I’ll Admit It – I Am A Tightwad

I wouldn’t exactly call myself cheap (although some family members may disagree) but I hate to spend money unnecessarily and I like to consider myself thrifty or frugal.

To promote my thrift I like to read books or articles with money saving tips but I’m invariably disappointed with the advice. Suggestions to turn out the lights, pack your own lunch, buy bulk or generic products are so old as to be meaningless – it’s amateur stuff.

In my quest to save money I have recently come across The Tightwad Gazette.  Originally a monthly newsletter, they have now been compiled into one book, so I’m ready to soak it up.

Consider the source

Most of these types of articles are written in the United States.  Like finance books, a lot of the information is not really relevant to Canadians:

  • Stores in my area never have double or triple coupon days.
  • Likewise, my stores never offer coupons for meat, dairy or produce.
  • I will never again see chicken at 69 cents a pound so I can’t produce a $5 meal for a family of six.
  • I have yet to find a store or manufacturer who will let me have their discards for free.

Some tips are just weird

I would not be too overzealous to save a few cents:

  • Turn a used envelope inside out and refold it to use again.
  • Scrape the crumbs out of your bread bag and save them for a crumb topping.
  • Use my coffee grounds for two or three more pots of coffee.
  • Turn worn socks into dishcloths.
  • Rework a stained T-shirt into underwear.
  • Dig out the last bit of solid antiperspirant, microwave and cool it for many more uses.

Some ideas are just not worth the trouble:

  • Sew a strip of cloth over the top of a shower curtain and make buttonholes so it doesn’t tear and lasts longer.

Some things I’ll never do!

  • It would have to be a life and death situation (and maybe not even then) for me to drink reconstituted powdered milk.
  • Dumpster diving.  I know that North Americans are a wasteful society and people find some good stuff in the garbage, including food (gag!) but I’ll leave the pickings to others.
  • Fashion a lamp-shade out of a coffee can.
  • Save up egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, meat trays and bread tabs in case I have a future use for them.   Isn’t this the way hoarders start out?

Bread-tab earrings? You can’t be serious!

A talented person can make terrific gifts for others, but some homemade items are just plain tacky:

  • Jewelry made from paperclips, buttons or hardware items.
  • Toys made from cardboard, milk jugs or tin foil.
  • Home décor items made from egg cartons, margarine containers or anything else you can hot glue and paint.

I know I’m in trouble when I read:

  • Take a scrap piece of sheet metal (huh?)
  • Turn your old cable spool into a planter.
  • Use your barbed wire to make a wreath.  I live in cattle country but barbed wire is still not that easy to come by.

A couple of good ideas

I have discovered a few things that I might try:

  • Price book.  I’ve heard of this before and thought it would be too much trouble but apparently people who use this swear by it.  You simply enter the prices of the things you buy in a little notebook so you will know when the items are at an exceptionally good price to stock up.  It perhaps would be a bit easier with a smart phone.  Is there an app for that?
  • Recipes for homemade mixes such as Shake ‘n Bake, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt and onion soup mix.
  • Use cut up Styrofoam meat trays to put in behind electrical outlets to stop cold air leaks. (I did try this tip but found the Styrofoam was too thick so I ended up having to buy the little package of ready made)

I’m still working my way through this 960-page tome.  In the meantime, if you have any great money saving tips I’d love to hear from you.

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  1. Ashley @ Money Talks on February 14, 2012 at 1:14 am

    If there isn’t an app for the price book there should be! You should take a break from your paperclip jewlery making and work on that money making idea instead.

    • Boomer on February 14, 2012 at 10:18 am

      @Ashley: Since my computer skills are pretty negligible I might just have to go with making fish hook earrings for my next gifts. However, I will offer 10% of the company to anyone who can work out the app for me 🙂

  2. Money Infant on February 14, 2012 at 2:00 am

    If you find an app for the price book let me know, I’ve often thought that a price book would be a great idea, but was just too much trouble.

    Most of the other things on your list make me think of the stereotypical folks living in a trailer…

  3. An Exacting Life on February 14, 2012 at 5:32 am

    I have started a price book and I am finding it a lot of work – I think you’d have to keep it up for a year to be informed about seasonal sales (best time of year to stock up on things). My frugal ways stop when it gets borderline-unethical, like always dealing in cash with people who don’t submit sales tax.

  4. Ellen on February 14, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Some of these are pretty crazy. And yes, it is an issue that a lot of stuff just doesn’t translate to Canada. I have heard of turning socks into rags. And an easier way to save is to do price matching (Walmart does this). I was told stores go in 2-3 month cycles on sales, so that might be easier to keep track of than a price book.

