After a two-year hiatus, I've brought back my Penny Pincher of the Year contest. The number of frugal folks and the lengths they go to to save money amazed even me.
I received hundreds of entries from all over the country, from the tried and true (reusing plastic bags) to the disgusting (bathing in someone else's used bath water is just not right, and it's not sanitary) to knee-slap funny (sisters a year apart sharing the same high school ring).
But I just love penny-pinching people. And believe me, I'm right there with them. In fact, my friends and family believe that if I didn't run this contest, I would win it.
For example, I found a way to save on birthday cake, which often goes half eaten. My husband and son have the same first name, and their birthdays are just a month apart.
This year when it came time for my husband to cut his cake -- his birthday comes first -- I refused to let him serve the part where "Happy Birthday" and "Kevin" were written in green icing. I stored the leftover cake in the freezer.
A month later, I thawed the cake to use for my son's birthday party. I tried to use leftover icing to cover the sliced section, but it kept sliding off. Still, I put on the appropriate six candles (recycled, of course) for my son and served the remainder of the cake.
I was teased unmercifully. But I didn't pay the partygoers any mind.
And don't feel sorry for my son either: Little Kevin wasn't bothered by the missing section. He didn't even recognize it as the same cake his daddy had. He was just thrilled to have a cake with his name on it. And right after blowing out his candles he said: "Oh, Mommy, this is the best birthday ever."
You're probably still shaking your head. Go ahead. However, I've got plenty of penny-pinching company. Just take a look at the winners of the 2004 Color of Money Penny Pinching Contest:
Honorable mention goes to Susan Ganger of Dublin, Ohio, who finds savings in other people's trash. "Go to a university campus on move-out day," she wrote. "Students throw out perfectly good items because they don't want to move them. There is no need to buy a dorm refrigerator as the students throw them out like they are paper. Carpet, clothing and furniture are there to be had." I thought Ganger could use something new, so she's getting a Washington Post T-shirt.
Third place goes to MaryPat Wirkus of Middletown, Conn. She wrote: "After driving my husband's car one day, I suggested he purchase new windshield wipers. The following week we were in his car driving to the store and I remarked that the passenger side of the windshield still did not wipe well. He told me no one sits on that side of the seat often, so he only bought one wiper, for the driver's side. It saved him $7." MaryPat and her husband will receive T-shirts and $15, which I hope will be used to get another wiper. I've always thought it important to see out of the entire windshield.
Tina Leap of Lusby won second place for her ingenuity, even though her penny-pinching strategy didn't work. Leap wrote: "I have two daughters to raise. They play softball and so I tried to make a sports drink -- with Kool-Aid, sugar, salt and water. It was terrible! They spat it out into the sink. We all had a good laugh." What good sports her daughters were for seeing the humor in their mother's frugality. Leap wins $25 in cash. She and the girls also get T-shirts.
Finally -- and this one really takes the cake -- first place goes to Lauren Wells, whose husband, Matt, took her for a penny-pinching ride she will never forget.
Last November, the expectant first-time mother from Leesburg waited a little too long to start for the hospital.
"By the time we got into the car, contractions were coming one right after the other," Wells wrote. "As soon as I got in the car, I told Matt to take the . . . toll road. He informed me that it would be just as fast to take Route 7, which is filled with traffic lights. I was in so much pain that I told him if he was being cheap, I was going to kill him. " Good thing in this case everything ended well. The couple arrived at the hospital just in time for 7-pound, 7-ounce Madeline to be delivered.
Wells says with a chuckle now that she suspected all along that her husband didn't want to pay the $2 in tolls.
"But I had to laugh," she said. "I'm fine with it now. I'm so grateful for him because he saves us a lot of money."
For her humor and restraint (I'm not sure even I wouldn't have popped the new pop), Wells wins $50, some of which I hope she will spend on Starbucks coffee, which she said she gets to have only on special occasions. The whole family will also get Washington Post T-shirts.
Congratulations to all, and many thanks to everyone who entered the contest or nominated others.
Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or send e-mail to email@example.com.