Skip to comments.And the winner is . . . really cheap
Posted on 03/26/2002 5:58:24 AM PST by Phantom Lord
And the winner is . . . really cheap
Looking for tips on frugality, a columnist finds connoisseurs of conservation, experts on economy, sultans of scrimping.
By Jeff Brown
There is the granny who has her chauffeur circle the block to find a meter with time left on it . . . The man who goes to Phillies games free by rushing over during rain delays . . . The woman who gets mulch and clothes by gathering discarded scarecrows after Halloween . . . Then there were the many, many contestants who carefully dry their paper towels for reuse, wash their dirty Ziploc bags, squeeze the last few electrons out of their dying batteries by bumping them down to less demanding devices.
How to choose the best?
When I happened upon the idea for the First Annual Philadelphia Inquirer Cheapskate Contest, it was no more than an impulse meant to fill a column that was running short. So I was unprepared for the 300-odd entries that arrived from readers of The Inquirer and other papers around the country. The chief problem - no criteria for judging a winner, who will be awarded, well, nothing other than my admiration.
So I settled on these: The top cheapskate entry would have to be eye-opening, clever and detailed. Most important, like any successful scientific experiment, it would have to be repeatable - something others could emulate. It would have to be useful to many. And it would have to be truly cheap - yet demonstrating a mind-set that could be applied to anything. As I read the entries, I also decided the grand prize could only go to one that was morally sound.
This meant the man who buys tools and returns them after the job is done will have to try again next year. Same goes for the person with the ingenious system for mailing letters without postage. Not only must a winner be legal, it must withstand the would-you-teach-it-to-your-children test.
The man who claimed to eat roadkill deer - but only if warm when found - was one of my early favorites. But how many readers could use this advice?
At the other extreme were some entries that promised such infinitesimal savings I suspected my leg was being pulled. One woman claimed to save money on nail polish remover by clipping her nails first.
A number of contestants who failed to produce worthy entries felt compelled to correct me on various issues. Some objected to the term cheapskate, preferring to call themselves frugal, thrifty, parsimonious or penny- pinching. One took me to task for writing that you could have a tailor flip over a frayed shirt collar for just a few bucks; a real cheapskate, he scolded, does it himself. And quite a few noted that this procedure is called "turning" not "rolling." (It's particularly galling to be told you've misquoted your own mother.)
Sadly, some entries were subject to automatic disqualification. This included all the wiseacres who claimed to read my column by sneaking peaks at neighbors' papers at the foot of the driveway, getting it free online, or picking used copies from recycling bins.
There were many, many entries worthy of the grand prize, and, like judges everywhere, I must say that settling on one was very hard. So, in addition to the top prize, I created categories:
Least Valuable From a Monetary Standpoint: Winner - the man who extends the life of his turn signal bulbs by signaling only when there's traffic. Other top entries included the man who lathers just one side of his face, shaves, then does the other side with the whiskery drippings from the bottom of the sink.
Most Questionable From a Health Standpoint: The fellows who conserved ice by cooling drink cans in the toilet tank.
Best Moocher: The water saver who holds his personal pit stops until he's at work or visiting friends.
Most Virtuous: The committed composter (nearly disqualified for sanctimony) who experimented with everything, including toilet paper tubes and dryer lint.
Most Despicable: (tie) The man who goes to strangers' funerals for the free meals, the deadbeat who writes "deceased" across the front of dunning notices and sends them back.
Best Clothes-related: Sharing the prize - the man who replaces just the one shoelace that breaks; several panty hose wearers who cut off a leg with a run and wear two pairs of panty hose - one on top of the other - one with a right leg and one with a left.
Most Labor-Intensive: The family that plugs the shower drain and uses the water to flush the toilet. (Runner-up: The contestant who separates the sheets on two-ply paper towels, a whole roll at a time.)
Most Ingenious: The man who keeps his old clothes dryer going by fashioning replacement belts from leather shoelaces and monofilament fishing line.
Best at Sticking It to Those Who Deserve It: The part-time student who signs up for a full-time course load and pays with a credit card carrying a 5 percent reward, then cancels the extra courses and gets a cash refund. (Doesn't work if the refund is credited to the card.)
Most Dependant on the Gullibility of Others: The man who disguises weak coffee by putting it in a dark cup.
Best You-Figure-It-Out Entry: The two contestants who sent the poem If it's yellow, let it mellow/ If it's brown, flush it down.
Most Counter-Productive: (As told by the woman on the receiving end) The man who invited her to a free concert in a parking lot, asked her to drive, and, when she inquired about dinner, said he'd had a late lunch.
Any one of these could have been the winner. But now - picture me opening the envelope - the Cheapskate of the Year is:
Peter Nowak of Willow Grove.
"I am a frugal flosser," Nowak wrote in his winning entry. "I hate to daily discard a long length of essentially unworn dental floss. So I have devised a procedure which is 96 percent more cost-effective than the standard technique. This saves me $5.06 a year."
Instead of following the manufacturer's instructions to use an 18-inch length, much of which is wrapped around the two forefingers, Nowak ties a loop with a 10-inch piece. This allows him to floss without wasting the ends.
"After each use, I rinse the loop under running water and sterilize it in a small pool of rubbing alcohol in my palm," he continues. "Then I let it air dry till the next day's use. I get about 14 days before the floss has to be replaced. (This will vary with the closeness of one's teeth.)"
A 100-yard package of floss, which goes for $2.89, serves for only 200 days if 18 inches are used each day, he says. With his method, he gets 5,040 flossings per package, reducing his annual floss expense from $5.27 to 21 cents.
As with many cheapskate ideas, this one came decades ago as an epiphany. "I saw a long piece of dental floss hanging in the wastebasket and that disturbed me," he recalled.
Granted, some other entries had more pizzazz. But Nowak's can be used by anybody with teeth. Moreover, it encourages beneficial behavior, and, by helping reduce the need for future dental work, it leverages the initial savings many times over. Finally, the entry was exceedingly well-detailed, coming with complete supporting data. The contestant got extra points for effort, having followed up his e-mail with a letter.
Nowak, 76, is a retired metallurgist for the Army. "It's thrilling," he said, when I told him Thursday that he was a finalist. (Actually, he was already the winner, but I didn't want to let word leak.)
Initially, he denied being a cheapskate. But under intense questioning, he broke. He still plays his old 78-r.p.m. albums and concedes he's a pack rat. And he has not set foot in a barbershop since retiring more than 20 years ago.
"I use a series of mirrors, some scissors and various other implements," he said. Self-barbering became practicable when the crisp, tapered look of the '50s gave way to shaggier styles, he added.
"I guess I am sort of a peripheral cheapskate," he finally admitted.
No false modesty permitted, Mr. Nowak. You're the real thing - a role model for us all.
Ding Ding we have a winner!
Which is the only reason for the sunday paper as far as Im concerned,print media doesnt do it for me anymore.
Normal use of floss is $.01445 per use or $5.2742 per year.
With the silly method:
cost of floss is $.000573 per use or $.2093 per year
alcohol cost is $.001562 per use or $.5703 per year
total cost is .. $.002135 per use or $.7796 per year
Annual savings is $4.49 vice $5.06. I would also point out that this man places no value on his labor. Figure it takes 15 seconds additional time each day: to save $4.49 he spends about 1.5 hours, so his wage is about $3.00 an hour. Now that is a cheapskate!
Can you tell I'm on lunch break?