Homeschooling and Frugal Living: A Perfect Match
- Bonnie Rose Hudson TOS Magazine Contributor
- 2014 5 May
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Steve and Annette Economides, known to many of you as “America’s Cheapest Family.” Their book about family finances has topped both the New York Times Best Seller list and the Amazon.com Best Seller list.
TOS: What started you on the journey to frugal living?
Steve: When we got married, back in 1982, I was working as a graphic design paste-up artist earning $6.50 an hour and Annette wanted to stay home to learn to manage our house. We decided together to try it that way, and within three years we had enough money saved to put 15% down on a house. We paid that house off in nine years.
Annette: We started with babies pretty quick. My job became not only to be a mom and a homemaker but to stretch our pennies until they begged for mercy.
Steve: So Annette decided to become an expert at managing our money. One of the things that really saved us was our marriage prep class at our church. We learned about budgeting from Larry Burkett. This was a way to keep track of our money and put it into little categories so we wouldn’t spend our grocery money on car repair or our clothing money on eating out. It helped us protect the money. Beyond that, Annette learned how to shop smarter.
Annette: Steve heard about once-a-month cooking from Focus on the Family and he asked me to try it. I tried cooking once every two weeks, then stretched it to three, and then four. A neighbor lent me a shelf in his freezer, and it grew from there.
Steve: Our ability to live frugally really started with grocery shopping, and then it spread to every other area. We aren’t financial experts; we just knew we hated debt.
Annette: We started off committed to being debt free and living with whatever God provided.
Steve: There were times when there were tests, like the time Annette called and said, “I’m driving our car and water is coming out of the tail pipe and the car is shaking like crazy. Is that a good thing?”
Annette: Or the time when a furniture truck drove up to our neighbor’s house. The wife had bought a dining room set. I looked at our little garage sale orange-brown-plaid sofas, and I just sat and cried. But I was determined. I cried because I was sad, but I still was not tempted to go out and buy new furniture on credit. That wasn’t an option.
Steve: Before we were married we had walked through JC Penney’s and seen these great, modern-looking couches. We thought, “Oh! $1,200—you’d have to be wealthy beyond measure to have that kind of money.” Within two years of the incident with the neighbor’s furniture, I had switched jobs, and we got a bonus. By this time she’d learned to really be frugal. She found some coupons and we went and bought those couches.
Annette: But they had a bargain basement where there was an ottoman and a swivel chair. We used the coupon and got everything for less than $1,200.
Our friends noticed we were doing well with budgeting. The next thing we knew, we were in leadership in a class at our church. We had to figure out how to take what we knew and transfer it so you could walk somebody else through it.
Steve: The stuff that we learned, and the people we helped, became the basis for our first book. The writing turned into a business, the business got us on Good Morning America, and Good Morning America got us a book contract. Now we travel around the country speaking to homeschool conventions, banks, libraries. We’re just practical, personal, household budgeting experts. People love hearing how they can keep more of what they earn.
Annette: And stretch what they have.
TOS: Did you ever imagine your frugal journey would lead you here?
Steve: No, not at all.
TOS: What started you on your homeschool journey?
Steve: We heard Dorothy and Raymond Moore talk about the power of homeschooling. I said to Annette, “Do you think we could do this?” It was my second good idea because I brought home once-a-month cooking to her, too.
Annette: We had a lot of friends who were homeschooling. When my oldest was 4-years-old, I joined the local co-op.
TOS: Did you homeschool all five children the whole way through their education?
Annette: We did. When our kids were in high school, we wanted to start exposing them to the world outside because they were going to be experiencing college soon. We started signing them up for community college classes about their sophomore year of high school.
Our kids have really learned how to prioritize their time, how to juggle a lot of balls. There is no way they could do everything they are doing now if they hadn’t started learning how at a younger age.
TOS: How did you find that homeschooling and frugal living was a perfect match for your lives?
Annette: I think frugal living allowed us to live on one income so I was free to really enjoy the kids.
Steve: If we would have had a big mortgage payment and car loans that we were paying off, Annette wouldn’t have had the freedom to be a stay at home mom.
Annette: Not only was I able to school the kids better in some ways, but I was able to transfer those frugal skills for living to the kids. We’ve also developed MoneySmart Kids, a program for teaching kids about money.
Steve: Every one of our kids was trained to earn money at home by earning points every day. The skills they learned from a young age empowered them to be able to buy their own cars for cash and go to college for cash without loans.
We got a letter from somebody that said, “We’ve been married 20 years, our kids are ready to go to college, and we just finished paying off our student loans. We haven’t been able to save a penny for our kids.” That moved us to write a whole chapter in our newest book about how to get through college without borrowing, and it’s one of the talks we present at homeschool conferences, too. Basically what we write is what we’ve lived. We aren’t telling people to do anything that we haven’t done.
TOS: Thank you for sharing with us.
Steve: It was great talking with you.
Bonnie Rose Hudson lives in central Pennsylvania with her mother and sister. She loves being a part of SchoolhouseTeachers.com and The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, where her love of God, history, and writing all work together. She invites you to stop by and meet the star of her children’s historical fiction series at Exploring with Jake.
Steve and Annette love talking to groups both large and small about how they can keep more of their income and make it stretch farther. If you’d like to talk to them about speaking to your group or at an event, please contact them through their website www.moneysmartfamily.com. To see all the places they will be speaking in the upcoming months, including their keynote presentation at the CHEA Convention in Anaheim, California, click here.
Copyright 2014, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Annual Print 2014 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: May 19, 2014