My Tightwad Epiphany

Ivy says:

Picture it: Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 1997(ish). A beautiful young single mom is struggling, trying to make her way in the world and get through college and keep her young son fed and in preschool. Because she is so limited on time, she leans heavily on convenience foods and takeout. Unfortunately, she is also really poor and is bleeding money left and right on some bad financial decisions she made and the convenience food. Suddenly, Mr. Burt Reynolds shows up. Oh, sorry, that’s someone else entirely.

I mean, that’s me, it’s just that Mr. Burt Reynolds has never showed up in my life. There’s always time for that, though! 😉

Seriously, though, it all happened at once- I was broke, bill collectors calling constantly, hungry, in serious debt to literally everyone I knew and a bunch of other people I didn’t know. “Something has got to give,” I thought. Finally, I realized a person in my situation had no business having such a high car payment in addition to the other bills I had. And getting takeout every night was not only bad for my health but my son’s, as well.

The first thing I did was talk to my dad about what to do about my car payment. My credit was already ruined (I started out my adult life in debt- medical bills due to the birth of my son) and I could no longer manage the car payment, so I did a voluntary repossession on my car. I don’t know whether I can say I recommend this route for everyone, but for me it was definitely the best option at the time.

Once I cut out that major expense, I worked on the little ones that were nickel and diming me to death. Prior to the epiphany, I’d stop for a coke every morning before school. After the epiphany, I bought my own cokes and brought one from home. (Yeah, I know water is more healthful and is free, but baby steps, man, baby steps.) I made a goal to eat at home 4 nights a week. I learned 4 simple, inexpensive no-fail recipes from my mom and made those 4 tired dishes repeatedly. But at least we were eating at home more.

Tell me, Home Eccers, when did you have your tightwad epiphany, or have you been a frugal maven (or dude) all your life?



24 Comments

  1. Linda on April 10, 2008 at 2:38 am

    I was born one! Seriously.. *lol*

    However, I did have to make some big decisions like that when I got married.

    Because my husband totally doesn’t know money. He spends it like water and doesn’t see how expenses could be cut. When we married he was about a thousand euros in debt, which is a lot for two students! (I’m not even talking about the student loadn, but fortunately, Holland has got some REALLY mild conditions for people to pay that back..)

    So I had to go through everything he (we) had, as far as contracts and ‘returning expenses’, and change, cut, delete a lot of things..

    It works fine for now.. we’re on one minimum wage, but living in ‘luxury’ (well we call it luxury, others would probably not like it, *lol*)

    greetings from the netherlands!



  2. Becky on April 9, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    It was last July. Of 2007. My 10-year old car needed almost $2 grand in repairs. I hit the panic button. As it was, I could not make ends meet. I got through that with help from my siblings and after that, I determined that things were going to be different.

    It’s taken me more than six months to change my thinking, be determined to live a frugal lifestyle and get my finances under control. I still have a way to go, but things are getting better.



  3. Margaret on April 9, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    THanks for your honesty, Ivy. Other peoples’ stories are so interesting to me (I luuuurve reading blogs!). I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments, too.
    One of the things my parents did to help me understand money was give me my own clothing allowance when I was a teenager. They never gave me extra money beyond that and I had to make it stretch to include the fads I wanted as well as the winter coat or sneakers I needed. I learned early that I liked bargains or doing without to make my money stretch.
    My husband and I are frugal – out of necessity and out of feeling that it’s the right thing to do (live simply so that others may simply live). We started immediately living on just one of our incomes and so it’s not a big deal for me to be a stay at home mom. One of the ironies I think of is that there’s no fluff for me to cut out of our budget as prices, especially food, have started soaring; I would love the satisfaction of seeing our monthly expenses dramatically reduced, but ain’t gonna happen because we’re already pretty careful. It’s a good problem, I know, I know.



  4. Amy on April 9, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    I think I have always been a tightwad, but since we reduced to one income in our family, I have taken tightwaddery to levels I never imagined 🙂 I love reading other people’s journeys though and that is one thing I really appreciate about the “frugal community.” We might not be all in the same place or even start out in the same spot, but we can appreciate other people’s journeys and how they are saving.

    Excellent post, as always, my friend!



  5. Joyce on April 9, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    We were like Stephanie’s Mom’s Brain- we started off just using my husband’s income, so that we wouldn’t have a big shock when we started our family. We did save my salary to make a downpayment on our first house. Once the babies came, we knew how to live on one income.



  6. Heidi @ Carolina Dreamz on April 9, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    I am failing, miserably, with frugality reversion. Can I be a born again?

