March 13, 2011

Tightwad Gazette I Refresher - Day 11 - March 13th

Today’s reading gives some great tips and as always Amy shows us ways to save money. Re-reading the Tightwad Gazette I is like going to a family reunion and visiting with relatives that you haven’t seen for a long time. Amy Dacyczyn is a very important part of my life especially now. I need to find more ways to save money and re-reading this book is a great start.

Now let’s get on to today’s reading.  Remember, I have underlined my comments.


Gift giving can bring stress. Amy says that “aside from spending beyond our means, the biggest financial mistake we make is spending badly.”

1. Christmas gifts do not have to be a surprise. People would forego being surprised by receiving something that they genuinely appreciate.

2. If you don’t know what to give, give a gift certificate or something like a food item.

3. Replace an item that is worn out. Amy gave examples such as towels or an old wallet. After 30 years of marriage, I would love towels. Towels get replaced about every 5 years or so in our household. The problem would be convincing people that I actually want them. So I am more inclined to ask for a gift certificate so I can buy what I want and need.

4. “Avoid gifts that decorate people’s homes for them, especially gifts that demand to be located in a prominent part of the home.”

5. “Consider giving modestly to the only child.” These children usually are overwhelmed with a lot of gifts.

6. If you are purchasing for a young relative, ask for suggestions so you can target a void. I have done this before and when asked about what they really need – usually a child under two – the mom tells me. Kids this age get so many toys and stuff that sometimes they would prefer an outfit or pajamas.

7. “Give the recipient money to go toward a specific item that you do not feel knowledgeable enough to pick for them.”

8. “Give people presents that complete part of a set of something people already have.” My DIL is collecting Willowtree statues for her Nativity set. I ask her which ones are on her list and I pick one of them.

9. “Avoid the domino principle in gift giving.” Amy uses the example of having a favorite pink shirt because she looks good in pink. Unfortunately everyone started buying her a lot of pink shirts after that.

10. “Often giving the same gift to someone year after year, regardless of the cost, will not be successful.” I don’t know why, but somehow fruit cake comes to mind.

11. “Under certain circumstances giving used gifts can be appropriate.” Amy uses the example of giving to another tightwad. She also says the gift should be very special and uniquely appropriate for the individual. I have several cookbooks that I don’t even use anymore. I have thought more and more about giving these away to people a as gifts along with perhaps some wooden spoons and spatulas.

12. Offer the recipient a service. Perhaps babysitting or shoveling snow would be a great gift.

13. Amy loves joke presents. They are cheap and entertaining. Be sure the recipient likes the same type of present.

14. Make homemade gifts. I like to make cloth napkins and aprons.

15. “Gifts should be selected based on needs, internally generated desires and consistent with budgets.”


Is it cheaper to turn the lights out if you leave a room, or to leave them on? Amy reported that at the time it cost 1 penny to operate a 100 watt bulb for 1 hour. In Maine it cost them 9 cents per kilowatt hour. A kilowatt hour is 1,000 watts of electricity per hour. A dryer uses 4,500 watts so it would cost around 44 cents per hour.

Amy reported that turning bulbs on and off wears them out. When using tube fluorescent lights and if you leave the room for less than 15 minutes, leave the lights on. In using incandescent lights and if you are leave the room for less than 5 minutes, leave them on.

New energy saving light bulbs use 1/6th of the energy of incandescent light bulbs. They cost more, but they last a lot longer. Also, pretty soon we will all need to change to these type of light bulbs anyway. I couldn’t find much about leaving these lights on or off when you leave a room, so I have instituted the same rule as using an incandescent light bulb and that is if you will be returning to the room in 5 minutes or less, I leave the lights on.

Let’s also talk about unplugging all of those gadgets that we are used to being kept plugged in. What about the washer and dryer? I don’t use them every day, so they are unplugged when not in use. I have several items such as lamps in the spare bedroom, gadgets that I don’t use all the time such as my mixer that I keep unplugged until ready to use.

