Sept. 28, 2011 -- The mortgage crisis of 2008, the recession that won't end, the debt ceiling showdown, the European debt crisis -- these are big, complex phenomena. But make no mistake: As many have pointed out, they boil down to a simple cause: people and governments failing to live within their means.
They can all learn something from the aptly named Annette and Steve Economides, of Scottsdale, Ariz. They head the cheapest family in America, a title they're so comfortable with that it's the slogan for their family business, which consists of a website and newsletter that teach frugality.
How do they do it? Step one: Invest in a large freezer. On a recent visit, the Economideses' freezer contained two turkeys, sausage links, milk and black bananas. And that was at its emptiest, when Steve Economides was taking inventory before the next shop.
"Annette will turn this into bread," he said, holding up the bananas.
In fact, when shopping they seek out things that are marked down because they're about to expire.
"When things are vacuum packed, their lifespan is indefinite," Steve Economides said. He said common sense, backed by his freezer, trumped sell-by and expiration dates.
Step Two: Plan meals in advance. Annette Economides schedules all family meals every 30 days. Get out the newspaper and plan based on what's on sale. You freeze what you haven't used yet.
"When you are first starting out, if you just ... plan your menu on what's on sale, you will cut your bill in half," Annette Economides said. "We bought corned beef back in March -- on sale for St Patrick's Day. So now I cook it once a month. And for leftovers, we have Reuben sandwiches."
That's right: Living frugally doesn't mean eating white bread and ramen noodles.
"Not true ... ham and gravy, hamburgers, chicken," Annette Economides said.
It also doesn't mean devoting all your time to scrimping.
"[Planning] actually saves time," Annette Economides said. "I only do it once a month."
The average American shops for groceries twice a week.
Step Three: Coupons. Have them clipped, filed and ready before shopping.
Step Four: Ruthlessly efficient shopping. Once a month, the Economideses pile into their van -- a former hotel shuttle they bought for $8,000 -- and when they get to the store, they hit it with a battle plan: Divide and conquer.
Steve Economides does produce, dairy and meat -- his weapon is a calculator -- and Annette Economides handles everything else. They communicate via walkie-talkie. A recent shop took four hours. The highlight: cereal for 50 cents a box. They bought 17. They spent a total of $120 for 17 bags of groceries.
These numbers are much smaller than those in the dire stories of economic woe that dominate today's headlines. But that doesn't mean they're not relevant, even instructive. After all, the word economy is rooted in the Greek word "oikonomia": household management.
Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 ET