About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

#34: The Cheapskate Next Door

The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means, by Jeff Yeager (New York: Broadway Books, 2010).

"He's at it again, but this time he's not alone. America's Ultimate Cheapskate is back with all-new secrets for how to live happily below your means, a la cheapskate. For The Cheapskate Next Door, Jeff Yeager hit the road to interview and survey hundreds of fellow cheapskates, getting them to divulge their secrets for living the good life on less.

"Jeff reveals the sixteen key attitudes about money -- and life -- that allow cheapskates to live happy, comfortable, debt-free lives while spending only a fraction of what most Americans spend. Their strategies will change your way of thinking about money and debunk some of life's biggest money myths: learn how to cut your food bill in half; get a college education without ever borrowing a dime; save serious money by negotiating and bartering; and -- find free stuff and free fun all around you.

"The Cheapskate Next Door also features dozens of original 'Cheap Shots' -- quick tips that could save you more than $25,000 in a single year! Cheap Shots tell you:
  • how to save hundreds of dollars on kids' toys
  • how you can travel the world without ever having to pay for lodging
  • what single driving tip can save you $30,000 during your lifetime
  • even how to save up to 40 percent on fine wines (and we're not talking about the kind that comes in a box)
"From simple money-saving tips to truly life-changing financial strategies, the cheapskates next door know that the key to financial freedom and enjoying life more is not how much you earn but how much you spend."

Table of Contents:
  • Preface -The Dawning of the Age of the Cheapskate
  • Introduction - Cheapskates: They're Everywhere and They're Loving Life
  • Chapter 1 - The Phrenology of Frugality: 16 Idiosyncrasies of the Cheapskate Mind
  • Chapter 2 - Good Habits Are Hard to Break
  • Chapter 3 - Money Management, Cheapskate Style
  • Chapter 4 - The Oxygen Mask Approach to Raising Kids
  • Chapter 5 - Thrift: The Greenest Shade of Green
  • Chapter 6 - Clean Your Plate ... and Save $1,500 a Year
  • Chapter 7 - Come on and Take a FREE Ride
  • Chapter 8 - We Can't Retire. We Went out to Dinner Instead.
  • Chapter 9 - The Joys of Horse Trading
  • Chapter 10 - Break the Mortgage Chains that Bind Thee
  • Chapter 11 - Bon Appe-cheap! Come on into the Cheapskate's Kitchen
  • Chapter 12 - Don't Laugh. It Gets Me There ... and It's Paid For.
  • Chapter 13 - Cheapskates Come out of the Closet
  • Chapter 14 - Insurance: Betting on Yourself
  • Chapter 15 - Cheapskates Just Wanna Have Fun
  • Chapter 16 - Back to the Future?
My Take:
I should really know better by now. Perhaps I'm just the proverbial choir to whom pro-frugality books like this are preaching, but I don't tend to get much out of them and frankly, they don't even make me feel all that superior anymore.

