The Carnivore’s Guide to Frugal Eating

Since starting this blog, I have read a lot of different posts from fellow personal finance bloggers. One of the most striking things I have gathered along the way is that they REALLY want you to cut meat out of your diet.

Whether it’s a push to observe “Meatless Mondays” or go completely vegetarian, meat is often viewed by PF bloggers as prohibitively expensive. But should you really cut a major protein source out of your diet for the sole purpose of saving money?

Personally, I couldn’t do it. To those who are in the same happily omnivorous boat, I’m going to come right out and say this: IT’S OKAY TO EAT MEAT. Seriously, even if you’re on a tight budget. The key to making it work is a combination of smart shopping, choosing the right types of meat, and controlling your portion sizes.

Want to know more?

Let’s start with a few examples of inexpensive meats we often buy at the local grocery store:

  • Whole Roasting Chicken ($0.99/lb)*
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: whole chickens are awesome. For less than $1 per pound, you can easily stretch a 5 lb chicken across three different meals. The carcasses are also great for making your own chicken stock!
  • Chicken Thighs/Drumsticks ($0.99/lb)
    My husband and I used these as alternatives to chicken wings at our last Super Bowl party, since $3.00/lb is a ridiculous price to pay for something that’s mostly bone. Other possible uses include crispy fried chicken or sweet & sticky baked drumsticks.
  • Pork Shoulder ($1.29/lb)
    Pork shoulder can be very fatty, but it’s great for the crock pot! A single 7-8 lb pork roast can yield over 20 servings of delicious pulled pork, which (in my opinion) is a pretty fantastic deal.
  • Fresh Young Turkey ($1.49/lb)
    While most people associate turkey with Thanksgiving, there’s no reason why you can’t have it on a regular basis. Like chicken, turkeys are very versatile and can be stretched across several consecutive meals. Looking for ideas? Try some of these recipes.
  • Hot Dogs ($1.99/lb)
    True, hot dogs are not exactly healthy (due to the presence of nitrites, corn syrup and other questionable ingredients). However, they are relatively inexpensive and a staple of most American cookouts. Consume in moderation.
  • Ground Beef ($2.19/lb)
    As far as beef goes, your cheapest option by far is pre-packaged ground beef. We usually buy 80% lean. It may be less desirable than the 90% or 95% lean options… but personally, I’d rather spend a few seconds draining the fat after cooking than spend an extra $1 per pound.
  • Italian Sausage ($2.99/lb)
    Fresh Italian sausage, sold in mild and spicy varieties, can be enjoyed by itself (topped with peppers and onions) or incorporated into just about any pasta dish. Yum!

*Disclaimer: Food prices are from Wegmans in Rochester, NY. Prices vary regionally.

While the prices listed above are already quite good for meat products, there are ways to get the cost even lower. Here are a few additional tips:

  • Buy in bulk.
    This is a good idea for most things… but especially meat. I can usually save anywhere from $0.50 to $1.00 per pound on most meat products by shopping at BJ’s. Whatever we don’t use right away, we just portion out and freeze for later. If you have enough freezer space, I also suggest checking out food stores that sells 40 lb cases of all-natural chicken and super-lean beef for an awesomely low unit price.
  • Stock up seasonally.
    Meat prices can fluctuate wildly depending on the time of year. For example, chicken wing prices always skyrocket before the Super Bowl due to nationwide “shortages.” Conversely, turkeys are always marked down before Thanksgiving and corned beef is always marked down before St. Patrick’s Day. Familiarize yourself with these seasonal trends and stock up on your favorite meats when prices are low.
  • Go hunting/fishing.
    I’ll admit, I’m not really into hunting… but if you are, you could get your own fresh venison, rabbit, duck, fish, etc. for little to no cost. Just be sure to check with your local government regarding hunting/fishing licenses and regulations.
  • Reduce your portion sizes.
    Whenever we buy ground beef, I always separate it out into portions weighing less than 1 lb each. (For example, a 5.5 lb pack would be split into 6 equal portions.) Similarly, I always buy the lightest 10-pack of chicken breasts available. Would you care if your burgers were 10% smaller than usual? I certainly don’t.
  • Keep your recipes balanced.
    If you need to use an expensive cut of meat (specifically beef), try to balance each portion out with inexpensive ingredients like beans, rice, potatoes, frozen veggies, etc. If you’re looking for some inspiration, Budget Bytes does a good job of balancing meat recipes to keep the per-serving cost low.

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