By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, February 3, 2008
With so much bad economic news coming out almost daily, you may be feeling overwhelmed. You may feel there's nothing you can do to prevent your own household from crumbling financially.
But you can do something. You don't have to wait for the official word that we are in a recession to start shoring up your own financial house. And this is true whether you are in a time of plenty or of economic woe.
Now may be the time to embrace frugality. It might be a good time to say, "Enough is enough." That is one of my personal mantras. It's also one that Jeff Yeager has lived by for most of his life.
Yeager has conquered what he called "Enoughasaurus."
"Conditioning yourself to spend less and to be content doing so is the way to slay your Enoughasaurus," he writes. "It's the only financial advice that will work for almost anybody -- at least those of us fortunate enough to be above the point of abject poverty."
I thought a long time about which book to recommend for this month's Color of Money Book Club. I wondered what advice would be appropriate for the economic state we are in.
I decided what's right for now is a book that starts and ends with a simple message. And that is: You can enjoy life more by spending less. It's a message that Yeager has been preaching for quite some time. He's become the go-to-guy for NBC's "Today" show on cheapness.
So my selection for this month's book club entry is Yeager's "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches." His book is published, appropriately enough, in paperback by Broadway Books and costs $12.95.
I must reveal that Yeager is one of my penny-pinching followers. We met -- electronically anyway -- after he entered my Penny Pincher of the Year Contest in 2005. He didn't win, but we began communicating about all things cheap.
Yeager honed his cheapness while working 25 years as a chief executive and fundraiser for nonprofit groups. He also created the Web site http://www.ultimatecheapskate.com.
This is a fun book, full of nuggets about Yeager's frugality that make you want to cry out, "No, he didn't really do that!" Yeager provides useful tips on reducing your spending in major expense categories -- food, health, housing, transportation, technology and entertainment.
I was particularly amused by his cheapskate glossary. For example, under the entry for "debtor dementia," he writes, "A semidelusional state commonly triggered by assuming a home mortgage or other large debt. Because of the size and scope of the transaction, the dollars involved seem like Monopoly money and the idea that you'll ever live to see the loan paid off seems like a fairy tale."
One of the first things Yeager says you should do is commit to a "Fiscal Fast." When I help people with their budget issues, I recommend a similar self-denial fast.
Yeager's fiscal fast involves not spending money for a specified period of time, usually a week or even longer. To those who think they can't live a week without spending any money, Yeager says: "If you can't, it should tell you something even more important about the life you're leading and how you're wasting money."
Yeager spends a lot of time debunking money myths, like this one: You need to spend money to make money.
"That is patently false," he writes. "As I constantly reminded those who worked for me in the organizations I managed, the easiest and cheapest dollar we'll ever make is the one we don't spend."
Despite Yeager's frugal ways -- he hunts for lost change in the cushions of hotel couches -- he's not insanely cheap or a miser. He uses the term cheapskate but redefines its meaning, writing in his glossary that it's someone who "proudly consumes less and conserves more."
"Money is relative -- what's a lot of money for one person is very little to someone else, and the other way around -- so it's not a matter of a lot or a little, of more or less, but it's all about enough."
Yeager's got the right perspective on penny-pinching.
To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book. I also invite you to join me online to chat with the author. If you want to find your inner frugal self, join me for a live discussion with Yeager at noon Feb. 28 at http://www.washingtonpost.com.
In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches," send an e-mail to email@example.com. Please include your name and an address so we can send you a book if you win.
¿ On the air: Michelle Singletary 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:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.