Confessions of a Cheapskate

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to the wood floor of our living room.
“It’s a penny,” my husband answered, unconcerned.
I sighed, picked it up off the floor, and put it in a can with its long-lost relatives. I confess: I’m a cheapskate. If there’s a penny, I pinch it. If there’s a dollar, I demand it from my husband’s wallet.
“What do you need it for?”
“I don’t know… Maybe I’ll get a newspaper later?”
Hmph. He can read it online for free.

There wasn’t a lot of money for extras when I was growing up. We wore off-brand clothes when Gloria Vanderbilt and Pumas were two of only seven or eight brands allowed. Other kids weren’t fooled.

“Kangaroos?” said another fifth-grader, incredulously. “Who wears Kangaroos?”

I did – Purple tennis shoes to match my purple faux Member’s Only jacket.
Although some people refuse to wear anything without one of a certain class of logo on their clothes, we feed, clothe, and furnish our family without credit cards on an income of you-can’t-imagine-how-little-freelance-writing-pays.

Here’s how:

Calculate the real cost – Compare prices by number, weight, and volume. Cut coupons selectively because they are usually for brands that cost more to purchase with a coupon than store brands do without. Upon occasion, I stumble across a deal like name-brand two-liters of soda on sale for 79 cents with a coupon for $1 off a purchase of three two-liters – on double coupon day. Each bottle was 13 cents.

Refuse retail –
Membership wholesalers have everything: clothes, pet food, jewelry, software, electronics, and furniture. Don’t buy a membership. Find someone else who already has one and add on to his or hers for half the price.

Everything is negotiable –
When looking for a larger apartment, we got $50 off the monthly rent because we promised to sign a two-year lease. Make some concessions that benefit the business. Promise a certain number of referrals within your contract period. Look into a longer partnership than is customary. Make capital improvements. Never take the first interest rate, insurance premium, or installation fee quoted.

Know your needs and network –
Work the yard sale and flea market circuits, go to Goodwill early Saturday afternoons, keep up with “Iwanta” (free online at http://www.iwanta.net), and join http://www.freecycle.org. Gather up your unused stuff and offer it to other cheapskates. You never know what people desire. I found other freecyclers frenzied over a Star Trek book I had never read, a half-pack of diapers my daughter had outgrown, and a set of sheets that didn’t fit our bed.

Unmask marketing –
Most brands are very similar and what they’re actually selling you is style or security. Tylenol and store-brand acetaminophen are identical and one costs $3 less than the other. Because the Food and Drug Administration controls the composition of infant formula, I buy a store brand formula that is not only 1/3 cheaper than brand name but is also easier on my daughter’s sensitive digestive system. When in doubt, read the ingredients and their ratios to determine any real differences.

Prevent pernicious purse-snatchers –
convenience stores, vending machines, restaurants, and peak-time entertainment. Plan meals ahead so that you don’t have to stop at convenience stores, cook at home, bring snacks with you, and attend matinee shows.

Examples of My Thrifty Rewards:

  • Kitchen Hutch
    Retail: $200
    Cost: paint
    Source: Freecycle.org
  • Desk and Hutch
    Retail: $300
    Cost: $50
    Source: Goodwill
  • Couch and Wingback Chair
    Retail: $1,500
    Cost: $200
    Source: Iwanta.net
  • Digital Camera
    Retail: $250
    Cost: $50
    Source: Pawn Shop
  • Dresser
    Retail: $300
    Cost: $30 + paint
    Source: Goodwill
  • Computer Printer
    Retail: $75
    Cost: $20
    Source: Flyer on university bulletin board
  • Timberland Shoes
    Retail: $75
    Cost: $1
    Source: Yard Sale
  • Swing/High Chair
    Retail: $150
    Cost: $20 (with a side table thrown in)
    Source: Yard Sale
  • Baby Clothes (for her first two years)
    Retail: several hundred dollars
    Cost: About $40
    Source: Hand-me-downs, yard sales, freecycle.org, and Sam’s Club (outfit: freecycle.org)

  • (c) originally published in Sass Magazine, 2005

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