Have You Heard of The Tightwad Gazette?

by kimbesa

Has this wisdom from the Frugal Zealot become outdated, or have we absorbed most of it in 20 years?

I’ve often wondered why, in our current tough economy, I don’t hear about The Tightwad Gazette, a series of newsletters and books from the 1990s, published by Amy Dacyczyn of Maine, aka The Frugal Zealot.

The books are compiled from the newsletters, which were printed and mailed in the days before the Internet. I was a subscriber, and I have the compilations in two volumes.

Changes in technology. Maybe that’s one reason we don’t hear more about the Gazette. Quite a few of the specific tips are outdated, though certainly not all. It has been a long time since I was concerned about re-inking a typewriter ribbon, or calculating the individual cost of a long-distance telephone call.

Absorbed the wisdom. I can see that. I’ve done a fair lot of it myself, as it applies to my situation, including changes over time.

A frugal lifestyle. Maybe it’s not so “alternative” after more than 20 years. There have been a lot of tough years between then and now.

What Is Frugal?

Making good buying decisions based on information, to serve your lifestyle

Frugal means thrifty, and best use of resources. It does NOT mean hoarding, or taking advantage of other people.

Library copy of the complete Tightwad GazetteI like to think of frugal living as getting the best value for money, in balance of the important factors such as quantity, usability, quality and price.

For example, if I’m going to buy a bucket, I consider the material, durability, size and any other factors based on how I’ll use it.  I’d also like a good price. I’m looking for a balance of the factors.

It is not cheapness for cheapness sake.  And it does not mean doing things that hurt others for self-enrichment. For example, taking sugar packets home from a restaurant. Or keeping the $10 bill that the store clerk gave you by mistake. Or buying something online, and then claiming it was broken or missing in order to get a refund and keep the item.

I’ll earn my savings through effort, reasoning, strategy and paying attention -- any time that it’s time for money to change hands.

A frugal lifestyle helps those pennies add up into dollars. And when you need to buy a washing machine, a car, a house – or take care of yourself in general – having been thoughtful with the little things has built some financial strength to handle the big things.

The Spectrum of Frugal

The light bulb goes off and you know you’ve moving forward

Like everything else, the spectrum of frugal is a line with an infinite number of stops along the way. The right spot is different for each person, based on a lot of elements.

The opposite of thrifty is spendthrift, which means wasteful, and person who is careless with money. I’d add, out of balance, and a person who spends without thought who could make better decisions.

Home cooked lentil soupI can remember some TV show cost-cutting tips I’ve seen in the past, in the times since I started absorbing the Gazette. An expert analyzed a family’s spending and gave them advice, like learning home cooking instead eating takeout meals. And turning in the six extra cable TV boxes.

They had to buy dinnerware and cookware, because they were using paper plates all the time.

What? Great for them. What were they thinking to begin with? When you want to plug a leak, it's possible, and a good place to start.

Depending on where you are on the spectrum, your experience may vary. 

Since my budget is already far thinner than such “solutions” would apply to, now what?  Time to break out my Gazettes and see what new ideas they will inspire.

Thinking Like a Tightwad

Evolving a more decisive, and thereby frugal, lifestyle is evergreen in my book

The Tightwad Gazette illuminates a process of thinking, and using basic information to make buying decisions. It’s about sizing up your own needs first. Those are tools that can benefit anyone.

Two volumes of the Tightwad GazetteIt does take time and thought to “live frugal.” Those pennies won’t add up to big numbers overnight, but they will add up.

Your expenses might go up, say 11 percent in a year, depending on what you have on your list. But your income probably didn’t. How can you get creative to keep going, when swimming upstream in an uncertain economy?

I still remember some of the Frugal Zealot’s tips from years ago when I was a subscriber, before she stopped publishing in order to simplify her life.

  • She made a box of aluminum foil last for two years by reusing the pieces. Same with zip top bags. They can be washed out and reused.
  • She calculated the cost to run a dryer-load of clothes. And determined that the cost of cloth diapers dried in the dryer was worth it. Line-dried clothes are not soft, like those that come out of the dryer. A content baby was worth it.

It doesn’t mean she wouldn’t spend the money. She just didn’t spend it without thought.

  • She created a book of grocery prices, so she would know a good deal when she saw one, for standard items her family used.

.As the world changes, I know from experience that it will be necessary to revise priorities and get resourceful to keep the ship afloat, so to speak.

Amy Dacyczyn on YouTube

New Hampshire Public Television from 2009

Getting Frugal

I’ve incorporated some of the tightwad tips into daily living

Small bottles get refilled from a large sizeIn 20 years, I know I have absorbed many of the ideas, and methodology that underlies many of the tips, into my own lifestyle and home keeping. Such as:

  • Buy dish soap, hand soap and similar supplies in larger containers and refill the smaller bottles for daily use. However, always be sure to check the cost per ounce, as sometimes the larger container is not cheaper.
  • Check the quality. Dollar store dish soap may be in a very similar bottle, but if it’s not concentrated, it won’t wash as many dishes per ounce as the same size bottle from another store that is concentrated.
  • Similarly, I’ve found that within my favored type of bathroom tissue, all packages are not the same. You cannot just go by the roll count, but have to figure the cost down to the smallest level, with is usually per sheet. It appears to me that the same company makes different versions of their brands, to be sold in different stores. I want the best value for money I can get.

It’s good for your brain to practice that math, and do it in your head in the store.

