If you have a large family, you know that big meals come with your blessings of having a large family. After a few trips to the grocery store when our kids began to eat more, I quickly realized I was going to need to become a thrifty shopper. So I began my journey to save money without compromising on the quality of food I bought for our family.
Save Money on Whole Foods
I had no desire clip coupons. Why? Because it was a part-time job and I didn’t need another one of those. Second, if you’ve ever paid attention to what they give coupons for, it’s almost all junk food and processed foods. I don’t buy much junk food. Our family eats almost all whole, organic, healthy foods. I prepare home-cooked meals as often as possible and we encourage our boys to eat whole fruits & vegetables for at least a portion of their snacks.
With coupon clipping off the table, the first thing I did was to enroll with a warehouse membership in my town. We have had Sam’s Club Memberships and Costco memberships. Both have benefits for different reasons. Even with saving by buying in bulk at those stores, our grocery bills were pretty high and I was struggling to justify spending money on the organic fruits and veggies I wanted.
Meat is a Big Expense for Families
I soon discovered that the answer was in the meat I was buying. On weeks I skipped buying meat, our grocery total was dramatically less. Which makes perfect sense. Meat is expensive.
So I began to research investing in purchasing a quarter or half a cow from a local farmer. I was hesitant and frankly a little scared at first. In part, I was afraid that we wouldn’t save money. After all, I had no idea if I would end up paying more for my meat. But friends had told me it was a way to save money, so I figured we’d try it once and see what happened.
The scariest part was that I wasn’t sure what I was even doing. I had no idea how to go about the whole process. And I worried that we wouldn’t end up using all of the meat fast enough, or that we’d get cuts of beef we didn’t want. We tend to like the more lean cuts of steak and I always bought ground sirloin, not ground chuck. So needless to say, I was skeptical and nervous.
Nevertheless, I continued to do my research. I talked to family and friends who had done it before. I read articles online (though they were hard to find). And I broke down the numbers, because I’m kind of a math geek.
What I found was that the meat was going to cost us far less than what I was paying in the store.
I also discovered that grass-fed, organically raised cows were more lean. A lot of the meat in the store comes from a cow that eats a lot of grain. A grass-fed organic cow is generally left to pasture and eat strictly grass.
So we found a local farmer. We asked a lot of questions. And we gave it a try. We will never go back. I like knowing where my meat is coming from. I like helping our local economy. And I love having a freezer full of meat, knowing that even amidst a global pandemic, I can safely feed my family for months.
Guide to Buying Meat From a Local Farmer to Save Money:
So you’re probably wondering what you need to know about the process. Here is my quick-guide to tackling this journey for your own family:
- Find a local farmer you trust. Whether you want certified organic, organically raised grass-fed beef (not certified), or you’re less choosy, there are probably 3-5 farmers local to you that you can find with a google search.
- You can also ask family and friends for referrals. At least in the mid-west, many of our friends know a farmer who does this.
- If you don’t know someone, look at websites for reviews. The farmer we last bought from offers a money-back guarantee because he trusts his process of raising his cows to produce quality meat.
- Price per pound. Next, you’ll want to find out how much the farmer charges per pound. The quote they give will be in hanging weight. Essentially, the hanging weight of an animal will be the weight just before the animal is processed (it’s part-way through the butchering process). All farmers charge by hanging weight so if you call around to different farmers, this is a good way to compare. Then, pay attention to the difference in price between farmers to ensure you truly save money.
- Butcher. The farmer picks the butcher. Remember that the farmer is delivering multiple animals at one time in a trailer, so you don’t usually control where that happens. When you buy a quarter or half cow, the farmer will tell you what butcher you need to contact to give your cutting instructions. Here’s what you need to know about that:
- Almost anything you don’t want can be turned into ground beef. When we first embarked on this journey, I was worried about getting fatty cuts of steak like London broils. (They just weren’t my favorite.)
- You get to decide what types of steak you want as long as you’re opting from the right sections of the cow. For example, you cannot take two cuts if they compete with each other. For each portion of the cow, you have to elect one cut or another that fits that portion of the cow.
- In order to elect a prime rib roast, you need to purchase a half a cow. With a quarter cow, the butcher has to cut the cow into smaller steaks to evenly divide them between the two customers who buy one half.
- There are many options when it comes to cuts, even more than what is displayed on the graphic below. One of the best suggestions from a family member was to order breakfast steaks. We’ve had them from 2 different butchers and we like ours more thin. The beauty is that once you know that, you can expand on your cutting instructions with the butcher next time.
Plan Ahead to Save Money Effectively
All in all, we have been extremely happy with ordering our meat this way. I have learned what cuts we like and don’t like. In fact, it’s pushed us out of our comfort zone a bit.
One thing I did need to do was learn to cook with beef more. After all, if you are buying food you won’t eat, nobody will save money that way. In order to utilize all the different cuts we got, I needed to be resourceful in finding recipes we loved that still offered balanced nutrition. Using ground beef was the big challenge for me. When we got our first batch of meat we ended up with over 100 pounds of ground beef. So that was a challenge. But now we are all the better for it.
I’ll share my tried and true favorite recipes here too, so you’ll have a lot of recipes to choose from if you decide to take the leap.
For Our Family, We Definitely Saved Money
You may be wondering how much we save. Keep in mind that your savings will vary greatly depending upon the going prices of beef from your local farmer vs commercial beef, both of which vary. Also, keep in mind that the value you give to different cuts will affect the value you get from buying in bulk. For example, we used to buy 1-2 prime rib roasts each year for holidays. Those suckers are $100 each at the store (for non-organic meat). So if I deduct that cost from our half cow, and also deducted the store-bought prices of our expensive steaks like tenderloin, our first cow netted about $2-3 per pound for organic ground beef. That’s a big savings.
Remember to do the math yourself based upon your local pricing. The cost per pound will vary depending upon where you live and so will the prices charged by each individual butcher. Some butchers charge more for vacuum packaging if you prefer that. Some mandate it and simply charge more.
I don’t regret buying our meat this way at all. It may or may not be right for you and your family. But I encourage you to at least explore the possibility and check out your options in your area!