Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Frugal Living Tips From America’s Cheapest Family

So I had all good intentions of doing a review on this book. Then I saw that our friends at The Greenest Dollar wrote a fabulous review that I just had to re-post.

I'm almost done with the "America's Cheapest Family" and I've loved every tip. It's definitely a resource worth keeping handy (unlike what I do with most of my books when I'm done reading them -- sell them on Read on and enjoy...

Frugal Living Tips From America's Cheapest Family
I’m a sucker for frugality books. I love reading how other people have clipped coupons, outsmarted the grocery store, and stretched their dollars so they could get out of debt and start living the life they’ve always dreamed about.

I love rooting them on. And then, like a pumpkin thief in the night, I take their tips and slip them here and there into my own life.

The latest book I took out of the library is America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams.

Is it fabulous? Yes. Is it full of great, money-saving tips? You bet.

So, let’s dive in and find out how this family of 7 (yes, 7!) feeds themselves well on only $350 a month, how they paid off their home in only 9 years with a very, very average salary, and how they’ve been able to buy all their cars with cash.

Who Is America’s Cheapest Family?
It was Good Morning America who first called the Economides “America’s Cheapest Family”. The family had started a frugality and money-saving newsletter, HomeEconomiser, back in 2003, and the buzz was catching on. They were teaching thousands how to pinch pennies and get back to a debt-free life, but at first they recoiled from that word: cheap.

To them, cheap implied that money was the end goal for everything they did. If it cost a dime, they wouldn’t do it. And, that simply wasn’t the case. Their philosophy (and I’m paraphrasing here), is that money should be used to enhance your life, not define your life. Their goal was to have a great life and live debt-free. So, that’s what they did.

Are the Economides cheap and stingy? No way. The Economides are efficient, thrifty, and resourceful. That’s a far cry from the Ebenezer Scrooge that many of us think of when the word “cheap” comes up.

The Book’s Setup
One of the most appealing things about “America’s Cheapest Family” is the way it’s set up. Each chapter has a different money-saving theme, which means you can easily find what you’re looking for.

In the book, you’ll learn how to save money in areas like:

  • Grocery Shopping
  • Budgeting
  • Cars
  • Housing
  • Utilities
  • Debt
  • Medical
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • And more…

Another great thing about the way the Economides set up up this book is that there is no “one size fits all” approach. Steve and Annette realize that everyone is at a different place in their life. Some people are just discovering frugality, and others are old hats. And, many of us fall somewhere in between.

So, they set up each chapter with solutions tailored around different levels of commitment.

  • The Timid Mouse- Timid Mouse solutions are for the beginners out there. They might be brand-new to the world of frugality, and don’t want anyone to know they’re trying to, shhhh!, “save money”. So, these solutions are extremely easy, low-effort ways to start saving money on the sly immediately.
  • The Wise Owl- Wise owl tips are for the intermediate frugalists out there. They’re clipping coupons and finding bargains, but are still growing their saving muscles. So, these tips will push the owls to keep growing and getting stronger.
  • The Amazing Ant- Ants are amazing creatures. They work tirelessly for their colony, and are experts and long term planning for food, housing, and storage needs. Advanced frugalists are much like ants; they’re incredibly organized! The Amazing Ant tips are for the master savers out there; they focus on planning, storage, and networking with other frugalists.

So, why is this triage system of tips so helpful? Well, because it extends the life of the book. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced frugalist, you’re going to find tips and systems here that will help you save money. Anyone can learn something from America’s Cheapest Family, thanks in large part because the Economides kept all knowledge levels in mind when they wrote this book.

And if you start out as a beginner, it’s going to be a while before you outgrow this book. It’s useful for years to come.

Money Saving Tips: Groceries
It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite chapter in this book. Each one is great, and full of really specific information that’s easy to start applying immediately.

For instance, take the chapter on Groceries. Saving money on groceries is one of my favorite topics, in large part because it’s something I still struggle with weekly. There were some really fantastic tips in this chapter.

  • Lunch Meat- Steve and Annette never buy lunch meat. Why? Because it’s expensive! They advise looking for “chubs” of meat, which is namely just large hunks of cooked ham or turkey. They buy the large hunk, and then slice it at home themselves. Lunch meat is generally $5-$7 (or more) per pound. Chub meat is usually $1.29 or more per pound. If you ask, they say, the deli person will often slice it for you.
  • Warehouse Stores- When it comes to stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, there are opportunities to save big. But, Steve and Annette say it’s vital not to get sucked into impulse buys at warehouse stores. Why? Well, at the grocery store an impulse buy will generally cost you an extra $1-$3. At a warehouse store, an impulse buy is going to cost you at least $5-$7, or much more. And, warehouse clubs try just as hard as grocery stores to get you to be impulsive. If you fold under the pressure, you’re not saving.
  • Freezers- Annette and Steve love their freezer. They’re able to feed their family of 7 on $350 per month thanks to their freezer. And, they’re experts at rotating their freezer food to make sure nothing goes to waste. They advise readers that before they go off and buy a brand new freezer, look for a used one first. People are always getting rid of freezers, so great deals can be had if you’re willing to start off with a used one. And don’t worry, you learn their strategies on freezing food as well.
  • Shopping- It sounds amazing, but this family only goes to the grocery store once per month. Why only once per month? Because by going only once they minimize their risk of impulse purchases, which can destroy a grocery budget.

This chapter isn’t simply full of grocery store money saving quick tips. There is a lengthy discussion on Steve and Annette’s grocery store strategy. And when you only go to the grocery store once per month, you definitely need a strategy.

You learn how Annette plans a month’s worth of meals, and how she and Steve wind their way through the store (and yes, they use walkie-talkies!) to get the best buys with their mound of coupons.

Money Saving Tips: Debt
Another chapter I really enjoyed in this book was the one on debt. There’s a section in here that teaches us how to resist all those marketers who are pitching messages that “This Won’t Last, So Buy NOW!”.

Yeah, we’ve all fallen for this one. Hook, line, and sinker.

Annette and Steve offer up several resistance strategies, and relate several stories from their own life on how they came up with them.

One suggestion?

If you wait and search, you can always find it for less.

They suggest never, ever buying something straight from the store, at least at first. To prove this, they tell an illuminating story about a $500 baby chair, and the typical nervousness of first-time parents.

A savvy marketer was trying to scare the young couple into buying this amazing new baby chair for their newborn. The chair was amazing: it would never tip over, never pinch fingers, and guaranteed an IQ of 160 after five years. I’m kidding on that last one, but this “magic baby chair” was supposed to be worth every penny of their $500.

Of course, Steve and Annette didn’t have $500. Sure, they wanted it; what first-time parent wouldn’t? But, the money simply wasn’t there.

Instead, they started scouring their town for a used one. A few weeks later they found it. Final price? $30.

Another great strategy they talk about here is one they call, “I’m not signing right now; I need to see more options before I decide.

The point of this one? That it’s smart not to sign anything right away, especially a loan agreement (their personal story here revolves around student loans). Ask questions! Look at your options! Take time to really think about what you’re doing!

There are some really fantastic tips in this chapter. It’s truly a wake up call for those of us who impulsively buy furniture (and get on a payment plan from the store to do it), buy a car (with money loaned from a bank) or sign up for college (without even researching scholarships).

Last Word…
I thoroughly enjoyed “America’s Cheapest Family”. Another favorite chapter was the one on entertainment. There are some really great ideas for doing fun stuff for cheap or free (can you say high school football?) that I’m definitely going to implement in my own life.

You can find out more on America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams.

And need I say it? Your local library probably has it in stock as well!

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