Sunday, 15 January 2012

Tightwad Gazette Revisited

I owe Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced decision) a lot, in fact I need to thank her for pretty much my entire lifestyle these days.  She's the one who taught me the game of frugality.  It started out as a means of survival (take a spend-thrift second husband with a good-weather dependent income; a surprise 20-month-old step-son - yikes! the price of diapers, not to mention daycare!; a secretary's salary; a recently deceased father who left thousands of bills at double-digit interest rates along with a house worth keeping; oh, and an ex-husband who let the house we shared go into foreclosure...with my name on the mortgage; did I mention I was working on finishing a master's degree in night school at this time?). 

Amy didn't just share tips about how to save money, she wrote brilliant editorials that helped me develop a different attitude.  She changed how I looked at money; at goals; at other people, particularly The Jones's; at other resources such as time, energy and various materials; at advertising and at the consumer society in general.  She championed the use and development of creative approaches and of tightwad experiments.  She taught me the guidelines of the game and made frugality fun.  There was also a hefty helping of respect for the environment and gratitude for the gifts of a loving family and being raised with a work ethic.    If you haven't ever read The Complete Tightwad Gazette, I can't recommend it highly enough, even if you don't feel you need to be frugal.  Interestingly, the used prices on suggest that people are taking her ideas more seriously these days.  Not that I've ever owned the book myself.

I still cherish my original, now tattered, newsletters.  In the years that I barely kept my head above water, I looked forward to receiving each issue like a drowning person welcomes the life raft.  

Beyond survival, tightwaddery became a means to get what I wanted (to own a home in my new city, Salt Lake City, where the rents were double those in OKC and house prices were soaring).  My mom died less than two years after my dad, I left my hometown of 35 years for a new job (I'd finished the master's) and my marriage was increasingly hard work; we didn't share the same goals at all.  Playing the game was a welcome distraction from sad realities. 

When the marriage finally ended, I wanted to keep the house I'd scrimped and saved for.  This meant saving up again to pay out half of the equity, almost half the original price in only a couple of years.   My ex had a small house in OKC we'd re-mortgaged together for a better interest rate.  I'd learned from my first experience and required that he take my name off that mortgage before I paid him the $17,000 equity I owed.  It took him a while to arrange that, giving me just enough time to save up.    

When I moved to the UK,  my rent income was useful in helping to save for a deposit on a house here.  I lived in one room near work for 10 months, while saving and searching for another house.  I eventually paid off the SLC house in 8 years, not in the 15-year life of the mortgage (I saved $44,000 in interest by chosing a 15 rather than a 30 year mortgage).  In the UK I took a 30-year mortgage but paid off the house in 10.   Can you see why I like Amy's game

The game of frugality eventually allowed me to leave an increasingly stressful job and to retire at 51:  I had a paid-for home, some rental income, a sizeable savings account and zero debt.   Mind, I don't discount Bill's contribution to my retirement, providing a backdrop of added security in the event my resources failed (rent income/expenses are not entirely reliable).   Also, one of the best of Bill's many sterling qualities is that he understands and likes to play the game.

I'm now in a position where I need to re-evaluate my goals.  I have reached most of the ones I've had in the past.  I think I'm in a pretty secure position, but I want to check.   My finances are a bit scattered - chasing interest rates here in the UK could be a full-time job - and I need to pull myself together a bit.  Amy also wrote about reaching this point.  I want to go find that editorial and remind myself what she had to say.  Gretchen Rubin talks about 'spending out', something I have been trying to do a bit of lately.  In a conscious way.

In addition to doing this stock-taking, I have pulled out my dear old newsletters and re-organised them by month.   Instead of doing the chronological journey through Amy's publishing career, I have all of January's advice together.  There are many of her ideas I've yet to try. 

