Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: The Complete Tightwad Gazette

So many mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I think it's great. Then again, I think parts of it are totally ridiculous. But, this book was one of the things that got the ball rolling for me. Not the first thing, but one of them.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette is a 900-page compendium of ideas, recipes, tips, methods, and advice; it's a compilation of the newsletters the author published in the first half of the 1990s (making it a little outdated, as there are references to typewriters and hardly anything about computers). I first came across the Tightwad Gazette a few years ago when I read about it in the magazine Real Simple. I was working at a bookstore at the time so I skipped the library and ordered it, even though I'd never heard anything else about nor had ever thumbed through it. I had a really good discount, plus the extra money, so I figured, what the heck.

I got it a few days later and read it over the course of a week or two. I did say that it is a 900-page book, but it reads quickly - it's not straight chapter-by-chapter text. It's full of recipes, articles, pictures, reader correspondences/suggestions, and lists. I've gone through it a couple more times since then; the second time I highlighted the headings of the articles I found useful so I could just flip to them. To be completely honest, there's more that I didn't highlight than I did.

Don't get me wrong: there are some good ideas in here. The Tightwad Gazette introduced me to Square Foot Gardening before it got popular. I hadn't considered doing a price book for grocery shopping before I read this book. It motivated me to try making homemade pizza (I will be sharing my pizza recipe soon - you'll love it, I promise). I still have to try the "refrigerator dough" recipe she suggested in the book - it sounds like a great idea (I'll share that experiment on here someday...). I also was introduced to the idea of having an "hourly rate" to judge if going to frugal measures is really worth the time. There are some good ideas in here and lots of reinforcement that living frugally is possible, especially when you're creative. Chances are, I'll mention this book more than a few times on this blog.

Then again, there are definite flaws with this book. There is this attitude to it that if you don't do certain things, you're instantly a "spendthrift", that you should be ashamed to use disposable diapers or to not wash and reuse plastic zipper bags. That attitude gets a little old. The book also gets waaaay too extreme in some cases. Whenever I go through this book and read her suggestions, I try to imagine what her house looks like and where she stores all the garbage she collects. Seriously - there are suggestions for using saved bread tabs, Styrofoam meat trays (Ick.), juice can lids, old socks (as dish rags, no less), milk jugs, the mesh bags that onions come in, plastic rings from soda six-packs (no joke - she writes about making a hammock out of them. Really.), to name just a few. For babies, she suggests skipping buying a bassinet and using a dresser drawer on floor with bedding in it. And there's the suggestion of using shortening instead of diaper cream or ointment. Hmmmmm....

So, you may be wondering why I'd even suggest this book. Honestly, I think everyone interested in living more frugally should check it out (literally - check it out at the library. Even my town's limited library has three copies available) for a few reasons. One is that it is a good example of how you can assess what you have, what your limitations are, and then come up with solutions. You have to give credit where credit is due - author Amy Dacyczyn does not lack creativity. She can make anything out of anything. After reading about her ideas, you can't help wonder how you can be creative in your own way. Secondly, it gives you ideas to adapt to your life, while also illustrating where you'll draw the line. By this, I mean you can use her lifestyle as a gauge: is this measure too extreme? Would I consider trying this with my family? Does this action warrant the result? In this book, you can see the cause and effect of the way she lives. Finally, it's good for a laugh. There were a few times I'd read it and laugh out loud at some of the ideas - "Do people really go to all that trouble to reuse a junk-mail envelope?" And, according to this book, I guess some people actually do.

What books have you read about saving money? Were they helpful?

3 comments:

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

My sister-in-law uses the towel in a drawer bassinet trick. I actually think that's not a bad idea (instead of buying a real bassinet) - that newborn's not going anywhere anyway! But I sleep with my kids, so I sympathize with just making due with whatever is on hand instead of buying a new bed that will be used for however long.

However, on the other hand, when my Grandma died, they found stacks, and I mean stacks and stacks, of styrofoam trays in her cabinets (from raw meat, washed and stored). DISGUSTING!!! What was she going to do with all of those? So, depression-era to me.

Soda rings into a hammock? Wow. I think I'll skip reading the book (which I've heard of elsewhere with similar sentiments) and just read your blog.

Unknown said...

After finding your blog via Pinterest, I was interested to read your review of my mom's book. As an adult, I've read her book for myself and I agree with you; some parts of it are a tad extreme. But then I remember the purpose of the newsletter, which was to create an open forum for tightwads in the days before the internet. We never had a soda-ring hammock (ha, like we ever drank enough soda to get rings from anyway), and we never had a dresser drawer bassinet. But, those were ideas submitted by readers, so she published them along with everything else. Just because we/you/I would never use those ideas, doesn't mean that someone else won't need to. And I think the main purpose of mentioning some of the wackier "tips" was to keep people in a creative mindset of how to use free things for better purposes. Haha, also, we didn't really have stacks of trash lying around. Mom never kept more of something than she's reasonably foresee us using. For example, she kept bread tabs because they're handy for re-closing bags, for bread or otherwise...but you'd probably never need more than a few of those at a time, so the excess were tossed. I will say, though, that frozen juice lids are super handy. They stack together nicely, so I like them for leveling furniture to really specific degrees (I had an apartment with really sloping floors).
As for the holier-than-thou frugal attitude...I never really recall my mom having a snobby attitude towards people who didn't do every single frugal thing...but she did get frustrated with people who complained about never having enough money, but then used disposable diapers, drank soda with every meal, and saw cable TV as a necessity.
Anyway, I like your blog (good ideas, including a few that have been featured in the Tightwad Gazette) and I'll be following it!

Heather said...

Wow! So your mom is Amy Dacyczyn!
I'm glad you found my blog and thanks for the comment.

You know, it's kind of funny to read back at this review I wrote almost exactly three years ago. I haven't really looked at for a while. I wrote it when I thought I would never use cloth diapers, when I didn't wash and re-use zipper bags ever. I laughed out loud (and felt a pretty humbled/ashamed) at the part when I balked at reusing bread tabs (I did do that on a post on here, you're right), old socks as rags (I use old sock as rags all the time for cleaning the bathroom), milk jugs (I just did a guest post on another blog about reusing them as mini greenhouses), and mesh onion bags (yep, I did a post about reusing them, too, for washing dishes). Oops. I guess I've evolved and gotten smarter over the years.

And maybe the holier-than-thou attitude came from me feeling defensive (since I'd just finished spending a few years diapering my baby in disposables), maybe it really was something that seemed to across between the lines. I'm sorry if that came off as offensive. And I COMPLETELY agree with your mother about feeling frustrated with people who won't cloth diaper and eat processed food, but complain about not having money. That's a huge pet peeve of mine, too.

Thank you again for the comment and for being so nice, especially when my review may have come across as overly critical or inaccurate (in the case of some ideas submitted that weren't hers). I hope no offense was taken and if any was, I am sorry for that, especially since your mom's book was definitely a starting point on my frugal lifestyle.

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