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.