If one of your New Year's resolutions is to spend less money in 2011, then have I got the book for you! Steve and Annette Economides, known locally (they live in Scottsdale) and nationally for their frugality, share their best money-scrimping tips in their first book, America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money (2007). The pair, who embrace a low-tech, back-to-basics approach to finance, maintain a website, write an online newsletter called HomeEconomiser, provide financial counseling to those in need, and have been interviewed for numerous newspapers, magazines and television programs. If anyone knows their stuff, it's the Economides'.
While the couple's strategy strikes me as kind of a rock-bottom plan, most helpful to those either just starting out or struggling to stay afloat, they offer helpful tips for everyone. The book delves into specific money-sucking categories like groceries, housing, utilities, medical expenses, credit card debt, etc. The Economides' give the kind of advice you'd expect - stock up on sale items, use coupons when buying food, shop for clothes at thrift stores, find free ways to entertain your family, etc. - as well as some you wouldn't. Their most revolutionary suggestion is actually the simplest of all: If you don't have money to spend, don't spend it! Genius. I can't count the number of times I've heard couples complain about just scrimping by only to turn around and spend thousands on a week's vacation to Hawaii! Not only do the Economides' make these suggestions, but they offer enough examples to prove they practice what they preach.
If you're struggling to get your finances under control, the Budgeting chapter is especially helpful. While the authors' plan is simplistic, it relies on very basic principles of saving and planning for emergencies. Most interesting for me, though, is the section titled "Kids and Money." If you, like me, have wondered how to teach your children to earn, save and wisely spend their money, you'll want to consult this section of the book for some excellent advice. For most topics, the Economides' ideas can be boiled down to one familiar concept: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. Sound idealistic? With their practical advice, Steve and Annette show how realistic (and prudent) that kind of lifestyle really is.
Now, I have to say that, after reading the book (me) and skimming it (him), my husband and I came to the same conclusion: in some ways, the Economides' are too cheap. Take, for example, a note from 16-year-old Roy Economides who explains that he refuses to plunk down the money for his own cell phone. "If I'm out and need to make a call," he explains, "there is always someone around who will lend me a phone. It's really not a hassle" (119). Or, another suggestion (which I saw in this article, the full text of which appeared in a recent edition of All You Magazine) from Annette Economides to borrow ingredients you need for recipes from neighbors so you don't have to go grocery shopping more than once a month. There's a fine line between being frugal and being cheap - for me, the situations I mention above cross it. (Note: To be fair, the Economides' are strong advocates for reciprocity - see Page 263 of the book)
You can take the Economides' economizing lifestyle or leave it, but you can't walk away from their book without being impressed. And inspired. If this family of 7 can live debt-free while the majority of Americans are dodging calls from creditors, well, they're obviously doing something right. It's worth the cost of the book (I got it for $8.52 at Amazon) to find out what.
(Readalikes: Reminded me of Miserly Mom and Frugal Families by Jonni McCoy. It's probably quite similar to the Economides' second book, Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America's Cheapest Family, which I will be reading and reviewing soon.)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: G