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Video: ‘Cheapest family’ serve up more ways to save

  1. Transcript of: ‘Cheapest family’ serve up more ways to save

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: This morning on TODAY'S MONEY , the secrets to saving. From coupon clipping to bargain hunting and menu planning, there are some simple ways to trim your grocery bill. Steve and Annette Economides are the authors of "Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half." They're back this morning along with two of their children, Abbey and Becky to answer your questions and we got hundreds of questions from our viewers. Thanks for sticking around for us, another third day for you all.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: You bet.

    MORALES: So thank you.

    Mr. STEVE ECONOMIDES: We came for the rain.

    MORALES: You did. I know you did. It's a good way to save money, stay inside.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: No showers.

    MORALES: Do nothing. Exactly. Now you actually have -- a lot of people have been e-mailing us about cutting costs on your grocery bills.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: Mm-hmm.

    MORALES: So you actually have three great tips you want to share with us. What are they?

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: Well, it's mostly about cooking.

    MORALES: Yeah.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: And cooking is not as difficult as people think.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: And you can save a ton of money if you cook at home.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: There are...

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: So...

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: There are three simple ways that you can do cooking.

    MORALES: Right.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: One is to double your portions.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: So whenever you cook something, cook double and serve it the following week. You can freeze it and then reheat it the following week.

    MORALES: It tastes just as good, right?

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: Absolutely.


    Ms. ECONOMIDES: The second thing is to use one ingredient in multiple meals. So say you brown ground beef.

    MORALES: Right.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: Use it in sloppy joes, in shepherd's pie, in spaghetti sauce. That's another way to do it, real quick, to do it all at once.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: One batch divided up into multiple recipes.

    MORALES: Divide it up into a lot of different baggies.

    Ms. ECONOMIES: Right.

    MORALES: Right.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: You're saving time.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: And the third one is to use a Crock-pot , which is a phenomenal way. You can put a roasted chicken in there, you can put pork chops in there.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: You defrost the meat the night before, put it in that morning and you come home to a main dish that's already cooked.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: This is perfect for the working mom...

    MORALES: Right.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: ...who comes home at 4:00, 5:00 and doesn't know what to do. Dinner's ready.

    MORALES: Well, not to mention, a Crock-pot or a slow cooker, you can put pretty much any cut of meat...

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: That's right .

    MORALES: ...it's like it tastes amazing, right?

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: Absolutely, absolutely.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: Right.

    MORALES: OK. Now we -- I know, Becky and Abbey , you all help in the kitchen as well.

    BECKY: Mm-hmm.

    MORALES: How do you contribute around the household?

    BECKY: Go ahead.

    ABBEY: We do lots of chores and when like mom and dad go grocery shopping, they need help putting the groceries away and they can't do it, they're dead tired.

    MORALES: Yeah.

    ABBEY: So all us kids, we have to work together and we have to put them all away.

    MORALES: And there are five of you, total, your brothers aren't here.

    ABBEY: Yeah. And we label all the cereal boxes with the dates and we just put it all away.

    MORALES: Part of it is being organized, right?

    BECKY: It's -- a lot of it is being organized. And then there's also the aspect of cooking. We all help in different aspects around the kitchen. The boys, not so much, they like to eat the food.

    MORALES: Yeah, they get a free pass.

    BECKY: As long as there's knives and eating, the boys are good.

    MORALES: Right.

    BECKY: But you know, we all -- we all pitch in to help make meals.

    MORALES: OK. Let's get to some of the calls right now. First we have Rebecca from Nashville on the line with us. And Rebecca , go ahead, tell us what your question is.

    REBECCA (Nashville, Tennessee): Hi. My question is, if they only grocery shop once a month, how do they eat fresh produce like salads and fruit or perishable foods like yogurt or cheese, which don't last a month in the fridge?

    MORALES: Great question.

    REBECCA: So is it realistic to grocery shop infrequently and still eat whole foods?

    MORALES: Annette , how do you answer that?

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: I'm going to answer that by saying you would be surprised at how long produce lasts.

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: First of all, it's not really fresh when it's at the grocery store . People think it's fresh, but it's already weeks old by the time it's at the grocery store .

    MORALES: Right.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: But things like apples, carrots, celery...

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: Oranges.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: ...cabbage, oranges, that will easily last for a month in your refrigerator. Yogurt will last for a month in your refrigerator. Cheese we freeze.


    Ms. ECONOMIDES: But what -- so what we do with the more perishable things like bananas, strawberries...

    BECKY: Grapes.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: ...grapes, those will be eaten first. So you order how you eat things according to how they're going to last.


    Mr. ECONOMIDES: We also store lettuce in a zip-lock bag with a paper towel in it, it keeps it crisp longer. You can get lettuce to last for two weeks.

    MORALES: Keeps it from browning. All right. We have Kim in Athens , Ohio , on the phone with us. Go ahead, Kim , what's your question?

    KIM (Athens, Ohio): Yes. I budget, I plan my menu in advance, I take my list and I stick to it. But I can never seem to stay within my budget, so I search for coupons to help out. However, finding coupons that I would use has been real difficult. Where are some of the places that I can look for or search for to get coupons?

