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America's Cheapest Family: Kids don't have to cost so much

The Economides call themselves America's cheapest family. And yes, that is their real name. They've shown TODAY audiences how to save on everything from holiday decorations to clothes to groceries. Here, Steve and Annette Economides share advice with a reader on how to scale back expenses with three growing children.

Question: Last year my husband had a nice secure job working a four-day work week. We had good insurance, shutdowns at holidays, 401k, retirement benefits and bonuses. Then one day the company decided that they no longer needed his particular division. Now my husband works for a temporary service at less than half the pay and no benefits.

Our biggest problem has to do with having three boys – ages 12, 13 and 17. The oldest is a senior this year and we need some practical advice on how to cover all the expenses, from senior pictures to shouldering the cost of SAT testing. There has been no whining about wearing off-brand shoes or Mom and Dad not being able to follow the ball teams to away games like we used to. The younger boys do odd jobs and yard work for neighbors and the oldest one has a part-time job.

Answer: The first issue is to deal with medical insurance. If you don't have it through COBRA, encourage your husband to keep looking for a job that will at least provide major medical coverage. In the meantime, pick up a temporary medical policy with a high deductible – you’ve got to be covered, especially with kids. Check out EHealthInsurance.com. (Editor's note: Depending on the rules in your state, you children may also qualify for coverage through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.)

You’re on the right track with your boys earning their own money. Encourage them to pick up more of their own expenses if possible. You’ll need to help them prioritize what they spend their money on, and help them look ahead to anticipate future expenses such as prom or photos or sport team fees.

Shop around. Sometimes senior pictures can be purchased somewhere other than the school and you can realize substantial savings.

With your reduced income, you many qualify for an SAT waiver—meet with the guidance counselor at your son’s high school. You can get more info here. If sports fees become overwhelming, ask the sponsoring organization if they have any scholarships available.

Don’t be shy about shopping thrift stores for clothes and prom outfits. In the last year we purchased two tuxedos from thrift/consignment stores, one for $50 and another for $22; both needed minor alterations. We also found fantastic gowns for our daughters for less than $10 each.

You're doing great. Keep evaluating every expense. If it's a necessity and the money isn't there, look for other options and you'll not only survive these tough times, but you’ll find ways to THRIVE!

Visit our website to read our Q&A blog and hundreds of money saving tips from visitors all around the world. And here is an archive from a live Web chat the Economides hosted on TODAY.com:

 

And watch a video from their segment on TODAY: 

The "cheapest family in America," the Economides, share their wardrobe wisdom and give tips on finding thrift-shop steals and making the most out of used clothing.