  5. Monica on February 14, 2012 at 8:35 am

    “Rework a stained T-shirt into underwear” just left me speechless! How does one make underwear from a t-shirt? I agree with you about some of these, they are off the charts weird. I think there is an app for grocery shopping that compares prices, but I’m not sure about a price book, however, it would be an awesome tool!

    • DeedaInSeattle on February 22, 2012 at 1:59 am

      Actually, I’m a fan, and I’ve read the book over & over just to *remind* me to be more frugal! And…the article about the underwear–she only wrote how she THOUGHT about it for a funny moment, but considering all the work & supplies involved, she decided to make ‘jazzy rags’ instead out of the stained striped t-shirt! I live in Seattle, and no one doubles coupons here either. I think she was just the very beginning of the trend of getting off the Consumerist freight train, when being ‘frugal’ first really had a negative tone.

  6. Marianne on February 14, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Rework a stained T-shirt into underwear.

    Ha ha ha! That is gold. I’m going to tell my husband we are going to do this and see what happens. Maybe I will make him a pair of t-shirt underwear for Valentines day.

    • Boomer on February 14, 2012 at 10:20 am

      @Monica and Marianne: We might find a pattern on-line and start a whole new business.

      • Monica on February 14, 2012 at 11:34 am

        Good idea, but we need a catchy name! I guess if people buy edible underwear, they might would buy our product! 🙂

  7. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter on February 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    I actually find saving money like this is really fun. It’s like you get to let your creative side loose. One thing I have done is use old plastic crates and cardboard to line the bottom of my veggie pots. It allows me to use less dirt and make them lighter to move. Plus I don’t have to buy so much soil.

    • Allen on February 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      We do this also but use the plastic flower pots & the flat trays. End of season we bring the pots back to the nursery.

  8. Allen on February 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Sheetmetal gifts and jewelery, seriously… Some of these are definetly not and will not be on my money saving list!

  9. SE Book on February 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Im a tighwad too, but i think it is in good ways. I recently purchased a soda stream where I mix my own soda and energy drinks, I have saved so much money by not buying cans and bottles and have been lest wasteful in the process.

  10. Melissa on February 14, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Some of these ideas are just too much for me. Like, I’m all for saving money, but a lot of them don’t make logistical sense. Like, after you save your egg cartons and breadcrumbs, where do you store them?

    And the reusing coffee grinds thing is just insane. It’ll taste disgusting and won’t even really give you a jolt!

    The “Price Book” thing IS a great tool, though. I don’t keep a book or anything, but I do make a point of knowing the price of pricier grocery store items, so I know if it’s a good deal. I just kind of remember a few things that I use often, especially if they’re the kind of thing that’s sale price fluctuates. (For instance, I like Aylmer brand canned tomatoes. Regular price: $1.89. They OFTEN go on sale for $1.69, which is not much of a sale if you don’t know better. But they sometimes go on sale for $0.99, which is when I stock up.)

  11. My University Money on February 15, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Now those are definitely some extremes. I just can’t seem to get into that mode of thinking. It isn’t motivational at all for me. I would rather read 20 entrepreneurial books, or books about how to leverage your skill set and earn more, as opposed to cutting spending to the bone (and then reusing the bone for something).

  12. Richard Rinyai on February 15, 2012 at 10:00 am

    When I receive letters in the mail and the stamps have not been written on, I would soak them in water and reuse them.

  13. Country Girl on February 15, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Barbed wire as a wreath? What kind of message would that send if it was hanging on your door, welcome to my house of tetanus? Yikes.

    I admit to pulling stuff out of the local dump. I saved an antique basin washer (it just need a bit of TLC) and an old railway trunk that I’m refinishing right now.

  14. Anna Matetic on February 15, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    American here and I agree with your post. Some of the “frugal” stuff is a little much for me. On the envelope front, though, I reuse envelopes to write my grocery/other shopping list. I then put my coupons inside the envelope. Not a “frugal” tip more a “I can never find paper when I am writing my list” tip. But I can always find the junk mail!

    Best frugal tip is my husband. He’s awesome in the kitchen. We eat out infrequently, especially now that I know he can make the meal BETTER with far less expense.

  15. Mama Squirrel on February 21, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Found my way here through the Festival of Frugality.

    I think you’re giving a pretty inaccurate picture of the Tightwad Gazette book/books (it used to be three books). For one thing, a lot of the more out-there suggestions actually came from newsletter readers, not from the Dacyczyns themselves. Amy pointed out more than once that not every suggestion would be suitable for every situation, but that if you were really desperate, nothing was too extreme.

    She also made it clear that she was not recommending that people save mounds of toilet paper tubes etc., but rather that if you had a need and you could fix it with a toilet paper tube, paper clip or whatever, then it made sense to use what you had.

    Finally, if you don’t think that cardboard toys can’t be awesome, you’ve obviously never visited the Frugal Family Fun blog. Check it out.

