. But I hope by choosing the meat we do consume consciously, we can make a difference by supporting farmers/ranchers who are doing the right thing, and by putting our weight behind humanely raised meat.

The drawbacks:

  • Planning, lead time and waiting. Picking up the meat alone took a couple of hours. And it’s been quite some time since we placed our order in late January.
  • Storage space/needing a freezer. The quarter might fit in our refrigerator’s freezer, but it would take up the whole thing, and the quality would be more questionable as fridge odors could circulate there. Really, a freestanding freezer is the only realistic option.
  • The risk of having the meat causing one to eat more meat, therefore going through it faster and spending more on meat than before.

The verdict:

On my own, I wouldn’t eat enough meat to make it worthwhile. As a family, it makes sense, and it probably would make still more sense to buy a larger portion and divide it with friends and family who have expressed interest.



If you’re looking for another perspective on why and how to buy local meat in bulk, Get Rich Slowly wrote a terrific post on the topic.


Friday wrap-up: New cars, old socks

These were my two favorite posts elsewhere this week.

Get Rich Slowly had a guest post from a car reviewer called “What’s Not to Love About a New Car.” I agree with most of her arguments– although I did buy a new car four years ago.  (But certainly not at a 10.39% interest rate, like her boyfriend! Ours is 1.9%.)

And Simply Thrifty posted 40 things to do with old socks. Wow! That’s a lot of single socks.

For you cuteness fans, check her link to a cute dog in a sweater made from a sock. Schnauzer Cheap is too big for a sock-sweater, but I do have some old men’s sweaters around whose sleeves just might work … and that would save me a heck of a lot of knitting.

My sister suggested a while back that we keep an extra sock or two (child-size, in our case) in case our dog has a hurt foot — to cover it up and keep it clean.

Are there any other sock geniuses among you?

Earth Hour – March 29

On Saturday night – March 29 – from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m., it’s Earth Hour.

Dozens – or hundreds – of cities and millions of people around the world are participating. You’re invited to turn off your lights (and any other energy-using device) for one hour.

The event was created by the World Wildlife Fund last year, and this year it’s spreading around the world. There are 25 “official” Earth Hour cities representing every time zone, and many others are participating (including my hometown of Denver, and a shout out to little La Plata, Colo., which is listed on Earth Hour’s home page

You can find out a little bit more at the MySpace at

Overall, this appears to be a “just do it” kind of thing — neither site seems to have tons of information about the event.

What I think is kind of cool is that huge buildings and structures are going dark (turning off “nonessential” lighting, anyway), from McDonald’s arches in Chicago (and maybe elsewhere?) to the Golden Gate Bridge. Imagine the calming effect if, every night, cities turned down the lights. (Better still if they delivered hot cocoa to our doors, but one out of two is nothing to sneeze at.)

Do tell … will you participate? What will you do? (And does this mean my dream of going to a movie on Saturday night while Little Cheap is at Grandma’s is out …?)

Cheap tip: Saving at the gym

Up until a couple of years ago, I’d never belonged to a gym.

For a while, I belonged to our city rec center, where I could go at lunch. That was ca. 1998. Then, nothing. I ran sporadically and did yoga because I could do it from home, for a small investment. I do own a treadmill and sometimes even use it — the investment has generally been worthwhile because I can at least walk or run when it’s dark or snowy outside.

Then, a couple of years ago, I talked Mr. Cheap into joining 24 Hour Fitness. Because I work from home, I needed to get out of the house. We signed up, bought a personal trainer package, and went to town.

For a while.

Eventually, while I was still hitting the gym once or twice a week for cardio and once or twice a week for yoga classes, Mr. Cheap’s membership card was gathering dust. Eventually, well … who knows where his card even went.

Meanwhile, we were still paying $67.99 a month for our membership. I asked them what would happen if we canceled, as we had signed up for a membership with Mr. Cheap as the primary member ($43 per month) and me as the additional member ($24.99 per month).

Their answer: His membership would be deleted, and I would continue at the rate I was paying ($24.99 per month).

The only catch was that he had to go cancel in person. Finally, I got him to do that, and now I have a great value for my membership. (Even if I only manage yoga once a week, at less than $7 a class it’s a great deal.) And I can add the $43 we’re saving to my extra mortgage payments for a painless increase in paying off that debt.

If your honey is not hitting the gym, check your rules … and if you are joining the same gym, think about putting the least likely to continue as a primary member — but ask first to find out what would happen if you canceled one membership.

Should I ditch the ‘cheap’?

I read several personal finance blogs, and on several of them, the word “cheap” has come up, usually in the comments. Commenter after commenter will carefully define the meaning of “cheap” vs. the meaning of “frugal,” in every case disparaging the former and praising the latter.

The latest case I came across was this post, where a commenter explained it as:

Cheap and frugal are two different things. Cheap intrudes other people on your decisions. Cheap is when you split a Popsicle to give to your children’s friends only to give your children a whole piece. Frugal is splitting a Popsicle for your children and their friends. Cheap is having the inexpensive beer at your party for your friends and keeping the good stuff in the fridge for yourself.

Now, from my point of view, those two behaviors are stingy or even downright mean. They go beyond cheap or even miserly.

I find the debate over “cheap” and “frugal” kind of amusing. I think people are defensive, basing a distinction between the terms on the idea that frugal is good; cheap, bad.  But after all, if you tell someone you got a pair of designer shoes for $10, or you signed a lease on an apartment at half the market rate, they’re likely to say, “Wow, that is sooo cheap!” rather than “Wow, you are frugal!”

