Amy Dacyczyn - The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift As a Viable Alternative Lifestyle

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This book will ruin your children...

Feb 2, 2006 (Updated Feb 8, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:For those who are open-minded and seeking ways to improve their lives financially.

Cons:Not for the person who is NOT ready to change their lifestyle to save money.

The Bottom Line: This is an easy to read book that can be read from cover to cover or used as a reference guide to save money.


An Important Point
I read all 959 pages of this book. This book is arranged so that you can reference it and not necessarily read the entire thing. When reading the other reviews, I could differentiate between those that did and didn’t read the whole book before giving their review. This is very important before giving a review on any kind of book, no matter what the lay-out is. When I read some of the critics, I could tell that they had not read the entire books because most of their disapproving assessments were eventually addressed by the author if you continued to read the book.

Living broke is cool?
Before I go into detail about this book, I have to share with you what is the probably the most important aspect about it. My husband and I have always considered ourselves "cheap" by nature and have seen it as an urgent and critical way to live “for now” until we are where we want to be financially. We’re in a good place financially, but still have dreams of a more affluent life-style. The author of this book beautifully and purposely demonstrates a key point: Frugality is a life-style that can be eagerly embraced, it can be a way of life that you willingly adopt as your own no matter how much money you make. The concept that I could live frugally no matter how much money we have was a concept I had not thought of before and after reading this book, I feel much more at ease with the notion.

My attitude about frugality has dramatically changed after reading this book. If you’re like me, you tend to see thriftiness as short-term deprivation to get through a lean time and usually only practice it when funds are low. However, I now realize that the true deprivation that people experience is scraping by paycheck to paycheck, wondering if that grocery purchase you just made is going to cause an overdraft charge, or having a near panic attack because the car you are making payments on needs new brakes.

How frugality will ruin your children. . .
One significant statement that you hear over and over again from the critics is that living a exclusively frugal life will ruin and traumatize the children. The author makes a good point against this argument that I agree with: Continually changing budget rules create stress. Adjusting to a tighter budget is hard for parents, but it is even harder for kids when frugality is only practiced during unemployment and their allowance suddenly drops from $5 to a $1. Over time, family members begin to associate meatless meals and yard-sale clothing with bad times and it inquires a stigma that frugality is a low-class negative experience.

There is someone I know, who with her husband and two daughters experience constant erratic rags-to-riches on a weekly basis. Sometimes the kids can go for weeks buying school lunches but then overnight, they have to change their identity and start taking their lunches because mommy did not get that Christmas bonus they thought was coming to them. There is a continuous pattern of strain and uncertainty that the girls have to live with. It has a reached a point where when recently the family car's brakes went kaput, it was sad for me to see the look on the girls faces. Their parents did not have to say anything. Those two girls knew that it meant another change and downturn in their lifestyle and increase in the overall family stress factor. The author points out “to me, a worse kind of deprivation (for children) is a lack of security - the constant nagging feeling that the tiniest downturn in one’s income or the smallest domestic disaster such as a blown engine or broken window can wipe you out.”

Children are too expensive. . .
Another common “myth” that this book busts is that children are too expensive. You hear it frequently: “we are going to start with one and then see if we can afford another one” or “we would love to have four children but they are too expensive.” There are many chapters that covers this and how having children is not as expensive as have we have talked ourselves into believing. To sum it up: if you think you need to live the life-style that is presented by the media and in family shows, then yes, having children will be too expensive. But if you follow the MANY money-saving ideas listed in this book, your annual costs can stay near the same as when you had no children.

I can agree with this 100%, because my own parents did this. They managed to build and buy a home on one income and raise two daughters. If you’re going to say, “oh, but it was easier back then,“ I am 27 years old, so this was not that long ago. So you have to ask yourself what is more important: designer clothes, fancy cars, and over-rated consumerism or a family of four children. It’s okay to want either choices, but it probably won’t be possible to have both at the same time.

What about investing?
Several critics complained that the author does not cover the topic of investing which is also a very important aspect of saving your money. I agree with the idea that investing is crucial, however the author clearly states that she is not qualified to give advice on this subject and that the reader should seek that kind of advice elsewhere. The topic of investing belongs in another book.

Why I Can’t I Find Anything?
Because this “book” is actually a compilation of newsletters, the format appears completely disorganized. Admittedly, the index is really not that helpful. I realized when I was about 20% through the book that I had better start marking my favorite pages and keep a list for my own references. Another important point is that this book was published because many of the newsletters subscribers requested it. It was the author’s way of giving people a chance to read back-issues.