  • Get creative. I created a rag bag for standard cleaning. Some of my prized rags came from a roll of old toweling, like there used to be in public bathrooms many years ago. I found some at a yard sale, and it looked like it had never been used. Cut and washed, and they make great rags. Others come from old t-shirts. I favor all-cotton cloth because it is the most absorbent. The bag itself is an old pillow case from a thrift store.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for new ideas. When I hear another good tip, like Chef Michael Symon giving out a recipe for Pickle Juice Vinaigrette on The Chew, my ears perk up and I write it down. He’s dressing cole slaw with it. I can think of several ways to use that. I’ll hunt it down online and print it for my recipe collection.
  • Pre-shop for large purchases. I’m pre-shopping now for the car that I expect to be ready for in a few years. I know what I need, and what my priorities are. So I’m keeping track, and looking around.

All the tips don’t fit everyone. That’s a given. Everyone has a different lifestyle, different priorities and different resources where they live. If you don’t have small children at home, for example, there are a lot of tips you won’t need. Or if you’re not handy about repairs (though maybe it would be good to learn some simple ones that only take a screw driver.

Clothes Drying Indoors and Out

For the Frugal Zealot, drying clothes outside on a clothes line beat the cost of using her electric dryer -- with one notable exception.

She found that happy babies whose cloth diapers were dried in the dryer was worth it, vs. the rough texture those diapers would otherwise have if they were hung outdoors on the line.

Of course, their home in rural Maine had no zoning to contend with, as some of us in suburban areas have. You can't have a clothes line just anywhere these days.

There's a large wooden clothes drying rack that you can use indoors or out, to hang clothes. I think it helps keep your things nicer longer. A trade off between faster and slower drying, and space to use the rack.

A retractable clothes line can also go indoors, in a laundry room or utility room.

Ever have a cedar chest or keeping sweaters and out-of-season clothes? Here's an alternative to a piece of furniture: add cedar drawer liners, and get the same effect. 

Socks On The Line

Kitties tried to help
Pin Ups

Air Fresh Clothes Dryer

Fresh Laundry I

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The 21st Century Tightwad

If the Gazette was published today, here’s my projection of topics it would include
  • A current-day Tightwad Gazette would be an emailed newsletter, vs. paper and stamps. Saves money and it’s faster.
  • The Tightwad Gazette would talk about research via the Internet. They would talk about how to research products, stores, online sellers, estate sales, government auctions and other resources on the Internet. All kinds of resources for more frugal living, via new technology applied.
  • There would be a Facebook fan page, for people to share their ideas. (There is a fan page, though it’s not overseen by the Zealot.)
  • They would talk about Freecycle, an Internet-based network to help reduce waste and landfills within a geographic area. It’s a little like “treasure hunting,” but arranged over the Internet by joining a group in your area.

Facebook fan page for The Tightwad GazetteI have enjoyed my Freecycle experiences, such as sending some non-working floor fans to someone who could use the parts, and other items that were taking up space but were perfectly good.

I know some people who got a 10-foot apple tree, ceramic tiles for the kitchen and bathroom walls, shelving, a commercial sewing machine and all kinds of goodies that way, not to mention what they got rid of with very little fuss.

Freecycle is a great way to send excess goods to new homes, and get things you can use. It’s not everywhere, but if you have it, then it can work out well.

Take It To The Bank

Piggy bank

Feeling Frugal & Loving It

Many people have absorbed wisdom found in The Tightwad Gazette.. And there are always new ways to apply this knowledge

I know this for sure: I’ve become more frugal in the past 20 years, and it is a satisfying feeling. Of course, there’s always more to do, and new challenges. I’m still in the game.

The underlying concepts from The Tightwad Gazette still apply. The frugal lifestyle is about paying attention, sharpening your resourcefulness, and making thoughtful buying decisions.

Updated: 06/26/2013, kimbesa
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kimbesa on 08/26/2017

Those are creative examples of recycling things. There is so much stuff in thrift stores these days, the sky is the limit to imaginative reuse of any and everything!

DerdriuMarriner on 08/25/2017

kimbesa, Thrift stores can be treasure troves of vintage clothes and props. In looking at a children's book on the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay and a video on Jardim Gramacho outside Rio de Janeiro, I see that landfills, even though they should not be since they're so toxic, can be too. All three would be effective posters for changing over to frugal living that makes smart resource choices.

kimbesa on 08/23/2017

Frugal never goes out of style for many people. Thanks for stopping by!

janisleofwight on 08/23/2017

Fascinating delve into the past.

kimbesa on 06/26/2013

I know I've had phases of less or more, depending on a variety of circumstances. Some measures have stuck, no matter what. I like to get good value for money, though price is not always the controlling factor.

sheilamarie on 06/26/2013

Some of us have been tightwads for years. No choice in the matter.

kimbesa on 06/13/2013

I was happy about how much of the info still has "strategic" value, even if the specifics are dated. The approaches still work. And there's always something new about being thrifty on the Internet, to remind me that being a tightwad is timeless.

marciag on 06/13/2013

Never heard of this one before, but seems something worth checking out for the many great tips.

kimbesa on 05/31/2013

You're welcome! The research is easier with the Internet and social media. I look up almost everything before spending.

AnomalousArtist on 05/31/2013

There's something so satisfying (to me) about getting something of value for less than you expected by doing some research into it first...great article, thanks!

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