Extreme Cheap: The Cheapest Family in America

I’ve done a number of posts on extremely cheap individuals (Daniel Suelo, Charles Long, Don Schrader) and groups (Freegans) but have always had a soft spot for stories about the Economides (self-professed to be “America’s Cheapest Family”).

While they certainly aren’t shy about self-promotion, I think they’ve actually built a unique lifestyle that works for their entire family (at least they seem to all be in it together when the TV cameras are rolling).  Basing their philosophy around tips like “Don’t go to the grocery store often”, “Leave the kids at home” and “Slice your own luncheon meat” (for grocery shopping), they’ve raised a family of 7 on $350 / month of groceries.  They also managed to pay off their first house in 9 years (while earning an average income of $35k), so they’re definitely living on the cheap.

I mentioned in a comment on my Charles Long post that I’d worry about putting my children through a lifestyle like this.  By the time your kids have really made up their mind whether this is ok or not (once they’d seen how differently their friends live), they’d probably already feel scarred for life if they were unhappy about it.  In interviews the kids seemed fine and happy with the lifestyle.  Their daughter fielded questions about this in one interview and said that she wears brand named clothes she got at the thrift store and drives a fixed up used truck that she loves.  The one part that bothers me is one of their few splurges is for professional hair styling for the mother.  If I was in their shoes I’d focus on “we’re all in this together” and either everyone in the family who wants a store haircut get one or none of them do (“sorry honey, your mother needs to look as good as possible, but you can go to the prom with a brush cut”).  Who knows though, maybe the mother is the only one able to cut hair and no one else has ever been interested in learning in order to cut hers.

I think it’s really cool that this family has been able to turn their frugal philosophy into a “family business” of spreading the gospel (through their website and newsletter). Much as with Charles Long, I get the feeling that by choosing not to chase the “consumer dream” they’re able to focus on spending time with one another and what they really value (beyond “stuff”).






Would you want to be a part of a family like this?  How would you handle it if part of the family wanted to live this way and part didn’t?

10 replies on “Extreme Cheap: The Cheapest Family in America”

The one part that bothers me is one of their few splurges is for professional hair styling for the mother.

I suspect that ‘hair styling’ really means getting her hair dyed which is in a different category. 🙂

I’m always skeptical of this kind of story since it’s impossible to prove they did or didn’t earn/spend $x. Kind of like the Derek Foster story.

Well, they’re certainly selling a product, so they have an incentive to make it look like they’re living as cheap as possible. I get the feeling they’re being pretty sincere though…

Interesting post; feeding a family of 7 on $350 /month of groceries must translate into an assload of hot dog wieners, kraft dinner, cans of beans, and items in discount bins. Whatever the course of action, you got to admire the thriftiness. Paying off a mortgage in 9 years on a 35K salary would be considered a miracle by some.

Alan Cory, author of “Million Bucks by 30” also gives some funny stories of living on the cheap on his road to success. I did a book review on one of my earlier posts last year in case you may be interested.

P.S. Four Pillars, glad to see you’re still blogging away. Site is looking good. I had a hiatus for a while but The Rat is back.

I fail to see what the big deal is with this.
The way I was raised,this sounds very ordinary to me.
We didn’t have much money and we had to make do with what we had.

These people were making 35k/yr back in the 80’s,
not exactly a poor man’s wage at the time.
I was making 4 bucks/hr when I started working in the early 80’s.

Hazy, I think you’re missing the point. While Mike and I seem to admire how this family lived, the vast majority of the population out there do not save their money these days as they should. A lot of consumers have a boat load of debt and credit cards maxed out.

If you want to get into details, I grew up on wild meat for a large part of my childhood up until the end of my high school days and i’m very proud of the fact that my father raised a whole family on one salary, and it was definitely considerably less than 35k a year. But does that mean I should live the same way now if I can finally afford to live a bit more comfortably? All I’m trying to convey is that you don’t hear these stories these days and unless you grow up on a farm, its gonna be hard to feed a family of 7 on nutritious food with that kind of income. Most healthy food these days, like fresh produce can be fairly expensive depending where you live – a pack of wieners can go the distance and doesn’t spoil fast, neither do KD and canned items. I think its an admirable story and its just that there probably weren’t a lot of options in terms of living a little more comfortably. There’s nothing wrong with it, we’re just observing.

I think it is good that this people live within their means.
I just don’t think it is special enough to get them on national TV.
But perhaps it is a sign of the times.

I am a little bothered that they would be quoting their income from 25 years ago.
Considering inflation,you can pretty much double the value of that income.

Thanks for spotlighting this family. They’ve been an inspiration to me for a while now! Interesting comments on the possible income inflation. Well, I take away the big message from this family, which is — we all can live below our means with a few adjustments.

I am the daughter, and to clarify a few things:

I’ve never owned a pickup truck. Not sure where that came from.

More importantly – my mother never went for a professional hair cut in all the years we lived this lifestyle. She cut her own hair just as she cut it for the rest of us. And to this day I’m certain that hair dye has never come anywhere near her head.

Oh, and trust me – the story is sincere. We were dirt poor. And it had an effect on us, at least myself – being the girl. But it certainly developed a sense of character, thick skin and infallible resiliency.

We didn’t eat KD, weiners and beans though – again I’m fairly certain my mother has never eaten KD, much less served it. We grew everything – I was raised on chickens, rabbits, goat and pig. With the occasional experimental raccoon, groundhog, pigeon etc. thrown in – but thankfully, not usually repeated.

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