April 27, 2004 -- With gas and grocery prices soaring, Americans could learn from one Arizona family that has been beating the high cost of living for years.
Rising gas prices have been all over the news, but you might not know that your groceries are getting much more expensive as well, with the cost of staples such as milk, butter and eggs skyrocketing.
In March, a gallon of milk cost $2.79 on average, compared with $2.66 last March. Butter averaged $3.47 a pound, compared with $3 last year. And, this year, eggs will set you back $1.63 for a dozen, compared with $1.21 last year.
Annette and Steve Economides, and their five children, ages 10 to 21, have mastered the art of living on the cheap. Their mission: to maintain a reputation they've proudly earned — or maybe saved — the old-fashioned way. The Arizona clan says it's proud to be America's cheapest family.
"We started out our marriage with so little money that we decided we were going to live within our means," said Annette Economides. "From day one, we were not going to accrue any kind of debt, of any kind."
The Economides say careful planning allowed them to pay off their first house in just nine years, even though their family income averaged just $33,000 a year. Their second home is nearly paid off as well.
Steve Economides, who calls himself the family's "cheap economizing officer," is a freelance graphic artist. He and his wife runs the family business, HomeEconomiser, a Web site and newsletter dedicated to helping people live within their means.
The Economides spend $350 a month on food and cleaning products, feeding seven mouths for 30 days.
How do they do it?
Step one: Careful planning. The Economides make a grocery list and check it three times before heading to the store.
"These women that are at the grocery store every day, three times a week, are spending gobs of money on food that they don't need to be spending," said Annette Economides.
"It takes a little bit of time to sit down and plan a menu. But you eat better, you save more money, and it creates less stress in your life."
Step two, they say, is using coupons, and having them clipped, filed and ready for action when they arrive at the store.
The family goes to the store with walkie-talkies and scours for bargains. On one recent trip, Steve asked his wife over the walkie-talkie: "Vidalia or yellow onions?"
"Oh, get the vidalia," came the reply.
Step three is a carefully coordinated in-store check for last-minute deals on the shelves.
"Buy one, get two free," Annette said, reading from a coupon for brownie mix. "So you now have three boxes. And I have a coupon for another dollar off. All three for $1.19!"
Step four of the family's money-saving plan involves having a lot of freezer space. Whatever the family cannot consume right away can be purchased and saved for a later day.
"One day a month the family all cooks meals," Annette said. "And we put away anywhere from 13 to 17 meals in a freezer."
Step five is to avoid credit cards — and their costly interest payments. The couple has never used a credit card in 22 years of marriage.
Their advice to other families, which they offer both in seminars and on their Web site, is make a plan and stick to it. First, figure out how much you need to pay your monthly expenses.
"Right now, we need $3,400 a month to cover everything," said Steve Economides. "Then we take everything over that amount and split it into three. One third goes into a house fund, to cover any house emergencies. One third goes into a 'fun' account, for vacations, and one third for our family goes to charity, but for other families can go to mutual funds or other kinds of savings."
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