Now that's cheap
© St. Petersburg Times
"I do it more for old memories' sake than anything else," said the 72-year-old Van Roy of St. Petersburg, who lives on Social Security and modest savings. "It's an old habit."
But Van Roy, a retired printer and dairy farmer, certainly knows how to stretch a slice of salami. Consider his recipe:
"Buy a quarter pound of hard salami, some day-old bread and margarine. Make up a sandwich, with margarine on one slice of bread. Place four slices of salami on top. Cover with the top slice (of bread.) Wrap in waxed paper and place in the refrigerator. The next day for lunch, remove the meat and have a sandwich with smell only. Take this used meat and make another sandwich, which is then wrapped in the same waxed paper. The smell usually will last for a week, using the meat over and over. Then on Saturday splurge and actually eat the bread and meat."
Van Roy's tip made him the winner of the first Times Cheapskate contest, an invitation for readers to share their most frugal habits. More than 70 of the Tampa Bay area's thriftiest residents entered, sharing ideas collected over years of penny-pinching.
They're world-class cheapskates who proudly boast of saving soap slivers, squeezing the last quarter inch of paste from their toothpaste tubes, even digging through dumpsters in search of discarded treasures. Some write letters on the back of junk mail or grow their lawns with soapy water from the washing machine.
Their tips range from the seemingly obvious (buy holiday decorations on sale after the holiday) to what might be called eccentric. They share a hatred for waste, but their motives are varied.
Some struggle to get by on fixed incomes. Others nurture their money-saving habits as a minor rebellion against the waste of a throw-away society.
"I prefer to think that I am practicing good ecology," said Arlene Norenberg, a St. Petersburg homemaker. She lives in a comfortable waterfront home but slits open toothpaste tubes and lotion bottles to get the last drops, practicing the "waste not, want not" motto she learned in childhood.
"It worked surprisingly well with chicory blends," he said. Puterbaugh said he no longer has to resort to either technique.
Romance doesn't have to be a budget-buster, our frugal readers told us.
"When my wife and I celebrate a birthday, anniversary or holiday, we both go to the card section of the grocery store and pick out a card for each other," said Richard Devine, 55, of Largo. "We read the card each has chosen for the other, then put it back in the rack."
He said they began doing the card trick 20 years ago because cards kept getting more expensive. "If you buy cards, they just get shoved in a drawer or thrown out," he said.
Devine, who drives a beach trolley for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, said he also buys his wife, Diana, supermarket flowers the day after Valentine's Day -- when they're a lot cheaper.
"We've got plenty of money," he said. "There are just some things we don't care to spend it on."
Real cheapskates don't even splurge for life's major occasions. Lynette Blair, 34, of Clearwater, says that for her wedding three years ago, she wore a $20 nightgown she bought at a consignment shop. The reception was a potluck picnic and pig roast. The money she and her husband received as wedding gifts became a down payment on a house.
"I came from a very poor family of nine back in the Philippines," said Blair, a clerk at the Largo Post Office. "I was working as a housekeeper for $2 a month, 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Now I have seven rental properties. I accumulated all of these because of frugality."
Besides that, she thinks a potluck wedding is more fun.
"People like to show off or share their cooking," she said.
While the very informal panel of judges picked Van Roy's salami idea as the winner, Frieda Hutcherson, 75, of St. Petersburg was a strong runner-up. A child of the Depression who has made frugality a way of life, she said she has grown accustomed to friends and family making fun of her thrifty ways.
"I have worked since age 15 and have never been without," she said. "I own everything I have and never worry when a bill shows up. I am as happy with hand-me-downs as with something new."
Mrs. Hutcherson, who still works part-time as a beautician, says she buys all her clothing except underwear at thrift stores, uses dental floss until it wears out and washes and reuses plastic bags, plastic wrap and rags, which she substitutes for paper towels. Perhaps most impressively, she keeps her electric bill under $30 a month.
"I use fans a lot all year and I don't have to have the TV or radio on just for noise," she said.
Several people were not ashamed to tell us they go through other people's trash. Ron Wayne, 48, of New Port Richey likes convenience store trash cans where he says he finds still-valuable scratch-off lottery tickets discarded by players who don't understand the rules of the games.
"The best I ever found was a blackjack ticket worth $20," said Wayne, a maintenance supervisor. "But you do get funny looks from people."
Wayne, who also enters sweepstakes, likes the thrill of getting something for nothing. For one scratch-off game, he collected losing tickets that could be mailed in for a second-chance drawing.
"Last year I won a gift pack in the drawing -- a Harley blanket, a key chain and a T-shirt," he said.
Beth Dobos, 38, of Clearwater also finds a use for other people's discards. An accountant, she said she takes household items her neighbors have thrown out and donates them to charity so she can get a tax write-off on her own return.
William Nee, 58, of St. Petersburg searches the trash cans in public restrooms of parks for second-hand clothes that the homeless have discarded. He finds some can be salvaged with just a little washing and doesn't mind wearing them a bit -- "if they're in my size."
"With the cost of everything so high, it saves a lot," he said.
Not all cheapskates got into the spirit of our contest, or perhaps they were too much in the spirit: Two of them refused to reveal their money-saving tips unless we first promised to award a prize. Frugally, we declined.
-- Helen Huntley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8230.
Masters of frugality or cheapskates?
Here is a sampling of the entries to the Times Cheapskate contest, an invitation for readers to share their most frugal habits.
Tear a paper napkin in half and share it with your spouse.
Put travel soaps and soap slivers in a coffee cup along with an inch of water. Put the cup in a plastic bag, then microwave for two minutes. Dump the soap in the sink. When cool enough to handle, squeeze into desired shape. Get your friends to save soap for you.
SAVING RUBBER BANDS
Cut a 1/4 inch band from the top of nylon ankle socks when the socks are ready to hit the trash can.
SAVING ON RECYCLING
Use plastic egg cartons to start seedlings, insulate closets or cupboards, to hold pins, jewelry, rubber bands and other small items or to transform into children's toys.
Flatten the "empty" toothpaste tube, pushing from bottom to cap. Cut off about 1 1/2 inches below cap. Use toothpick or Popsicle stick to put paste on brush.
Use trash bags twice. First as laundry bag for carrying clothes to Laundromat, then as trash bag.
When cracking an egg, run your finger around the inside of the eggshell to get out every last bit. You can make do with a smaller egg.
DECOR AND DESIGN
Make your own pillowcases. A twin size flat sheet will make three king or queen size or four regular size cases.
Flush toilet four times a day. Put six tablespoons of bleach in toilet water after each flush. Saves about 35 gallons of water a day.
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