Extreme Frugality – Are You Willing to Go The Distance?

by Katy on October 12, 2009 · 32 comments

Tightwad Gazette

I like to bring a book or magazine into bed, where I can actually read without worrying that, “I should be doing this” or “I should be doing that.” Sometimes I read way into the night, other times just a page or two’ll do me.

Last night I grabbed my well worn copy of Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette for a little night time inspiration. Although I’ve owned this books for years and feel like I have it memorized, it had been awhile since I’d delved in.

In the introduction, Dacyczyn responds those who criticize her frugal methods as too extreme:

“This seems as good a place as any to respond to the common criticism that my ideas are too extreme. The very purpose of a newsletter is to meet a need that is not met by the mainstream media. Traditional financial advice and consumer writers offer safe, halfway advice: They’ll tell you how to feed a family of four for $84 per week (when it can be done for half that amount). The same writers will tell you it’s becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for families to make ends meet. In fact by adhering to the ‘safe’ advice, many families would not make ends meet. The Tightwad Gazette came about as a reaction to this traditional viewpoint, because I knew that people could achieve the ‘impossible’ with a little discipline, a little creativity, and a willingness to to do things that mainstream thinkers deem extreme.”

Too extreme? Isn’t that like ice cream being too smooth and creamy?

My frugality has been mostly well received, but there are those who complain that I’ve gone over the edge. This bothers me not one whit, as I am quite comfortable and confident with my methods of madness. And I completely agree with her assessment of mainstream media. If I read the tired advice of skip that morning latte one more time, I just might have to drown myself in a double shot soy venti hazelnut vanilla cinnamon white mocha!

An example of the degree to which I’m willing to go in the name of frugality happened just today. I was helping my mother clean out two of her rental cottages between tenants and was able to fill a grocery bag with the stuff that people had left behind.

I brought home:

  • Half a bottle of corn oil
  • A mostly full carton of milk
  • A small bag of almonds
  • A stick-and-a-half of butter
  • A half-dozen eggs
  • A never opened bag of tortilla chips
  • A never opened jar of salsa
  • A half empty bottle of barbeque sauce
  • An almost full bottle of shampoo
  • A box of tooth whitening strips
  • A bag of parmesan cheese
  • An onion
  • Half a box of linguine
  • Half a bulb of garlic
  • A wide mouth canning jar with lid

There are some who would say that scrounging for food is way too extreme for them. But I feel totally comfortable and completely non-paranoid about this activity.

Frugality is about saving money on the things that don’t matter so the money is available for the things that do.

I have a goal to get all my money-pit-of-a-house debt paid off as soon as possible. And this means both making extra money, as well as looking for every opportunity where I can shave a little bit from my spending.

Extreme? Maybe so, but without extremity I would be working full time and probably living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Are you willing to make some extreme decisions to support the life you want to live? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Loretta October 13, 2009 at 1:51 am

Couldn’t agree more, Katy. As well as being a regular reader of your blog, I’m a member of an Australian website called Simple Savings (www.simplesavings.com.au) and the owners of the site have just published a book called “The $21 Challenge: We show you how to feed your family for a week on just 21 dollars”. Now THAT is pretty extreme! I haven’t tried it yet (my husband simply wouldn’t put up with it) but lots of the ideas on the site have really helped me on my frugal path. Of course, most of my friends think I’m crazy, but, increasingly, there are a few who are starting to come around to my way of thinking!


Lauren October 13, 2009 at 3:20 am

Thank you so much for your blog and your point of view! It is very difficult to gain support for “extreme” changes, but you’re right – without making serious cutbacks, many of us aren’t able to make ends meet. My husband and I are struggling to figure out what extreme changes to make, since I’ve decided to stay home with our two young kids. We don’t live in a pedestrian-friendly community and my husband has a 25-mile commute, but we could save so much if we sold one of our cars and took turns using the remaining one and getting rides from friends and neighbors. So far, our friends and neighbors aren’t too supportive of the plan, but we’re working on them! We’re also on a mission to reduce grocery bills by growing as much food as we can on our townhouse patio (FL weather lets us grow year-round). Fixing and cleaning up hand-me-downs has also saved us a ton on furniture, baby supplies, and electronics. A lot of people we know are very judgmental about these “tactics,” but I wouldn’t trade staying home with my kids and avoiding debt for any amount of new stuff!


