Reading this blog will not make you rich. I do not have seven foolproof steps to earning your first million before you turn 25. Nor will I join the many pretenders who claim to have extraordinary insight into what, where, or how to invest your money. All that said, I know that I can help you make money—mostly by not spending it in the first place.
I’m not an economist, a lifestyle guru, or any sort of financial wizard. I’m a regular guy—a husband and father of three boys all under the age of 6, a homeowner who mows the lawn in paint-splattered sweatpants and a pit-stained T-shirt, and a writer who has never made a whole lot of cash. My wife is a full-time mom, and a few months ago, I too became a stay-at-home parent, thanks to Disney’s decision to pull the plug on Wondertime, the parenting magazine where I was a staffer. Losing my job kicked my cheapskate instincts—already quite attuned, thanks to the influence of generations of fanatically tightwad DIYers in my Irish-German family—into furious overdrive. Before the layoff, I was looking into getting a new pair of slippers because one sole from my old pair had come off. But now? Forget that. I glued the sole back on.
What is my secret to saving money? The gist is: Don’t be a chump. The proverbial sucker born every minute is the person who buys—quite literally—into someone else’s idea of what are good, important, necessary things in one’s life. We’re talking keeping-up-with-the-Joneses material here. And well, if you haven’t noticed already, the Joneses are broke. People who allow themselves to be manipulated, who actually believe they must have every latest “must-have,” are the ones who wind up with shelves full of tchotchkes, basements loaded with crap from the Home Shopping Network, and self-storage units stuffed with God-knows-what else. In other words, they wind up with little worthwhile in light of whatever they earn.
I’m no psychologist, but I do know this: Stuff does not equal worth. And by that, I mean both that the stuff just ain’t worth the asking price, and also that said stuff will not give the buyer any true sense of self-worth.
This blog, as you may have already gathered, will be different from the average consumer column. Usually, when the quote-unquote “savvy” consumer sees something he wants to buy, he asks, “How can I get the best deal on this?” Instead, I ask, “Just why in holy hell do I need this?” If you really want to get out of debt, to start banking some cash (or at least start breaking even), or to stop being puzzled as to why your credit card bill is off the charts every month, this is the question you must ask every time you feel the “want stuff” craving—for those new shoes, that pimped-out SUV, season tickets to your alma mater’s football games, another Barbie or Transformer to throw atop your kid’s overflowing toy vault, an amusing but pointless $1 iPhone app, a freaking latte, whatever. More often than not, you simply don’t need the item in question. And if you don’t really need it, it’s not a deal—even at 50 percent off. Sure, whipping out the credit card is easier and more fun than practicing some self-control, but there’s nothing remotely easy or fun about having credit card debt drain you dry for years, or waking up every morning with a pit in your stomach wondering why you bought the place in Florida that’s now worth half of what you owe on the mortgage.
The trick to saving is figuring out that there’s something more fun than spending—and that’s winning. You need to view the buy-sell transaction for what it is: a game. If you reach for your credit card and the phone after watching an infomercial, you lose. If you haggle the car salesman down to a couple thousand below invoice, you win. Heck, sometimes you win simply by not going into a store. Generally speaking, rich people became rich because they play this game better than most folks. No one gets rich by throwing money around like a jackass, after all.
So, the goal in The Cheapskate Blog is to point out extraordinary money-saving deals you might want to take advantage of, and to offer tons of sensible, practical, simple advice for saving, which I will hammer home with all the subtlety of a repo man pounding on your door at 6 a.m.