We have lived in a culture of spend, spend, spend, for years now. We’ve been bombarded with messages that we deserve only the best, that we should “just do it,” that for all those wonderful moments in life, there’s Mastercard. We’ve mortgaged our homes, our futures, and our children on this mad dash to accumulate… stuff.
At what cost? What is the toll mentally, financially, emotionally, and spiritually to all the money-making exercises we engage in? Well, according to our guests on Off the Grid Radio today, Steve and Annette Economides, it’s been pretty expensive… in more ways than one.
Off The Grid Radio
Released: January 20, 2012
Bill: Greetings and welcome everybody. This is Bill Heid with today’s Off the Grid Radio show. I’ve got in our little dungeon booth here today, Abe Chacko. Abe, welcome.
Abe: Thanks, Bill.
Bill: Abe’s with us this morning because Abe does a lot of the buying at our company. The guest that we have – we thought it might fit in very well because the guest that we’re about to introduce … actually, we were talking before, to some people, Abe, I think these folks would be Area 51 type people. In other words, these are people from another planet, on some sense. If the scientists found them and studied them, these are people that bought a house and paid for it in nine years while never making more than $35,000 a year. They don’t use credit cards and they live off the grid, in a sense, financially. They’re also stewards – very interested in stewardship. I thought they’d be great guests. They are Steve and Annette – is it Economides? Is it like the Greek?
Steve and Annette: Yes, it is.
Bill: Economides like Archimedes, in a way. You are americascheapestfamily.com. Your book, “America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money” is what we want to talk about today as well as maybe cutting your grocery bill in half. Welcome, guys.
Steve and Annette: Great. We’re glad to be here.
Bill: Let’s talk a little bit about your philosophy. Like I said, what you do, given the American is sort of existentialist mindset that Americans have with respect to “I see that. I want that. Give me that.” Talk about your philosophy.
Steve: What’s interesting, Bill, is because of the 2008 crash, we’ve seen a change in the mindset. Really, there are more people out there saying “do I need that? Can I afford it?” It’s thrilling our heart because until this last December, the amount of debt – consumer debt that people have been racking up has been going down. People are paying cash. They’re being more frugal. That’s what we’re all about. We know that at any moment, if we need something, there’s somebody who desperately wants to get rid of it and we have to find that person or that company. When we find them, we’re going to find the best price for the best quality items out there. That’s where we live.
Annette: But Bill, you’re right. The whole culture that we live in today, the society, it says “if you want it, get it. Put it on time. Pay it on time.” I think and hope that America is starting to wake up, like Steve said, and realize that having it all instantly really doesn’t make you very happy. Planning ahead and saving for things and figuring out the best way to get exactly what you want for the best price – that’s far more rewarding and a more satisfying way to live.
Steve: I have never heard anybody brag about paying retail. I just haven’t heard it.
Bill: That’s a great point, guys. I think what you’re saying is, when we get shocked, when we go through an economic issue like we did in 2008, it’s like somebody grabs us by the shirt and shakes us a little bit by the collar and says “wait a second. You’ve got a new paradigm. You better get on it because if you don’t you’re going to find it slip sliding away – your own financial conditions slip sliding away.” You see it, Steve, a little bit as you say, as a blessing. Hard times can be a blessing, can’t they?
Annette: Yes they can.
Steve: For us, it’s a time to decide whether we’re going to run to the bank for credit or we’re going to run to the Creator. I prefer seeing God deliver us, not because we’re being foolish about what we’re doing, but because we’re trusting Him. It’s far greater joy to see Him deliver us and deliver what we need in an unexpected way than it is to say “I bought this with my credit card.”
Bill: And to give him that credit as part of that journey, I think, is where the real efficacy takes place. Let’s go back in time and talk about – you got married – what was it, 1982?
Steve: A hundred years ago … [laughs]
Annette: Yes it was. We’re going on 30 years.
Bill: You know what’s funny? I was watching a financial show yesterday and there was a chart on there. The chart talked a little bit about American savings rates. There was two interesting numbers in there. In 1958, we were saving a lot of money and contentingly to save a lot of money. The examination period was – the year I was born was 1958 – was 1958 through 1982 were the peaks of America’s savings rates. Then in 1982, it peaked and started – it’s been going down ever since. At some point, it’s very troubling, where, guys, if I go to China and talk to people in China, it’s funny because they save a lot like the Japanese. They save a lot of money in China. Interestingly enough, it’s the housewives that save. Abe, I have to tell you this, I said to my friend, Sean Kai, do you own any gold? He said “no, but my wife does.” There’s this culture of savings in some of these other cultures – that used to exist in our culture. What happened, do you think?
Annette: I think people believe the lie that our culture dished out. They said “have it now, live for today.” that’s basically it – “live for today. Don’t worry about tomorrow.” I think that’s a huge shift in thinking.
Steve: The chart that you’re referring to about the savings rate parallels the use of credit cards.
Bill: So the rise of credit in this country, and the rise of the use of credit cards, tails the same way.
