The other night I caught an episode of the new TLC show, Extreme Cheapskates. I was looking forward to the show because it seemed to tap into my frugal interests, although I knew ahead of time the advice would be most “extreme,” sensational even, in an effort to attract an audience.
I was right. Some of the tactics used to save money were quite extreme (in my opinion), such as a mother of six banning toilet paper from her home and instead using cloth scraps. The used scraps were tossed in a hamper and washed every couple days. Yuck.
Another show participant went around to fellow diners at restaurants with a to-go box in hand asking if they planned to finish the food on their plates. If they said no, he asked if he could take it.
I suppose he should be commended for attempting to reduce food waste, but I’m not sure how sanitary it is to share the meals of 20 strangers. At one point the show mentioned this family rescued dogs and provided them temporary shelter. Perhaps the scraps were for the dogs. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here.
Naturally, the show also featured a dumpster diver who thought it was classy to dig through the trash to look for his wife’s anniversary present. I say you don’t have to spend a lot of money to give or make a thoughtful gift, but digging something out of the garbage to give to someone you love says more about how little you think of this person than your frugal prowess.
The show did have some redeeming moments, such as Jeff Yeager’s feature (he’s a fellow frugal writer, in case you have never had the pleasure of reading his material such as his book, The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches). Jeff has some excellent ideas for saving money such as bicycling to town for short errands to minimize the expense of operating a car (particularly relevant given the recent run up in gas prices).
Jeff also mentioned something I whole-heartedly agree with, and something I have heard him mention in the past: avoid lifestyle creep.
Lifestyle creep is the phenomenon that occurs when people, over time, allow their lifestyle to “creep” higher and higher, costing them more and more money each month to maintain.
This “creep” is often motivated by a “must keep up with the Joneses” mentality. After all, when we see people driving nice cars, we want one. When our friends and family upgrade houses, we want to do it, too.
The problem is that all this “upgrading” causes our monthly expenses to creep ever higher, reducing the amount of free cash flow to divert towards savings (and often leads to the accumulation of debt).
It also means we have to work much longer than those who decide to draw a line in the sand and keep expenses in check as much as possible. Jeff and his wife were able to “retire” early by keeping their expenses flat and avoiding the accumulation of new debt.
So while I won’t be rinsing and reusing any Ziploc bags, or forgoing toilet paper, in the near future, I do plan to continue watching the series and learning small ways to apply new frugal tips.
To me, living frugal is all about avoiding extremes. Frugal people often do spend more money than extreme cheapskates, because we value the quality of items enough to spend a little more up front to get more use and enjoyment of things over the long run.
My fear with this new show is that it will portray “frugal” folks as extreme, in general, when in fact the large majority of truly frugal people I know are quite moderate and simply make small decisions throughout their day towards reducing their bottom line.