By Amy Dacyczyn
A good friend lent me this book when I mentioned that I was trying to grow my own tomatoes, learning how to do home improvement stuff on my own, and cutting back on unnecessary expenses to save money for the aforementioned home improvement projects. She said “Have I got a book for you!” and she brought it along the next time we met for coffee, which, incidentally, is a necessary expense since Panera Bread dates with my friend are good for my mental health and cheaper than therapy.
The author, who is apparently known as the “Frugal Zealot”, published a series of Tightwad newsletters in the 1990s, helping people save money with a series of tips and advice. This huge book is a compilation of all of her articles and it’s taken me forever to read, but that’s mostly because I’m taking notes on the good parts. Some of it is incredibly outdated and makes me smile – like when she suggests a place to buy a certain product, and gives you a mail-order address so you can write to the store with your order. I wonder what a store would do with such a letter now? I bet they’d be a little confused.
There’s a lot of sensible advice in here, both about basic rules for not living beyond your means, and about ways to cut corners where it doesn’t matter, and to make the most of what you have. the beauty of this book is that you can just take away from it whatever will work for you and ignore the rest. I won’t be making tomato soup from tomato paste and evaporated milk, but I plan on putting up a clothesline in my yard or sunroom, and I love the ideas for simplifying Christmas and other holidays with homemade and/or edible gifts, because most people don’t need a ton more stuff to deal with.
Her emphasis is on preventing expenses by taking very good care of what you already have, and keeping an organized inventory so you don’t go out buying duplicates when you can’t find something. She’s also incredibly anti-waste, and has ideas for making old clothes into potholders or shopping bags – after they’ve been worn to death and handed down to everyone possible, of course. She advocates shopping at yard sales instead of buying new things, and using every last crumb of food in the house so you aren’t throwing anything away. I think her best suggestion is making a price book to compare staples at the stores you usually shop at, so you can figure out when and where you should stock up on butter. I think I should do that, because I recently noticed that the pasta sauce we like is much cheaper at Target, but cake mixes are cheaper at Giant (when they’re on sale) and it’s hard to keep track of what’s cheaper where, which leads to me just getting everything in one spot because it’s convenient, even if it costs more. I wish I had a fancy smart phone and an app for that, but I’m thinking the 15c savings on pudding won’t really justify the expense of a fancy 4G phone contract.
It’s hit-or-miss, for me, because some of the ideas are beyond cheap. I won’t be shredding used mylar balloons to make streamers, and I don’t plan on buying my whole wardrobe at yard sales. And because I’m a shy type, the best tip of all is very difficult for me to put into practice – the “just ask” technique. You see someone throwing out shoeboxes and you need some for storage? Ask for them. The worst they can say is no, right? Or if you need a new printer, put the word out amongst your friends, so if anyone hears about one on a huge sale, or one someone’s getting rid of, the information can make it back to you.
I don’t think I’ll be rolling in dough after reading this, but it’s full of great ideas and some of it is actually very useful. The hard part is getting past the “cheap” stigma and deciding there’s nothing wrong with sticking soap slivers together to get some more use out of them, or buying your dining room table used on Craigslist.