Home Supermarket Swindle What Tips Does “America’s Cheapest Family” Have For You?

What Tips Does “America’s Cheapest Family” Have For You?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

A while back, on The Today Show, I caught a glimpse of this family who claimed to be America’s cheapest. They save money, sure… buuuut I’ve got questions. Surely, I can’t be the only one giving their purchases a side-eye, right?

What do you think?

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VM December 13, 2010 - 12:31 PM

MEH. Spending $350 a month isn’t THAT cheap, IMO. I was thinking that maybe they managed to spend less than $100-125 a month for all they need. Now THAT is cheap. I totally do not agree with them going to the Chinese buffet stuffing their containers. I wonder how often do they do this. Side-eye – yeah……….. O_o

Moni December 13, 2010 - 12:33 PM

I understand the part about the meat, however, I don’t get prepackaged meat anymore, I go directly to the butcher, where I can see my meat in it’s fresher state. Costs a bit, but for the times I do eat (red) meat, I want the best possible. (Except chicken, after watching Food, Inc, I REFUSE to buy from Perdue, Tyson, I get my chickens from Kosher market).

I also don’t think that what they are doing with the meat is odd, how do we even know what they do with meat at restaurants? Also, meat& poultry can stay in your freezer for up to 6 months after you purchase it and it also loses it color after about a month, (unless you vacuum seal it) so if you have a family and are shopping in bulk, thats going to happen anyway. If you are single, no need to purchase in bulk unless you plan on cooking and freezing meals (which this family obviously does anyway).

As far as their other tips, I purchased their book about two years ago, and I recently dug it out because I need to keep tabs on my money. They make excellent points on getting the most for your money.

Leah December 13, 2010 - 12:55 PM

I have to say I agree with a lot of their tips. Planning and making a menu not only saves money but can help maintain a healthy diet. I printed the meal planner from your site for me and my daughter and we really enjoy using it. I agree that if you are selective and check the dates on meat you can save money and buying a better cut of meat and grinding it yourself could save you a lot of fat. We freeze cheese all the time and it tastes just as good. I use my crock pot on Tuesdays when we are at home school co-op all day or sometimes on the days I work. The only disagreement I have is with produce. She is correct in saying that it isn’t fresh by the time it gets to the store so why push it any further? I think you should buy as fresh as possible and use it right away or else buy frozen. I’ve heard many times that it is flash frozen at the height of freshness and retains more vitamins than “fresh” produce. I would not try to make product last a month.
BTW-love your blog!

Leah December 13, 2010 - 1:04 PM

@ Moni I’m with you on the chicken (and lunch meat). I have a friend who raises her own free range, 95% organic, non GMO chickens and has them slaughtered by an Amish family. I buy her birds which are very expensive but worth it. I paid $18 for my last chicken but I used every bit of it, even the bones. If you simmer the bones for 24-36 hours you get a mineral rich broth. I froze several jars that I can use later for various recipes. I buy eggs, honey and soap from another friend and appreciate knowing where and how my food was raised.

Erika December 13, 2010 - 1:12 PM

“If you simmer the bones for 24-36 hours you get a mineral rich broth.”

Pay CLOSE attention to this, y’all – I posted my recipe for making bone broth on the site a while back. EXTREMELY valuable stuff!

Sarah December 13, 2010 - 4:22 PM

Seeing stuff like this reminds me of a diagram I learned about years ago, The Project Triangle:

One triangle point: Fast
One triangle point: Cheap
One triangle point: Good

You can only have two of the three triangle points for your product or project:

Fast and cheap, but not good.
Cheap and good, but not fast.
Good and fast, but not cheap.

Substitute “good” for “nutritious,” and things get interesting:

Simmer a hearty bean stew in a slow cooker for eight hours, and I’ve got something cheap and nutritious, but not fast.

Fill up on tasty salad or ready-made sushi at Whole Foods, and I’ve got something nutritious and fast, but not cheap.

Grab a burger and fries at McDonald’s, and I’ve got something cheap and fast, but not nutritious.

Moni December 13, 2010 - 7:50 PM

Girl, WHO ARE YOU TELLING?! LOL! I haven’t purchased a can of chicken broth all year!! I get the bones, (or sometimes the tips or a whole chicken) some soup greens, sea salt, pepper, parsley and water and start boiling. I purchase those plastic containers that they use to put soup in at the chinese restaurants and freeze. Best thing ever!

Alison December 13, 2010 - 8:20 PM

I took a look at their book a while back and while I agree that they have a lot of tips to save money, there were a lot that I just wasn’t able to use. I don’t have a deep freezer, nor do I have the space for one if I could afford it. That means that I can’t buy and freeze multiple gallons of milk, even if I wanted to. I don’t have the freezer space for casserole dishes or large packages of meat.

