Updated on 02.28.10

Review: Bargain Junkie

Trent Hamm

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest. You can check out my reviews of hundreds of personal finance books (and other related books of interest) all on one page.

bargain junkieBargain Junkie is an unabashed frugality book, focusing mostly on maximizing your “bang for the buck” when spending money.

The book itself is broken down into a large number of very short sections covering specific frugality issues, often written in a humorous and often self-deprecating tone that’s pretty appealing.

Obviously, when you read a lot of frugality books, you begin to recognize that some of the central points in each book appear in all the books – which is fine, since there’s a very good chance that this is the first book on frugality that the person has picked up and many of the repeated ideas are the very good ideas that a person should use. Bargain Junkie follows this pattern and spends a significant number of its pages on what I would call Frugality 101, which makes it an equally good “starter” book as many other frugality titles out there.

What sets it apart, though? Instead of doing a section-by-section review of the multitude of short pieces in the book, I picked out ten short sections that really stood out to me.

Television Is A Model For How Not To Live
Instead of looking at how people live on television as something to strive for, use it as a guide for something to avoid. After all, do you want a unique and wonderful life or do you want to just be a pale imitation of that guy in the television commercial? Do you want to live by your own rules, or merely imitate the crass consumerism of The Real Housewives of East Overshoe?

Extended Households
Living quarters are one of the biggest expenses in our lives. Yet, quite often, large portions of our living quarters go completely unused as we often get into the routine of using just a room or two in our home for most of our activities. So why not share that extra space? Consider a more communal living arrangement, where you actually live with friends and family and split the housing cost appropriately. It works surprisingly well and it can save a truckload of money.

Collecting can be a worthwhile venture for frugal people provided two things are true. First, you’re quite willing to sell off what you’ve collected. Second, you’re willing to keep up with the hobby and stay abreast of prices and information about it. If you do both of these, you can often find a very lucrative hobby from hitting thrift stores and the like. I actually have a friend who buys and sells vintage video games who claims to have bought games at many thrift stores for fifty cents and resold them for hundreds (think Chase the Chuck Wagon). I’ve even done it myself with trading cards of various types.

Try It Yourself Before Paying an Expert
Home repairs? Try it yourself by reading documentation online and giving it a shot. Exercise? Try home exercise before buying a gym membership and paying a trainer. Virtually everything you do that you hire someone else for can be done yourself. So why not try it and make sure you actually need to shell out the money for someone else to do it? Exercise at home first and make sure you’re willing to keep up some routine before hiring a trainer, for example, and you might find you don’t even need one.

Go Monastic
Why do you have to live the same life everyone else does? If you live cheap and build up a bankroll, there’s no reason you can’t sell everything and live out of your kayak for a couple of years. The only thing keeping you from doing something completely different in your life is your own fears. Most of the big dreams people have are usually really cheap when you get right down to it, so it’s rarely the cost that keeps us from doing something like driving around the country in a solar car talking at public libraries.

Buy Your Own Presents
Quite often, gift-giving occasions come down to giving other people stuff they don’t want and you receiving stuff you don’t want. Why? Sit down and have a heart-to-heart with the person and, instead of just exchanging gifts, pledge to do something fun and unique together that you both want to do. You’ll probably save money and almost always wind up doing something much more memorable, enjoyable, and long lasting.

Craigslist/Freecycle First
Whenever you need anything, it’s usually worth your time to check the local Craigslist or Freecycle before going out and buying it. You can often find great stuff for pennies or for free. Heck, I’m learning how to play the keyboard on a free Craigslist item. Similarly, if you have something you’re getting rid of, put it up on that list with a low price tag. Quite often, it’ll be off your hands without breaking a sweat.

Large City Travel
If you’re traveling to a large city, study the public transportation information for that city online before you go. In many large cities, you can have a wonderful trip there without renting a car or paying for a taxi by simply knowing and using their public transportation system. My wife and I spent a week in London several years ago without renting a car or taking a taxi, even from the airport.

