Mary Hunt deserves to be called one of this country's champion cheapskates.
By sweating every penny she spent, Hunt was able to pay down $100,000 in consumer debt without filing for bankruptcy. As a reformed shopaholic, Hunt founded "Cheapskate Monthly," a subscription newsletter.
I'll soon be picking the winners of my Penny Pincher of the Year Contest and thought what better book to mark the occasion than Hunt's "Everyday Cheapskate's Greatest Tips: 500 Simple Strategies For Smart Living" (Running Press, $12.95), as the Color of Money Book Club selection for July.
Can you really rack up massive savings by clipping coupons and using canola oil to prolong your disposable razor?
Absolutely. It took 13 years, but Hunt and her husband paid back that $100,000 in unsecured debt plus all the penalties and interest. Hunt admits that most of the debt was the result of her buying sprees. The couple started their own business, and with income from that enterprise and careful spending (and cutting), they were able to eliminate their debts.
"People call me a cheapskate, and contrary to what you might assume, I like it," Hunt writes in her introduction. "It reminds me that I'm not what I used to be: a credit-card junkie. I've come a long way from those days when I plunged my family so deeply into debt there was no seeming way we would ever get out."
"Everyday Cheapskate" is a collection of practical penny-pinching tips to save on such things as cars, laundry, baby care, food, pets and gifts. Here's just a sample of some of my favorite tips from the book:
* To maintain your bathing suits on the way home from the beach or pool (and thus save yourself from having to replace them), take a large zipper-type plastic bag containing a quarter-cup of baking soda. The baking soda absorbs moisture and helps prevent mildew.
* I'm always trying to figure out how to mark road maps without ruining them. Hunt recommends using a disappearing-ink marking pen. "In a day or so, your marks will fade and your map is all ready for the next trip."
* When your children outgrow those tiny receiving blankets, don't get rid of them, Hunt advises. Instead, sew them together into larger blankets for their beds. "This will not only save you money but will provide your children with comfort for many years to come." I really love this idea since I haven't had the heart to either give away or throw away my children's baby blankets.
* Tired of tearing up hosiery? Hunt has a tip to preserve your pantyhose. Mix two cups of salt with one gallon of warm water. Immerse clean, dry pairs of pantyhose. Soak the hose for three hours or overnight. Then rinse them in cool water and allow to drip dry. The salt toughens the fibers and makes them more resistant to snags and runs. And you can save the water for future hosiery soaking.
* Instead of the usual baby-shower gifts, invite guests to bring the expectant mother a prepared dish, casserole or dessert completely prepared and frozen. "It's fun and inexpensive and will give your friend precious time to spend with the new baby."
You may not be a lifelong penny pincher, but I'm sure you will find some useful tips in Hunt's book. Penny pinching isn't just about being cheap. It's about being creative with the money you have. As Hunt writes: "I learned that living below one's means is an art, a way of life, a discipline that can be learned."
You, too, can manage on an ordinary salary in an extraordinarily expensive world, Hunt writes.
If you are interested in discussing this month's book selection and learning to live more frugally, join me at noon July 28 online at www.washingtonpost.com. Hunt will be my guest and will be available to take questions about saving money in everyday ways.
To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book and come chat online with the author and me. In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive copies of the book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of "Everyday Cheapskate's Greatest Tips," 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 at www.npr.org.
* By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
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