I’ve been a fan of the Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn, for ten years.
Over the last decade, this book has helped me to save thousands of dollars on our housing, transportation, food and clothes. Almost every sentence, in the massive 788 page tome, is a gem.
Recently, I’ve started rereading tightwad gazette with an eye to crafting and cooking. Though these aren’t the main topics of the book, Amy has included some surprisingly good ideas on saving money in these areas. To varying degrees, the Tightwad Gazette touches on sewing, quilting, decorating, woodworking, baking and creating gifts of food. Though these sections are short, they are packed with great ideas.
My favorite story is a detailed accounting of how Amy made a $1.00 quilt for her daughter’s room. Amy designed her own pattern, gathered coordinating fabrics from free or inexpensive sources and set about making a simple but lovely quilt. All done, in her usual frugal way.
Here are 50 takeaways from Tightwad Gazette……
« 1 »
If you own a set of tools, consider building twig furniture for your porch. Rustic furniture is both free and attractive. Use the library to find a book of how-tos.
« 2 »
Try to avoid purchasing wood. Wood can be recycled from curbside throwaways. Use it to create smaller items like wall shelves, children’s chairs, etc.
« 3 »
Sew with the fabrics you already have on hand. Rather than running to the store for new fabrics, use what you already have in your stash. Nothing in your stash? See what your mom has in hers.
« 4 »
Cut down adult size clothing to make clothes for kids. Skirts generally provide the most yardage, but dresses and oversize tops can also be recycled. Cut apart as close to the seams as possible, to insure the maximum fabric.
« 5 »
Use mix and match recipes that allow you to take advantage of seasonal and sale items. Here are my own mix and match recipes for baked potatoes, rice and bagels.
« 6 »
Make your own patterns from ready made clothing or locate some freebies online. To start, try simple items of clothing like skirts. Eventually work your way up to vests and more complicated garments.
« 7 »
Refurbish clothes the easy way. Just remove dated, damaged and garish elements such as broken beading or yellowed lace. Other things to take off are out of style collars, appliques and buttons.
« 8 »
Skip the eggs for baking. Instead, substitute one tablespoon of water and a heaping tablespoon of soy flour. Stir together to make an egg substitute for cakes, cookies and breads.
« 9 »
Use lightly toasted breadcrumbs as a cheap substitute for Parmesan cheese. Toss them in olive oil and toast in a pan till golden brown.
« 10 »
Make up your own tv dinner trays to deal with leftovers. Fill each tray with one main course and several side dishes. Freeze till needed. Tv dinner trays can be bought at camping stores or online.
« 11 »
Have what Amy calls Smorgasbord Night as another way of getting rid of leftovers. Heat up a bunch of leftovers, place them on the table, and have everyone take what they want.
« 12 »
To get a used “something” for a cheap price, let friends and family know you are searching. Eventually, someone will hear of a “something” going for a great price, or even for free.
« 13 »
Get into the habit of buying items used and then reselling them on Craig’s List when their no longer needed. Just make sure your initial purchase is a great bargain.
« 14 »
Buy fluorescent lights. Fluorescent light fixtures and bulbs may be more expensive in the short run, but you will remake your money back fast, fast, fast.
« 15 »
Buy yeast from bakeries or warehouse stores in bulk. It will cost a fraction of the grocery store price. Just be sure to use it fast so it doesn’t lose it’s effectiveness. Or alternatively, split with a friend.
« 16 »
Don’t use soda or sticky soft drinks to make pops. Yogurt, ice tea mix and leftover jello can all be used for making popsicles. Fruit juice and pureed fruit can also be used.
« 17 »
If you’re sick of spending money on new socks when you have tons of mateless ones in your drawer, start buying identical socks only. You will always be able to match up your socks.
« 18 »
To save burnt cookies, scrape off their bottoms with a course grater. The cookies will taste as good as if they hadn’t burnt.
« 19 »
Never automatically follow the manufacturer’s instructions when deciding how much laundry detergent, shampoo, or dish detergent to use. Experiment. You often need much less than they say.
« 20 »
Don’t always assume warehouse stores are the cheapest source for groceries. Sale foods, coupon foods and loss-leaders can often be found cheaper at the supermarket.
« 21 »
If you don’t feel like paying to have your bulky item hauled away to the trash, place it front of your house with a sign saying “Free. Please take.” Often someone will come by and relieve you of your burden.
« 22 »
If you want your child to have encyclopedias, buy a slightly used edition. Most of the information will still be up to date, but you will save at least 90%.