Steve: Yeah. Credit cards started out – I believe it was in the mid-1970s – they started becoming very mainstream. As people started using them more and more, their savings rate went down. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book “The Millionaire Next Door.”
Steve: In that book, they talk about the average millionaire saves between 15 and 20 percent of what he earns. We teach this to our kids. We have a new book coming out in August of this year called “The Money Smart Family System,” and it’s a system we used to teach our kids to manage money. In that we have them as part of the system, of setting aside 20 percent of what they earn. They give 10 percent, save 20 percent and they can spend 70 percent.
Bill: What a great formula.
Steve: If we learn to live on 70 percent of our earnings and save 20 percent of an ever-increasing wage, we’ll never have a financial problem.
Bill: God doesn’t want that much. He only takes 10 percent. You can give more if you want, obviously. But if you give 10 percent away to the church or tithe in the manner that you see fit and you save 20 percent, that idea of compounding over time – but like you said, no one thinks about that compounding anymore. No one thinks about the value. Didn’t Moses, when Moses was getting ready to take the Children of Israel in to the land of Canaan, didn’t he say to them “you go into this land and you loan money out.” Didn’t he do that, Abe?
Abe: Right. And eventually, they even gave for the building of the tabernacle, he had to stop them because they had a buy-in into the whole issue.
Bill: Great point.
Steve: That’s because they … they took all the gold from Egypt. They had some bucks. [laughter]
Bill: Yeah, they had gold, they had Egyptian gold.
Steve: But that reference that you’re describing really came from God putting before the Children of Israel a choice. He said “today I put before you the blessing and the curse. If you follow me, your eating bowl is going to be blessed. Your sheep are going to be blessed. Your cows are going to be blessed. Your children are going to be blessed. Everything you touch will be blessed if you do things my way. You will be the head, not the tail. You will loan to many nations, you will not borrow.” But then the converse, “if you don’t follow what I say, if you don’t want to obey me, then everything you touch will be cursed. You’ll have trouble with everything and you’ll be the tail. You’ll borrow from nations and they will lord it over you.” I really think that’s where we’ve gotten in America, but we don’t have to live that way as Americans.
Bill: Talk a little bit about – I totally agree with you Steve – talk a little bit about when you two first got married, because the book that you’re working on, I think, is going to have tremendous value in that at some point – it took us a long time to get into this problem, guys. We’re not going to get out of this in a snap. Your idea of building this mentality in to your children and via this book that you’re writing into the next generation – what kind of parents – I’m curious, you mention a little bit in the book – what kind of parents did both of you have?
Annette: We didn’t grow up in super frugal homes. Both of us grew up in typical middle-class homes. Steve’s dad owned his own business. They lived in a nice neighborhood in Hinsdale, Illinois. My father was an engineer – another typical middle-class home. Steve’s family actually was more frugal – his mom – than my family. My mom liked to spend money. They still shopped at the JC Penney’s bargain basement, which we talked about in our first book. They didn’t do a whole lot of garage sales but we started out doing that before we were married.
Steve: I never saw my parents use a credit card. My dad paid cash for his cars. Annette’s parents used credit cards and put things on time but beyond that, both of our moms cooked at home – cooked meals for the kids. We took our lunches to school. It was similar but we ratcheted it up …
Annette: Another level, yeah. When we were first married, I really wanted to stay home and learn what it was to keep a home. Of course we got pregnant two months later – not really planned but that just happens.
Steve: Can’t figure that one out.
Annette: Baby #1 was on his way pretty quick. We had so little when we were first married, we qualified for government assistance, didn’t even know it. We just survived. What started out as something that we had to do, pretty soon became a game to play.
Steve: We started this budgeting system we have where we set up different little sub-accounts in our checking account. It’s not real confusing. Imagine you had a bunch of envelopes – one for mortgage, one for clothes, one for food, one for recreation – and you put the money in that each paycheck like our grandparents may have done. We did the same thing on paper because after doing it with cash for a few months, we had over $1,000 in our little apartment. I was worried about somebody breaking in and stealing it. The system worked because we subdivided and we put money in a box to protect it for recreation or something like that. It helped us accumulate. The same thing happened saving for our first house. Within three years – actually, my dad told me that I should work two jobs, Annette should work one job, and we should save all our money and be in a house in three years. We decided Annette was going to stay home, I was going to work one job and do a little bit of freelance graphic design work. No joke, within three years, to the day, we moved into that house. Put 15 percent down and paid it off nine years later.
Annette: But they weren’t counting on my ability to stretch those pennies until they begged for mercy. [laughter]
Steve: Having somebody at home who pays attention to the finance, who’s the purchasing director, just like Abe …
Abe: I call it Home CEO.
Steve: That’s it exactly! A lot of Americans have taken to the concept that “we both need to go out and work,” and they’re so pickin’ tired when they get home, they don’t have time to manage what they have earned. As a result, they actually spend more because they’ve got car payments, they’ve got daycare, they’ve got fast food. They have to pay somebody to take care of the house because they don’t have time to clean it. You’re spending more than what you’re making.
