Friday, May 23, 2008

Flashback Friday! The Complete Tightwad Gazette - Amy Dacyczyn

I was peripherally aware of The Tightwad Gazette through most of the 1990s. Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced "decision"), a self-described "black-belt tightwad" was on a few of the daytime talk shows like Donahue and Oprah, promoting her monthly newsletter which was full of essays and tips from both Dacyczyn and readers on how to save money. Unfortunately, these TV venues with their clueless hosts and single-digit-IQ audiences tended to make Dacyczyn out to be wacky at best and bordering on child abuse -- a totally ridiculous and contemptible accusation -- at worst.

During this time, I was a stay-at-home mom. We didn't have much money. In retrospect, the newsletter would've been helpful; I was already manically sending away for zines every time Factsheet Five came out with a new list. When Villard published the first volume of The Tightwad Gazette, I cloudily remember seeing it at Waldenbooks and thinking that it might be interesting then promptly forgetting it as I headed over to the fiction section. I think that's called "disconnect".

Flash-forward to the summer of 2001. I was divorced and remarried by this time, and still kind of broke. I was also teaching an ESL course at Central Missouri State University, and our textbook had a unit about recycling. I remembered hearing that one of TTG's main features was different ways to use various household items, and thought that it would be a "fun" supplement to the chapter. I headed over to Hastings in Warrensburg and found The Complete Tightwad Gazette. For such a thick book, the price was really cheap: $13.95!

At home, I thumbed through and found the pages I wanted to copy and my class finished the recycling unit. We had a lively discussion about TTG's ideas: The Asians in the class thought that they were sensible. The Latinos thought they were good ideas, but too much trouble. The Saudis thought they'd never heard anything so stupid in their lives. (The Russians belligerently wanted to know why I was having so much class discussion and why I wasn't making them write essays every day.)

I didn't plan to read The Complete Tightwad Gazette, but the format of short articles and essays made it the perfect accompaniment for the chattering on the endless reruns on TV Land that Mr. Bybee preferred as evening entertainment. To my surprise, I enjoyed Amy's (she began to feel like an old friend!) essays about how she and her husband became tightwads. I read on, feeling unsettled in a positive way.

On page 87, there was an essay called "Seeking The Minimum Level". Amy's constant refrain was that we should sweat the small stuff, and pay attention to even the most minute expenses because pennies become dollars. "Seeking The Minimum Level" is a challenge to see "how low can you go?" throughout the day, giving multiple examples of ways to cut spending. Cool, I thought, going back and rereading the article again. Test yourself. See how tough you are. Way cool.

A few nights later, with a whole evening's worth of episodes of Bewitched blaring in the background, I experienced a paradigm shift. It was on page 232, and the essay was "How To Avoid Being Deprived". Deprivation didn't have to be deprivation. Cutting back was all about empowerment. Whoo!

I went on to finish the book, hanging on Amy's every word. The only time I felt a strong prickle of disagreement guessed it...on the subject of books. Waste of money buying books that are available at the library. Waste of money because you usually only read them once unless they're reference books. Waste of space... I wanted to excel at tightwaddery, but I knew I'd never reconcile myself to her view about books. I'd cut like hell in other areas, but not this one. To her credit, Amy Dacyczyn was a strong frugal advocate, but she also allowed that not everyone felt the same about spending. For example, I could have cared less about her passion, which was her huge farmhouse with an attached barn.

After finishing The Complete Tightwad Gazette, I couldn't let it go and move on to the next book. I read it again. It soothed my mind and made me feel in control, so I read a bit every night before I went to sleep for a few months -- usually the last chapter in the book where Amy published letters from debt-ridden people who became successful tightwads and got themselves in control of their finances.

A fever seemed to possess me, and I couldn't get enough of reading about thrift and saving money. The next book I read was Your Money Or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, which poses the questions: "Are you a wage slave because of all the things you feel you must buy? Are you making a living or making a dying?" Then I read a book called Living On A Shoestring. I got interested in Scott and Helen Nearing and read The Good Life, as well as other books about the "back to the land" movement. Then I joined not one, but two online frugal groups, and participated heavily on their boards up until I went to Korea.