I remember a story on some news program recently in which a woman unplugged everything except a main lamp in her living room. She had to plug in everything – from the t.v. to the computer and to the lights. This woman saved almost $35 a month off of her utility bill. The reason she did this was because money was so tight in their house that it was a necessity. Now, she continues to do it because she is used to plugging everything in and she appreciates the savings on her utility bill. Everyone needs to decide where to draw the line in their house.

I have found over the past several months that I have been able to get energy efficient light bulbs for free or for only $1.00 each. Many times they are on sale and I have coupons so I stock up at those times.

Since by law we will all need to be buying energy efficient light bulbs, I would hope that the government also makes it easy for us to dispose of these safely. After all these bulbs do contain mercury and we need to be able to recycle/dispose of these safely and easily.


A reader wrote in with a common problem for parents who have children who participate in extracurricular activities. That is when they go to meets or performances, there is inevitably a stop at a fast food restaurant for a meal. This reader wrote that she felt like she was constantly handing over money to her daughter for fast food and it was adding up.

My husband is our high school’s cross country coach. He hates to stop to eat on the way back from a meet as it takes too long. But, the kids are very hungry and if they forget to pack something to eat, it can make for a long trip home. Last year parents donated some money and we teamed up with Subway to provide a 6 inch sub after each meet for each runner. The cost was greatly reduced and parents didn’t mind donating money towards this. If I recall, it was around $1.25 per kid per meet. The key here was that parents approached Subway. Subway in turn gave them a tremendous reduction in the cost and parents gave whatever money they could afford. Also one parent ordered the subs and then went to Subway to pick up the subs and put them in coolers to take to the meet.

I have to say this, Subway sandwiches are far healthier than a hamburger from McDonalds. Also, a local company donated bottled water to the team, so they had something to drink. It wasn’t a full meal for some of these kids, but it did stave off hunger until they got home.

Before we got Subway sandwiches, kids would bring snacks including fresh fruit and yogurt to eat on the way home. My husband was strict about not stopping to eat as he knew the food at a fast food restaurant wasn’t good for them and also, he just wanted to get them home after the meets were over.

Amy responded to this problem with the following possible solutions. These solutions came from parents, wife of a coach, a bus driver and a teenager . These are ranked in order with number 1 being the one that received the most votes.

1. Have her daughter earn all or part of the money.

2. Talk with other adults to cooperate or find a solution. This is what the parents of our cross country team did.

3. Give her an allowance and have her budget for this.

4. Suggest she brown bag it. This one is hard if all of the other kids are eating fast food and she is the only one that isn’t. But in saying that, more and more kids are brown bagging it especially for sports as they are now being more concerned about what they eat.

5. You could try to educate her about the costs and health issues of eating fast food.

6. Cut back on school activities.

In considering after school activities, sometimes parent’s needs should be taken into account such as the cost of these activities and chauffeur time.

My husband has seen firsthand from his experience as a coach when kids are getting involved in too many activities. He has kids that are running cross country, playing soccer and playing in the band at the same time. This is way too much. It is almost like a competition to be in as many activities as possible and to also be around your friends all the time. Kids can be gone all the time and when they are home, they can be up late studying. Our kids were involved in high school extracurricular activities but not so many that their time, and ours, was consumed by the activities. We still ate together at supper at least 6 out of 7 nights a week.

There is a lot to be said about balance. As an adult, there are many things I would like to be involved in but I must pick and choose as there isn’t enough time in the day. I have responsibilities and I can’t sign up for everything I want to participate in and neglect my home and family.

Approach other like minded parents about banding together to provide a brown bag snack/lunch for kids. It took a couple of parents to check into Subway sandwiches that brought the change for our cross country team.

The rest of this article also discussed peer pressure when it comes to being involved in activities and also the expense beyond the meals of being involved in those activities. One suggestion was that you sit down with your kids and plan out their financial needs for the year when it comes to school, activities and also clothing, shoes, entertainment, sports and equipment fees.