Annette: It makes me mad, sometimes, how our culture so mocks anybody that wants to be home. It’s like a worthless trade. “No woman should ever want to just be home and run a home. You have no value if you do that.” I’m thinking “you guys are nuts.”
Bill: You know what, Annette? You know what they do? They mock that publicly but secretly they wish they were you. That’s what I’m telling you.
Steve: A lot of them do.
Bill: I think secretly inside, they wish they were you. But they’ve gone so far into their career and into the structure and into this grid that they think that they need to live on, that they have to justify every moment of it. That’s the way of justifying. We’re not out to beat anybody up who’s working. We all know what it’s like to work double jobs and for the wife to work. But you’ve got – what I love about what you’re talking about – Abe and I were discussing earlier that the division of labor – how helpful that is in business – having someone watching over the purchasing and watching over certain things. But to then talk about what you’re doing there, Annette, is operating as the financial intelligence officer of the home and making that a division of labor issue.
Annette: Absolutely. You’re right. I’m not here to beat anybody up. But I’ll tell you, I’ve gotten to live my dream. My days at home, raising kids and managing the finances in the home, no two days were ever the same. I didn’t have to worry about women stabbing me in the back. I was never bored, not a day in my life. Our kids are getting older and starting to leave the nest. Of course our business is taking a little bit more time so I don’t really have a chance to have that whole “empty nest” syndrome at this point. It’s so exciting. I have talked to women who said “I couldn’t do that. I’d be bored to tears.” I just looked at them like “what? You’ve got to be kidding me.” I’ve taken it, I guess, to another level, in that I’ve learned to sew, I’ve learned to can, I’ve learned to cook.
Annette: Garden. There’s never enough time in my day, never.
Bill: And you’ve made everything fun and exciting. I think you cover this in your book as well. What’s your attitude towards life? That’s such an important part of it. If your attitude is terrible, going to work’s going to be terrible, staying home’s going to be terrible. No matter what you do, it’s going to be terrible because you have a terrible attitude. You guys did a wonderful job covering that. Before we move on, what are the costs associated with – let’s use you guys as an example – let’s say Steve works two jobs and Annette works another job as well. You’ve got social costs there. You’ve got childcare. Then you’ve got real economic costs because, obviously, somebody else raises your children. Those are costs that are difficult to measure but costs nonetheless. You’ve got the financial cost of buying clothes. If you’re going to play that Bachman-Turner Overdrive song – “the train’s on time if you’ll get to work by 9” – all that stuff. You have this regimented lifestyle. That’s a very expensive lifestyle. Insurance on your cars – all that stuff. Speak a little bit about the true cost of having everybody work, work, work without the savings side.
Steve: There’s no margin for emergencies. If you’re talking about both spouses working, it really leaves you very little flexibility. Another cost is the mental cost because you’re trying to coordinate two schedules for vacations. You’ve got two bosses who say “no, you can’t have time off” at a certain time. You’re really into this spending mode because you’ve got the two cars that have to be maintained. You’ve got, like we said earlier, daycare costs, you’re not going to have the time to really scrutinize your food costs, so most likely you’re going to be spending on the high end. Family of four, on average, is spending $1,000 a month. If you’re both working, you’re probably going to spend $1,200 to $1,400 a month plus you’re going to be spending $400 to $600 a month eating out. It becomes more convenience driven than it does become health and frugality driven.
Annette: Honey, talk about how you’ve got that one statistic that talks about how when you earn the money versus you save the money.
Steve: Oh yeah. When the money has been squirreled away through diligence and effort, you’re going to be more hesitant to just spend it on a whim. They’ve done studies that say when you use a credit card you’re more likely to spend 25 percent more than you will if you spent cash. I don’t know if that’s the statistic you’re talking about?
Annette: No, the one you’re talking about – when you earn the money, you really have to earn 125 percent as opposed to saving it. Talk about that for just a second.
Steve: OK. I’ve got to get my mind around that one. When you save $100 because you’re frugal in your purchase – like Abe would do if he’s buying widgets for your company – he has saved $100. But if you were to go out and try to earn $100, you’d have to earn $128 or $130 versus saving the $100. So really, saving money …
Annette: Because taxes being held out of your paycheck.
Steve: Yeah, you have to earn the taxes. So saving money is better than earning it. You definitely have to earn it but saving the $100 really pays more.
Abe: Steve, that’s something that – I’ve worked at different companies – it’s such a hard thing to even let the owners understand. When you save on buying something at a lower rate or discounted rate or negotiating bulk purchases for the company, that savings actually translates into another 28 to 30 percent savings and income for the company that is never recorded on the balance sheet.
Steve: And of course, being the wise purchasing manager, when you do one of those big deals, you always get to get a percentage of that added to your salary.
Abe: That’s what I would like to do. [laughter]
Bill: Why did you guys bring that up? Abe and I will be talking about that the rest of the day now.
Abe: Bill’s going to take me out to lunch. We’re going to have a lunch conversation today.
Bill: No, but it’s true. The same thing can take place at the home. That’s exactly what Annette’s talking about. You can go out for supper, right? Because you’ve earned that money. You’ve banked that cash the same way we were just talking about. Pre-tax cash.