Some have to do with raising children, buying fuel for stoves or buying and maintaining cars.   These aren't for me (Bill has decided ideas about what car he wants to drive and I leave that entirely to him).  I've never much pursued the pie and cake ideas before, but Bill would enjoy eating these.   As the mother of six children, Amy's ideas about efficient organisation and use of time were always practical and why I still read some mommy-blogs these days.  I will look forward to re-reading her advice about tightwad decorating (start with cleaning and re-arrange what you already have).   I may not incorporate a great many new ideas into our routine, but I'm certain to come away with my frugal habits shined up and my happy resolve strengthened.

You see, it's not a game for me anymore, it's part of how I am.   And whatever words some people like to throw around like 'cheap' or 'dreary', today I have a relatively comfortable, low-stress, contented life in a place I love, with people I love.   I'm pretty certain I wouldn't have been able to do that without the tools Amy gave me.  Making careful, conscious choices about money made me focus on what was important to me.  Whatever unhappiness there was on the road to here, I'm very pleased and grateful to be in the position I am today. 

Thank you, so much, Amy.


Beryl said...

Very interesting. I'm going to have to go and read about "spending out". I love your choice of words - tightwaddery, the game of frugality. What a journey you've had. ("Surprise 20 month old stepson"?)
Home decorating for me is to rearrange my husband's relatives stuff and add in another Ikea lamp or bookshelf.

Suburban Princess said...

That's awesome Shelley! You have done what so many people never manage to do and you did it in 20 years less time than it normally takes!

I have always known real estate is the key to building 'wealth' and own more than one property...with eyes on another this year! I'm impressed you could pay your mortgage early without penalty.

I love Gretchin too! Did you know she is on Twitter? And she replies!! She actually goes out of her way to follow people who like her book!

LR @ Magnificent or Egregious said...

Great job Shelley! We are paying down as much as we can on our house LOC, before interest rates go up. Having useless debt to keep up with others is not worth the stress, hassle, worry, etc. Because of my job, I see people scrimping to pay for house purchases and having to refinance every 6 months/1 year/2 years to pay off loans and credit cards....the same ones that were paid off the last time they refinanced. I would never want to be in that position.

Anonymous said...

I think "Frugal Scholar" turned me on to Amy. I went in search of her books and fond a copy in our local HalfPrice bookstore! We have paid off our mortgage and will soon have our latest vehicle paid off. Then, I can seriously consider a move like retirement.

Frugal Scholar said...

This is really a masterpiece! I have read it four times and will come back for more, I'm sure.

Expat mum said...

I live with very little debt and always have. I am lucky not to have to watch every single penny, but I absolutely hate lavish spending anyway. There's a lot of "Jones' stuff going on even in this tighter economy, and it makes me sick to see it. Who feckin cares if you have the latest car/TV/designer bag? Does that make you a better person?
There will be a day very soon, when people who pay top dollar for everything, will simply look like idiots. Amen!

Expat mum said...

Just had a lovely time looking through your Tynemouth photos (and making myself homesick.) My cousin is getting married next June in the teeny tiny church in the village, just opposite the Priory. Can't remember the name. I hope we all fit in!

Anonymous said...

Wow now I am in awe of you!

As I said earlier, my eyes have just opened, I've trailed though life without a thought for the future but I'm changing all that now.

Anonymous said...

Wow now I am in awe of you!

As I said earlier, my eyes have just opened, I've trailed though life without a thought for the future but I'm changing all that now.

Sandra said...

Shelley, you are one impressive woman...I have great admiration for how your partial life story here gives me an even clearer picture of your wisdom! How lucky that I got to meet you in person even for the short time we were together to put you at the center of your lively and descriptive writing. I am a big fan!

Anonymous said...

Dear Shelley, I recently commented that I hoped you would write on how you achieved early retirement...well here it is (sorry, I just had to keep reading!). I am now in the process of reading all of your previous posts on frugality. You are an incredible inspiration. At 46 y.o. and having no debt except our mortgage (which matures in 10 yrs.)I've changed from being a spendthrift to being much more responsible with finances. There's definitely more room for improvement, but now after years of frugality it has actually become fun. Thank you for your wonderful blog, I look forward to it every day.