Madeline October 13, 2009 at 5:51 am

I think the key thing to remember is that frugality is about choosing what is important to you, making that the #1 thing, and then economizing on the rest.

As a 20-something with pretty good savings and no debt burden from buying a home or having kids yet, I do some things that are pretty “extreme frugality.” Last year I chose to live in the cheapest place I possibly could, and I rarely purchase new clothing, instead mending things and shopping for deals. I do this so that I can, in the polar opposite of you, go out to eat with my friends whenever I want and buy the highest-quality food I can. For me, that’s really important: call me a glutton, but I love food, and I love the interaction that my friends and I have when we go out for fine food.

Obviously you and I don’t have the same goals and therefore we don’t have all the same strategies, but I still enjoy reading your blog because it encourages me to find my own strategies that allow me to live in luxury in one part of my life.


Jinger October 13, 2009 at 5:55 am

Because I don’t want to work full time at age 65, I chose to live well with my creature comforts..good food, AC, heat, internet and cable. And yet, give up some common luxuries, living without landline phone, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, memberships to clubs, museums etc, eating out (except on birthdays), and recreational shopping.

While my life may not be that of the “typical American”, we have everything we need and much of what we want!


Marlyn October 13, 2009 at 6:21 am

Katy…I totally agree with you. I also love the Tighwad Gazette. I actually have Gazettes I, II and III rather than the complete edition. Although I may not practice every suggestion, I did get a lot of great money saving ideas from the books.

Most of mainstream USA is broke so why would I want to follow the crowd? I don’t mind being “different” or “unusual” as I am called many times; afterall, it has helped us survive my hubby’s job loss a year ago and I’ve been able to stay at my part-time job, all without changing our lifestyle very much.

Love your blog! Keep it coming!


nancy from mass October 13, 2009 at 6:49 am

Sometimes I feel like my frugality is too extreme…keeping the thermostat way down (actually, it still isn’t on), washing out baggies, etc. But if I wasn’t, we would not have been able to survive my hubby’s lay off 49 weeks ago.
And I agree; If I have to read about how I could save money by making coffee at home and all the other obvious ‘money-saving’ ideas, I will scream. My absolute favorite though was ‘how you can save an average of $512 month on your groceries’…512? That’s 2 months of groceries for us! we can eat free for 2 months!


Simpler Living October 13, 2009 at 8:23 am

>Frugality is about saving money on the things that don’t matter so the money is available for the things that do.

I love this thought, Katy. Thanks for sharing.


Cate October 13, 2009 at 8:44 am

I think it’s great that you salvaged all of that stuff! I’m even a little jealous! Not only is it good for your budget, but otherwise it would presumably just get thrown away–and that doesn’t help out anybody.


Angela October 13, 2009 at 9:58 am

Yes, I was going to highlight the same part of your post as “Simpler Living” did. That’s the important thing to keep in mind- what’s the purpose of the frugality. Certainly to work part time so you can enjoy your family is well worth whatever food you scrounge. I wouldn’t bat an eye at taking leftover food from a rental cabin. The obvious thing is that the food isn’t even very old.

Some of the things I do aren’t “frugal” at all- taking yoga classes, going out to dinner, traveling. But I do the frugal things so that I can enjoy those things without going into debt.

I guess the most “extreme” frugal thing I do is to use things a lot longer than most people would. I always see pictures of myself in a hat or jacket that is more than a decade old. I’ve done this since I was young because when I find something I like, I want to keep it. I guess that’s good news for my husband.


Lisa October 13, 2009 at 10:19 am

I don’t see your frugal practices as extreme perhaps because I practice it too. A recent example comes to mind. I won a free bag of groceries from the local supermarket. YEAH! It contained a roll of paper towels. They’re still sitting unopened atop the microwave. I can’t recall the last time I bought paper towels and evidently haven’t missed having them, or the ones I won wouldn’t still be sitting there. It’s funny how things that used to be a necessity have become inconsequential.


Roxanne@AboutCalories.com October 13, 2009 at 10:52 am

I thought about what I have given up in the last year since I lost my cushy but boring consulting gig. You can only build so many small practice hospitals before your brain falls out.

And I don’t miss a darn thing.

I prefer my own cooking to going out. I prefer working at home in my PJ’s to dry cleaning clothes. etc

What I did notice that was funny is I had to look at my driver’s license from 6 months ago and my hair now is sure alot longer, looks better and I am saving 3 cut and dye jobs per year.

