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America’s Cheapest Family

by Tiffany in Book Reviews, Frugal Green

americas-cheapest-familyI spent the majority of the morning engrossed in a really awesome book entitled America’s Cheapest Family. I thought it was a timely read considering all that is going on in the world right now. On a positive note for my own family it looks like hubby’s job is safe for now (or so they say) and he has gone mute about wanting to take his old job back (which required heavy travel). I am interested in using this scare as an opportunity to evaluate our budget and see where we can whittle expenses down so we can save more. Our emergency savings needs a lot more padding than it currently has. And I fully admit that hubby and I are not very responsible with money. We have very leaky wallets and we don’t do a lot of bargain shopping. Adopting a greener lifestyle has helped oodles but that is thanks to being green not being smart about money.

That said….I LOVED this book. I think all money conscious families need to read it…now. ;) It is written by a husband and wife who were dubbed the Cheapest Family in America several years ago by the talk show circuit. Their names are Steve and Annette Economides. Their last name ironically means “son of the steward” in Greek. The book shares all of the secrets to their success that allowed them to raise and homeschool 5 kids, pay off their first home in 9 years, buy cars with cash, pay for vacations in advance, save money for all possible emergencies, and feed their family for $350 a month all on a one income salary of less than 35,000 a year. They have an amazing story to tell and the advice is wonderful. The book is organized in categories like groceries, clothing, utilities, etc so that you can read it straight through or skip to sections where you need help.

The first chapter I loved was about groceries. $350 a month for a large family is incredible and one big part of their success is that they shop ONCE a month. I think we all know how expensive it is to make lots of small, frequent trips to the store to get ingredients for one or two meals or one or two missing things. Grocery ShoppingShopping like that almost always means spending more than you have to and it is basically a result of poor planning. The Economides family saved on average $1,702 per year over the average family. That is equal to a nice week long vacation for many or a slush fund for car/house repairs. Their tips on grocery savings amounts to a long chapter but basically it involves shopping once a month, doing menu planning, stocking up, shopping for sales and using coupons when they can, cooking extra portions for leftovers, and freezing quite a bit.

The advice was very good but I did find a few things that would not work for our family including the buying of lots of processed foods, the lack of more expensive whole foods being bought, and the idea of doing without FRESH fruits and veggies for the last 2 weeks or so of the month. I think families that eat lots of fresh, raw, whole foods would have a lot of adapting to do but the basic plan is a good one. I would probably feel more comfortable doing bi-monthly shopping expeditions with weekly trips to farmer’s markets for fruits and veggies.

There is a big chapter on budgets next, which is a good read. I liked the tip they had about buying gas cards to make sure you always have your gas expenditures covered. Then there is a chapter about cars…which I loved. It has lots of great tips for buying used cars and making sure you get a good car and a good deal. The section on insurance was great too. The Economides do not believe in skimping on insurance. One tip I liked was to cancel the towing benefit on your insurance and join AAA instead. That money goes a lot further with AAA.

The housing chapter had some alarming statistics about interest rates and how they would have paid $100,000 interest on their $50,000 home over a 30 year period. Their advice is to pay off the mortgage in less than 10 years if you can but ouch that is still over $25,000 you pay in interest. Sheesh, I think it might just be better to rent and then save that interest money to buy land and a nice Yurt with cash, LOL. This chapter also has advice for saving on repairs and renovations too.

The utilities chapter has lots of great advice although not too much for cold weather climates as the family lives in Arizona. Although having lived in both areas I think the utilities expenditures are pretty much the same…we just pay high energy prices at different times of the year. In AZ I had high air conditioning bills and in OH I have high heating bills. The cell phone advice was a little dated and the book was written in 2007, LOL. I am guessing that this older couple likes their land line and the kids are the ones that use cell phones. Hubby and I pretty much only use cell phones or Skype. We do have a land line but only because we couldn’t get DSL without it…I can’t even remember the number though, that is how little we use it. We hope to move soon and get cable Internet so we can get rid of our land line altogether.

There is also a big chapter about debt. Honestly I just skimmed this chapter as we don’t have debt and we don’t have credit cards but I am sure this chapter is equally good. Their chapter on medical just kind of pissed me off…not because it wasn’t good advice but because of the way our health care and insurance is in this country. I am having a hard time not being really pissy with Republican friends right now because the biggest issue we are voting on in a couple weeks for me is health care. I think only one candidate wants to fix health care and the other has plans so stupid I am getting hot just thinking about it. Better change the subject…anyway I have had insurance my whole adult life and I still racked up over $100,000 in EXTRA charges in a ten year period, so while this book’s advice is good in theory I see some problems because the insurance people are criminals and no amount of “personal responsibility” (inert GOP talking head) will change that. If taking personal responsibility means paying 4-500 hundred dollars a month for coverage and then having to pay 100 grand out of pocket and then calling it health care…well what more can I say? The advice on staying healthy was good though and personally I think that is the only/best option for many these days.