« 23 »
Use coupons carefully. Coupons aren’t always money savers. They are often offered for items that were over-priced to begin with. You may be able to find another brand of the same item for less than the coupon price. Be sure to take a look.
« 24 »
Collect gifts all year round. When you see an exceptional bargain, purchase it for birthdays and holidays. If you wait to buy gifts till you need them, you may not find them on sale.
« 25 »
Make a new quilt for just a couple dollars. Reuse an old comforter or blanket for batting and used clothing for fabric. If you don’t have a machine, just sew the quilt by hand.
« 26 »
Lose weight and save money by walking to nearby errands instead of taking the car. This works best if you live within a mile from a large commercial area.
« 27 »
Don’t always assume fresh vegetables are the cheapest. Also check out the prices on canned and frozen vegetables before making a purchase.
« 28 »
Next time you want a vacation, consider borrowing a tent and going camping. You’ll save almost a $100.00 a night on motel fees. Look the site up online to make sure it has all the amenities you’ll need.
« 29 »
To refurbish an old sofa, cover the cushions as you would wrap a gift box. Use heavy duty safety pins to secure their backs.
« 30 »
Make a price book. Use a notebook to keep track of the prices of all the groceries you purchase on a regular basis. Note the prices at each of the stores your frequent.
« 31 »
If you are really poor, ditch the cable TV. Get a money saving hobby instead. Some good ideas or sewing, gardening and baking.
« 32 »
Always check out the scratch and dent section of your grocery store. You can find some big bargains. Not all stores have scratch and dent sections so you may have to do some research first.
« 33 »
Pick up craft supplies like yarn and embroidery floss very cheaply at yard sales. Also keep an eye out for sports equipment, books, clothes, cookware, small appliances and kids toys. In general, the nicer the neighborhood, the nicer the sale.
« 34 »
Ask your local bakery if they have a “day old” section. Or, better yet, learn to bake your own bread and save even more.
« 35 »
Purchase used tvs at repair shops. Repair shops sometimes sell abandoned televisions for no more than the cost of the repair.
« 36 »
Make two banana desserts. For banana ice cream, blend frozen bananas with just a little orange juice. Top with granola. Or, make banana pops by inserting a popsicle stick into a peeled and halved banana. Spread with yogurt, roll in cookie crumbs and freeze.
« 37 »
Purchase aluminum foil, plastic wrap and other kitchen items in restaurant supply stores. You’ll save a lot of money, but you may need to buy in large quantities.
« 38 »
Simmer fruit peels and cinnamon in a little water. Your house will smell great and you’ll avoid the cost and chemicals of commercial sprays.
« 39 »
Have your kids make gifts for friends and relatives using the newspaper. Collections of comics, crossword puzzles, word games or chess problems cut out from newspapers over several months make a fun and thoughtful gift.
« 40 »
Go ahead and garden, even if you live in the city. If you live in an apartment or house with a small lot, call your local city hall and find out if there are any lots available for gardens.
« 41 »
Buy used furniture from auctions. Inspect the furniture before the auction begins. Also, make sure you set an upper bidding limit before you attend.
« 42 »
Use the food pyramid as a guide for eating. Not only is the food pyramid a healthy way to eat, it is also a cheap way to eat. Emphasize the grains and produce, and go lightly on the meats, dairy and sweets.
« 43 »
Consider renting rarely used tools instead of purchasing them. Tools like floor sanders and hoists come under this category.
« 44 »
If you don’t have good prescription insurance, ask your doctor for free samples. Most doctors have an abundance of them.
« 45 »
Make your own cheap versions of Snapple. Just mix homemade ice tea with fruit juice. Try out grape juice, mango, apple and orange flavors.
« 46 »
Consider purchasing a used ten-speed bike as an alternate form of transportation. Even if you only use it occasionally, you will save money on gas while improving your health at the same time.
« 47 »
If you own an inexpensive used car, purchase a second car of the exact same model for parts. Most older cars need a lot of repairs, and a second car is a much cheaper source for parts than the car dealership or your mechanic.
« 48 »
When furnishing a new home, put out the word that you will take anything, as long as it is free. Then sit back and wait for the avalanche of furniture coming your way, as everyone gets rid of their “clutter”.
« 49 »
Give homemade candies as birthday and holiday gifts. Package in Chinese takeout containers, decorated with markers and stickers.
« 50 »
When purchasing groceries on sale, try to stock up sufficiently so that you can avoid buying the item again till the next sale occurs. For instance, if peanut butter only goes on sale twice a year, get six months worth at a time.
