Case Study: The Complete Tightwad Gazette

career indie author

career indie author introduction

Back in 1980s, Amy Dacyczyn began fulfilling her dream of having a large family and living in a pre-1900 New England farmhouse with an attached barn. She married a man who was in the Navy and who shared her dream, learned to scrimp and save, cut corners where she could, and succeeded. Then she started a newsletter to share the news that you didn’t have to have two incomes to raise a family, that you could pay off the mortgage early, that you could live a good life by ignoring the culture that demanded you get into debt and buy a lot of things we don’t really need to be happy.

tightwad gazette pantry principleAs a result, we live in a society that is largely debt-free, that saves for retirement, where advertising is ignored, and people who are very good a saving money are looked up to, while those who ostentatiously flaunt their wealth are rejected.

Can you still hear me? I might have my tongue too far into my check.

Because the truth is that frugality is looked down on. A 2015 survey found that 47% of people could not come up with $400 to meet an unexpected bill without borrowing it. Recently, a personal finance writer at Slate lambasted a thrifty Canadian, Sean Cooper, who paid off a $255,000 mortgage in little more than three years.

Helaine Olen, the author of “Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry,” had decided that Cooper represented a threat to her livelihood. If people could learn self-discipline and self-education and not buy her advice, she’d be out of a job.

Recognizing a threat, she claimed that “he didn’t have much of a life at all” for those three years he worked on cutting his debt. She said that he deserves our pity, not our scorn, for diverting potentially as much as a $100K away from the banks and into his own pocket. Successfully fighting the culture of spend spend spend? Only an idiot would do that, she implied.

Well, she’s wrong. The culture is focused on enslaving you in debt in order to make a profit. The culture wants you to mortgage your future — and thanks to college loans — your children’s future, to fatten the coming quarter’s bottom line. You can fight back, and The Complete Tightwad Gazette will show you how.

This collection of articles, tips, and essays cover every possible way to reduce your spending. There are articles analyzing the cost of various tightwad tactics, and most importantly, Amy’s essays on the philosophy behind the tightwad life.

Far from the extreme self-denial Olen claims is behind tightwaddery, Amy’s philosophy emphasizes choosing what helps you enjoy life. She encourages thoughtful spending, understanding that that daily Starbucks $5 latte might taste good at first, but after two weeks the pleasure degrades. You may decide to bring your coffee from home and bank the $25 in your 401(k), realizing thousands of dollars in your future.

Amy doesn’t advocate saving for its own sake. She’s not a Puritan or a killjoy. Instead, she emphasizes making yourself aware of what you enjoy and focusing your purchases in that area and eliminate the rest. In Amy’s case, she had a jones for real-wood furniture. While following the old New England motto of “wear it out, use it up, make it do” elsewhere, she was able to buy the furniture that really means something to her. When you realize how little you enjoy eating out at restaurants, or subscribe to The New Yorker, or collect a fleet of vehicles (all of which need insurance and licensing and maintenance), you discover that clearing away that kind of clutter frees up your life for the pleasures that you do find meaningful.

Successful career authors have to be good at managing their money; most importantly in the beginning, when the author doesn’t have a long tail of books to profit from. Even best-selling authors have learned this lesson. Crime novelist Lawrence Block wrote that travel and good food are his pleasures. When the money’s there, he indulges in both. When they weren’t, he didn’t. (I also suspect that also motivated his writing; he wanted the money to do those things.) It’s that kind of thinking that helped him and his partner visit more than 150 countries over a long and fruitful writing career.