Annette: Yeah, we’ll go out for date nights and we’ll use 2-for-1 coupons. But as a general rule, because our household is so crazy with the kids’ schedules running out the door almost every night for something, it’s actually easier – literally easier – for me to just cook a meal here. It’s faster, it’s more private, we can connect with each other quicker. And out the door, everybody flies to wherever they need to go.
Steve: Years ago, we wrote an article called “How to Buy Like a Purchasing Manager.” I think we ought to hit on that because that is a huge way – some of the principles that Abe uses to get stuff for your business is the same things we can apply at home and make huge savings. I used to do a lot of work for Intel and Motorola. One of the differences between the two companies and why we bought stock in Intel, and lost money, but … we bought stock in Intel is because they had a rule that whenever they made a purchase, they had to get at least three quotes. Motorola didn’t do that. It was interesting. To me, the more prices we get when we’re buying something, the more research we do, the more assured we are of having a good price. That’s one rule for buying stuff at home. When you have a big purchase, you don’t just go out and buy the first thing you see. You spend time researching. We researched our first house – we looked at 40 houses. The average family buys between the second and the fourth house. We’re re-landscaping our backyard. We’re getting quotes on people laying brick. I’m seeing prices all over the place. Getting quotes, taking your time, keeping good records, having multiple sources – those are all things that purchasing people do without question. The other thing they do is they always dicker. They always bargain. They always say “is that your best price?” You can do that at a retail store, you can do that in grocery stores – we’ll find food that’s close to going out of code and we’ll go to the manager and say “this is going out of code in a day, it’s meat. We know that there’s nothing wrong with the meat. It can be frozen. It says ‘sell by or freeze by.’” You buy it – we’ll get 50 percent off. That’s huge savings without a coupon.
Abe: Sometimes, just because you asked …
Abe: Just because you asked and it’s a biblical principle – ask and you shall get. [laughter]
Bill: Abe grew up in India and in some cultures too, I think it’s common to do those things. Isn’t it, Abe?
Bill: It’s not anything you should feel badly about because people just do that – “hey, what’s your best price? Is this your best price today?”
Abe: In our culture, we maybe go to a little bit of extreme, but that’s the only checks and balances we have because there are no – anybody puts a price tag and they don’t even know what the value of the product is. We had no choice but to get multiple sources of getting information. I tell all the purchasing managers here that I mentor or train, just get market savvy. The way to get market savvy is to get information from multiple sources and compare and contrast, because that keeps every vendor honest.
Bill: You can let those butchers tell you about different cuts of meat and what they have. You can get educated by the sales reps in some sense. You were going to say something, Annette?
Annette: Bingo! Yes, yes! For both of you guys, you hit the nail right on the head. One of those savings for food strategies that we talk about is to know your prices, becoming familiar with the market, just like Abe was saying. The vehicle that I use to get there is the food ads that come out from all the stores in your area, once a week. For us, it’s every Wednesday morning, all the grocery stores put out their food ads. I can look at those food ads and there’ll be some things that’ll be just discounted slightly but there’ll be other things that’ll be “whoa!” – their rock-bottom price. Because I play the grocery market, month in and month out, I can look at that and go “that is a phenomenal deal. We’re going to stock up this week.”
Steve: For those who don’t play the grocery market as readily as Annette does, we have in our second book, “How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half” – there’s a sheet called a “price tracker sheet.” We have that available on our website at americascheapestfamily.com. What you do is you take a particular item – let’s say you’re looking at peanut butter. For several weeks you track the price in the ads or you go to the grocery store and you track the price by store and by ounce. You figure out what the best price is. Then you have it down when you see the prices, when you see sale prices and you know it’s 20 percent off – 20 percent savings – that’s when you buy four or five jars and you stock up. Now you want to be careful when you stock up that you buy things that don’t go rancid. One time we bought – we found a phenomenal deal on mayonnaise. I know that’s kind of gross but …
Annette: We couldn’t use it up.
Steve: By the time we went to use the last jar, it had turned yellow. It was disgusting.
Annette: That’s a whole … we could spend some time talking about that topic today, if you want, but just talking through what foods store well. I don’t know if you guys already have that info.
Bill: No, we’d love to talk about that.
Annette: On your website … and what foods you can’t – it’s ridiculous to try to stock up on. When we stock up on stuff because it’s a good sale and we’ll buy six months’ to a year’s worth, obviously just like the Mormons do, we will push the oldest stuff forward and put the newest stuff in the back so that we’re always using up our inventory before the quality of it is compromised.
Steve: Anything that comes in gets labeled with a month and year on the top of the can or on the box. Then we arrange stuff on our shelves with the oldest stuff in front first. The kids know to look at the dates to take it that way.
Annette: Are you ready for me to run through some of this stuff?
Bill: Sure, let’s do it.