These tips, plus plenty more, make Tightwad Gazette a very worthwhile read.
Note: There are several versions of the Tightwad Gazette. Be sure to pick up the last and most comprehensive volume, The Complete Tightwad Gazette.
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Folks living in wealthier countries often believe that owning a car is essential to a comfortable way of life. We, in less civilized parts of the world, know that that’s just not true. Yes, you need transportation. No, owning a car is not necessary.
How We Live Without A Car
1. Walking. We live live close to schools, shopping and work, so a car is largely unnecessary. Instead, we walk to most places. Groceries are bought home in a shopping cart we bought for that purpose.
Actionable Idea: Next time you move, consider finding a place convenient to where you do most of your errands.
2. Bicycle. My husband has been nagging me about purchasing a bike for years. The only reason I don’t agree is that our neighborhood is known for its poor drivers. If you live in a less accident prone area, why not give it a try?
Actionable Idea: Consider purchasing a bike. Besides saving money, they are a terrific form of exercise.
3. Buses. Usually, when I need to travel further than 1/2 mile, I go by bus. For about $1.00 US, I can get virtually anywhere. Many buses even have storage spaces for purchases. Most have child safety straps.
Actionable Idea: Plan your next errand day on the bus. Be sure to inquire ahead of time about schedules and location of bus stops.
4. Cab. Once in a blue moon, I take a cab. Most often it’s when I’m sick, going to someplace new, or the weather is unbearable. I figured out that even if I take 60 cabs a month (I don’t) it would still be cheaper than owning a car.
Actionable Idea: Try out the cab service are in your neighborhood. Determine the cost and reliability.
5. Train. For city-to-city travel I take the train. It’s convenient and extremely comfortable. I love having access to a bathroom and a food station.
Actionable Idea: Locate a schedule and map of nearby trains. Try the train out on a non-urgent trip.
6. Motorcycle. We have never owned a motorcycle, and I hope we never will. But for braver souls than I, a motorcycle makes cheap and convenient transportation for longer distances.
Actionable Idea: Look into the cost of motorcycle lessons, purchasing a motorcycle and insurance.
7. Ride Sharing. My husband’s boss gives him a ride to work most days. My husband has tried repeatedly to pay him, but he refuses money. Instead, he just asks that my husband engage him in conversation, rather than reading a book or using his laptop.
Actionable Idea: Ask a co-worker if he or she who would be willing to trade rides for gas money.
8. Mooching Favors. My brother-in-law’s sister used to always do her shopping on the same day as her car-owning parents. Her parents enjoyed the company and she got a ride back and forth to the store.
Actionable Idea: Speak to friends, relatives and neighbors. Offer to barter gas money, help carrying groceries, or help putting them away in exchange for a ride.
9. Renting A Car. Occasionally a friend of mine rents a car. They’ve used a rental car for vacations, moving and major shopping sprees. Rental cars seem to work well for them.
Actionable Idea: Find out how much car rentals are in your neighborhood. Make sure to ask if the price includes insurance and gas. Also find out when the car needs to be picked up and returned. Be cautious to avoid being ripped off.
10. Google Lists. I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, but in a close-knit neighborhood, with active email lists, rides can frequently be found via the internet. I’ve never done this myself, but I know plenty of people who have. To be safe, only go with someone you already know or a friend of a friend.
Actionable Idea: Sign up for a local email list where subscribers can offer or request rides.
If anyone knows of another car-free methods of transportation, please send me an email or a comment. I’d love to hear about it.
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This is the time of the year that everyone is looking for ways to make extra money. Between unpaid credit card bills from Black Friday and overly generous seasonal gift giving, a lot of us are scrambling for extra cash.
If you already have a full-time job or have small children at home, the best way to earn money may be to start your own mini business. You can set your own hours, choose your own pay and do the kind of work you enjoy.
I know quite a few people (including myself) who have made money working from home. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.
A neighbor used to make money each year by delivering the new Yellow Pages to our area. She had a big van and a good back but it was still a lot of hard work.
My mother sold rubber stamps and Spanish videos at the flea market (what a combination!). She ordered the products wholesale and rented a booth in a popular indoor flea market. She made about $1000.00 profit in good months. Warning: Don’t just jump into a flea market business without a lot of research. This business is a lot harder to pull off than it sounds.
A friend of mine has done daycare in her house for many years. She always has to be home and her house needs to be constantly spotless but she actually makes very good money.
