ABC's 20/20 - Flat Broke — Begging and Borrowing in America

ABC 20/20 , Elizabeth Vargas, Logo

Our segment on this show was first broadcast on January 19, 2007 and then rebroadcast on August 2, 2007.

The story below is from the ABC web site and was posted there in August. It did not appear in January.


America's Cheapest Family Lives Debt Free
The Economides Wrote the Book on Debt-Free Living

Credit card debt in the U.S. is soaring -- almost tripling since 1989, according to the Federal Reserve Board. Today, American consumer debt is over a trillion dollars.

More than half of all cardholders don't pay their bill off each month and carry an average balance of around $2,000. But despite the fact that many Americans seem mired in debt, there is one family who has managed to live debt-free and credit card free.

The aptly named Economides family pays for a nice house, two cars, furniture, clothes, and food for a family of seven and everything else they need on an average income of less than $35,000. They are America's Cheapest Family.

In their book "America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money," a New York Times bestseller, they explain their system for staying debt free. It takes meticulous planning and a willingness to truly accept the one rule of debt free living: if you don't have the money, don't buy it. They stick to a budget, buy clothes at thrift and consignment stores and shop for used furniture and other household items on the Internet.

But it is in the supermarket where America's Cheapest Family has really made a name for themselves. Annette Economides calls herself "the Warren Buffet of Groceries." Annette preplans 30 days worth of meals before they launch their monthly trip to the grocery store. Annette says that over time those few pennies saved can add up. "Hundreds of dollars on a monthly basis add up to thousands of dollars in a year."

The Economides have been called all sorts of names: cheapskates, the first family of frugal, and tightwads. But they wear those names with a badge of honor. Following their plan is certainly not easy, but the Economides say they are happy living a debt free life.

"What do you need to be happy? I think more people need to sit back and think about that. Do you need every gizmo and gadget and name brand? I don't think so."

By JESSICA HORNIG
August 2, 2007

Here's a link to the page on ABC's web site that tells Matt and Suzie Peterson's story


Below we recount our experience with the 20/20 crew.

America's Cheapest Family

elizabeth vargas with the economides familyIn the recording studio — Elizabeth Vargas (back row left) and the Economides clan.

We're grateful that ABC's 20/20 producers wanted to help Americans deal with the issue of personal debt.

They did a good job investigating the sad story of Matt and Suzie Peterson (you can read it here and view a portion of the show) — and offering them some help to their debt dilemma. The had Robert Pagliarini, the author of The Six-Day Financial Makeover come along side of the Petersons, give them an objective view of their situation and suggest action steps they could take.

Three minutes of video   Our part of the show was to illustrate that a family can be raised, take vacations, have fun and eat well without going into debt. We had a camera crew in our home for two days the weekend before Thanksgiving 2006 and then spent five hours taping an interview with Elizabeth Vargas in New York City in early January 2007. The end result of all of this shooting was about three minutes of broadcasted video.

Disappointed Hundreds of 20/20 viewers went to ABC's web site to get more information on "that frugal family." They also wanted to view our segment of the show on ABC's web site, but couldn't find it. They did find the segment on the Petersons and Credit Collection agencies. When they couldn't find information about our family, they started searching ABC's web site and found a 2004 article on us from our appearance on Good Morning America.

Internet Power After the 20/20 show aired, many web sites like News.Yahoo.com and Fark.com posted the old GMA story. Visits to our web site surpassed the surge from 20/20. We started receiving comments that book stores were running out of our books. Even the behemoth, Amazon.com had to put our book on back order. The next week, our book was listed on the New York Times Best Seller list!

America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right On The Money will show you how to live an abundant, fun-filled life without the entanglements of debt.

The 20/20 crew in our kitchen. From left to right: Abbey, Sylvia Johnson (20/20 associate producer), Camera Man Jim Kent (Art Gecko Productions — Phoenix), Annette, Joe, Becky, Roy, Steve (just peeking out) and Paul (Sound man)

 

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You can watch a portion of the show here:

ABC's 20/20 News Magazine
01/19/2007
Appearances: 
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