The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Guide to True Riches

Jeff Yeager calls himself the Ultimate Cheapskate. He’s serious about saving money. He’s the sort of guy who soft-boils his morning eggs by putting them in the dishwasher while it runs. In a package he sent me recently, he included his business card, which is simply a rubber stamp printed on a piece of a brown paper bag. His wife calls him the cheapest man in America, and he’s proud of it.

The road map to true riches

Yeager has a new book called The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches, in which he preaches the virtues of frugality and the dangers of mass consumption. Before the first chapter, he offers a statement of purpose:

Living on less is a good thing to do. It’s the only financial advice that will work for almost everyone. It’s about a quality of life that you cannot buy, a sense of satisfaction you cannot fake, and an appreciation for others that gives life value. It’s also about helping save the planet and sharing with those in need. Living on less can be funny, but it’s no joke.

That short paragraph summarizes Yeager’s approach to personal finance. He may be cheap, but he has fun with it. In fact, this is the first personal finance book I’ve read that is truly funny. Andrew Tobias has moments of humor, but this book is funny throughout. (Some of Yeager’s humor is rated PG-13, though. If mild swearing and occasional orgasm references bother you, be warned.)

Six golden rules to ruling your gold

Yeager believes that most Americans are caught in a vicious cycle: They earn money to spend money to buy what they want. They never have enough. The key, he says, is to “slay your enoughasauraus“, that nasty monster inside each of us that makes us want just a little more.

His first step is to practice a “fiscal fast”. Live for a week without spending money. Take notes on what it’s like to go seven days without spending: what were you tempted to buy and how did it make you feel? From there, you can move on to his “six golden rules for ruling your gold”:

1. Live within your means at thirty, and stay there

I’ve often wished that I had maintained the standard of living I had at 25. Instead, I got caught up in lifestyle inflation. If I’d had the willpower early, I could have a lot saved by now!

2. Never underestimate the power of not spending

In The Wealthy Barber, David Chilton notes that a penny saved is worth more than a penny earned. An after-tax penny is actually worth about a penny-and-a-half of income. It’s worth even more when you consider the returns you miss by not investing it.

3. Discretion is the better part of shopping

You know all those money hacks I share to trick yourself while shopping? Here’s where they come into play. Establish a 30-day waiting period before making big purchases. Always ask, “Is this a want or a need?” I like one of Yeager’s suggestions: Carry a “what the hell was I thinking?” list in your wallet or purse on which you’ve written all the stupid things you’ve purchased over the years. (Mine would be too big for my wallet!)

4. Do for yourself what you could have others do for you

Grow your own food. Change your own oil. Do your own home maintenance. By taking on a few chores you usually pay others to do, you can save money.

5. Anyone can negotiate anything

Daiko recently wrote that we should ask for a better financial future, requesting better deals when we deal with big companies. Bartering can save you money, too.

6. Pinch the dollars, and the pennies will pinch themselves

This is the message that Elizabeth Warren preaches: limit your spending on the big things (like your mortgage), and you won’t have to worry so much about saving money on groceries. It’s best to be frugal in all aspects of your life, but pay particular attention to the big stuff.

There’s a lot more to The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches. Yeager covers topics like:

  • Eating well for cheap. (Yeager tries to buy food that costs less than a dollar per pound.)
  • Buying a sensible home and then repaying the mortgage as soon as possible.
  • Commuting without a car.
  • Cheap entertainment. Yeager encourages readers to make the most of their hobbies.

Ultimately, the message of this book is that stuff will not make you happy. Happiness comes from knowing when you have enough. In his final chapter, Yeager stresses the importance of amassing a quality of life over a quantity of stuff. “Many choices you must make [involve] the trade-off between money and time,” he writes. “By being cheap…you’re valuing time and the things you can do with it more than money and the things you can buy with it.”


This book was actually less about frugality and thrift than I expected. When I started reading, I thought there would be practical tips along the lines of The Tightwad Gazette and Your Money or Your Life. Yeager does share frugal ideas in sidebars scattered throughout the book’s 225 pages, but most of the information here is straight-up personal finance advice with an emphasis on pinching pennies. (That’s not a bad thing — it’s just not what I was expecting.)

I admire the way Yeager draws together a wide variety of sources. Too often, personal finance writers seem to live in a vacuum. You can read an entire Suze Orman book and never see a reference to work from anyone else. Yeager’s not afraid to recommend other readings, including some of my favorites: Stumbling on Happiness, The Not So Big House, and Your Money or Your Life. He draws on the ideas of Warren Buffet, Dave Ramsey, and Elizabeth Warren.

This is an excellent book for anyone just beginning to wrestle with personal finance. It’s especially good for those trying to escape the chains of consumerism. In a recent e-mail discussion Yeager told me, “I’m trying to reach a new audience, including folks who have never and probably will never pick up a typical PF book.” With its casual blend of humor and good advice, The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches has a solid chance to meet this goal.

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There are 21 comments to "The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Guide to True Riches".

  1. Plan Your Escape says 30 December 2007 at 08:17

    Thanks for the thorough review JD! I’m always on the lookout for new books to check out from the library. This one just got added to my request list.


