Diary of a Cheapskate

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I started my life as a cheapskate. To use the euphemistic term, I was frugal. After all, it was the wise Benjamin Franklin who coined the phrase, “a penny saved is a penny earned.”


My family were as poor as synagogue mice. My father was paid only a few hundred dollars a year to be the rabbi of a small synagogue in Milwaukee. He earned the equivalent of a colonial American’s yearly salary. As a newborn child, I came home from the hospital to a one-room, one-bathroom accommodation — at least the rent was cheap. We had no automobile expenses as we had no car. My mother bought marked-down vegetables and day-old bread. When she bought a coat for me, it was two sizes larger than I needed so that I could get plenty of wear from it.

So I learned from an early age to be thrifty. Though my economic situation as an adult is better than that of my parents, it hasn’t been a walk in the park. In college, I discovered that lots of young men wanted to take me out to eat, to the movies and to the theater, so this is how my entertainment needs were met. I learned to be a terrific shopper, and unless something was marked down 50 to 80 percent, I didn’t buy it.

Here are some of my favorite ways to live like a king on a pauper’s wage.

Thrift Stores

I discovered thrift shops later on, and what treasures I found there! I bought a wool and cashmere coat from Scotland for $10, a jacket made in Paris for $10, and Italian-made leather boots for $2.50!  The greatest thing about thrift stores is you never know what treasures you’ll find there. One friend bought glasses at $1.50 each and discovered that they were worth $100 each!

Today, it’s easier than ever to shop in thrift stores and know the value of things that you find. Take along your smart phone and search for the item online.


Remember, even thrift stores have seasonal sales, so your items may be even cheaper. Many thrift stores, like Goodwill, offer special discounts for your birthday, and also senior-citizen or student discounts.

Cheap Travel

I’ve also discovered a cheap, and sometimes free, way to travel, utilizing bonus airline miles from credit cards. Many of the airlines, like United, Southwest, and Delta, offer anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 miles when you first sign up for their credit cards. A first-year fee waiver is also common for many of these credit cards. I’ve gone from Wisconsin to California for free many times.

Some credit cards have special times throughout the year where they offer five percent rebates on purchases like gas, restaurant dining, movies, or even shopping on Amazon. Others usually have two to three percent cash-back for food and gas. Many of the major hotel chains also have credit cards with free or discounted hotel nights. Go online to see the latest offers.

Student Services

A long time ago I discovered that I could have my teeth cleaned by dental hygiene students at a local college. The cleaning is always checked throughout by dental instructors, and while it does take much longer to have your teeth cleaned this way, it’s a fraction of the cost when compared to a traditional dental office. Try to schedule an appointment with a student who is close to graduating — they have a little more experience. Check your local college or community college for dental hygiene programs.


You can also use the inexpensive services of a student cosmetologist to get your hair cut or colored, or even get a manicure or pedicure. Remember, as soon as they graduate, these same students will be commanding much higher prices.

Price Matching

A great way to cut down on food and toiletry costs is to check out all the ads for stores in your area, and then go to your nearest Walmart as they will match those other stores’ sale prices if they sell the same items.

You should also make a habit of checking clearance items. Walmart and Walgreens usually have a special clearance section with heavily discounted products.

Complimentary Offerings and Coupons

Want a free cup of coffee? Go to Trader Joe’s where they offer complimentary coffee, or ask for a sample at other stores. Free samples in general are pretty great.

One way to catch a free concert or show is by being a volunteer usher. Some museums also offer free admission to local residents on certain days.

Finally, you can go the old-fashioned way and clip coupons, either online or in the papers. Keep an eye out for double-coupon days at select stores.

Oh, and don’t print out this article — it’s cheaper to read it online!


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