• Im a Champion Cheapskate

      Iprefer to refer to myself as frugal. Its a skill I learned from my parents, both of whom came through the Great Depression. My dad was never able to afford a college education but taught himself a great deal in the school of hard knocks; he built a very successful business primarily through guts and hard work.

      My mom taught me more about scrimping. Im the youngest of six children. While Dad was out trying to build his business, Mom stayed home and took very good care of all of us. It wasnt easy. I remember her scouring both Denver newspapers for grocery coupons; shed take me along, usually to two or sometimes three different grocery stores, in order that she could get the best deal possible. If she could get ten cents off green beans at Safeway and seven cents off a bag of flour at Albertsons, shed patronize both. I remember, during our grocery-shopping trips, me pestering her for a dime to put in the machine for a can of soda pop; the answer was always no, you dont need it.

      She was better at it than I am, but I still do things like turn over the bottles of ketchup and salad dressing and drain their dregs into the new bottle. Ranch dressing drives me crazyso much of it sticks to the sides of the bottle that I feel my moms displeasure when I finally toss it out.

      Im also the one who will eat leftovers of virtually any age. As long as I dont see big splotches of colored fuzz growing on top, I assume its good to eat. My wife wont touch things that Ill happily consume, and I dont usually give them to the kidsbut if they look OK, and pass the smell test, Im happy to scarf them down.

      Im not one to buy flashy cars. My high school ride was a Chevy BelAir that my dad bought new in 55 (a year-end discount, of course). He drove it awhile, then gave it to my mom. When my oldest brother reached driving age, my parents began handing down the car that we lovingly nicknamed, "The Gem." All 5 of my older siblings drove it before I bought if from my sister for $35. It had at least 170,000 miles on it. Maybe 270,000. The odometer had rolled over and nobody could remember how many times. Cars, to me, are a device to get me and my passengers from one place to another. I tend to buy whats practical and drive it til the wheels fall off. The last new car I bought was a Prius in 2003; I loved that hybrid mileage and would work to get the dashboard display as high as I could. (I was getting 43.4 MPG when the car went to my brotherhes doing even better!)

      There is a downside to my frugal habits, however. Im "Mr. Do-It-Yourself", and while I take pride in some of my home repair and construction projects, they dont always turn out to be moneysavers.

      Around 1990, my wife and I lived in Miami and bought a house thatas so many Miami homes dohad a pool. "Carlos the Pool Guy" offered to continue maintaining it for us, as he had for the previous owners. Carlos charged 25 bucks a week. Being the proud "do-it-yourselfer" that I amand with a new, larger mortgage to try to payI told Carlos that I would handle the pool maintenance. Unfortunately, I was also a globetrotting correspondent at the time and would often be away from home for a week or more at a time. One day I came home to see big black splotches growing on the sides of our pool. I called an expert who told me it was black algae, that it only grows in pools when the water chemistry is way out of whack. I asked him how to get rid of it. "You cant", he said. "The only way is to drain the pool, sandblast it away and then re-tile the pool." In the end, it cost me $6,000.00 to re-do the entire pool. Carlos the Pool Guy would have been a much better investment.

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