One of my favorite things about The Tightwad Gazette is that you can just open it anywhere and find fun ideas. If you don’t find an idea that speaks to you on one page, just try a different one. If it were all grouped together in nice, neat, little categories it would be much less fun to read, and I would likely skip the areas that didn’t really interest me.
If all of frugality could be summed up in one nice neat little article, “Getting a Bargain Every Time” on page 31 of The Complete Tightwad Gazette would be in the running for that article. Many of my own spending mistakes come from not taking the simple advice given in this article. Take your time and think about what you need. What do you really need in that product? How often are you going to use all the super deluxe features? or would a simpler model do the job you need just as well? Then start looking around yard sales, flea markets, etc. to determine the going price and availability. I can look around at many of my spending decisions, and I know if I had put more planning into the purchase I might not have bought it at all or if I did I wouldn’t have bought the one I bought.
I used to keep a yard sale shopping list, where I wrote down things that I was looking for. I need to start doing that again. My husband was always shocked because I would make a list and within 6 months, I would have brought home just about everything on that list. Looking back, I see that we started buying a lot more things new around the same time I stopped that habit (and more impulse purchases).
How to keep a price book. I had forgotten that I had even had one of those, but I did. I remember that I stopped keeping up with it when we moved from a town with at least 6 grocery stores to one that only had 2. But I hadn’t thought about using my price book to determine if there are better prices in places that we don’t go often, we could stock up on extreme deals that would save us more money. We had also been looking at whether a Sam’s Club membership would be good for us. A price book would have answered that question very quickly. Guess it is time to start keeping one of those again. I wonder if there is an app for that?
I am finding that I don’t always have commentary on every few pages as I read. This is the right time of year for the salvaged Halloween costumes and the homemade grease paint in these pages.
“To secure the greatest amount of pleasure with the least possible outlay should be the aim of all economic effort” –Francois Quesnay, French Economist
One of the places The Tightwad Gazette shows it’s age is in the facts and figures, but those are also one of the things that make it a unique book on finance and thrift. Ok, so school lunches are no longer 90 cents a day. That really wasn’t the point of the article anyway. The point was that you can find and refurbish a lunchbox on the cheap, fill it with tasty cheap foods, and here is a list of some of those foods. You will have to do your own math based on the current prices in your area. And even though we homeschool, this article is still relevant for the good lunch ideas.
The first time I read the article “You And The Financial Edge,” it wasn’t the financial part that popped out as helpful to me it was the part about people and their comfort with being late. Having always been one of those “15 minutes early” people, it was difficult to deal with my husband’s loose interpretation of being “on time.” Somehow it helped me to understand that this was just his own internal clock and not the character flaw I was making it out to be.
But we all have a Financial Edge, and an amount of comfort we like to be between ourselves and it. We get some of this from our parents…how ever comfortable they were with the edge is what we see as normal most of the time. So if your parents were always running out of money a few days before the next payday, you would see that as normal. If your parents couldn’t feel comfortable without a large sum of money in the bank, you will tend to see that as the comfortable way to live. But then sometimes you wake up and tell yourself, “I am too close to the financial edge for my own comfort.” It is so nice to realize that it is a decision (and a series of habits) that keep us where we are in relation to the financial edge.
As I read how Amy Dacyczyn started her trek into frugality, I am reminded that I started out my married life being fairly frugal. My parents had always lived on less than they made. My mom cooked from scratch. We ate at restaurants only on very rare occasions. When I got married I realized that we could either earn more money or spend less, and I was always looking for ways to spend less (and sometimes to make more, but those never panned out). I became a student of frugality. It was my hobby.
Of course, time passed and our income went up and I let those lessons of frugality go out of practice. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly our lifestyle just crept up. Cable TV? Sure, let’s get the deluxe package! A new vehicle with a loan? Well, we do need those extra seats. And little by little….life just crept up.
