The Complete Tightwad Gazette:
Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle
by Amy Dacyczyn
Reviewed by Unity Dienes
New Hampshire USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 5, September-October 2002, pp. 182
Amy Dacyczyn is a black-belt level tightwad. Her story is simple: in seven years, on an income of less than $30,000 a year, she and her husband saved $49,000, made significant purchases of $38,000, and had absolutely no debt. They bought a huge country home for their large (and growing) family, and realized an annual savings/investment rate of over $12,500 per year, or 43 percent of their annual income. In other words, they saved an astonishing amount of money and it made their dreams come true.
Dacyczyn saw a career opportunity in her talent for thrift, and while working at home as a mother of four small children (soon to be six with the arrival of her twins), she started a phenomenally successful newsletter called The Tightwad Gazette. This newsletter described her philosophy, shared her tactics, and explored every conceivable way of saving money. The newsletter ran for just over six and a half years and spawned three books. The Complete Tightwad Gazette is a compilation of the three earlier books, the final seven issues, and a collection of success stories from readers. The Complete Tightwad Gazette also contains a highly detailed index that lists thousands of items and how to use, re-use, or save money on them.
Although it sometimes goes into excruciating arithmetic detail about the cost savings of one choice over another (such as paper or cloth napkins), The Complete Tightwad Gazette is easy to read. The illustrations are often funny and the text is opinionated and witty. Many of the ideas are useful to just about anyone, but the outlandish ones can be amusing if not generally helpful. Yet, as the author writes, "For those who might scoff that many of the ideas in The Complete Tightwad Gazette are too extreme and off-beat, or might doubt that such ideas would really make a difference, I would suggest reading the success stories first." Crazy as they may sound, all of her ideas have helped someone.
Just about everyone wishes they had more money, but families with young children may top the list. Living on one salary, buying a house (or a larger one), saving for college or retirement, getting out of debt-such goals may seem impossible for some families. The Complete Tightwad Gazette is full of ideas that target families with children: inexpensive gifts, birthday parties, toys, clothes, and just "bringing up baby" are all addressed. Of course, breastfeeding is encouraged as the cheapest and healthiest option for feeding babies, although she does grudgingly give a recipe for homemade artificial baby milk in response to readers' requests. Generally in favor of whole foods, however, she also includes many "universal recipe" ideas for cooking with what you have on hand, and encourages readers to cook from scratch to save money and stay healthy.
Dispersed between pages about washing detergents and children's shoes, there is a whole philosophy of frugality: "Much of what readers will find is included solely to express the sport and fun of frugality. It's a celebration of a way of life." Dacyczyn discusses the impact of thrift on the environment, why even the financially secure might want to be thrifty, how to raise thrifty children, finding happiness by adjusting expectations, and many other topics.
When read and understood, this philosophy goes much further than any individual household hint: it arms the reader with the kind of attitude and know-how to approach new problems with a frugal mindset. The Complete Tightwad Gazette may not specifically answer every readers' minute questions about saving money (but then again, it just might), but it provides a framework that empowers the reader both to discover the answer independently and to have the courage to choose the thriftier path. In a culture of consumption where more is generally considered better, it is often difficult to choose frugality willingly, or to practice it with good grace when circumstances require it. The Complete Tightwad Gazette is similar to a support group in a book.
At about two cents a page, with all it has to offer, The Complete Tightwad Gazette is unquestionably a good value. Checking it out from the library would, of course, be even thriftier, but this isn't the kind of book you'll want to give back.