The chapter on clothing was fabulous with lots of great ideas for clothing your whole family for cheap as was the chapter on FREE entertainment. Entertainment is a BIG expenditure here so I need that advice. The vacation info was really practical and kind of amazed me that some families do go into debt to have vacations. I am not smart with money I totally admit that, but even I would never do that. The last chapters were about raising money conscious kids and about emergencies….lots of great info. I HIGHLY recommend this book! AND you can get it new for only $10.36 on Amazon or used for around $7.

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

10 Comments on America’s Cheapest Family

  • Amber

    Sounds like you’d like Dave Ramsey! ;) Thanks for the book recommendation.

  • Mrs. Not the Jet Set

    Amber bet me to it! You do sound like a Dave fan. If you have not read his books you should read The Total Money Makeover. You would really enjoy it as well.

    It seems hard to live green and on a budget but once you start thinking about it you CAN live a thrifty green life. Now that we have done it so long it seems natural!

  • How weird, I’ve been reading this book recently too! I got it from the library, which is free :) My husband is back in college, and we’re living off just my income, so I’ve had to cut everything that isn’t absolutely necessary from the budget. I eat a mostly vegan diet (I am a vegetarian and I can’t have dairy products) and it is HARD to find vegan, organic, healthy food on a budget. It helps to have go-to recipes that your family likes that are cheap and healthy. In the book, they do encourage buying seasonal produce, which is usually better for your budget. Trying to eat well on a budget has really opened my eyes to what a luxury it is to be able to go to Whole Foods, buy all fresh, organic produce and high quality groceries. I’m lucky to have a decent income, I can’t imagine a family trying to buy healthy, organic food on a minimum wage budget.

  • You really don’t have to have phone service. Just call the phone company and change it to a stand alone dsl service.

  • I love reading about frugality, but that grocery shopping stuff always gets to me. We don’t eat processed things either and we do love fresh produce, so we can’t take part in some of the major bargains that I read about. Plus coupons are pretty much all for processed foods. I think we could get our grocery bill down if we menu planned better and ate less meat and dairy. Maybe I need to make that a goal in November, to menu plan. Hopefully that would take a chunk out of that huge expense.

  • Jackie

    I have started to menu plan a few weeks ago and I have seen my grocery bill go down. I agree – I don’t like to buy processed foods, so I have been trying to plan my meals around what fresh stuff is on sale. I think menu planning has definitely helped us to bring down our grocery bill : ) I am also being strict too where I only go to the grocery store once a week and no longer make my stops during the week for 1 or 2 things (which always turns into more – LOL)

  • Nikki

    Although I hate to hear it, I’m glad to know I’m not alone on the grocery bill. Over the last few mths I stopped buying processed food and started buying fresh produce. My grocery bill has doubled and I have had the realization of how costly it is to eat good food! It really makes you mad when you want to do something good for your kids, then realize you can’t afford to live that way!
    Does anyone have any favorite sites to find coupons for organic and healthier products?
    Unfortunately, I can find tons of coupons for the types of foods I’m trying not to buy!

  • Thank you for the book review!

    As my husband I are moving to Arizona in January, at which time we’ll be living off of just my income while Paul finishes school I think this book could be of great help, and thus had been added to my library list.

    P.S. no fresh fruit or veggies for two weeks… yeah we’ll skip that part.

  • what a great book review. I am going to have to try to find it at my library!

  • isabelle

    I agree absolutely about vegetables and fruit. At the moment I’m buying what is cheap and seasonal, cabbage, carrots, parsnips and swede (rutabagas). Fruit is bananas (great cut into home made meusli) and oranges. I also agree about not eating much processed food, so much of it tastes so vile anyway. I do think people get a taste for it though, then ‘real’ food can taste bland to them, they have to re-educate their taste buds.

    The only problem we don’t have in the UK is healthcare to pay for.

    Interestingly, in France you can buy wonderful fresh and seasonal food – the organic demand is very low. However the French east a lot of fruits and vegetables and despite their relatively high intake of high fat food – cheese especially – and alcohol – although that tends to be wine – they live longer average lives than the UK or USA.

    An American study followed women recovering from breast cancer, half ate 5 portions of F & V a day (checked by blood testing) and the others ate ‘ordinary’ diets. Guess which group had a greater number of recoveries, substantially greater. Yes, the 5 a dayers!