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Carrie Underwood: American Idol's Thrifty Champion

By Vicki McClure Davidson


Carrie Underwood in April 2007, performing at the CMT awards | Photo credit: ABC News
Carrie Underwood in April 2007, performing at the CMT awards | Photo credit: ABC News


Way back in 2005, Season 4 of American Idol put me into a serious quandary... for whom should I vote? I enjoyed the rockin' energy of long-haired Bo Bice, but then there was that sweet, clear, powerful voice of Carrie Underwood's. To resolve my problem, I voted for both of them, and as we all know now, Carrie was ultimately crowned Season 4's Idol winner.

Life would never again be the same for the frugal farm girl from Checotah, Oklahoma.

Frugal Carrie Underwood in 2005, about to be critiqued on her performance by American Idol judges during Season 4, Top 9 | Vid-cap credit: V.M. Davidson


Frugal Carrie Underwood in 2005, about to be critiqued on her performance by <em>American Idol</em> judges during Season 4, Top 9 | Vid-cap credit: V.M. Davidson

And even though her life was transformed overnight by the AI experience, Carrie has remained the budget-conscious, non-pretentious, charitable, animal-loving young woman her parents raised her to be.

It's been a magical whirlwind for her—her an impressive list of country hits (Jesus, Take the Wheel Before He Cheats, and Cowboy Casanova, to name but a few; her Some Hearts CD debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart, and in April 2006 was certified triple platinum), her numerous music nominations and awards (she won the 2009 Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year Award, and a year later, made country music history at the ACM awards in April 2010 when she became the first woman to win Entertainer of the Year twice), her sold-out concerts, magazine covers, and all the other exhausting-but-awesome stuff that comes with fame and fortune. Carrie's powerful rendition during American Idol of Martina McBride's mega-hit, "Independence Day," quickly established her loyal fan base, and record sales have continued to soar in the years following her win on American Idol.

Despite all this, Carrie has kept a level head in the midst of the chaos and, thankfully, has not jumped onto the "Squander Train" that other newly famous celebrities have.

In a 2007 interview with Self magazine, she talked about being frugal. She has an abhorrence to waste and buying expensive things. In fact, at the time of the interview, she still drove the Ford Mustang she was presented in 2005 by American Idol. She had no interest in buying a more expensive vehicle. Laughing, she told the interviewer, "My friends expect me to drive around in a Hummer, but nope!" Even her dream of owning an SUV was still out of the question, because Carrie felt it was too expensive.

Regarding people sending her flowers, Carrie is no-nonsense and practical. She said, "I hate flowers. They cut them up, send them to me, and they die in my house. It's a waste of something that was growing somewhere."

Although it can be justified as a business expense, she can't quite break down and purchase a Steinway piano for herself. "I've wanted it for two years, but it's such a huge purchase. So I think, 'Do I really need it?' Well, I need a couch for my house, so I'll buy the couch and wait."

She was dumb-founded by the over-the-top spending suggestions from Season 4 Idol staffers on her stage wardrobe.

In the March 27, 2007 issue of Woman's World magazine, she remembered, "I had my battles with the American Idol stylist because he always wanted me to buy real expensive things. I was like, 'My mama raised me right. I can't spend $400 on a pair of jeans!' "

Carrie has been appreciative of her good fortune, calling it a crazy dream. But deep inside, she worries that it may all be short-lived. In a 2008 Allure interview, she asked out loud, "But what if I don't earn any more next year? What if something awful happens? I'm not at the point where I say, 'OK, I've made enough.' I don't know what the limit is."

American Idol champion Carrie Underwood in 2008. | Photo credit:
Carrie Underwood photo shoot, 2008 | Photo credit:

Carrie grew up in a small town and had been a tomboy before Idol. In fact, she had never before flown on a plane. She panicked just before leaving Oklahoma for her Hollywood audition for Idol. She said, "On the way to the airport, my mom stopped at the store. I started crying in the car with my dad, who's not exactly a sensitive guy. I said I don't want to fly, and he said, 'Well, we can turn around right now and go back home if you want.' I thought how something silly like not wanting to get on a plane might keep me from doing something cool, so I said, 'I'll suck it up.' Now I fly four times a week, and it's no big deal."

She enjoys simple pleasures, like spending time at the beach with friends and talking to her mother on the phone. She does her own shopping and house cleaning. In fact, in a Cosmopolitan interview, she confessed to loving to do laundry.

One area where Carrie now splurges once in a while is the grocery store. With her increased wealth, she still watches what she spends, but doesn't penny-pinch as much as she used to. She said, "I used to pay close attention to what costs less and buy that brand. Now, I can get things I actually want! I don't have to think, 'Oh, this tastes better, but it's 30 cents more!' "

Carrie Underwood at People's Choice awards, 2009 | Photo credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Carrie Underwood at People's Choice awards, 2009 | Photo credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

With the obvious perks of becoming "discovered" and being a huge success in the country music realm came an unforeseeable downside—the ugly, suspicious side Carrie never realized she had deep inside herself. It was brought to life by people who took advantage of her trust and vulnerability and wanted more and more of her. Carrie said, "You never really know why somebody wants to be around you, or if they do genuinely like you," she said in the September 2008 Allure interview. "I wish everyone had a label on their forehead so you could automatically tell their intentions. Sometimes you just wish that no one wanted anything from you."

Carrie is a vegetarian; while respectful of others who don't share her views, she quietly supports meatless meals as a champion of animals. She even wore a "V Is for Vegetarian" during her stint on American Idol. She was voted "World's Sexiest Vegetarian" in 2005 by the animal-rights organization PETA.

Not wanting to ever be thought of as a "dumb blonde" or a quitter, Carrie returned to finish her last semester of college after recording her first album. She graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern State University with a degree in journalism in May 2006. She accomplished this one year after winning the Idol championship. In a Reader's Digest interview, she said, "I didn't want those three and a half years to be wasted. I was so close to that finish line."

And once again, Carrie has demonstrated her "waste not" moral core. A talented, conservative, thrift-minded young woman who hasn't let fame go to her head... thus capturing our hearts.




Our favorite frugal cover girl Carrie Underwood, Self magazine, January 2010 | Photo credit: Self magazine
Our favorite frugal cover girl Carrie Underwood, Self magazine, January 2010 | Photo credit: Self magazine






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Nash, Alanna, Reader's Digest, "America's Idol," June 2006.
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Self Magazine website, "Carrie Takes the Wheel," (, November 2007.
The Frugal Duchess web blog, (