The Economides clan is proud to call themselves America's cheapest family. Starting off with very little when they got married, Steve and Annette have mastered the art of living frugally. They've raised five children and paid off a home in nine years, while earning $33,000 a year. They currently live in a 3,500 square-foot house, buy designer clothes for their kids and go on vacations, without going into debt or spending more than $44,000 a year.
"Finding a great bargain is the ultimate prize," Steve says.
"We want to encourage others that frugality is not a life of deprivation," Annette says.
They share their best tips for saving money while enjoying life at the same time:
Three Important Concepts People Should Follow
1. Avoid Debt like the Plague
"People think that debt actually increases their lifestyle because they can buy the nice stuff, but in reality, you've got to pay for it eventually," Annette says.
2. Live Below Your Means
Understanding how much income is coming in on a monthly basis is imperative. "It's a numbers thing," Annette says. "You look at your numbers, you look at your expenses and what you're setting money aside for, and you know that the sum total has to be less than what you're bringing home." She adds that it's much easier than people may think.
3. Embrace a Thrifty Lifestyle
Learn to enjoy the process of finding a good bargain, and realize that you can still enjoy life and have great experiences while living on a budget.
Secrets to Saving
- Only Carry Cash
Operate on a cash system and don't use credit. "If we don't have the money for something, we don't buy it," says Annette.
- Use Coupons
"They can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year on your groceries," Annette says.
- Invest in a Freezer
"Freezers are a great tool. It allows you to stock up," Steve says. The family often buys extra items they consume often, when they're on sale, and freezes them to use at a later date.
- Set Aside Money for Every Possible Expense
Create a budget and include unforeseen payments that may arise.
- Buy Clothes at Thrift Stores
Go with a list; don't just go to browse. When you find an item you like, check the item to make sure there are no spots or rips. "If there are stains, and you think they're washable, ask for a discount," Steve says. Thrift stores often have deal days, so make sure you're at the store during those times to get better bargains.
- Buy at Discount Prices
Shop at garage sales and online websites like eBay, Criagslist and Freecylce.
Tips for Grocery Shopping
- Have a Plan
"It is absolutely critical to have a plan when you head to the grocery store," Annette says.
- Make a List
"The grocery list helps you to look through your pantries and take stock of what you already have in the house and your freezers, and then come up with what you want to pick up," Annette explains.
- Look at Food Ads
"They are like your lottery ticket," Annette says. Peruse the papers to learn sale prices and non-sale prices of items, so you know when you're getting a deal.
- Plan a Week's Worth of Meals
"If you spend 15 minutes a week just planning a week's menu, life will be less stressful, and you'll save money too," Annette says.
Tips for Slashing the Grocery Bill
- Buy Bread from Bakery Outlets
Sometimes you can find same-day bread on sale. If you're buying day-old bread, and it's made with good-quality wheat, you may not even notice the difference.
- Shop in Multiple Stores
Search around to see which stores have the best prices on different items. This may require going to a few different stores to meet all your needs.
- Buy in Bulk and Freeze Extra Items
If you're freezing meats, make sure they are vacuum-sealed in heavy plastic, and they will last for a year or more.
- Stock Up on Sale Items
If there's an item you enjoy, and you find it on sale, buy more than you need at the present time, and store the extra for the future.
- Eat Leftovers
- Learn Which Fruits and Vegetables are in Season and Buy at the Lowest Prices
Don't buy produce that is flown in from a different country. If you wait to buy that delectable when it's in season, you will pay less for it.
Tips for Saving on Utility Bills
- Put a Jacket on Your Water Heater
This will keep it from losing heat.
- Close Vents in the Rooms You Don't Use
This will prevent heat or air flowing into rooms you don't occupy.
- Put Self-Closing Hinges on Your Doors
This will keep cold air from entering your house.
- Water Selectively
Give your plants enough water to survive, but keep greenery to a minimum.
- Put a Water Bottle in the Toilet
This will help insure you use less water when flushing the toilet.
- Install Low-Flow Showerheads
- Take Shorter Showers
Fun and Free Ways to Entertain Your Family
"You don't have to spend a lot of money to have a lot of fun," Steve says. "You can stay home and watch movies, play board games, or roast marshmallows in the fireplace. You can just do all kinds of things at home. We just need to be creative."
- Attend Concerts at Local Colleges
- Go to Museums
- Check out Community Events
- Go to the Park
- Borrow or Rent Movies
- Try Backyard Camping
- Play Miniature Golf
- See Movies at Discount Theaters
- Play Cards and Board Games
- Have Christmas in July When Goods are on Sale
- Take Free Tours
"It's not about each little penny here and there," Annette says. "It's the total sum as you learn a lifestyle of conservation, where the pennies add up to dollars, and the dollars add up to hundreds of dollars. And it helps the environment as well."
"Money is tight. You've got to get ego out of the way. You've got to get emotion out of your finances, and do what you can do," Dr. Phil says.
For more money-saving tips, visit MoneySmartFamily.com.