The first couple of months I was here, I didn't have much money since my job hadn't started yet, but I was able to weather that lean time with no problem because I was so thoroughly fixed in that frugal mindset. Also helpful was a box that arrived from home with some of my clothing, linens, dinnerware -- and my copy of The Complete Tightwad Gazette.


Amy said...

I LOVE the Tightwad Gazette. I recently read an article about what Amy Dacyczyn has been up to since she retired.
Here it is!

Nyssaneala said...

I haven't read this one so can't judge it, but one of my main complaint about 'frugal living' books is that to save a dollar, they often don't promote things that may cost more in the short-term, but give you (and the environment, your health, your local economy) long-term benefits: buying organic, staying away from big-box stores, etc. I'd love to know if this book is different!

Choco Pie said...

Ooooh, I love her! After my daughter was born, I quit my job and didn't know how we were going to make it, financially. I subscribed to her newsletter and it was so inspirational. I loved that it wasn't all penny-pinching--there was a whole philosophy behind it, opting out of materialism, living simply, reducing waste. Later, I bought her books, too, and used them as reference books for many years. I'm no longer a tightwad anymore, but I really admire her work and I feel that she helped me so much.

Great review, thanks! And Amy, thanks for the link to that article. Over the years, I've tried to find more info about her--I'd love to know what her kids are up to. The glimpses into her family life were always interesting.

Bybee said...

I absolutely love you for finding that article! Thanks!

Forget the other frugal books...they are just pretenders to the shelves. Amy Dacyczyn's book is The Real Deal. She walks the walk.

Bybee said...

Wow, another Amy D. fan! I agree, I loved reading her life philosophy as well. I guess I'm not much of a tightwad anymore either, but I might gear myself back into it...I've got some goals I'd like to accomplish in the next few years.

jgodsey said...

while i was cleaning house last week i found my complete run of Tightwad Gazette issues. Perhaps i need to reread them.

Susan said...

Wow, my sister gave me that book some years ago when I was divorced, a single mom, and very very poor....I know she was trying to be helpful, but I hated the idea of being a tightwad when I didn't have a choice anyway! What I preferred was the simple living idea - of cutting back and living as lightly on the earth as I could, that a lot of what we want, we don't really need. And I had the Joe Dominguez book - still do! Every once in a while I look at it and wonder, my money or my life? and mentally calculate how many hours of work went into buying this thing or that. Except books, of course! They never enter the equation! you think we are psychic twins or something? Or have all Susans in their 40's in the world gone through the same things? (there are so many of us, you know! It's almost like the Stepford Wives except you can separate them into the Susan, Sue, Susie, groupings.....) I really enjoyed your post, Susan (except the reading how poor you were too, no one likes that even if people make money over how poor their childhoods were, in memoirs!)

SFP said...

Another Susan in her 40s raises her hand. I never saw the newsletters, but I loved The Tightwad Gazette books back in the days when the kids were young and we had no money--except for the don't buy books part. I still remember that Dacyczyn was an Updike fan.

Bybee said...

I've never actually seen one of the newsletters, and would love to. My aunt said that she had a coworker who would bring hers in to work.

Wow..the similarities mount up! I'm glad you read the Dominguez book...I still have it, but it's in the US collection. I'm going to get back into tightwadding starting on payday June 5. I can really save some money because I'll be combining the strategies of working extra and cutting back. I'm kind of excited!

That not buying novels and sending stuff to the attic to gather dust still rankles me when I read it. I think she should have addressed the idea that books you already have can be a form of decoration in a room. Yeah, the Updike tidbit always stuck in my mind as well!

Angeline Hawkes said...

I have all of the original newsletters. Been trying to figure out what they are worth dollar-wise to list them on ebay, but no one has them listed anywhere! No one wants to let them go I suppose! lol.

Angeline Hawkes

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