  2. Dave says 30 December 2007 at 09:29

    I think I’ll buy this book w/ one of the many gift cards I received for Barnes and Noble. But I have to say, J.D., Ben Stein’s personal finance books are TRULY FUNNY. Have you ever read How to Ruin Your Financial Life? It won’t just make you smile; it will actually make you lol the whole way through, plus Stein is trained in fiction writing and comedy, so you’re just gonna get a level of writing quality that is almost unmatchable by any other PF writer.

  3. Sophie says 30 December 2007 at 10:14

    Just last night I ran across this observation about Americans: “They were an interesting folk, but behind their desperate activities lay always, it seemed to me, immense and unacknowledged boredom – the deadweight of material things passionately worked up into Gods, that only bored their worshippers more and worse and longer.”

    It’s from Rudyard Kipling’s autobiography (published in 1935). Kipling lived for four years (1892-1896) in his wife’s hometown of Brattleboro, VT, where he wrote “The Jungle Books” among other works.

    So the “enoughasauraus” seems to be not a very recent phenomenon, for us Americans at least.

  4. Tim Danner says 30 December 2007 at 11:13

    “Many choices you must make [involve] the trade-off between money and time,” he writes. “By being cheap…you’re valuing time and the things you can do with it more than money and the things you can buy with it.”

    His reading of the time/money tradeoff seems odd to me. By being cheap, you are valuing your savings (very important, to be sure) over your leisure time. The quote here makes it sound like cheapness increases your leisure time, but it sounds like his book (which I haven’t read, though it sounds enlightening and amusing) spends large passages on the ways in which you can give up your leisure time to increase your savings.

  5. Minimum Wage says 30 December 2007 at 11:27

    Live within your means at thirty, and stay there.

    I wish I could! Today I earn less adjusted for inflation than I did at thirty. What would Yeager say?

  6. icup says 30 December 2007 at 11:30

    “Happiness comes from knowing when you have enough.”

    Wow. That is an excellent one-liner. Short, sweet, and to the point. This rings true with me in so many ways.

    “Do for yourself what you could have others do for you. Grow your own food. Change your own oil. Do your own home maintenance. By taking on a few chores you usually pay others to do, you can save money.”

    This is one that really amazes me. Growing up, we went hunting and fishing every year (and ate what we caught), always had a garden, always changed our own oil, and rarely called someone in for home maintenance. We didn’t do this to save money, we did it because that is what you just naturally do when you don’t have much money.

    In other words, I think not having alot of money tends to lead to greater self-reliance. Now that I am a professional and have enough money, I don’t do any of those things anymore (although we are trying to set up a garden at least). But I still try to be self-reliant in other ways, just on a different level.

    Also, its nice to know that I have that experience to fall back on if things get really rough. Alot of people I know barely have any idea where food actually comes from, let alone how to catch it for yourself in the wild and convert it into actual edible food.

    Excellent post!

  7. Elle Rayne says 30 December 2007 at 12:10

    Thanks for the helpful review! This might be a book I pick up someday, since I agree with Yeager’s philosophy (not that I stick to it at all times…) and appreciate a sense of humor. 🙂

  8. Todd says 30 December 2007 at 12:36

    Excellent review. This book looks like it would be a good read. Thanks for reviewing it.

  9. Jeff Yeager says 30 December 2007 at 12:39

    Hi JD & Everyone —

    Thanks so much for reviewing my book. It’s my first book, and I’m mighty proud of it.

    I’m glad you liked it JD. I knew the basic message would resonate with you (“If you spend less money you’ll enjoy life more!”), and I was hoping that you’d appreciate the sense of humor and entertainment value of the book as well. In short, the book is about how to amass a quality of life, not just a quantity of stuff –and so I try to redefine, in a positive way, the traditional definition of “cheapskate” along those lines.

    As a prolific reader of personal finance and self-help books in general, I always wanted to write a book that was equal parts: * humor/pure entertainment, *practical advice, and *messages regarding social responsibility. BTW, my professional background is 25 years as a CEO and senior manager of national nonprofit organizations in Washington DC, a rather unique — but I think valuable — background for a PF writer; like most American households, nonprofit managers don’t have the luxury of throwing money at their problems or measuring their success just by the size of their bank accounts.

    Although it’s too soon tell (the book only came out on Wednesday), based on initial reviews and reader response it looks like the book is hitting on all three counts. Some folks have critiqued it from just a humor/entertainment perspective (quite favorably, I might add – even suggesting that it’s like a kinder-and-gentler Ben Stein, who I adore, BTW), others like JD have reviewed it primarily in terms of its practical PF value, and the Sierra Club and other nonprofit groups have embraced it because of its larger messages about how spending / consuming less can help solve the world’s problems.

    Oh well, we’ll see. I can say that I’ve been personally heartened by the number of hard core PF junkies (folks like me!) who have said that it’s the first PF book that their spoiled adult kids or spendthrift friends might actually read, essentially conned into the read by the book’s entertainment value and sense of humor (much of it at my expense). Of course, my poooor wife still hasn’t read it, despite the fact that I dedicated the book to her. Yep, I’m still waiting for her to fork over the $12.95, just like anyone else. “Sorry honey. You gotta buy a tickie to see the show, even if the book is dedicated to you.”