Another neighbor made good money running a long distance van service. He advertised in the community newspaper for customers who needed to go from Baltimore to New York or Baltimore to New Jersey. My neighbor also did airport runs. He charged a flat rate, irregardless of the number of people traveling.
My mom ran a notary service from her house. She made only a few dollars per notary and had the aggravation of strangers coming to her home at all hours. She hardly made any money but she did for many years. Update: Several people are now offering mobile notary services (for a high price) and this may be a more profitable endeavor.
I use self-employed plumbers, electricians, handymen, movers and cleaning help. My father-in-law uses self-employed painters, carpenters and caterers. I assume each of these contractors makes a decent living.
My husband worked for a man who sold t-shirts, undershirts, underpants and socks at flea markets. The man would buy “imperfect” merchandise very cheap and sell them for a small mark-up. In order to earn a reasonable living, instead of just selling at one flea market, he hired enough teens so that he could sell at several.
I tutored Russian and Israeli immigrants in English. I found some students through my part-time ESL job and others through advertising in the community newspaper. I was able to do the work without knowing either Hebrew or Russian, as the lessons were all given in English. I will probably write a longer post about this later.
My niece runs a nursery school from her home. She has a degree in early childhood education and teaches the class in Hebrew. She has six to eight children each year and provides a complete preschool curriculum.
My daughter’s 20 year old friend made $10.00 dollars an hour babysitting. Babysitting doesn’t seem like a very grown up way to make money, but it is actually quite profitable.
I used to send my son to a man who specialized in teaching religious studies to homeschooled boys. The man charge several hundred dollars a month and taught the boys in groups of eight. The classes lasted three hours daily and took place in his dining room. He taught a group of younger boys in the morning and a group of older boys in the afternoon. If you have a important skill to pass on, teaching homeschool classes may be the way to go for you.
My husband and I had a business called Baltimore Computer Repair. My husband made house calls to sick computers at night, after his day job was through. He found his customers through advertising in our daily newspaper. My son, who is A+ certified, now does this same work in Israel.
The husband of a friend makes money at home doing telephone soliciting for charities. He works his own hours and is on commission.
My husband made close to $1000.00 a month on weekends by doing computer programming for businesses. He got the first job, writing an inventory program, for a distant friend who owns a pizza shop. The pizza shop owner recommended him to a man who owned three grocery stores, who recommended him to a print shop owner, etc.
When I was a teen, I made a small amount of money doing grocery shopping for senior citizens. I advertised in the community paper and got plenty of calls. I charged a $5.00 minimum or $.15 per item. Nowadays, I would have to charge a lot more to make this worthwhile, probably $.30 per item.
I see plenty of boys (and men) making money shoveling snow, mowing lawn or raking leaves. As a matter of fact, I’ve paid for these services plenty of times myself.
My mother sold Avon for many years. Unlike lots of other direct sales programs, you do actually make money from Avon. Mary Kay and Tupperware also make a profit for their salespeople. I have friends who sold both, quite successfully.
I had a very successful business selling hats and modest skirts from my basement. I sold to a specialty crown (religious women and cancer patients). I sewed the hats myself and outsourced the simple skirts to neighbors. Besides selling from home, I had several retail distributors.
In the past, I have made money from this blog. Right now this blog is making less than $100 a month, but several years ago it was doing slightly better. The money comes from Google Adsense and is deposited in my bank account each month.
Now for a couple of businesses that don’t work (at least for me)!
I used to have my own flea market business, selling kitchenware, novelties and kid’s toys. I ordered products wholesale through the Thomas Register and through flea market merchandise catalogues. I also bought merchandise locally at wholesale stores. I lost a ton of money on this project and to this day I don’t know why.
I had a business where I tried to outsource computer techs to busy companies who needed help with their overflow. Another big failure. The cause of this flop was easy to understand after just a few weeks. The smaller companies didn’t have any overflow work to offer us and large companies wanted an established business to work with.
I made handmade gifts and jewelry to sell at flea markets. After a month of Sundays I finally sold one pair of earring. The cause of this disaster was simply a lack of thinking on my part. I didn’t realize that people go to flea markets to get great deals…not art jewelry at medium to high prices. I really had no excuse for this stupidity because I already had flea market experience.
I once tried selling greeting card ideas to the companies listed in the back of Writer’s Digest. Yes, people said it took years to break into the greeting card market, but I didn’t believe it. I sent out hundred of greeting card ideas and not one of them sold. I guess sometimes you need to listen to advise.
If you have a successful business, please let me know about it in a comment.
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