Raw Material

The Limits of Cheap

Excerpted from The Book of Zines

Living Cheap News bookLarry Roth created Living Cheap News because he felt the penny pinching tips offered by the standard bearer Tightwad Gazette were too complicated. "Most of my friends were members of two-income families," he says. "While we wanted to save money, spending a lot of time at it made for a false economy." This editor's note is taken from a 1994 issue.

Dollar Signince launching this newsletter, I’ve learned different people have different standards of what is truly cheap and what is merely amateur cheap. I want to explore the limits of cheap. One of my readers who uses a one-cubic-foot refrigerator, a hot plate, and lives without a car in a tiny apartment tells me I am not really cheap because I have a 17-cubic-foot refrigerator, a stove, a microwave, a car and a four-bedroom townhouse.
Another reader in West Virginia is homeless by choice because he doesn’t believe in paying for a place to live. I have read about one man who jacks his old Volkswagen off the ground at night to save wear and tear on his tires and another who times his bowel movements so they only happen while he is at work (saving him toilet paper—and no, the article did not say what he does on weekends).
These people have made the choice to be on the fringes of frugality. Their choice does not affect anyone else, and, while they are far more frugal than I am, I applaud their efforts.
But every once in a while I hear from people I cannot applaud. In fact, I often feel like washing my hands after reading their letters. These are people who are cheap at the expense of others. Some don’t tip in restaurants because of some Money in the bankprinciple, hurting waiters and waitresses. If people do not believe in tipping, they should not eat out. Others make toll calls when they know people are not home, leave a message on the victims’ answering machine and taking advantage of the returned call. One woman, upset at having to send a dollar and a stamp for a sample copy of Living Cheap News, informed me she was a true tightwad, and as a true tightwad it was her duty to get as many things as possible without paying for them.
If anyone believes I support this perverted noblesse oblige, let's set the record straight. I believe in a win-win approach to life. Taking advantage of everybody and everything is win-lose. In the long run, as these people accumulate "free" things that take up space and complicate their lives, their win-lose approach will leave them empty. For example, I recently won a fairly expensive prize that I couldn’t use from a store in my neighborhood. It was free, so I took it. Eventually I found someone who could use it, but it took some effort to get this "prize" out of my life. Even free things are not bargains if you don’t need them.

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