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”:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 reading, 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.