I guess what is really important to me is being able to walk the dog any darn time I want.


Shannon October 13, 2009 at 12:59 pm

I don’t think salvaging food is too extreme. I would feel bad to throw out food! Love the Tightwad Gazette books. I would like to be a little more extreme than we are but my husband has taken some softening up over the years. He’s finally come around to recognize the smarts of pre-loved clothing and household goods, as well as eating at home, gardening and cooking from scratch. I think he was always thrifty before we married. As for folks who think thrift is extreme, I think sometimes they are feeling a little defensive. I don’t really get it. People think we are extreme because we dress our kids primarily in 2nd hand clothes and do not under any circumstances by toys for our children except for Christmas and Birthday because they already have more than they can handle. Additionally we now limit each kid to one gift a birthday and just a few things, including handmade, for Christmas. We just want to focus on the things that are important, and honestly would prefer to save the money to take our kids traveling more than anything else. I guess I have a hard time judging what other families do because their priorities aren’t mine.
Oh and the latte thing drives me crazy too—how much coffee are people buying out there anyway?


hiptobeme October 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Once, after a fundraiser I volunteered at, I salvaged all of the open maple syrup off the tables. My reasoning was; what were the odds people had contaminated the serving bottles? And if so, at the exorbitant price of real maple syrup, I was willing to take the risk. Is that too extreme? One guy thought so…


Jupe Blue October 13, 2009 at 4:16 pm


You have mentioned your money pit house frequently on the blog. What stories do you have to tell and what projects have you turned your frugality upon?


daedrya October 13, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I don’t think salvaging food is too extreme at all. It’s almost a sin the amount of food people/businesses toss out. But I do draw the line at something like milk that has been opened…just never know if someone drinks out of the carton! It’s amazing what you can do without and still live a “rich” life.


Martha October 13, 2009 at 6:38 pm

I am glad (and not the least bit surprised) that you salvaged the food from the rental. I think there are often times when people are on vacation in a condo or cabin when they have to buy full packages of food knowing there is no way they will eat it all–I wish we could know that someone would always get to take the food and EAT it…I would if I were in your shoes.


Karen October 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm

I’m so glad you mentioned the latte “savings” ; ) I know I inhabit a different world from most people when I keep looking at these “frugal news” items and realize that I’ve done all these things and many more extreme things for the past 25 years, and just consider it common sense. Making your own coffee is news?!

I was amused to read in an AARP article of a couple months back that there was a way to save money by buying salvaged food. My first thought was, yes, I want in on this too! Then the writer revealed that by salvaged, he meant shopping at the Grocery Outlet, and I said, oh rats. I’ve shopped there since the late 80s. It was funny that the article warned us readers to be careful shopping there, as it wasn’t the same quality food as the usual grocery store. The only thing I can ever find “wrong” with food from the Outlet is unusual flavors that didn’t catch on, and strange packaging. Bring them on!


Linda October 13, 2009 at 6:53 pm

I think if more people were “extreme” with our finances in this country, we would all be much better off. I have friends who think I am a little “off” by giving and receiving items from freecycle or for hanging up all my laundry. I feel like I am saving the environment and also saving money. My heat is still not on this fall. The temperature is down to about the 40’s. We just put more blankets on the beds and sweaters on during the day! Better for my wallet and better for the environment. My friends think I’m crazy but I am the only one who does not worry about money and I think we make the least amount!


thenonconsumeradvocate October 13, 2009 at 8:17 pm


You must have been talking with my husband. He was fine with all of the food except for the milk for that exact reason.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


annie October 13, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Just stumbled upon your blog. I too am frugal about food and other things – we use very little around here if we can avoid it! This enables me to be at home as much as possible for my daughter plus have a paid-for home and car.

Keep up the good work!


Mary Bigger October 13, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I’m really enjoying this blog and the refreshing comments too. My husband and I have been tightwads forever. We both put ourselves through school and I was a stay at home mom for the first 11 years. We learned to keep a low profile, not as low as don’t ask don’t tell, but close. People rarely understood. Our parents passed on their depression survival skills and we did our best to add to them. We learned early on that paying cash for big items, i.e. cars, was possible and the money saved in the car column could be borrowed against and repaid making an interest free life possible.

