When Jeff Yeager and I devised the Ultimate Cheapskate’s Book Contest, we hoped that Get Rich Slowly readers would have fun with it. But your responses exceeded our wildest dreams. The contributions have been fantastic. There are currently 220 stories, with more coming all the time. Some offer clever ways to save money; others are hilarious testaments to the thin green line between frugal and cheap.

With so many excellent choices, it was difficult to pick just three winners of Yeager’s book. He writes, “I cried — both with laughter and real tears — to the point where I’m throwing in an extra book — at my own expense!” That’s a generous thing for a cheapskate to do. Ultimately, we chose the following stories:

The “Frugal” Aunt

I have a dear old aunt. She experienced the Second World War and knows how to be frugal. It is second nature to her.

At her latest birthday, she got a couple of boxes of chocolate. A week later I visited her. She had a bowl of hazelnuts sitting on the kitchen table. I thought nothing of it at the time.

During my visit, we had a piece of chocolate. My aunt took one bite of the chocolate and took out the hazelnut inside and placed it in the bowl. “I don’t like hazelnuts, but it would be a waste just to throw them out”

Realizing what she had just said, I got sick to my stomach, mainly because I had eaten from the bowl.

The Bottle Recycler

I’m pretty frugal, but not nearly as much as my father.

Growing up, my sister and I would sort through aluminum cans and plastic bottles he brought home from work. He raided all the trash cans in his office building to bring these home. When I was younger, we would bring in about $20 a week through this.

Now he works at a tech company where the soda is free and everyone provides him with their bottles at the end of the day. He even set up a deal with the building manager so that he could be the official recycling point for the entire facility! The machines only provided plastic bottles, so very little sorting was necessary, and each one was worth a nickel. Soon enough he was bringing home two big bags of bottles a night and we were making trips to the recycling center every few days.

Each of us could redeem up to $25 worth of bottles at any one point. He would regularly have us go into the recycling center in different groups and wearing different hooded sweatshirts or coats to disguise the fact that we were getting more than our daily allotment of redemption. I stopped him short of taping a fake mustache onto my face.

He’s still redeeming cans and bottles to this day and bringing in at least $75/week to the family through his efforts.

To add to this, he will input the codes under the caps on all the different sodas to their respective websites. After several years of this, I own more than my share of branded clothing, towels, blankets, duffel bags, video games, sports equipment, magazine subscriptions, video game systems and, this Christmas, wireless headphones.

The money I earned through my work with those recyclables throughout my childhood paid for a significant chunk of my college education, saving me from the dreaded student loans.

I’ve asked him if he would stop like he does on the street to pick up a bottle if it were a nickel instead, but without all the work. He says it’s worth much more because he gets more satisfaction out of the work and environmental impact involved in picking up that bottle, but that he would definitely stop for a nickel as well.

The Cheap Date

Back in my single days, I was trying to get out of credit card debt. I had resolved to live only on cash and not use any credit (which wasn’t really a problem considering my credit cards were close to maxed anyways).

So I met this girl who was very cute and asked her out for two weeks later. I figured I could have enough in my bank account by then to treat her well to a night on the town. The same time, I had other bills come due, and on date night, I only had $26.00 in my bank account.

We met up at 8:00pm.

Thankfully, my car tank was nearly half full (or half empty if you are one of those people). I looked in the paper and found a Greek Festival that included food and soda for $5/person. I took her there and paid my way inside. After being there for a while, she asked me to get us some beers. So I went and bought us two beers for $5. I drank mine, she drank hers, and she wanted another one. So I go and bought her one, and filled mine up with water so she wouldn’t think she was drinking alone.

As the night progressed, she decided she wanted us to go dancing, I told her I was getting tired and had to be at work in the morning pretty early. We said our good nights, and I dropped her off at her car at 10:00.

While we never went out again, it was actually through finally telling this story to her and some of her friends, that I met my wife. She has since always appreciated the fact that I’ll do just about anything for her, but appreciates it more that I don’t go in to debt in order to do it.

The Cub Scout Uniform

When I was a kid, we were very poor. When I joined Cub Scouts, my parents bought my uniform at the thrift store, but there was no official, shiny metal Cub Scout slide at the thrift store, so I was told I would have to make do by tying my neckerchief or figuring something else out.

I was devastated. Once again, I was going to stand out as the poor kid of the pack, all because my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a shiny metal Cub Scout slide.

My Dad saw my disappointment, and being the handyman he is, fashioned a Cub Scout slide for me out of a block of wood he had laying around. He drilled a hole through the center, sanded it down, wrapped it with a leather thong and glued the ends down. Finally, he colored the wood with a dark blue magic marker to match the color of my uniform.

When he called me out to the shed to give it to me, I was even more devastated. In my shallow mindset, it was even worse to have a “fake” slide than not to have one at all.

Now, of course, I cherish that slide and the work my father did to make it. It was unique, and it was a great example to me of how “making do” is sometimes better than the accepted norm.

I love stories like these. I could read them all day. All of the submissions are great: some contain frugal tips, and others make me laugh out loud. Last night in bed, Kris made me read these stories to her as she was falling asleep. Here are a few randomly selected gems:

Finally, please note that there’s a difference between frugal and cheap. Frugality is a virtue. Frugality ought to be celebrated. But cheapness can be dangerous, unethical, or rude. (Sometimes it’s all three!)

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