Annette: OK. Things like jelly, jam – they’re pretty much pure sugar – they’ll last, easily, a year or more on your shelf. Peanut butter not so much. Peanut butter can go rancid. Honey – once again, honey will last a really long time. The only difficulty is it will crystallize, but if you have a heat source to warm it and melt it, you’re fine. Shortening – another thing that can go rancid. Oil can go rancid. Vinegar – what’s interesting is they put vinegar in plastic – we buy it by the gallon. That can be compromised after time so if you transfer the vinegar into glass jars it’s good to go for a long time.
Bill: How long does vinegar last, Annette, roughly? If we put it in a glass jar, what are you talking about?
Steve: It lasts indefinitely. There’s a book written in 1894 called “The Frugal American Housewife.” She made her own vinegar by adding …
Annette: I don’t know, but back then they used to buy it by the barrel. Vinegar, if it’s in glass jars, it’ll last a long, long time. Maple syrup, once again, if stuff is in glass jars it’s going to do better than if it’s in plastic. Ketchup, mustard, all that stuff will last a long time.
Steve: ketchup can go bad. Mustard usually doesn’t because it’s got a lot of vinegar in it to preserve it.
Annette: Mayonnaise – not so much. That stuff can go bad. Pickles in glass jars – we buy them in the gallon jars – pickles will last a long time. Relish same thing. Salad dressings – I don’t know about. Tomato products in the cans – those will last six months to a year in cans.
Steve: You can go two years with canned products, you just have to watch them and make sure that they aren’t dented, that they aren’t expanded on the top. If the top gets puffed out you’ve got a chance there’s bacteria in there. But canned products will last a long time. You just rotate them. If you can yourself, you know how to watch that. Let’s jump over to what can be frozen.
Annette: Actually, I was going to talk about a few other things like fruit. Unless you’ve got sources on your property for fruit, dried fruit is another good thing to stock up on that will be around for a long time.
Steve: We encourage people, wherever they are, to plant as many fruit trees as they can.
Annette: Right. Or nut trees, too. We have a citrus orchard. Back in those colder climates where you guys are from, all the stone fruits – peaches, apricots, pears and apples …
Steve: And there’s so many hybrid versions now. For us, because we live in a warmer climate, we have to watch the chill hours. We have to buy trees that have shorter chill hours because we don’t have that many hours of time below 40 degrees. But if you live in an area where it freezes, you can grow those deciduous trees. I look at it, if I’m going to put water down on the ground here in Arizona, I’m going to make sure I get food out of it. We do have lots of trees. We put in apple trees, apricot, peach and lots of citrus.
Steve: Year-round we’re pulling fruit off the trees. That’s another inexpensive way to feed your family and to do it organically and healthy.
Bill: When you trimmed your trees, you get your kids involved in picking up all those sticks and that’s part of that whole business, right?
Annette: Oh yeah.
Bill: The kids get to see that.
Bill: What’s that?
Annette: He said we used it for the fireplace. We have big trash pickup four times a year so the stuff that is really …
Steve: The smaller stuff …
Annette: The smaller stuff goes on that big trash pile. Yes, the kids definitely help with that. Canned meats that you can stock up on would be hams and tuna. Those are fairly easy. We do use our freezer as a bank, as a storage vault.
Steve: We believe that a freezer, for most families, is probably the chief appliance that can save them the most money and actually make money. We look at it this way – when turkeys are – in our area, they got down to 49 cents a pound. The actual wholesale price for turkeys for grocers is about 89 cents a pound. That’s one of their loss leaders. Typical retail price on sale is 99 cents to $1.59 a pound. When they’re selling it for 59 cents a pound, we buy a bunch of them and we line our 27 cubic foot freezer – we line the bottom with turkeys. Any meat that is vacuum sealed and frozen in heavy plastic can be stored for years. If you go to the store and you look at the frozen turkeys, you will not see a sell by or expiration date on them.
Bill: Why would that be?
Steve: Because they don’t deteriorate. I talked to a butcher at one of our grocery stores. It’s after Thanksgiving, I said “what are you going to do with these frozen turkeys? Are they going to be marked down?” He said “no, they’re just going to go back in the freezer and we’ll sell them. There’s no expiration date on them.” Another butcher told me – he was in the Navy for several years as a chef – he said whenever they shipped out for 18 months, they would have two years’ worth of turkeys because they obviously had two Thanksgivings over this period of time. He said “the turkeys we served the second year were just as good as the turkeys the first year.” The things that deteriorate meat are air and heat.
Annette: And freezer burn.
Steve: Freezer burn … but because the vacuum seal packaging is so thick, nothing deteriorates. Think about the foods that are stored in thick plastic. You can find ham …
Annette: Right. Corned beef. Ribs. Any of those meats – they’ll go on sale during the holidays – like corned beef is going to be on sale here in March and we’ll buy six to eight of them. I’ll cook one – maybe we’ll even buy more this year, maybe even 12 of them. Once a month we’ll make Reuben sandwiches.
Steve: What we look for is we look for a buy price. We establish a buy price based on Annette’s knowledge of what good pricing is. When an item hits our buy price, we’ll buy five, 10, 12, 15, 20 of them. In the case of turkeys, we made our goal this year to stock up with 12 turkeys. Multiply that times 20 pounds apiece – we’re over 240 pounds worth of meat in our freezer for 59 cents a pound, on average.