    • Judi on August 23, 2013 at 8:39 am

      My kids used to love playing with boxes of all sizes, they made castles and mini cities, depending on the size. I loved the Tightwad books. I passed them on to my son.

  16. Mama Squirrel on February 21, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Don’t, can’t–sorry, should have been “can be awesome.”

  17. Mama Squirrel on February 21, 2012 at 11:43 am

    And a few more points for your commenters who haven’t read the books either: the barbed-wire wreath wasn’t Mrs. Dacyczyn’s idea, and I don’t know that she ever made one: she said she saw the idea in Country Living. I got the impression that she thought it was somewhat humorous. Same for the cable table–I believe that was thrown in as an example of urban slash industrial-type decorating, but it wasn’t something she was recommending for the average home.

    As for the sheet metal, if you’re talking about the custom dish drainer her husband came up with, it wasn’t made with stuff they just had around the house.

    I’m sure you could come up with a few real beefs against the Tightwad Gazette and the Dacyczyns: online forums have spent the past fifteen years tearing them apart quite regularly. But I don’t think the points you’ve mentioned are legitimate criticisms, especially taken out of context.

    • Boomer on February 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      @Mama Squirrel: Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been enjoying reading the Tightwad Gazette and I realize that 1. some ideas are from other sources, especially her readers and 2. she freely admits that some ideas are not for everyone and she tries to give a balanced view.
      That said, I am merely making an observation of this type of book (or article) not just Amy’s. There are some good new ideas, some things I would never do and a lot of things I do already.

  18. Abe on February 26, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    People have a hard time imagining this type of frugality because they haven’t had to live without.When you live without,you save everything and use everything.I have a friend who makes her own envelopes from old papers and they are gorgeous…I have seen coffee tin light shades…in art galleries with a high price.Our society is too squeamish and wasteful.I have read Amy’s books and have learned a lot .I find this article judges her books too harshly.

    • Boomer on March 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      @Abe: I don’t understand how you came to that conclusion. I have the greatest respect for Amy Dacyczyn and what she has accomplished. I feel that you, and some other commenters, are judging without actually reading the piece.
      I clearly stated that I have just started reading the book. Any projects that I mentioned that you think came from the book just proves my point that a lot of ideas are rehashed in different publications.
      You don’t know my personal circumstances to judge them. My children would tell you they had to do without plenty of times. My husband is disabled and can’t work – but he can fix just about anything so I don’t have to buy new all the time.
      I know that some people make wonderful things from unusual items but many are not that talented. I would make a tin can lamp rather than pay several hundred dollars for one, but I don’t like the look, so I won’t. Don’t judge me because my taste happens to be different than yours.
      I have cleaned out both my parents’ and in-laws’ homes and the depression era mentality of saving bent nails and elastics in recycled pickle jars (never to be looked at again, let alone used) is not being frugal – it’s being a pack rat.
      As I’ve mentioned several times, I’m very frugal and looking for NEW ideas that will work for me.

  19. Slackerjo on March 3, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Old socks are awesome things. I put them on my hand and use them for dusting. I cut the cuff off to organize bulked extension cords. I keep one in the car to wipe oil off the dipstick when I check my oil. Another is used to clean my bike chain. And speaking of my bike, old socks are great for cleaning said bike cause you can get into all those tight spaces!

    All hail old socks!!!!

  20. SubwayRider on March 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Get rid of the car, start riding your bike and use public transit.

  21. Do what you got to do! on June 17, 2012 at 6:58 am

    I’ve done some of the extreme things here because I really one day want the piece of mind that I owe nothing to anyone! I have a good paying job , but don’t want to do it forever! My biggest money saver this year is not to buy any new clothes, all thrift, consignment, yard sale etc. Also, I’ve increased the size of my garden and work for about 10-15 minutes a day to maintain it. Buying no produce all Summer long, and hopefully into Fall as well if I can finish my cold frame. It’s all about priorities, I want to not owe anything to anyone by the time I’m 43–3 years and counting, I’ll keep the extreme up!

  22. Billybob on February 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    One money saver….when boiling water for tea or coffee,a lot of people fill the kettle,even if they are only making one or two cups. Use only the amount of water that you need!

  23. Susan on August 22, 2013 at 11:36 am

    All of these posts make me smile, because we are all on the same page, which is, be creative before automatically spending. When I remember to do that, I am so happy, interested and thrilled that I can hold onto my money for the absolute necessities in life.

  24. Wean Mullinder on April 24, 2019 at 4:12 am

    I do think you are so wrong not to consider powdered milk. I use a lot, but not reconstituted, I add it to smoothies, breakfast cereals and baked goods. It is full of low calorie protein and vitamin B12, and gives a wonderful creamy taste and texure to lots of food and drinks.

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