    MORALES: All right. Great question. Do you have an answer?

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: Yes.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: I'm going to answer the question about coupons first and that is start a coupon swap with people in your neighborhood. You pull them out of the Sunday paper. When you take what you want, pass it on to somebody else. You'll get tons of coupons that way. But the other thing about staying on budget is you've got to have a budget. So basically what we do is we encourage people when spending gets out of control or money's tough to manage...

    MORALES: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: ...start with cash. Put a certain amount of money in cash in the envelope, go to the grocery store , you have a finite limit, but that's OK.

    MORALES: That's it, when the cash is gone.

    Mr. ECONOMIDES: You can work within the limit, you can see it.

    MORALES: The cash is gone, that's it.

    Ms. ECONOMIDES: That's exactly right. That's right .

    MORALES: You can't buy anything more. Meanwhile, Steve , Annette , Becky and Abbey Economides , thank you. Before I go, though, I think there's a little picture of you guys we have to show. When you go out to eat, apparently you get a free meal by dressing as cows, is that right?

TODAY contributor
updated 9/29/2010 9:58:28 AM ET 2010-09-29T13:58:28

As the American economy sputters and families continue to struggle mightily just to keep their heads above water, the Economides family of Arizona believe they provide a model for how to not just survive, but thrive on a tight budget.

Eschewing credit cards, car loans and home equity borrowing, the clan of seven stay solvent and then some on just $44,000 a year — and that includes owning a home in the pricey Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale.

Mind you, they eat nutritious meals and their children are decked out in stylish, brand-name clothes. The key to living well for less, they say, is to search for bargains, avoid impulse buying and plan, plan, plan.

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The Economides, who have been living up to their billing as “America’s Cheapest Family” since 1982, recently published the latest in their series of fun-while-frugal household tips, this time focusing on what is often a budget-buster for families: the grocery store. Their book, “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half — With America’s Cheapest Family,” is on bookstore shelves now.

Read an excerpt from ‘Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half’

Hope and spare change
“We are the hope and change of America,” family matriarch Annette Economides told Matt Lauer Wednesday, as her husband, Steve, and daughters Abbey, 16, and Becky, 26, looked on. “With the unemployment rate where it is today, I believe that our books can allow families to not have to live on two incomes.”

NBC cameras followed the Economides through a typical grocery shopping expedition. Before entering the store, Steve and Annette sat down at the dining room table and pored over food coupons, eyeing their cost-cutting prey like hungry lions. Annette used sales as a guide to planning 30 days of family meals before the family headed out the door.

Related: ‘Cheapest’ mom shares tips for frugal family-feeding

Want tips on lowering your grocery bill? E-mail us your questions

The Economides feed their brood on an average of $350 a month, even though Annette says she knows similarly sized families that put out $2,000 a month. Steve marches down the aisles with calculator in hand, comparing unit prices. His eyes light up when he peruses the meat section and finds several cuts nearing their expiration dates, which he scoops up.

“I’m sure that people probably get squeamish over that,” Lauer commented on that part of the prerecorded segment. But Steve Economides wasn’t having it. “We’re talking about being smart,” he told Lauer. “If you look at the meat and the color is right, there’s no juice around it, it looks fine; it’s probably safe to buy.”

Video: Slash your grocery bill with America’s cheapest family (on this page)

He also noted restaurants charge premium prices for aged beef. Lauer grinned and said, “Aged beef is different than old beef, isn’t it?”

The Economides family have had an average income of $44,000 per year over the past 26 years.

Time is money
The taped segment showed the Economides taking their purchases home, grinding and slicing food for themselves (because it’s cheaper than letting the grocery store do it for you), and stowing it in the freezer. Lauer commented that all the coupon clipping, meal planning, price comparisons and food preparation seemed exhausting. But Annette said that time is money: “I tell people that if they are not taking any time to plan to feed their family, I guarantee you that they are spending more time than I am.”

Video: ‘Life is good’ for frugal family (on this page)

Even when they go out to eat, the Economides take great pains to get the most for their money. As cameras followed the family through a Chinese all-you-can eat buffet, Annette crammed a takeout Styrofoam container to just short of the breaking point. “We stuff a container full of food, we bring it home and it will feed us for several meals,” she explained.

The family are old hands at stretching a dollar. When Steve and Annette married in 1982 — also a time of a major U.S. recession — they made a pact to maintain a debt-free home and not indulge in extravagance.

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The proof is in the pudding: They paid cash for their late-model cars, paid their first home off in just nine years and, most importantly, raised five healthy, happy kids while never going into debt.

Their 26-year-old daughter, Becky, told Lauer that her family name has become synonymous with frugality. “I’ve got a lot of people that I work with, they’re like, ‘Are you related?’ ‘Yes, that would be me,’ ” she said with a laugh.

“It’s not odd to us,” she added. “What’s odd is seeing my friends go to the mall and purchase jeans for … I don’t even know what designer jeans retail for.”

“Two hundred bucks!" put in her teen sister Abbey.

“I can get them for less than 10 dollars at a thrift store,” Becky said.

TODAY will host the Economides family throughout this week. On Thursday, they will teach another family their money-saving tricks, and on Friday, they will answer viewer questions about how to economize.

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