While reviewing his social security statement, W. Hodding Carter realized his family was living beyond their means. About $30,000 per year beyond their means. In Extreme Frugality: Doing the Unthinkable, a weekly article on Gourmet magazine's website, Carter journals his family's experience of trying to live a more frugal lifestyle.
Carter explains how they got into such a predicament:
Thanks to those heady days of refinancing, deft shuffling of credit-card debt, deceased grandparents, and a lucrative house sale, however, we had lived, year after year, as if we were making $120,000. Like 70 percent of our fellow Americans, we were living off our VISA cards with no means of paying them off any time soon.
Carter's family had racked up $75,000 in credit card debt while holding little equity in their house. With a $550 monthly budget for six people — after paying for his mortgage, insurance and credit card payments — the Carter family embarked on their new adventure.
Food habits were the first to change. The family stopped eating out, made their own bread and shopped in bulk. They bought chickens for the free eggs and fertilizer they provide. Their oil furnace was replaced with an unused wood stove. Carter is excited about starting "anew", even though the transition has been difficult.
The Carters are not alone. The average American household owes more than $8,200 in credit card debt and — until the economic crisis hit — was saving only about one percent of disposable income. But there are signs that things are turning around.
Government figures show that over a nine-month period ending in December, the personal saving rate more than tripled to 3.6 percent. Harris Poll findings reveal that 54 percent of households spent less on recreation and entertainment, while half of Americans shopped at discount stores in 2008.
Will people continue this increasingly thrifty mindset after the economy rebounds, or fall back into another spending craze? The Carters have been able to successfully change their ways for two months — but will the novelty of gathering chicken guano for fertilizer lose its luster over time?