Being frugal is extreme and requires too much effort
One of the most common protest I hear is “I don’t have time to air-dry my plastic baggies!” For some reason, many of the critics point this out and I realize that it is probably because it is in the beginning of the book. If you take the time to read the entire book, you realize that the subject “baggie-drying” only exists on maybe 1-2 pages of the entire 959 of the book. People who read the book cover to cover don’t mention this subject.

One thing to remember, is that about 75% or more of the recommendations are from readers of the original newsletter. So, even though the author printed them, doesn’t necessarily mean that she promotes them. For example, she covers the subject of Dumpster Diving, but does not practice this herself. However, for the sake of her readers, she does a field test and shares her results and experience with the readers. Her overall goal is to provide ideas and to stimulate her reader’s creativity to use their own resources to find ways to save money. You are not required to air dry baggies if this is not an option for you.

Other subjects she covers that have been considered too extreme: growing your own food, buying clothes and items at garage sales, using cloth diapers, setting up a pantry in your home, riding your bike to work, using powdered milk, chopping your own wood and much more. You do not have to do all of these items, but at certain points in the book, she shares how much you can save overtime and the amount with all of the “extreme” practices combined is phenomenal.

Cheap costumes and more
One of my favorite suggestions for a baby’s Halloween costume is to buy a cheap stuffed bunny rabbit at a garage sale or thrift store; cut a round hole in the face; remove the stuffing; throw in the washing machine; and viola! You’ve got a cute Halloween costume for less than a buck. How ingenious! I’ve seen some of these costumes cost at $35!

I am one of those people that loves to be organized and this book is chock full of advice for people like me. One page is devoted to building a locker for each member of your family. This can be kept near an entrance or in the garage and all member can leave back-packs and shoes in these lockers. The reason that this idea appeals to me is because I can predict that less time will be spent trying to find the random lost shoe.

Why didn’t I think of that?
I think my “aha” moment came when she shares the stories of her depression-era readers and how they were able to survive such a distressing time. The author begs the question: On a street of 20 houses, there are 20 weed-whackers, 20 barbeques, and 20 Lion King videos, though each is only used a few hours a year. In that moment, I thought to myself “why does each of these homes have all of these things when it would be so much easier (and cheaper) to just share these items?” During the depression-era, her readers impart that everything was shared within the community in order to survive. They shared virtually everything, even housing and cars, and had a community network that was infallible. The author lovingly moves on to explain why she thinks this system of neighborly camaraderie has diminished and how to encourage this type of connection within your own neighborhood.

Some of the other advice is so simple that I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it myself. For example, she talks about how you may have a pile of items that are so dilapidated that they are no longer appropriate for donating or selling at a garage sale. These are items that are beyond broken and you wouldn‘t wish them on anyone else. My husband and I recently took a bunch of stuff to the dump via his truck and the trip cost us $75. There are times when we do this twice a year or more. The author experiments with an idea and creates a huge sign that says “FREE.” She puts the pile of undesirables in her front yard next to this sign and watches from her home. Within one day, nearly 90% of the items are picked through and hauled off by passer-bys. Why didn’t I think of THAT? She kindly tells you to not leave stuff out overnight and to limit this to 1-2 days for the sake of your neighbors. Now why didn’t I think of that?!

Another idea that I absolutely loved was from a reader in Kingwood, Texas that discovered that people love to buy kid’s toys in their original boxes at yard sales - even if the item is used. Often we receive gifts from people and usually discard the box. This reader recommends keeping them in a attic (they can be broken down) and when the child outgrows them, place them back in the box and sell them. This Texan discovered that people are willing to pay more for the toys and that they sell quickly. This idea could be applied towards other household items as well. Now why didn’t I think of that?!

A brief history of the author. . .
To sum it up, Amy Dacyczyn was a stay-at-home mom who was trying to figure out a way that she and her family could thrive on her husband’s $30,000 a year income. She spent many years practicing frugal habits and they managed to buy their dream home, have six children and occur no debt. When her husband neared retirement, they were discussing different ideas of a home-based business that she could start. They came up with the idea of sharing their successful experiences in a newsletter that would also print other people’s ideas as well. Originally, they predicted they would only have a handful of local subscribers - yet, the newsletter became a national phenomenon that would be criticized just as equally as it has been praised.

Amy Dacyczyn did not intend to use her newsletter to convert spendthrifts but rather connect with other frugal-minded zealots. So when reading this book, keep in mind that you may apply the ideas to your own life any way you like, but do not feel that you have to adopt the ideas as gospel or reject them like the plague. The author’s ultimate goal was to inspire others to be creative and find solutions that magically fit with their own lives. I am pretty sure if you take the time to read this entire book, you will come away with a changed attitude as I did. Remember, frugality is a life-style that can be eagerly embraced, it can be a way of life that you willingly adopt as your own no matter how much money you make.


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