I ended up just getting frustrated with what I didn’t have. The implication here, at least to me, was that I would have needed at least some element of money/wealth just to get myself set up with their plan. You have to have money to save money, in other words.

Maybe I’m missing something here.

JoAnna December 13, 2010 - 9:45 PM

You can save a lot of money if you buy your food in bulk, especially in large, pre-butchered cuts. We have a couple of meat places here where they advertise beef ribeye as low as $4/lb. But you have to buy the entire cut which could be 10-15lbs, and then have it cut into steaks or a roast. But you also have to invest in a freezer…

The produce for a month, doesn’t fly with me unless most of your veggies are cooked. That means salads only for the 1st 2 weeks of the month, then cooked veggies for the last 2. It also appears that a bit of their diet is processed with pre-packaged cereals, crackers, yoghurt… Since I really do cook, I understand that it’s hard at first to go from chicken alfredo with broccoli florets to baked chicken primavera with a parmesan sauce on the side. Or sloppy joes sandwiches to a vegetable beef stir fry using meat as a condiment. Still, as long meat is the primary focus of your meal, meals will cost more. Not once did I see a mention of whole grains, or oatmeal, and I’m still hung up on lettuce can last 3 weeks… Well, yeah if you only buy iceberg!! Not once did the family mention going to a farmer’s market to get fresh produce. Nope! Just go once a month to a grocery store with coupons and buy its tired quote “weeks old” produce. What about a garden? They have children for cheap labor…

And that chinese buffet was horrible! You cannot tell me that that mother doesn’t have some weight issues… ‘sigh’ let me stop. This is America’s cheapest family, not America’s healthiest family. Baby steps, I guess. First, get enough food, then make sure it’s healthy food.

E May 23, 2011 - 3:58 PM

“What about a garden? They have children for cheap labor…”


Kitty December 14, 2010 - 1:07 PM

@ Joanna. I agree.

Anne January 20, 2011 - 1:14 PM

I have not read their book, but some of their ideas sound very similar to the Tightwad Gazette/Frugal Zealot of about 15-20 years ago. I understand and applaud their frugal efforts, and yet I am at a place in my life where I am willing to spend more for quality food and sound nutrition whole foods, not processed, good quality fresh or frozen produce, wild or free range and grass-fed meat). Also, the biggest way to save money and also enhance personal health (both nutrition and fitness) is to grow your own food. Even in a small space virtually anyone can grow salad greens and tomatoes as long as they have a balcony or a grow-light. A lot can be done in even a small yard (see http://urbanhomestead.org). Bottom line–good advice for frugality, but I would not go to them for nutrition advice.

Note to VM–$350 per month, including paper products and personal care products, for two adults and five teenage and college age children is exceptional. The USDA Food Plan (http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/USDAFoodCost-Home.htm) shows that the average “thrifty” (lowest budget category) family spends $1100 a month (food only, not other items) for that size family.

milaxx June 11, 2011 - 5:04 PM

I’ve seen them on the Today show. They have some good ideas and tips, but like the extreme couponers some things are just ridic. That taking containers to the Chinese buffet it tacky, not to mention just plain unhealthy. I take them with a grain of salt.

Biolobri January 6, 2013 - 11:51 AM

Some of these tips are good, sure: Use cash, buy in bulk (if you can, although that runs the risk of *eating* in bulk – a real phenomenon), freeze stuff. And sure, yogurt lasts a lot longer than people think (guys, it’s curdled milk: my mom used to *make* yogurt by adding milk to yogurt and leaving it on the counter. ON THE COUNTER.) But I’d rather spend more to eat fresher, more quality foods any day. I also find I’m much more inspired to eat better when the food is farm to table fresh.

My tip? Find “farmer’s market” type grocery stores that work directly with local producers. I live in Philly now and LOVE Reading Terminal Market – I got a huge head of cauliflower, 3 grapefruits, a pomegranate, 2 kiwis, a head of lettuce, and a bag of brussels sprouts for $6.48 this week. When I lived in Mass I went to Russo’s in Watertown. I still miss that place. Also, just know where to get the best deal: I go to Trader’s for things like cheese. I just only buy things that are priced well: usually under $2, depending on the item – all my items this week were $1, except for the sprouts at $1.49.

At the end of the day, though, it’s all about where your focus is. Just like junk food with health claims, you need to consider the WHOLE picture (money, time, nutrition..) to make your grocery decisions. Eating at Chik-fil-A is not (in my opinion) really doing you any favors just because you found a “deal.”

Biolobri January 6, 2013 - 11:56 AM

Oh, and actually? I save money by *not* using a list. Sure I have a few go to meals to guide me (roasted veggies and goat cheese, southwest salad, bean salad…) but really I just look for what is priced well and looking good – this helps me avoid over paying for items just because I meal planned with them AND it keeps me motivated and creative in the kitchen. I think of it like Chopped – the mystery ingredient(s) are just what’s on sale.

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