Getting a Big Thrill Out of Being So Cheap

Jeff Yeager, who has appeared on the
Jeff Yeager, who has appeared on the "Today Show," built this structure from utility poles and wood he found in the Potomac River and other places. (Photos By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The can of Bud Light was rusty and slicked with slime, just salvaged from an embankment of gunk near the Potomac River. Jeff Yeager regarded it, a drizzle falling on his trash-bag poncho and white hard hat (found earlier in a nearby swamp).

He pulled the can's tab. It made a reassuring kuh-shink . Beery foam sputtered forth.

"It would really be good," he said evenly. Three people stood by, ready to be appalled.

Then, before he could second-guess himself, he tossed the can into his Potomac watershed cleanup recycling bag. Even Yeager -- called the nation's Ultimate Cheapskate by Matt Lauer on the "Today Show" -- has limits.

But not many. The 48-year-old Marylander has tried to weave clothing out of dryer lint. He combs hotel lobby furniture for loose change. Most of the things to sit (or lean on) around his house in Accoceek, in Prince George's County, have come from the Potomac, the PennySaver or the roadside.

Yeager gladly bares these badges of cheapness, for they are the stuff of his newfound celebrity: He has become an occasional guest on the "Today Show's" Cheapskate Week segment.

Here's how his life changed. In July, he entered a penny-pinching contest sponsored by Washington Post business columnist Michelle Singletary. She forwarded his name to the "Today Show," which was looking for an amusing everyman for its Cheapskate Week segment in August.

NBC visited his home, and he demonstrated "re-canting," or funneling bottom-shelf alcohol into brand-name containers. Within a week, he was standing at the 38th annual Bratwurst Festival (free admission) in Bucyrus, Ohio, making his television debut. His latest appearance was March 24, when he toured Hershey Park's newest ride (free), sampled chocolate Kisses (also free) and bantered with the anchors back in New York.

"He did seem to be the cheapest man in America," confirmed "Today" producer Margaret Pergler, recalling her initial contact with Yeager.

On the show, the mustachioed Yeager comes across as an avuncular goofball who wears funny hats, lugs around a trash bag and accosts everyone with the refrain "Yeah, but is it free?" His press kit is made out of the box that boxed wine comes in and duct tape.

Now the man who hardly buys anything is trying to sell himself: He has written a book, "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Guide: How to Spend Less and Enjoy Life More." He's ready to send his agent a sample chapter called "An Amish Guy's Guide to the Digital Age," for which he hobnobbed with the horse-and-buggy crowd in St. Mary's County.

He writes at a homemade plywood desk in an office furnished with thrift store items, including a signed copy of "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" by Euell Gibbons, the outdoorsman and natural diet guru whom Yeager idolized while growing up in rural Ohio.

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