    Allergies are kicking my butt at the grocery store!

    Its getting real bad.



  7. Stephanie's Mommy Brain on April 9, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    When we got married right out of college we’d heared somewhere to only live on my hubby’s salary to prepare for when we’d have kids. The following year my husband’s boss had a baby. The boss’s wife had to return to work 6 weeks after delivery. The boss talked about how hard that was for their family (esp. the wife). That only strengthened our resolve to never “need” my income for our family. I’ve never worked since we had children and our only debt is our mortgage. The sacrifices of frugality can be unpleasant at times but the sacrifices of living high on the hog are even worse.



  8. bojah on April 9, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Frugal all my life. Not as good at it as my parents were, but mostly because my husband & I tended to be at odds about spending & saving. He has recently come over from the “dark side”, & I have high hopes that his newfound enthusiasm will not wane once times are better again. I’m the kind of gal who can be entertained by simply thinking of how many meals are in one chicken, & who likes to determine the cost, per item, of goods bought “by the bag” at a thrift store or garage sale. My frugality is simply an onging thing….I did not have a Lightbulb Moment.



  9. Vicki on April 9, 2008 at 11:55 am

    I grew up well off in a small town. I got married young, right out of high school, to a boy my parents did not approve of. So we were totally on our own. That was fine until I found out I was pregnant three months later.

    After my daughter was born I realized that even though I was not quite 19, the responsibility was mine to make sure she got a good childhood as mine had been.

    I started reading everything I could get my hands on. I started baking whole wheat bread and all our own cookies and snacks. I babysat two little girls for grocery money.

    My husband never did get the responsibility part, and that marriage ended when I was only 20. Still, I continued to be frugal as a single mother, so that my daughter and I could be independent and have happy lives.

    I later remarried, and went on to have several more children. Combining the things I had learned, and discovering more and more ways to save money has enabled me to stay home with my children for most of the last 20 years. It’s a decision I have never regretted.



  10. Meredith on April 9, 2008 at 9:19 am

    Ivy has the best candor, doesn’t she?



  11. Lark on April 9, 2008 at 1:01 am

    The frugal “lightbulb” finally went on for us about 5 years ago when we had to accept welfare in order to have enough money to pay the mortgage that month–or declare bankruptcy. We had no more credit anywhere. We had a toddler and a new baby and I couldn’t work anymore. It was a sink or swim kind of situation. We cut out every bill that wasn’t feeding or housing us. We kept the phone only because my husband was worried I wouldn’t be able to reach him if I needed him. We now know where every penny is going and will go.



  12. Carol on April 8, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    I wish I was a tightwad when I was younger. My bank accounts, would be very, very fat. My parents were good shoppers and good at making money go pretty far when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I was older that I became a really great shopper. Probably shortly before I met my husband. I always looked for a sale in the past, but now I am not happy unless it is a fantastic sale and I am walking out the door feeling like I really got a great bargain.



  13. JRae on April 8, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Ugghh, so many typos… I wish I could edit it. Ah well. 😛



  14. JRae on April 8, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    I’ve never been too ridiculous with my spending, although I’m certainly not as frugal as you guys. 🙂 I like eating out, and damnit I live in NYC and can order ANY kind of food at ANY hour of the day… I’m gonna take advantage of that while I can!! (Because once I started making a family and all that good stuff we won’t live in NYC anymore and these days will be over.)

    But for the past two years I was attempting to freelance graphic design from home, and failing miserably (money-wise, anyway). I wasn’t splurging or spending money on anything I shouldn’t have, but when you don’t have enough income to cover your rent, let alone other expenses… I got deep into debt.

    No I got a job a month ago and it feels like I’m rolling in cash. I hadn’t withdrawn cash from my cash checking account in over year- now I have all sorts of cash!! Woohoo! But the very first thing I did when I got my first paycheck was sit down and budget all my expenses out in Quicken.

    When I had a fulltime paying job several years ago, I had a budgeting philosophy that was like “set aside all the money I need for bills, and then do whatever I want with the rest!” And it certainly worked- I never had to worry about having money for bills- but I didn’t track at all what I was doing with the rest of the money. Hence it went pretty quickly.

    This time around, I’m switching my philosophy to “set aside what I need for spending, and the rest remains in bills under I decide where to apply it”. Seems like almost the same philosophy, except now I have to think ahead of time when I want to splurge on something, and transfer it into my cash account. I can’t just spend money willy nilly.