The Biggest Element of Dressing Well
The biggest element in dressing well isn’t buying clothes from the expensive stores. It’s self-confidence. You have to be proud of yourself no matter what you’re wearing. If your confidence is the same no matter what you’re wearing, then it really doesn’t matter much at all what you’re wearing. A person’s confidence and personality always comes through.

I used to be fairly nervous wearing things bought at thrift stores. “Won’t people look down at these secondhand clothes?” I would think. I’d be more self-conscious and then I’d find that people did think less of me than I would have liked. But it wasn’t because of the clothes – it was because I was so self-conscious, nervous, and shy. The clothes don’t make the person.

Hit Ethnic Restaurants – Hard
This is something I did myself in college and still do on occasion. In terms of the quantity and quality of food you get for the dollar, few places beat ethnic restaurants. Go there, order something intriguing, and you’ll find yourself leaving with a doggy bag containing enough food for two more meals or so. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve eaten leftover sauteed vegetables over rice where the price of each meal I actually got from the restaurant dish was cut down to the $2 level. I know some professors at my old college who almost exclusively eat (even to the exclusion of home food prep) at local ethnic restaurants.

Is Bargain Junkie Worth Reading?
Bargain Junkie feels very much to me like a collection of posts from a frugality blog with a very good writer and entertaining voice. The sections in the book are quick reads that usually each convey a central point or two or provide a checklist of highly specific tips and are packed with anecdotes that either make you laugh or breed familiarity with the reader.

Annie should start a blog, period. I would happily link to some of those entries and she’d probably end up earning more revenue from it than she would from this book over the long run. If you enjoy reading well-written, occasionally humorous blog post length articles about frugality and maximizing your buying dollar, you will enjoy this book.

My biggest problem with the book, actually, is in the design. To me, the design of the cover is poor to the point that I would have not picked up this book had I not had a vested interest in reviewing it. There are thousands of great books out there to read – I would probably walk on by this book on a bookshelf simply because there are so many other great books that I could be reading that didn’t give me a “go away, this book isn’t for you” vibe right from the cover. Yes, I know the cover was shooting for a certain demographic, but you can reach those people without giving a “go away” vibe to others outside that demographic.

Still, once I got past the cover, the book inside was quite worthwhile – an entertaining survey of frugal ideas.

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  1. Ethnic grocery stores are even better than ethnic restaurants.

  2. Kevin says:

    What vested interest do you have in this book?!

  3. Anna is now Raven says:

    All my clothes are used. That’s because I’ve worn every single garment more than once (many times, in fact). Some of them were worn by previous owners, but I challenge anyone to look in my closet and pick them out from those I originally bought new.

    What’s difference between used and secondhand, once a garment has been worn? Who’s to know your clothes came from a thrift store unless you tell them? (Or unless you run into the original owner, which can happen…but that’s a fairly remote possibility.)

    And, as has often been pointed out in these very posts and comments, good thrift stores often have brand-new garments with the tags still on, at a rock-bottom price.

  4. Little House says:

    I like the topic of using television as a guide on how not to live. What a great idea! More people need to read this and hear this. And I agree with Trent, the cover of the book would have kept me from picking it up too. Maybe her next version will have an updated, better designed cover.

  5. Moby Homemaker says:

    I like the topic about clothing….I have a theory about clothes. If you wear a collared shirt–you are always “ready for business”. Sounds stupid–but it may lend to that “self confidence” that is discussed in the book.
    Sounds like a decent read….

  6. Brittany says:

    Didn’t your mother teach you not to judge a book by its cover, Trent?

  7. Leah says:

    I agree — no one knows if your clothes are second hand. I pretty much just wear gap and american eagle jeans . . . for $5 each from a thrift store (sometimes up to $10! costs are going up). Many of my favorite outfits came from thrift stores. I actually have sticker shock when I shop in a non-thrift store.

    Carrying yourself with self-confidence and having clean, well-fitting clothes are key to looking good.