Annette: The ribs are all popular during the summer but, believe it or not, out here at least, 4th of July is not the best price on ribs because everybody’s thinking of ribs at 4th of July. The best price, believe it or not, is Memorial Day. I stocked up on a whole bunch of ribs, right at Memorial Day and right after. It was awesome! We were eating ribs in October. We were like “whoa – this is great! We’ve got ribs!”
Bill: That’s fabulous. Abe and I talked about dashboard items as management tools. You guys have these dashboard items at your place – one of those is buy prices on everything.
Abe: We do too.
Bill: That’s exactly the way we think in terms of our business. Taking that and applying that towards your household purchase. The buy prices can transcend into anywhere, no matter what you’re going after. What you’re talking about is the kind of planning and patience – and really on this show – as we were talking about before we even started today – stewardship is where I think the action is. You’re given certain things in life. You’re asked to be stewards over those things. Some people get dealt cards that don’t look like much at some points in their life. Some people get dealt kingdoms. You’re asked not to do too much more than just be stewards over what you have been given. Then God promises growth. As you were talking about, not only growth, but if you read Deuteronomy, He’ll chase you down and give you that growth. It doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen to good people and so forth, those are aberrations. But I’m saying, on balance, if you treat your world the way Steve and Annette are proposing, you will see slow, steady, stable, gradual growth, right guys?
Steve: That’s right. One of my favorite verses is in Proverbs – Chapter 30, Verses 7 and 8. It says “feed me with the food that’s my portion, lest I be full and lose the Lord or be in wont and steal and profane Your name.” To me, what we’ve lost sight of, because of watching too much reality TV or too much celebrity TV, is we’ve forgotten that there is a portion for us. God promises to take care of us. But when we try to live Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portion, or Michael Jackson’s portion, or somebody else’s portion, instead of what God has dealt us, we won’t be content. We will spend stuff we shouldn’t spend. We will be ultimately unhappy. When we live within what God has given us, even if it’s just a little bit, better is a morsel of food in the corner than … there’s contentment there. Our goal is to say “God, you’ve given us this much money. We have this need. How are you going to provide? You are the owner. We’re just the manager.” Really, that’s what steward is – it means manager. He’s responsible for taking care of us. We are responsible for doing the work he calls us to and living within the means that he’s given us. I tell you there’s great joy when we discover his provisions.
Annette: And you know, Bill, the truth is, everybody has hard times. Hard times don’t just come to some people. They come to everybody at some point in our lives. But if we are living our life in such a way, like you said, where we’re stewarding and we are being as prepared as we can at all times, which is what your whole ministry and radio show talks about, then when those tough times come – because they do come to everybody – they’re less tough to get through. Because life is not spinning out of control in every area and you have a certain level of preparedness that provides an even keel to get through the tough times.
Steve: And we should be able, not only to provide for our own family, but we should be able to help others, which is a huge testimony. If we’re up to our eyeballs in debt and we’re barely surviving, how can we love and help others who are hurting?
Bill: Boy, now you’ve touched on something. Let’s talk about this concept of seeking first the Kingdom of God and then you’re going to get all these other things. That applies probably financially, as we’ve been discussing, but I think the interesting thing about living life the way you guys are doing it – I think that there’s other benefits. You’re banking time that you can use, and certainly you’re stewarding your money to give away to charity and so forth, but you’re also banking some of your time away so that you’re not so harried and margined off that you can’t ever do the needs of people that are in a hurry. You’re not so margined off financially so you can’t help. Tell us about the liberating effect of managing and being a good steward that allows you to be a better Christian, a better steward in your community.
Annette: I do think that when we steward not only our finances but our time, and we do have the time to help, it is – it brings joy. We have a once-a-week staff meeting at our home, just like businesses have. At that staff meeting, we discuss car usage, because we have four drivers and three cars. We discuss the social calendar – if there’s something going on that all of us need to participate in. We discuss projects around the house, if there’s a project everybody needs to help with. We discuss if somebody needs to buy somebody something for something going on and how we’re going to get to the store that week. They’re learning – our kids as teens were learning to think two and three weeks out from things. We never really got the “mom, I need cupcakes for school tomorrow.” That really didn’t happen at our house.
Steve: Or if it was said, we said “gosh, that’s too bad. Let’s see what else we have that you can take because we aren’t doing that.” Basically, the idea is – Annette has this phenomenal internal calendar. She loves the calendar. We talked yesterday, she’s planning Christmas presents for next year right now. She says “I thought about these gifts for these people. If we can find them at a good price we’re going to buy them.” That’s how her mind works. I’m more on the creative side so I’ve had to learn to think that way but I so respect her ability to get her mind around something like that because it saves us so much money, stress, time. It’s an incredibly valuable tool.
Annette: We have some friends that are going to be moving. They’re in a distressed financial situation and they need to get out of the house where they are. She called me yesterday and we’ve got a fairly busy week but I said “Patty, we can give you a couple of hours on Saturday to come over and help box. And we can give you a couple of hours next Tuesday.” We don’t have eight hours to give them, but we have two hours to help them. Of course they don’t have money to pay packers. Our daughter works at a retail bookstore and so they’ve already been over there and she talked to the receiving manager and got them 40 matching boxes so that they could pack their stuff – heavy duty, good cardboard. So, yeah, we work as a team around our home.
