“SURE, WE COULD AFFORD TO SPEND MORE,”
BRUCE OSTYN TOLD ME AS HE RINSED
THE PLATES FROM DINNER IN A SHALLOW
PLASTIC DISHPAN. “BUT WHY WOULD WE?
IT WOULDN’T MAKE US ANY HAPPIER.”
Ostyn then headed to the patio to carefully redistribute the
washwater to some thirsty potted plants. When I tried earlier
in the evening to be a helpful houseguest and put the dinner
dishes in the dishwasher, I was promptly reprimanded. The
appliance wasted too much water and electricity. “Besides,
it’s full,” Ostyn noted. “We use it to store ramen noodles and
other bulk foods for our camping trips.” You never know
what you’ll find in a casa de cheapskate.
Frugality, formerly an everyday virtue, hasn’t gotten much
respect in recent decades. Yet when the stock-market crash
of 2008 pushed a stalled economy into the Great Recession,
bam!—suddenly thrift was in vogue again. A recent Gallup
Poll found that 62 percent of us would rather save money than
spend it, up from 48 percent in 2001.
Being a cheapskate is my chosen profession, come by honestly from a boyhood in the farmlands of Ohio—where you
learn to use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without—and
24 years running nonprofit groups. In the spring of 2008, as
the Dow seesawed, I crisscrossed the country on a 30-year-
old bicycle to research my second book, The Cheapskate Next
Door. I had surveyed more than 300 of my “Miser Advisers”—
a network of superthrifty folks I’ve developed—about their
financial habits, and I wanted to take a closer look at them.
I met near-millionaires and people who earned so little they
could qualify for public assistance but chose not to—they had
more than enough to live as they wished. What they all had
in common: they’ve found ways to be wealthy that don’t
depend on earning more cash or buying more things.
THAT’S RIGHT—THE REALITY of the frugal life upends stereotypes.
These aren’t latter-day Scrooges, though I’ve yet to meet one
who doesn’t sport apparel dating to the Carter administra-
tion, or earlier. For its adherents, thrift is more about knowing
what you cherish, then skipping the rest.
YOU DON’T NEED TO GO BACK to the Puritans or Poor Richard’s
Almanack to find when penny-pinching was last a source of
pride. The YMCA and other civic groups launched National
Thrift Week in 1916 to promote frugality “For Success and
Happiness”—or so the official slogan proclaimed. Thrift
Week celebrations were held throughout the land, and they
off a 25-year run
of “spend less
than you get”
44 AARPJULY&AUGUST 2010
Henry David Thoreau moves to
Walden Pond to “live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts
of life” in a cabin he built for under
$30. Today’s cost: about $700.
JACOB DAVIS AND
LEVI STRAUSS ARE
AWARDED U. S. PATEN T
139,121. AT ABOU T A
BUCK A PAIR, LEVI’S
JEANS BECOME THE
WORK CLOTHES OF
CHOICE FOR THE