  8. deRuiter says:

    I’d rather wear great quality preowned clothing for pennies on the dollar than new clothing of inferior price or to pay retail for good stuff. A fine quality, natural fiber pre owned suit or dress which has been tailored for the ultimate perfect fit is the best look of all, and cheaper than buying new off the rack new. Buying pre owned clothing is cheaper in price for better quality clothes. Buying used, you don’t send your money to China and ruin our balance of trade, you hand the money for the item directly to an American, and if you pay a tailor, that money is spent IN America. Also you’re conserving natural resources by buying used.

  9. Liz says:

    I agree with Anna/Raven. Everything in my closet is used save for one item. I got a blouse on super-clearance for less than $3.00 that was marked $26.00. I am waiting about another 10 days to wear it, since it is rayon and I am cold-natured.

  10. Bay says:

    I understand that in no way would a free book alter your review in any way, but the vested interest line jumped out at me also. Did you receive this book from the author/publisher or did you pick it up yourself? Just wondering your disclosure policy on book reviews.

  11. About trying it yourself:

    I do that a lot but there are a couple of problems:

    1) You need to invest in tools. Few tools = bad job, so my earlier work before I accumulated a base number of tools was garbage.

    2) Even if you are fast learner you learn on the first job. If that first job is your own house then it’s going to garbage. Of course, when I help my friends then their projects are better than mine.

    One time my friend and I worked on each other’s fences. Thank goodness we worked on his first. Took twice as long as mine and looks worse :)

  12. SLCCOM says:

    Folks, Trent’s “vested interest” is surely that he needs to review a finance book for this blog!

    And we all judge a book by its cover. There are too many books for us to read even if we do nothing but read all day, every day, and that is why publishers spend a great deal of money getting the right cover art.

    About trying it yourself: my husband and I once looked at a house in which the former homeowner had done his own “projects.” Every one was a bad job, and we were NOT interested in having to redo his bad work.

    When you do bad work in your own house, you are creating a nightmare when you go to sell, and will probably have to lower your asking price considerably. You need to factor in the cost of having things redone at higher prices down the road or losing money on the eventual house sale when you do the number crunching.

    Also, you may well find out that you needed a building permit for some of the projects, and when you go to sell the house you’ll really be hit hard because of a lack of permits. In many cases, you’ll have to pull out what you did, remove drywall so inspectors can look at the plumbing and electrical work, and so on. And if they reject the plumbing and electrical work, you’ll have to hire professionals to do the job right (and in a hurry so you can get the place on the market), plus pay a huge fine for doing the work without permits. This is actually a best-case scenario. In the worst case, you will burn your house down, risking killing people and pets, or get a mold problem because of your amateur work.

    BTW: if you go to pull a permit and get told you don’t need one, MAKE THEM SIGN A LETTER SAYING YOU DON’T NEED A PERMIT FOR THAT SPECIFIC PROJECT! Otherwise crooked city officials can come back later and claim you need a permit.

  13. KittyBoarder says:

    I still can’t get over the fear of wearing something “someone else has worn”. I don’t know where this piece of cloth is coming from, what the house environment is like. Pet? Smoking? Drug abuse? I know majority of the donors are not like that, but I just don’t feel comfortable buying from second hand stores…I buy mostly from Ross and TJ Maxx where they sell deep discounted new outfits. It just makes me feel safer that way…

  14. George says:

    @SLCCOM – note that Trent’s example were repairs, not projects like remodeling. Most repairs actually do NOT require permits unless you have to undo something, like a commode seal, or repair a structural problem, like replacing studs in the wall.

    @KittyBoarder – you probably would go nuts then wearing a laundered hospital gown…

  15. SLCCOM says:

    Replacing a fence is not a repair. Future buyers will quite possibly not bother to even look inside the house when the guy goes to sell the house with the badly done fence. And the dude who ruined his house did it with all kinds of “minor” repairs and projects done badly.

  16. Lisa says:

    My insurance agent kindly pointed out that in our home insurance (major national company), in what I thought was small print, that work done without a permit (that requires a permit) is grounds for the insurance company to refuse covering a claim caused by the illegal work be it fire or personal injury. Check your home insurance policy.

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