Review: The Complete Tightwad Gazette

Complete!My first exposure to the Tightwad Gazette was on the sitting table at a friend’s house. I actually remember them having several copies of the original newsletter, and I flipped through several issues of it, utterly amazed that there was this much that could be written on how to save money. Some of them seemed massively over the top, some of them seemed like common sense (my family did them), and others seemed like clever ideas, but they were all entertaining. It’s very similar to the impression I have of it today, actually.

Promoting thrift as a viable alternative lifestyle is the proud, loud subheading on the cover of the massive Complete Tightwad Gazette. Weighing in at a hefty 972 pages, this book is a compendium of the entire six year run of The Tightwad Gazette newsletter, a publication written and distributed quarterly between 1991 and 1996. The focus of all of the material is on frugal living in some form or another.

What’s inside? Virtually every article ever published in that newsletter, organized in an almost random fashion. The book is actually just a series of articles, almost like blog postings, from a seriously frugal individual. I would roughly estimate that the book contains about 1,200 short articles on specific topics of frugality. While the original newsletters aren’t reprinted verbatim, almost all of the vital information from each one is included in this tome.

A Deeper Look At The Complete Tightwad Gazette

The Complete Tightwad Gazette is a giant tome of short articles. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of a great blog on frugality, merely in printed form.

Instead of attempting to walk through every little bit of this tome, I tried to pull out fifteen ideas from the book that really inspired me to save some money. When I read through this slowly over the last several months, I took lots of notes (with page numbers) and then actually attempted to use many of them in my life – all twenty of these have found some success for me (I actually had about seventy in my notes that I marked with a star as being useful – I just started at the top and somewhat chose at random).

Start a price book (p. 33) Get a three ring binder and a small pile of sheets with three holes punched on them. At the top of each page, write an item you buy regularly (toilet paper, peanut butter, etc.). Then start going to different stores and writing down the prices on the brands that you buy. Spend a month or two trying different stores out and jotting the prices, then start planning shopping trips using that book, focusing on stocking up on the items that are cheapest at a particular store. Plus you can find out if store flyers are actually saving a lot of money versus the competition.

Buy cars near the end of the month (p. 39) Car dealers often have to fill a monthly sales quota, so go in at the end of the month and drive a very hard bargain. You might cut into their commission, but if it makes them reach their quota, it’s probably worth it to them.

Buy fewer Christmas presents for a child (p. 79) I strongly agree with this philosophy. My most memorable Christmases as a child were the ones where I received just one or two amazing gifts, not other years where my parents had more money and got me a pile. For instance, I would rather buy my daughter an iPod than six or seven gifts between $20 or $30 – she’ll forget those gifts quickly, but that one will be dear to her.

Make potholders out of old blue jeans (p. 121) I actually did this by hand (yes, a guy who enjoys sewing on occasion), stuffing it with some leftovers from one of my wife’s projects. Easy as pie, just cut out two pieces out of an old pair of jeans that would otherwise get tossed, sew them together, turn it inside out, stuff it, and sew the opening. Viola – an interesting pot holder for the kitchen and it was basically free. A denim potholder actually has a really nice “homey” feeling to it.

Deconstruct a recipe (p. 212) A delicious seafood casserole recipe appears here, but the real value is in looking carefully at the items and seeing how you can save money on each of them by buying store brands or making it yourself instead.

Make your own popsicles (p. 223) This is one summer treat that my son truly enjoys, and we’ve been making them out of our own healthy ingredients (applesauce, fruit juices, etc.). This article gave a lot of tips on how to make them. I found, after experimenting, that an ice cube tray with deep wells makes great popsicles.

Make your own salad dressings (p. 230) These recipes became the basis of a lot of food experimentation at home with my wife, and we discovered that even when we made a few disastrous batches, it was sstill cheaper than buying it in the store.

Make solar iced tea (p. 255) Just get a gallon jug of water (we use a gallon glass jar, actually), put six tea bags in it, and let it sit out in the sun for several hours (the longer it sits, the stronger the tea). My wife and I drink it unsweetened, but you can add sugar or lemon juice to taste after it’s done. It’s simple and a very cheap beverage.

Buy store brand foods (p. 320) Many store brands are actually just repackages of the name brand stuff. Why pay more for the company’s advertising budget? You’ve got me. This also confirms my suspicion about several items that appeared identical in store brand and name brand from my local grocery store.

Discuss cutting down on Christmas gift exchanges (p. 493) Many families (mine included) spend far too much at Christmastime on unnecessary gifts. A frank discussion about these (and this article provides tips) can often save everyone some serious cash.

Don’t change your car oil every 3,000 miles (p. 526) For starters, read your car’s manual – it might recommend longer intervals. You might also switch to a synthetic oil that requires less frequent changes.

Introduce frugality to your kids (p. 536) If you’ve introduced them to money, frugality is easy. If they want gummy fruit treats, show them how much cheaper real fruit is. If they want juice boxes, show them how much cheaper juice is in bulk even if you buy a reusable container to drink it out of. Not only does it teach the child how to think frugally, it can cut down on junk food, too.

Memorize a generic recipe (p. 625) Basically, the idea is that if you memorize the framework of a very basic recipe, you can reuse it with variations forever. The sample here is a casserole recipe that has infinite variations:

1 cup main ingredient
1 cup second ingredient
1-2 cups starchy ingredient
1 1/2 cups binder
1/4 cup “goodie”

Main ingredient: tuna, cubed chicken, turkey, ham, seafood, etc.
Second ingredient: thinly sliced celery, mushrooms, peas, chopped hard-boiled eggs, etc.
Starchy ingredient: thinly sliced potatoes, cooked noodles, cooked rice, etc.
Binder: cream sauce, sour cream, can of soup, etc.
“Goodie”: pimiento, olives, almonds, water chestnuts, etc.
Topping: cheese, bread crumbs, etc.

Using this, you can just buy whatever’s on sale to fit each slot. I’ll say that the chicken + mushrooms + rice + cream of chicken soup + cheese combo (no goodie) is fantastic, for instance.

Take up reading as a hobby (p. 862) Reading is about the cheapest hobby you can have, especially with libraries available to you. It’s actually far cheaper than television, even, and can provide both educational and entertainment rewards.

Don’t spend money to raise money (p. 868) If you’re trying to raise money for an organization, try doing things like having a white elephant auction (people bring stuff to be auctioned off that is just laying around the house) along with donated items from local businesses, a potluck dinner, a group yard sale, and so on. My high school class sold candy bars, which now seems kind of silly.

Buy or Don’t Buy?

The Complete Tightwad Gazette is spectacular from start to finish. Even if a few of the ideas are a bit dated or a few are corny, they’re always entertaining, and a large number of the ideas are very usable for saving money in your monthly budget. If you find yourself struggling to start cutting down on spending, or are interested in cutting your spending even more, this book is an incredibly worthwhile and entertaining read. Highly recommended, and the single best book on frugality I’ve read, bar none.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette is the thirty-seventh of fifty-two books in The Simple Dollar’s series 52 Personal Finance Books in 52 Weeks.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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