Our basic attitude has been it’s our money and we will manage it on our own terms. The first item being, to carry as little debt as possible and never carry consumer debt. Amy is my heroine.

We have been married 50 years and have built our once and forever home on the beach using the cash and carry principal. Our kids were threatening to have a pool on how long our marriage would survive living in the completed shop which also was the lumber drying room. They didn’t see the goal as we did; zero rent, proximity to project and fiscal control.

I read every time management book, saving tip book, that I can find. The second basic principle we’ve used is to learn the skill needed, buy whatever books or tools the job requires and charge it to the first job. If that is cost effective, then one has the situation repaired and a lifetime of the skill for future projects.

I love the affirmation this blog gives to those of us who choose to be independent even if it means making some nontraditional choices. I’m looking forward to learning more than the basics here.


Diane October 13, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Hi Marlyn,
I have books 1-3 and the Big Blue Book of TG. You really want to check out the BBB from the library or keep your eyes peeled for a deal on a used copy. The BBB includes about six months worth of newsletters that were published after book 3. It also contains a section of success stories that are still inspirational all these years later.
I have been doing a “Spend No Money” month (not even on food) every February for years. During that month, I re-read my well-worn copy of TG. It keeps me on track and re-inspires me every time. Why February? It’s the shortest month, of course!


Klara Le Vine October 13, 2009 at 11:08 pm


Wasn’t it you who posted a while back asking for stories from those who’d lived through the Depression? Extreme is all context – my own definition of extreme is where you’re keeping, the next guy isn’t, so he thinks you’re extreme. And I find other parts of my life are also “extreme” in that I try to keep a macrobiotic life, try to be an observant Jew – and both of those things are in the minority – as well as being as eco as I can – that makes it more challenging in society, but if we lived in different times or different place, it might not be considered extreme. Exactly as Lisa had put it: “I don’t see your frugal practices as extreme perhaps because I practice it too. ”

So I am thrilled that you blog and let the world know how so not extreme you (and your readers) are.


Julius October 14, 2009 at 12:30 am

I don’t see the problem – but then I am a student…

I spent last week in a rental property (while attending an academic conference in sunny Corsica… *smug*) with some colleagues and we happily used the ingredients left in the cupboards. We also left quite a lot behind ourselves, because it’s tricky to finish some things in a week, and we were flying with hand-luggage only (which could also be considered over-the-top frugality – but it saved us £22 per person in each direction, damnit!) so couldn’t take any containers of liquids.


Julius October 14, 2009 at 12:32 am

Oh yeah, also at this conference, one of the other attendees and I went and, er, “salvaged” some of the wine (in opened bottles!) left over from the drinks reception they held one evening. I thought that was very frugal, myself. *hic*


Marj M. October 14, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Way to go on the bag of salvaged goods. I would have done the same. I, too, wash out baggies and have for years. I was brought up frugal………..and that idea has never left, nor do I want it to.


Marlyn October 15, 2009 at 5:58 am

This week we were fortunate to get some “free” groceries also. Hubby did some work for a bread delivery guy…came home with 2 packs of Thomas’ bagels, Thomas’ bread, sandwich pockets and a box of chocolate covered donuts. Also, friends of ours going on vacation gave us their perishables….bag of salad mix, opened box of cereal, loaf of bread, and a four pack of yogart. I never turn down the offer of food, no matter what it is!


Tracy Balazy October 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm

I love your comment that “Frugality is about saving money on the things that don’t matter so the money is available for the things that do.” So true. I’ve had co-workers (in their 20s and in a lot of debt) express shock and disbelief that I drive a 9-year-old car, and when my boss recently complimented me on a pair of shoes and I blurted out, “Garage sale!” she practically SHUSHED me and said, “You shouldn’t SAY that.” hahahaha. I love living this way! I find restricting myself, except for purchases of underwear, to resale, much more satisfying than going to a store. To me, it’s fun, and I’ve saved a boatload of cash that way. And Katy, you’ve been an inspiration for me to make the change at the halfway point this year to NO NEW STUFF!


Tonya October 15, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Thanks for reminding us about keeping what’s important to us in mind. So much of my impulsive consumer purchases really aren’t because they line up with what’s important to me, they just seemed like a good idea at the moment.

Oh, and I just scored a copy of Tightwad Gazette for $1 at my local Goodwill! Looking forward to having my own copy that I can mark up and read at will.


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