Steve: And we share our resources with others who need them.
Annette: Right. We’ve been blessed in the same way. When our kids were little, Steve would laugh and I’d be so overwhelmed because the minute I got through all the bags of hand-me-down clothes, another bag would show up.
Steve: We’re talking 50-gallon trash bags full of clothes.
Annette: That was a blessing and a curse – I could never keep up with the pile – but I don’t know how we would have survived without them.
Steve: Bill, that’s a point – we’re hitting on so many cool things that we take for granted. We became a conduit for receiving and giving things away. I don’t know what the value is of it. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of thousands of dollars of stuff have come through our house. One of the rules of frugality – I think, Abe, you’ll agree with this – if somebody’s going to give you something, you never say no.
Abe: Exactly. You’ve got to find someplace to store inventory though.
Steve: Obviously you have to have a place to store it, but you take it in and you find someone who can use it. We become this reference guide. People call us up – “do you have any furniture? We’ve got some missionaries coming in town.” I say “I’ve got two dressers … actually, I’ve got three. I’ve got some shelves and some chairs. Do you need those?” They come over to our warehouse and come check them out. We just learned to store things carefully and to keep track of what we have and share them. It’s an incredible blessing.
Annette: There was a young couple of here in December some time. They’re engaged and they’re going to be married soon. I’m like “this is a great time to clean out our Christmas stuff.” I put a whole box together of Christmas decorations we’re not using anymore and I was like “would you be interested in some Christmas stuff?” Because remember that first year? You have nothing that first year. Nothing. And you have no money to buy anything that first year. Of course I checked with our own kids first and I said “do you guys want …” – pulled out a whole table full of stuff – I said “do you guys want any of this stuff?” They said “yeah, we want this, this and this.” The stuff that they wanted I put back in the boxes but there was still a whole box of stuff left. I gave it to this young couple and they were like “OK, we’ll take it home and we’ll talk about and we’ll bring you back anything we don’t want.” We never got anything back. [laughter] I said to Steve, “it’s so cute – this young couple that’s engaged – they’re like little squirrels collecting nuts.” Anything you want to give them, they’ll take right now.
Steve: That’s another principle of the frugal life. We may not have huge income to give money to people, but we can give to their need. We always have an excess, whether it’s – when we were coaching people financially and have a single mom over and helping her get out of debt. Annette would go to our pantry shelves and fill a couple of grocery bags full of stuff. We’d never miss it. There’s always abundance in our house. It’s not necessarily because we have a lot of money, it’s because we buy smart and we know how to store it and save it.
Bill: Let me stop you there for a second because – I think we have a lot of economic prognosticators, a lot of people say “here’s when I think depression will hit.” We’re in 2012 and a lot of people have made early New Year’s resolutions. We’re still fairly new into the year. Here’s what I’m going to do financially. But I think we’re facing … and who knows, other than God, when you’re going to have a financial debacle. Even if there’s no out and out debacle, it’s eaten by alligators or nibbled to death by ducks, right? At a minimum, if listeners don’t take proactive measures towards what Steve and Annette are saying, you’re going to face hard times because the inflationary nature of the problem that we’ve created. We’ve got this debt, we don’t have the money, the work force, the productivity to pay it off. In short, we’re going to pay it off with fiat currency. That’s going to exacerbate these problems more and more. As we move into 2012, what’s your best advice for someone? It’s obviously target pricing, buying things – but anything else? Gardening? What would you give your advice?
Steve: The first thing is they’ve got to learn to be a manager – a steward of what they have. Let’s talk about income first. That would be you’ve got to have a system for managing your money. Most people call it a budget and a lot of people cringe when they hear the B word, but it is your friend. A budget – a system for managing your income will keep you from wasting money.
Annette: We have a discount right now on our website for budgeting stuff.
Steve: We have a household finance audio download people can get for $8.62 – there’s a 20 percent off coupon.
Bill: Say the website again so everybody knows where that’s at.
Steve: americascheapestfamily.com. The special runs through the end of September …
Annette: End of January.
Steve: I’m sorry, end of January. In that audio CD, we define the system we used, which is basically a system designed by Larry Burkett. Years ago when we first married we heard about it and we’ve done it ever since. It’s on paper. It puts our money the bank. That is the tool that helped us pay off our house in nine years. Paid cash for all of our cars. Take vacations without debt.
Annette: We modified Larry’s system a little bit. It’s so effective. The second thing I would say is get out of debt.
Steve: Absolutely. Clear off debt. Here’s something you’ve got to know. With credit card companies, if you have credit card debt and you can get some type of accumulation of cash, you call them up – they are so desperate for cash to be able to lend out more money, they will often times settle for 40 percent of what you owe. You have to be shrewd about this, but you call them up and say “I owe you $5,000. What will your cash payoff be?” You’ll be amazed. Abe, you know this too, as a purchasing manager you never mention the price first. You let them come up with the price. You work your way up the ladder – talk from a person who answer the phone to a manager to whatever – work your way up the ladder. Get one person, take their name, write it down, keep in touch with them, and keep working them until you get the price you want. But pay off that debt. If you’re using credit cards, I would stop using them if you’re not paying them off every month.
