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Give Torn Stockings Another Run, And Other Tips for the Frugal

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, July 30, 2006; F01

The results are in. The hundreds of folks nominated for the 2006 Color of Money Penny Pincher of the Year Contest prove that I'm definitely not the cheapest person in the country.

Take, for example, Jennifer McDonald's grandmother, Anna Fiumara, lovingly called "Oma."

Fiumara employed a number of tactics to save money. My favorite involved pantyhose.

Now, no good penny pincher would ever throw out a pair of pantyhose because of a run. No, sir, among other things, you wear them under slacks until they are so ripped there is nothing but slivers of nylon left.

But Oma found another way to reuse ripped pantyhose.

"When she had collected enough pairs, she crocheted beautiful rugs with them," McDonald said. "Hardwood floors all over her house were covered with pantyhose rugs."

Of course, they tended to very slippery, she added.

Fiumara would have definitely won a place in this contest, but she died in 2004 at age 94.

"I still wanted to nominate her in memoriam for this contest," McDonald said. "She was a spitfire and penny pincher to the end, but she was also an incredibly generous and giving woman to her family and to her community."

McDonald's late grandmother is an example of what this contest is about -- highlighting folks who hate waste and love saving.

And now for the winners of the 2006 Penny Pincher of the Year Contest:

· Honorable mention and $25 go to Keith Schall of Kokomo, Ind., who was nominated by his daughter-in-law, Michelle Schall of Fishers, Ind. Schall wrote that her father-in-law travels often to his company's corporate headquarters and stays at the same little inn. For each night's stay, he gets two tickets he can redeem for free drinks.

"My father-in-law cashes his tickets in for two bottles of beer, which he saves, packs in a cooler and drags back home with him," Schall said. "The porch refrigerator is always stocked with dozens of bottles of cold beer that he got for free. There are plenty more stories of my father-in-law's frugalness, some that are silly and some that are a little crazy, but he is the most generous man I know and saves everything he has so he can give more to his family."

· Third place and $50 go to Tabitha Plecker of Charlottesville. She found a clean way to save. She wrote: "Everyone with small children knows how expensive those swimming diapers are, especially when your little ones are in the pool every day. After I got tired of spending nonstop for these expensive disposables, I started to think about their purpose and construction. They were made for the water, right?"

Hey, that's right.

Well, Plecker wondered if they would survive the washing machine.

They do, she testifies. "My little ones can wear each diaper several times with washings before tossing it in the trash, as long as there are no major accidents, of course!"

But if you're going to try this, heed this caution from Plecker: "The dryer does not treat them as nicely, so drip-dry is the best for extended wear."

· Second place goes to James Ricci of Wallingford, Conn. With gas prices again surpassing $3 in most parts of the country, Ricci is on to something we all should try.

Ricci was nominated by his wife, Nancy, who says her husband instituted a no-car day. At least one day a week (and sometimes more) he refuses to drive his car. The only exception would be for a medical emergency.

Let's see, with a $75 prize the Riccis could buy, what, two days' worth of gas these days?

· Finally, first place goes to Tom Hagaman of Denver. He was nominated by his wife of two years, Emily, who says her husband deserves top honor for insisting they cut costs on vacation trips around Colorado by going to time-share presentations.

"His money-saving idea has turned into my own private hell," Hagaman said. "We've had plenty of discounted dinners. We've gotten enough hot springs passes, gas coupons, ski discounts and buy-one-get-one-free dinners to tide you over for a lifetime."

Hagaman said she's had enough.

"Now, I'm in love with my husband," she wrote, "I wouldn't have married him if this penny-pinching idea was so awful, but I'm on the edge. I want a real, luxury, non-camping (which we do often, like most Coloradoans), no shared hotel room with my 8-year-old stepson, exotic, tropical or foreign, non-couponed dinner, room-service offered, vacation. Please send help as soon as you can. I'll be here, hoping the next time-share offer gets lost in the mail."

Many penny pinchers extol the value of signing up for time-share promotions just for free accommodations or prizes or both. But some good things can be taken too far.

I'm hoping Hagaman will use his $100 first-place prize to take his wife to any place where she won't have to sit through a time-share presentation. Or maybe I should make the check out to her for time served?

Thanks to all who entered this year's contest. I was in awe.

· On the air: Michelle Singletary appears on Washington Post Radio (107.7 FM, 1500 AM) at 6:20 a.m. Thursdays. She also discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online athttp://www.npr.org.

· By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

· By e-mail:singletarym@washpost.com.

Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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