Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money" by Steve and Annette Economides

Well, I don't feel like I learned much from the "cheapest family" in America. That's disappointing! The only tip I picked up from this book was to go grocery shopping less often, something that I totally agree with. The Economides (yes, that IS their real name!) only go once a month, stocking up on staples, clipping coupons, watching for sales, etc. Which works for their family - not so much for mine. Granted, my hubby and I have learned to do some economic shopping (we found a surplus/salvage grocery store that's probably cut our "major" shopping trips in half), but we still pop in to our local store down the street often enough that they know us by name. It's just too easy to do when it's on the way home from work and we really want something; we should be using what we have! Sigh.

Other than the "shop less" strategy, I didn't really learn anything I hadn't already heard. They recommend the usual steps - pay cash whenever possible, pay yourself first, buy used cars, make what you can, share with neighbors, etc. We do a lot of the "penny-saver" moves already: we always take our lunches, we cook at home, we wait to do loads of dishes/laundry until the machines will be full, we use the air-dry setting on the dishwasher, etc. We don't do the daily lattes or anything like that - never have. So when I read a book about saving money, I really want to hear a new approach, something I might not have thought of before. I didn't find it in this book.

Most frustrating chapter? The one about having a budget. I read through their description of their budget at least twice, and I was still confused. They deposit money in their account, then go through and "mark" things for specific accounts - but don't transfer any money around. The accounts are strictly on a piece of paper, which means needing to know pretty much how much money is in any "account" at any time. ARGH! That's very confusing! They did say that their way might not work for everyone - no kidding! When people are already in dire financial straits, that much math is going to make them even more depressed! I did like their idea about having envelopes of cash for the places you overspend the most - when the envelope is empty, you can't buy anything more in that category until the next payday. But here's the problem I see - an envelope of cash is way too tempting for people who are already overspending. Granted, it might help them in the long run, but I'm still not sure it's totally the right way to go. Maybe if you did this for something like eating out or entertainment, but not a necessity category.

Overall, if you've never been much of a saver, never really thought about buying used, making do, or developed any other penny-pinching habits in your life, this book might be a good start. If, like my husband and I, you're already doing as much as humanly possible to save/cut your bills, well, I'd scan it and probably nothing more.

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