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?
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