To me, “frugal” has a ring of old-fashioned, perhaps country, values. It is about judicious planning for the future, and not spending money, or spending it only wisely. “Cheap” sounds, granted, a bit more fly by night. Cheap is more like “thrifty” than “parsimonious.” In my case, it’s about figuring out how to get the greatest value for the lowest price; acknowledging that you will spend money and then choosing how you’ll spend it.

To me, “cheap” and “frugal” are essentially the same; both are different from miserly or skinflint or mean. By claiming “cheap” on this blog, I’m being a little tongue in cheek, as well as bowing to the spirit of esteemed predecessors like The Tightwad Gazette.

But comments like the one referenced above make me worried about the title of my blog. Obviously, some of you “get it,” but is everyone else thinking I’m all about giving my child the most Popsicles? What do you think?

How my “baby” turned 7

Orangutan donationsToday is my daughter’s 7th birthday. Happy birthday, Little Cheap!

We had her party on Saturday. This year, after watching several episodes of Orangutan Island and talking about global warming at school and home, she decided her birthday party would be a fund-raiser for orangutan conservation. Instead of gifts, she would collect donations for orangutan conservation — partly to avoid all the plastic packaging that typically comes with a half-dozen or dozen gifts from classmates. (She got the idea from our neighbor, whose 7th birthday party last year was a “baby shower” for Newborns in Need.)

Eight girls came to the party, and they plus Little Cheap donated $137 (collected in the handy-dandy box shown at right, which we repurposed from a box my new checks were delivered in). By no means did we manage to have a no-waste birthday party, but it was better than average.

The not-so-green:

  • We had a monkey pinata with candy and little plastic barrel-of-monkey keychains.
  • Our craft was painting “suncatchers,” which also were plastic.
  • We did use disposable plates, so 11 plates were thrown out, along with a juice carton and an ice cream carton.
  • Our non-cake snack was Cheetos. I guess it was a special request from one guest, and they are orange for orangutans. Thank goodness, they do not contain palm oil, which is a threat to orangutans.
  • The frosting is purchased, because … yes, I forgot we needed frosting until approximately one hour before the party.

The green:

  • There were no gifts! Even with gifts from family (of which there were plenty), we are able to repurpose many of the wrappings (gift bags and tissue paper), and there was little packaging — I only had a handful of trash to throw away. Looking at our garbage this week, there’s no extra bag of junk to reveal that we had a child’s birthday.
  • We used plastic forks and cups at the party (it was, after all, nine rowdy first- and second-graders in the back yard), but then we washed them and put them back in the party box.
  • We had paper napkins, but I planned to hand them out on an as-needed basis, and I don’t think anyone used one.
  • We sent the candy (not really that much of it) in repurposed plastic bags that our newspaper comes in — they are even orange for orangutans!
  • The party was held out under our clothesline, which was loaded with our drying laundry (hey, it was the only sunny/warm day in quite a few days; I had to take advantage). One guest’s dad said, “This reminds me of the old days!” He might have meant “Ah, I reminisce about my childhood,” or he might have meant, “Gee, are you guys totally poor?” Either way, it’s OK.
  • The birthday girl baked the cake herself, with just a little help from me. It’s the vegan chocolate cake from Mollie Katzen’s cookbook “Honest Pretzels,” and it’s totally delicious.
  • Our cake toppings came from her toy box (and the plan was her own design).
  • We spent $50 and practically no carbon on the party, whose entertainment centered around the girls running around the backyard, screaming, playing “Food Chain” (just what the name sounds like), and trying Pop Rocks for the first time. (The latter was especially entertaining for me.)
  • This week, we sent a $150 donation to an orangutan conservation group, and tomorrow we’ll donate three used cell phones we collected to be recycled to raise funds for the cause as well.

And what was the verdict from the child? “I liked it better than a regular party,” she said. “It was really fun, and I barely even noticed not getting presents. Besides, I don’t like it when I feel jealous of someone else’s gifts, and I don’t want other people to feel jealous of me.”

CakeNow the pressure will be on for my own birthday in the fall! Maybe an eco-friendly glass of wine will top my wish list …

Update on TP packaging

Last week, I received a thought-provoking comment on my January post about recycled toilet paper. Anon wrote:

Um, I hope you know you are not doing any favors buying single rolls; the additional plastic packaging is just discarded by the store. You’d be better off buying it by the pack and saving money.

I replied, in part, regarding the money-saving perspective:

If I bought multipacks at the price listed there from Amazon, I would save 8.25 cents per roll, or $2.97 per year (and have to store toilet paper for 18 months at my household’s current rate of consumption) … but then I know we’d be looking at additional packaging (to me; the case might be just the same) as well as shipping, which takes up extra fuel vs. shipping one case to my local store.

But I just double-checked, and the point is moot, because the price at Amazon has gone up since July to $47.99, or $1 a roll — a cent more than at my local store and a 10 percent increase from July. So I can buy it locally (supporting a family-owned natural foods chain) and save money too.

However, the comment got me thinking, and so I inquired with Seventh Generation. I asked whether, indeed, they wrap the paper-wrapped packages in plastic before shipping. I could imagine that perhaps the entire case of paper would be in a plastic bag to prevent water damage, although I also surmised that they might take that gamble and just box up the paper-wrapped rolls.

Customer service wrote to me:

The single rolls are shipped in boxes with no plastic – they are wrapped in the paper instead, so at least the paper can be recycled. All of our other sizes are wrapped in plastic though, because they do not fare well through shipping and handling wrapped in paper.

We are in the process now of looking for ways to upgrade all of our packaging, including paper, so we will see what we come up with later this year!

Sounds like they are up to something interesting … and in Seventh Generation’s case, hopefully we can count on “upgrade” meaning something other than “wrap in sturdier, custom-shaped, less-recyclable plastic to protect our items from an eventuality.”