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Grocery Shopping for the Frugal Family

Annette and Steve Economides don’t just clip coupons to save on groceries; instead, their monthly trip to the store is as meticulously planned as a mission of the armed forces.

“I go in as if I’m going in for a military strike,” Annette says of her monthly grocery run, in a phone interview from her suburban Arizona home. “[The] planning and executing takes less time than the four times a week that most families spend at the grocery in the one time.”

Annette reminds parents to keep their kids back at home or enroll older siblings to take care of the young ones, and then pay them for their time, which not only avoids the “gimmees,” but also teaches work ethic.

“Kids will destroy your food budget if they come to the store. I shop; [the] kids eat. This isn’t a majority rules. I don’t need to know what they like, [because] I pick the food.”

The Economides raised five kids on a salary that most singles would scoff at—$35,000 to be exact—all without incurring any debt and while teaching their kids plenty of lessons about frugality. Their lifestyle warranted them the nickname of “America’s Cheapest Family.” They launched a newsletter, and later a book entitled, America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right On the Money. The book, which features quotes from their kids, is meant to help other American families get back on a financially-sound track.

Annette takes one day to plan her dinners for the month, then executes one day of shopping armed with her husband and walkie-talkies (so they can discuss sale items across the aisles). Finally, she takes a third day to cook fifteen dinners, which she then freezes, supplementing the barbeque in the summer and crock-pot in the winter.

“We get running so fast, we just give it a little bit of think,” says Annette. She doesn’t advise that all families take on the Economides cooking model, but sees where the typical family system has broken down.

“Families don’t sit down and have dinner every night, but we do.”

Annette’s best advice when it comes to grocery shopping within your budget is to keep it simple and include plenty of snacks for the kids.

“Don’t buy prepackaged chips, yogurt cups, granola bars, crackers, cheese, or lunch meat, because they’re too expensive,” she says.

Instead, she says to boil eggs and buy vegetables that are in season. She also suggests getting the kids involved. They can peel their own carrots and pop their own popcorn with an air popper

“In the fall, apples can be thirty-three cents a pound. In the winter, there are all types of citrus; in the spring, strawberries, and in the summer, melons, cherries, and blueberries. Get your kids addicted to fruits and veggies.”

 She also mentions keeping two lists: one to track what is there and another for the kids to mark what they’re eating.

“Kids need to know where things are in the kitchen. They can’t eat the whole bag of carrots and not tell Mom,” she says.

She reminds parents that growing and baking your own foods can be a bonding experience with your children. “I know people are tight on time, but … Kids can learn to make banana bread and blueberry muffins. Do it on the weekend if you need to do it with them for a while, and then you can freeze them.”

Edible landscaping, which can include dwarfed fruit and nut trees, or simply planting pumpkin and sunflower seeds, can teach kids where their food comes from, as well as provide healthy snacks. The same goes for smoothies. She says that kids can learn nutrition while making tasty combinations such as apples and cinnamon. She also buys string cheese on sale for as cheap as four-to-eight for one dollar, while tortilla chips and salsa is another snack that won’t destroy your budget.

And while the Consumer Expenditures survey in 2005 said that spending on food away from home rose across all income brackets for families, the Economides are still keeping it within their range.

“Every business has a budget. What makes us think that a family can be successful without a budget? But America has convinced us differently, which is why families are in trouble.”

Photo: The Economides Family
Back Row: Roy, John, Steve
Front Row: Joe, Becky, Annette and Abbey
Courtesy of John Economides

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