    Thanks again JD for reviewing my book. If anyone has any questions, comments or ideas to share, you can email me at [email protected]. Also, if you have a book club or finance club that would like to discuss my book, I will gladly participate by phone or in person, if you’d like. And finally, I’m going to be doing a series of book-tours-by-bicycle — the “Tour de Cheapskate” — starting in January and staying with fellow cheapskates along the way so that I can donate my expense savings to local libraries (one of my favorite causes); if you’d consider putting me up for the night, please email me or see my website

    Stay Cheap!
    -Jeff Yeager
    The Ultimate Cheapskate

  10. moneygardener says 30 December 2007 at 12:43

    Great review! I am pretty frugal, but not that frugal. I do believe living below your means is one of the keys to financial success.

    It is actually David Chilton, (with a ‘t’).


  11. Ms. Clear says 30 December 2007 at 12:44

    My public library has a copy on order. Think I’ll make a point of calling up tomorrow and getting on the reserve list.

    Looks like a genuinely helpful read. My hubby and I don’t have the sorts of jobs that make you rich, but we are very frugal.

  12. Dividends4Life says 30 December 2007 at 12:45

    JD: It sounds like another good read. Thanks for the review.

    Best Wishes,

  13. The Shopping Sherpa says 30 December 2007 at 13:05

    Just a week of Fiscal Fasting?!

    I did a whole month back in June ( and it was heaps easier than I’d thought. In fact I’d be doing another one next month except I know I’ve got two trips away so would fail before I start… 🙂

  14. Frugal Bachelor says 30 December 2007 at 14:10

    “He’s the sort of guy who soft-boils his morning eggs by putting them in the dishwasher while it runs.”

    What kind of cheapskate uses a dishwasher? 🙂

  15. Julia says 30 December 2007 at 18:59

    Wow Jeff, what a response!

    One of my goals is to start using my bike for commuting more than my car. I’ve commuted to the post office and to swim classes, but I want to regularly use it for going shopping and making a meal out at a restaurant even more special. I wouldn’t have realized that you apparently bike a lot if you hadn’t replied.

    Also noting the social responsibility factor of your book makes me even more interested in it. I think paying less for goods and services can be detrimental to the community if you don’t pay attention to where your money is going. Sometimes it’s better to pay a little more, like at a farmer’s market.

    Haha your compost pile has a name. Cool!

    I hope your Tour de Cheapskate extends to Texas someday.

    Congratulations on your book!

  16. Iol says 31 December 2007 at 06:00

    Thanks for the great review.
    I thought I’d stop by today, Dec 31st, after reading in silence for a few months, to share a simple fact that has amazed me. I began following this site’s tips around October: I am 30 and have just started to take full control of my money and time..I can say, thank God, that I’ve never been in debt and don’t have a mortgage to pay off. But I recently decided that simply not being in debt wasn’t enough and I should be saving more. Today I looked at my excel spreadhseet and online bank account statement: and was happy to see that I’ve managed to save a nice little nestegg, bringing my savings up by roughly 20% of what I initally had at the beginning of the year. But the really amazing fact is this: I saved 90% of that nestegg in the October-December trimester alone, that is, when I started visiting the site, budgeting, and simply writing down all my expenses.
    So I’m here to thank you and bear witness to the fact that the power of NOT spending really is great.
    Have a great new year!

  17. drhands says 31 December 2007 at 07:38

    @ Iol

    Wow. Your story is almost exactly the same as mine. I’m 29, a renter who is 100% debt-free and, thank God, always has been.

    But until this year, I had simply been living within my means, with no real interest in PF or much thought about the value of my time/money.

    This year, after stumbling on GRS, I now have a maxed-out 401k, a healthy emergency fund, and an online savings account to which I make regular contributions.

    Soon I will be marrying my fiancee, who is also debt-free. And we are planning to save, save, save.

    Thanks to J.D. and all the GRS readers for providing motivation and food for thought. Here’s to a great 2008.

  18. Adam Johnson says 31 December 2007 at 20:47

    A plaque we have near our front door reads:

    “Happiness is wanting what you have”

    Now the hard part at times is believing and applying that…

  19. Minimum Wage says 05 January 2008 at 08:03

    I’ve often wished that I had maintained the standard of living I had at 25.

    So do I, how do I recover it?

  20. Iol says 08 January 2008 at 05:48

    that’s great drhands!! congratulations!!

  21. UrbanFrugal says 08 January 2008 at 15:33

    I agree wholeheartedly with the list. Today I went clothes shopping with my mother. Mostly we did a lot of looking. There were items on sale but none of the “fashionable” clothes would be in style by the next season so we ending up buying nothing.

    I do buy clothes but I would rather spend money on good clothes that last long and that have a classic fashionable look not a fad look.

    I have practiced a “fiscal fast” unwittingly and unconsciously and when I do have to spend money I am much more conscious of what I spend my money on.

    Don’t forget about budgeting for entertainment, there are lots of free thigns to do in larger cities that our tax dollars already pay for… seek them out.

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