Let's look, then, at Yeager's much-hyped 16 idiosyncrasies. If this were a joke or a movie, and if anyone were actually reading this, I'd be spoiling the punchline, but oh well. So, the question is: Do I think the following tips/ attitudes are helpful to someone who's looking to live more frugally, even if I personally already knew them and already choose to follow them (or not)? Let's see:
  1. The Joneses Can Kiss Our Assets, i.e., live in the home and have the stuff you need and which pleases you, rather than that which impresses your neighbors. Agreed, though this is a long, hard mindset to cultivate if you're not already there.
  2. A Cheapskate Values Time More than Money. Yes, one should consider not just the cost of a new item but what that translates to in terms of hours worked. I don't think Yeager does this principle justice, though. As he acknowledges, Robin and Dominguez tackled this issue first in Your Money or Your Life years ago, and Amy Dacyzyn of 1990s Tightwad Gazette fame offered a surprisingly balanced treatment of the fact that even for an avowed cheapskate (nee tightwad), it's not always just about the money. Some activities that cost less but take more time might offer other benefits, such as extra family time or personal enjoyment (e.g., making homemade jam or Hallowe'en costumes), while others may offer little of either (e.g., changing your own oil, combining errands, stocking up on sale items): "If you have some financial flexibility you can choose an enjoyable task with a small financial yield. If both time and money are in short supply you might have to stick with tasks with the highest hourly yields, even if they provide little enjoyment. But there are so many ways to save money you should no have to do tasks that provide a small hourly yield, offer little enjoyment, and satisfy no other values. Because we all possess different abilities, resources, likes, and values, no two tightwads would fill out this chart the same way. There is no 'right way' to be a tightwad."
  3. A Cheapskate Values Value, i.e., durability and cost-per-use rather than just sticker price, are the issue here. Agreed.
  4. Shopping Isn't a Cheapskate Sport. No argument here, except that this seems to contradict an argument made in favor of item 2) above. On one hand, we're supposed to be "premeditated shoppers," because spending 2 days yard-saling to find a decent pair of used kids' boots negates the money you'd save over buying them new ... but on the other, we're not supposed to shop for fun? Yes, I get the difference between trawling the yard sales and hangin' at the mall, but still.
  5. A Cheapskate Regrets Nothing, i.e., no buyer's remorse for all those items you purchased on a whim, brought home, and immediately asked yourself, "WTF?" Not sure I completely buy this one. I'd allow that on balance, people who don't make a habit of impulse buying have less regret over stuff they didn't buy than impulse buyers have over things they did ... but I'm sure I'm not the only cheapskate who's ever taken a chance on a good deal that really wasn't in the end. (I'm looking at you, Target socks.)
  6. A Cheapskate Appreciates Appreciation (and Depreciation, Too): Pardon the pun, but I will buy this one. "When the cheapskates next door shop for things like furniture, homes, automobiles, and even clothing, they tend to approach it as an exercise in acquiring assets rather than buying disposable commodities. ... When cheapskates shop for things they need, they're ideally looking to buy things that will increase in value. Second best is buying something that will retain its value. ... If it's not possible to buy something that will increase or retain its value, then the last resort is to buy something that will depreciate in value the least amount and as slowly as possible."
  7. A Cheapskate Differentiates Between Needs and Wants: Um, yeah. Like I said, I think there's some preaching to the choir going on here.
  8. A Cheapskate Is a Premeditated Shopper: OK, here's where the book distinguishes between "premeditated shopping" and "bargain hunting" (i.e., my mother-in-law's version of retail therapy): If you go armed with a list, you're doing the former. Somewhat of an artifical distinction, but I see the point.
  9. A Cheapskate Knows the Best Things in Life Aren't Things: This one's definitely a keeper. In short, we cherish and remember experiences more than we do stuff.
  10. A Cheapskate Does What He Loves for a Living: Wouldn't that be nice? Sure, in an ideal world, we'd all have the option of choosing rewarding-but-not-lucrative work, but in reality ... I don't think we all do, and there's probably a significant correlation between those who have the social/ educational capital to be frugal by choice vs. just plain poor and those for whom this is a legit option,
  11. A Cheapskate Has Spending Anxiety Disorder ("SAD" -- But It Really Isn't): In other words, you/ we/ they hyperventilate at the thought of wasteful, unnecessary spending. Guilty as charged.
  12. A Cheapskate is Brand Blind and Advertising Averse: Seems to mostly be a restatement of 1). I do agree that brands don't and mostly shouldn't matter (see Cheap for a detailed explanation of why they don't), but I'll also go out on a limb and say that while I don't care so much about the snob appeal, I will go out of my way to buy brands with which I've had consistently good luck in the past, and avoid brands I've found to be of poor quality.
  13. A Cheapskate Understands Change vs. Progress: Here's where Mr. Hazel and I often butt heads. I'm a bit of a Luddite; he's, well ... to be fair, he is an IT guy and is on the low end of the curve there as far as gadget-headedness is concerned.
  14. A Cheapskate Abhors Debtor Dementia: Basically a frilly way of saying debt is bad and should be avoided as much as possible, though Yeager and most of the cheapskates he interviewed make an exception for mortgage debt. I'd personally add a modest amount of debt for a college education to this list, though he'd disagree.
  15. Cheapskates, Know and Trust Thyself: In other words, why hire someone to do your yard work, taxes, etc. when you can just as easily do it yourself? Agreed, with the caveat that you need to be realistic about your abilities and not take on bone-headed DIY projects that endanger people's safety for the sake of saving a few bucks. Do your own basic taxes, replace a light switch, mow your lawn? Absolutely. Rewire your house or chop down a 3-story dead tree? Not so much.
  16. A Cheapskate Answers to a Higher Authority: I myself am a person of faith, but don't think this is essential -- at least, not the way the book defines it. I agree that it's hard to resist the greater consumer culture when you don't have some other, deeper sense of right and meaning to fall back on, but I think that could just as easily be family or self-sufficiency or environmental stewardship as it can be the deity of one's choosing.
That's probably enough for this book -- if the above sounds intriguing, check the book out of your library or borrow a copy from a friend. If it seems stupid or obvious, don't bother.

No comments:

Post a Comment