To make a postal scale you need a 12 inch ruler, a pencil and five quarters. “Put the ruler on the pencil so that it is centered over the 6 inch mark, or in the center. Place the quarters (which weigh 1 oz.) on the 3 inch mark. Center your sealed envelope on the 9 inch nark. If the quarters don’t move you know your letter is under 1 oz.”

Of course, now we use e-mail to send “letters” and we can pay bills online. I don’t buy many stamps anymore and if I need a stamp, I never buy a book. I buy only the few stamps that I may need at that moment.


“It’s not that tightwads can’t afford wrapping paper, but rather it is the thrill and the challenge to see how many years we can go without actually buying it.”

Reusing Wrapping Paper – You may have to cut it down from the original package it was wrapped in, but you can easily reuse paper.

Alternative Wrapping – Use comics from the Sunday paper, shelf paper, paper tablecloths, wallpaper, and old maps.

Tightwad Wrapping – I liked how Amy described this. “This is when you capitalize on your reputation and use paper that is clearly old and very mangy.” I prefer the word “retro.” You use newspaper, duct tape, bailing twine, garbage bags, oatmeal cartons and plastic wrap twisted for a ribbon.

Patchwork Wrapping – Tape different strips of paper together to make 1 larger piece to wrap a gift.

Angle Wrapping – “Instead of placing a box square on a sheet of paper, place it on an angle. Fold sides of paper up one at a time.” The points will touch. This uses less paper.

Scrounged Paper – You guessed it, Amy found 3 large rolls of Christmas paper thrown out in garbage cans. If I saw this, I would have scrounged it too.

Permanent Wrapping – Make fabric drawstring sacks that can be used year to year. Use a scarf for wrapping. I have used fabric before. Like a lot of women, I can buy fabric when it is on sale and cheap. Then it sits in a box for years. So, if I am giving a present to someone who likes to sew, I will pull out 1 yard of fabric and “wrap” a present with it. You can make present boxes if you have the space to store them. For ribbon you can use rick rack, gold braid or strips of fabric cut with pinking shears.

Homemade wrapping – This can be time consuming but you can buy brown paper or freezer wrap and stamp a design on it or use crayons to draw on it. Or leave the paper plain and decorate it with snowflakes or something else. I have wrapped gifts in brown paper and ribbon and then used an old seed packet as the gift tag. Save those seed packets, they do make cute gift tags.

Ribbons and Ties – You can reuse ribbon by ironing it on low.

Since the advent of gift bags and since I can buy ones of all different sizes for $1.00 at the dollar stores, I prefer these to wrapping paper. At Christmas when we exchange gifts we open the bags and then those same bags are stored away for the following year. However, sooner or later they will wear out and I am thinking about replacing them with homemade fabric gift bags.


Amy uses paper clips to repair items around the house. She used them to repair a laundry basket by drilling holes on either side of a tear in the top and then straightened out paper clips, put the ends through the holes and wired the tear closed.

Here is why paper clips are handy for repairing items.

1. Everyone has paper clips in their house.

2. They bend easily.

3. In a semi unbent state the hook shape offers several possibilities. I have used them in a pinch to hang an ornament on the Christmas tree.

4. Fully unbent, the length is perfect and handy.

When the screw came out of my glasses while travelling, I took a paper clip and put it through where the screw was and twisted it into place. This held until I could get it repaired.

I have used paper clips to unplug coffee makers by unwinding a paper clip and poking it up through where the coffee comes out and it then pushes out the old grounds that have accumulated.


Amy recommends not purchasing your checks at a bank but buying them by mail. Again, you can compare this by calling your bank and checking on line with different companies.

For tomorrow read page 118 through 127. We will leave homemade gifts for kids section for the next time.

Today had some great advice and tips that we can all put into action into our own homes. Again, post any comments or additional tips that come to mind while you are reading.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I felt like gasping when you mentioned that e-mail has taken over letters sent through the mail!
I LOVE letters. I love looking into my mailbox and finding a surprise. I love opening up the envelope, feeling the weight of the paper in my hands, reading the individual handwriting. To me that is worth the 44 cents it costs to mail a letter! :) So I am one of the few who stands in line at the post office and buys a book or two of stamps each month!