Local mom shows others how to live frugally

This article originally was published in The Wichita Eagle on June 8, 2008.

Tawra Kellam spends about 40 percent less than most families her size to feed herself, her husband and three children.

Long before gas and food prices started rising, Tawra Kellam pinched pennies everywhere she could.

She feeds her family of five on $350 a month, serving favorites such as fajitas, tacos and beef Stroganoff.

The local mother has made a business -- and a name for herself -- living frugally.

She operates www.livingonadime.com, a Web site dedicated to getting the most out of every dollar.

Kellam, who grew up in Wichita and lives in Andover, got her inspiration from her mother, Jill Cooper, a co-author and editor.

"I saw my mom raise two teenagers on $500 a month without debt, and I wanted to be that free," Kellam said.

She started working on her first book, "Not Just Beans," in 1997 while she was on bed rest for her first pregnancy and finished it two years later.

"I was giving people free advice, and I thought 'This is crazy, I'll make them pay for it,' " she said.

Since then, she and her mother have published four books in print and 23 books online.

The Web site has 26,000 newsletter subscribers and about 100,000 visitors a month.

How she does it

An average family of five or more spent $5,880 on food at home in 2006, the latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.

Kellam spends about 40 percent less than most families her size to feed herself, her husband and three children, who are 10, 9 and 4.

Kellam has been getting national attention. The magazine Quick & Simple, which writes about way to cut corners without cutting quality, recently interviewed her. Woman's World and Good Housekeeping also plan to feature her in articles.

The Web site has been featured on AOL, SmartMoney.com, Oprah.com and Yahoo Finance, Kellam said.

"We're all over the Internet," the 35-year-old said.

Here's how Kellam saves money on groceries:

She buys staples for her pantry at Aldi, a discount store where you bag groceries yourself and put a 25-cent deposit on shopping carts.

Aldi offers private-label brands and a few name-brand products.

She augments what she buys at Aldi with meat from Dillons, which she said can be less expensive there when it's on sale.

Dillons had hamburger on sale for 75 cents a pound recently, for example. She bought 80 pounds, sharing about 30 with her mother and sister. The other 50 pounds went into the freezer.

Kellam is a proponent of making wise use of your freezer and stocking up on items you use regularly when they're at a good price.

She shops with a list and a plan but will stray from it if there's a good deal. Hamburger, for example, wasn't on her list when she bought 80 pounds of it. And on this trip, strawberries weren't on her list, but she found them at 99 cents for a 1-pound container. She bought six containers and planned to clean and freeze them. Dillons recently had milk on sale for 49 cents a half-gallon. She bought a lot and froze that, too.

She shops about every two weeks. She rarely uses coupons, only about 10 a year, she guesses.

"Store brands are usually cheaper than the name brand with a coupon," she said.

Planning meals

She tries to plan meals that can take advantage of leftovers. For example, if she makes a roast, she might have barbecue sandwiches the next day, fajitas the day after that and then beef Stroganoff.

Her three children, she says, aren't used to name brands.

Walking in Aldi recently, she picked up a jar and pointed out the promise in writing that Aldi will give customers their money back and a product replacement if they don't like the item. That encourages people to buy the off-brands.

Dillons, as well as other stores, also allows customers to bring back store brands they don't like. Customers can get either a refund or a replacement with a name brand.

Kellam then hits the snack section.

She saves money by buying large bags of snacks and packaging them into individual serving sizes for her kids' lunches, instead of buying single-serving bags.

The average American parent puts $2 worth of pre-packaged goodies into each lunch she sends to school with her kids. That works out to more than $700 a year for two children.

"We limit the amount of chips and cookies we get," she says. "We get one bag of chips per week and one package of cookies a week and divvy it up from there."

She does treat her family to name-brand treats on special occasions. Not indulging her children's wants every day makes such treats more special, she said.

But during a recent shopping trip to prepare for a vacation, Kellam picked up a box of snack tubes of yogurt. The convenience item was not something she'd usually buy, she said, but it would be a good snack for her children on the trip.

"I'm normal," she said, smiling.