And today, reading The Tightwad Gazette this time, I realized why…I achieved my dream. The reason I was a tightwad in those early years was because it meant that I could be home with my kids. When our income grew to a level that I didn’t have to worry about that anymore I quit being that frugal…the habits just started slipping away. I had the house I wanted, the large family, life is good and I just didn’t have the drive to be so frugal.
Essential vs. Optional Expenses
To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have actually done this exercise if I weren’t blogging my way through the book. I would have just read it and said, “yeah, that’s a good idea.” But I was shocked after going through the last 3 months of spending in my budgeting software to learn that only half of our income went to essential expenses. That could probably be lower if I had grocery receipts to go through, but since I didn’t I just called all grocery spending essential. I was also surprised to see how much we were spending at restaurants even though I felt like we had cut back over the past few months.
As we are reading through The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn, I can’t help but chuckle at the warning that tightwads are unconventional and what you see here may not be right for you and yours. I always found that part of the charm of The Tightwad Gazette…there are so many ideas out there for how to be frugal, no one person could possibly do them all, so we just have to pick and choose the ones that work for us.
Many of the books I have read over the years seem to imply that if you don’t do what they do, you are doing it wrong. Many of them are also very analytical and get boring quickly. I enjoy the take-what-you-want-and-leave-the-rest approach of Amy Dacyczyn along with her sense of humor. If it is fun and funny I am more likely to pick it up and read it. The more I read it the more it has the ability to change the way I think. And changing the way I think will ultimately lead to a change in behavior, which in this case leads to being more financially responsible.
For anyone who is not already familiar with The Tightwad Gazette, skip the introduction or just skim through it. It is mostly a timeline of the newsletter and what has happened in the 2 years between the last newsletter and the publication of the book. There are some good bits, but the newly introduced reader could easily get bogged down here. Do read the Preface (pages 3 and 4), it is shorter and a good introduction to this book.
“Why read a book that is almost 20 years old?” and “Aren’t some of the ideas pretty extreme?”
These two questions are probably why this book is not more popular than it is. Yes, the newsletters were written between 1990 and 1996 and some of the information is out of date (like anything having to do with computers). But the point of reading this book isn’t necessarily about learning any one particular tip or trick; it is more about learning a mindset of frugality, a mindset of looking at priorities and making the most of what you do have. Yes, some of the ideas are extreme, but how many times can we read that “one should save money by cutting out trips through the fancy coffee drive through”?
When I first got married I was always looking for ways to make the little money we had go further. During this time I stumbled upon a great set of books at the library…the three books from The Tightwad Gazette. I read all three of the books over the next few weeks and checked them out a few more times over the next couple of years. Eventually I bought my own copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. I read it all the way through at least once a year for the next several years through my time as a military spouse and the years that we were going to college with small children.
But then college was over and our income was good and going up. And I still thought I was being frugal, but earlier this year I had to admit to myself that I was not. Maybe I was more frugal than some of my friends in some areas, but I was less frugal in other areas and we were going from year to year with little to show for the income that had come in. That was a wake up call for me.
So now I am working on learning to live on less again. First I though it would be easy because I used to know how to do this. I used to do this on a daily basis. Actually, being frugal was much easier when we didn’t have very much money coming in. I didn’t have to have any self control for that, the bank balance did the saying no for me. But as our income grew, our expenses grew to match it.
So it is back to The Tightwad Gazette for me. If I want the results I used to get, I have to do the things I used to do…and I used to read The Tightwad Gazette from start to finish at least once a year. This time, I am going to read through it like I am part of a book club and you can too. I will read a few pages and post my thoughts here, feel free to join in in the comments of each post.
Make your own ranch dressing. Yummy!
- 1/4 cup dried chives
- 1/4 cup parsley
- 2 Tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp. onion powder
- 2 Tbsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. dill
You can just shake this up in a jar. But it is even better if you run it through a small blender until it makes a powder. Use just like you would the packets of Ranch Dressing Mix. One tablespoon equals a packet, use a little less of the blended version.