    So far, so good! I’m finding it hard to track where every dollar goes, but am slowly developing a “checking my receipts against my account downloads in Quicken” method. I’ve never tracked how I spent my cash in Quicken before (I just lumped it all under “Cash”), so I’m adjusting… any tips appreciated. 🙂

    And all the recipes on here are invaluable of course to staying within my Groceries budget!! 🙂



  15. Awnya Boam on April 8, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    I think I have always been a tight wad. I remember saving my Haloween candy until easter or until Summer vacation the next year! I have been getting a little off the beaten path lately and need to tighten the belt a little though.



  16. Jasi on April 8, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Hated the childhood thing. Only way to get a couple of hours out of my crazy house was an after school job. Evenings, sorting novels at the local strip mall book store it occurred to me that if I had enough cash, I could out-of-here, like, pronto. I started saving then and I’m still super frugal with a bit of “flight fantasy” in me (even though I’m lucky to love my current life).

    I watch my dimes, but I am also plagued with a touch of kuidoare. I’ll drop a lot more than I’d like these days on take-out. My husband and I are really crazy for food cravings.



  17. Angela on April 8, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Wow…I think I am at the wrong site or the only one that can say this…I think as of right now I am in a yoyo phase…It does not help being a very bad cook, yes our smoke alarm goes off almost daily. I have been through debt and more debt and well more debt do to inexperience and trying to declare our freedom and not listen to the wiser type… My husband and I are slowly learning and making our life the way we feel we will be happy, yes that could mean going out for food and shopping in retail stores, sorry but I guess some one has to buy it first and if it last formore then one child or for more then one season I think it was an OK buy.



  18. Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on April 8, 2008 at 10:17 am

    My parents were always pretty careful with money, and I was never a particular spendthrift-I always lived within my means. But when I was pregnant with Princess (now 7) a friend lent me the Tightwad Gazette. I read it cover to cover and thus began the journey to live a really GOOD life on less.



  19. some guy on April 8, 2008 at 9:34 am

    I grew up on a frugal rural commune, so my rebellion was to try to join the larger culture and be open to ideas like consumerism. I got married at 21 and was in a bit of credit card debt at 24. My real descent into financial hardship came at 27 after the birth of our son. We were living off very little, but my wife had unrealistic expectations about being middle class on our income. Debt cascaded into more debt, until I was writing credit card checks to pay the rent.

    When I tried to cut back on our spending, the response I got was that this cycle was normal, that my hippie-farmboy-kid background was weird.

    My epiphany? Be strong. People with a consumerist attitude are addicts, and addicts will rationalize anything to get their fix. Frugality, thrift and delayed gratification have been marginalized by our consumerist culture, so you just have accept that others are going to mock you and be threatened by your refusal to “go with the flow.”

    For the record, that first marriage ended, and I took all the debt from that marriage and left her with a clean slate. I’ve gone from less-than-zero to having enough money each month to put two kids through college in 10 years. My ex, despite starting with a house, no debt, and pretty good child support and alimony, was back in debt almost immediately.

    I’ll never fully recover from those early mistakes, since they shaped our future in so many ways. But at least I got out of the cycle.

    Consumerism is an economic system, but it’s also a disease. Standing outside of it, even in a moderate way, will improve your life immediately.



  20. סקס on April 8, 2008 at 7:58 am

    thank you!



  21. chocolatechic on April 8, 2008 at 7:04 am

    I have always been frugal…well, not so much in my teens, as my parents were footing the bill for everything, but when I went out on my own, I was almost instantly frugal. My grandparents were so frugal that they could squeeze a quarter out of a dime.

    My parents don’t understand me, and I am the continual butt of jokes. However, they have been in constant debt, and at one point declared bankruptcy.



  22. Jessica on April 7, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    I was 19 and had an apartment with a roommate, a full-time job and a full load of class. I was very careful with my money then because my parents (who did not want me to move out then) had scared me into making sure I could pay each bill every month. I never splurged. I clearly remembered standing in Wal-Mart studing a $5 oil lamp and trying to decide if I could afford to spend $5 on myself. I did buy it, but I remember that moment as clear as yesterday.



  23. Awesome Mom on April 7, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    I had tightish wad parents and married an extreme tightwad, so I have become quite a tightwad myself. I do like to splurge more often than my husband, but we are living very under our means.



  24. Katie on April 7, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    I have been only reading your blog for about 2 months, and didn’t realize that you are in the ‘boro! Well you are probably out of here by now, I live in the Cason Ln area. Just exciting to see someone else in the huge world of the web here.