Annette: Bill, the third thing I would say is, I know there’s a lot of survivalists out there that are talking about stocking up on years’ worth of food but if it’s a fairly new concept to you, don’t stress about it. Shoot for a month’s worth of food and make sure you have a month’s worth of food in your house. Learn what the buy prices are and stock up when the things are on sale. It’s true, grocery prices are going through the roof right now. Every time I go to the grocery store, I feel like I’ve been put to sleep for five years and then woke up like “Forever Young,” although his was 50 years. We need to figure out what is a good buy price and then stock up on those things that are going to last.
Bill: Here in corn country and farm country, the great Midwest, I can tell you that prices aren’t going to get any cheaper because the costs that farmers have to get stuff into the field just keep escalating because it’s built into the nature of this Keynesian system that we’ve got ourselves on. It’s hard to decouple yourself – it’s hard to decouple the nation. What you’re saying is we can decouple – we can start to take responsibility right where we are. As we close, don’t you think too there’s this idea of always pointing a finger? I was watching one of the debates last night and it almost makes my stomach turn, in a sense, because everybody’s always wanting to point at this political person or that political person. I don’t ever see or hear anyone talking about the nature of Americana and how we’ve done this to ourselves. It’s so much easier to point at a president and a vice president. I’m not saying that these folks aren’t guiltless. I’m just saying what control do you have over some of these things? You do have control. God’s given you control of your own government, of your own household government. Why not start there? Isn’t that what Joseph always did in the Bible? Joseph, no matter where he found himself, he started saying “here’s where I am. If I’m in a pit, then I’m the steward of that pit. If I’m running Egypt, then I’m running Egypt.” It doesn’t matter. What did God give you? What cards do you have to play?
Annette: Exactly. You hit the nail on the head, Bill. We cannot control what’s happening right now in our government and in our country. But we can sure do our darnedest to be as prepared as we can be as individual families.
Steve: The Joseph principle is this: you are a steward of what God is giving you. As you learn to steward what little you have, He will give you more to steward. Joseph didn’t start off by stewarding Egypt. He started off by taking care of a few sheep.
Bill: Great point.
Steve: He did that well. Then he was thrown in a pit and he took care of a household. He did that well and then he was thrown in jail and he took care of a jail. Then he did that well, and he was given a country.
Bill: It’s just the opposite of entitlement, isn’t it Steve?
Annette: It sure is.
Bill: It’s just the opposite of an entitlement mentality, where you’re saying “yeah, I’ll work my way up. I’m patient. I know that God is good. He’s just. He’ll watch me over time.”
Steve: He honed his skills. He kept looking to God to say “how should I do this? I know you want the best for me. I know you want to bless me. This is what you’ve given me. I’m going to make the best I can out of what you’ve given to me.” That’s where we need to live. We need to stop looking in everybody else’s bag and what everybody else supposedly has, because we don’t know how much debt they’re really carrying – we just need to be content, work hard, be smart and live within that portion that God’s given us and we’ll have joy.
Bill: Great response, Steve. Annette, final words?
Annette: I just want to encourage everybody – don’t feel like it’s an all or nothing thing. When you see those survivalists you’re like “oh, forget it … I’m not going to that extreme.” We’re not talking about extremes. If you grocery shop three times a week, try doing it once a week. If you’ve got two cupboards with food in your house, make it four. If you’ve got five credit cards, pay off one. Take the small steps and you’ll find that they’re so much fun it’ll encourage you to keep going.
Bill: That’s great advice. I just want to say thank you guys for coming. Before you go, go to americascheapestfamily.com and take advantage of the blog. You can buy the book there. You can probably buy the book on Amazon. We have the book, “America’s Cheapest Family,” which is a fabulous book, at the Solutions from Science store. Just want to encourage you to spend some time on their site, looking around. Guys, I’d love to have you back when your new book on how to teach these principles to your children and grandchildren is out.
Annette: We’d love to come back.
Steve: We just finished editing it. It’s going to typesetting but it’ll be out in August. We’re excited about it. I think this is going to be one of the most revolutionary books out there.
Bill: Thank you again so much for your time. This has been a lot of fun. Abe, thank you for your time.
Abe: Thank you. Steve and Annette, it’s been a great blessing.
Steve and Annette: Thanks Abe. We’ll talk to you guys later.
Bill: Take care. God bless. If you’d like to also leave us some comments about how you’re getting by, how you’re saving money, you can also do that. If you’re listening on the website, you can go below. Please feel free to give your comment about what you thought about the show today. Maybe you’ve got some helpful tips or techniques that you’d like to pass on with respect to living a more frugal manner. That’s all the time we’ve got today. Thanks again for spending this hour with us at Off the Grid Radio.[0:52:20]