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    Now that's cheap

    You can call it frugal. You can call it thrifty. You can call it a little weird. We asked readers to explain what they do that makes them a cheapskate.

    By HELEN HUNTLEY, Times Staff Writer

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 21, 2002

    [Times photo: Cherie Diez]
    Louis Van Roy assembles his meatless salami sandwich.
    Louis Van Roy doesn't think of himself as a cheapskate when he heads to the kitchen to make a "salami" sandwich like the ones his family ate during tough times in the 1940s.

    "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.

    [Times photo: Michael Rondou]
    Richard and Diane Devine don't buy greeting cards for each other on special occasions. But they've found a way to convey those thoughts to each other.
    For some, the cheapskate techniques are born of necessity. Travis Puterbaugh, 25, a graduate student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, got creative while trying to scrimp by on a small budget early in his college career. He recommended wearing the same underwear for two days by turning it inside out the second day. He said he also discovered that an old sock (clean, of course) makes a good coffee filter.

    "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 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.
    -- Helen Pasteris, St. Pete Beach

    Dry and reuse paper towels.
    Dorothy Karkheck, Palm Harbor

    Cut apart paper bags and turn inside out to wrap packages for mailing.
    Madeline Hobrecht, Clearwater

    Reuse gift wrap, ironing paper if necessary.
    Mary Moore, Tarpon Springs

    Take home the paper gown you wear when being examined at the doctor's office. Cut it up and use it in place of paper towels.
    Margrit Ottwiller, St. Pete Beach

    Rinse, dry and reuse coffee filters.
    Donna Erlandson, Dunedin

    Recycle the fronts of greeting cards by cutting them down and using them as postcards.
    Evi Barenholtz, Clearwater

    Sort through junk mail for standard-size paper printed on only one side. Use it in the printer or fax machine. Reuse large manilla envelopes for mailing or storage.
    Ellen Rhoades, Oldsmar

    Rinse and dry cereal box liners and save for use as waxed paper.
    Blair Libby, Gulfport

    Pick up broken wooden tees on the golf course and sharpen the broken end with a pencil sharpener. The shorter tees work fine for the Par 3 courses.
    Lloyd Mengel, Largo


    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.
    Barrett Smith, Largo

    Put shaving cream on only one leg. As you take a swipe with a razor, put the collected cream on the other leg.
    Arlene Norenberg, St. Petersburg


    Cut a 1/4 inch band from the top of nylon ankle socks when the socks are ready to hit the trash can.
    F.D. Hammond, Hudson

    Cut the thick rubber bands on broccoli bunches in half. You can get two 1/4 inch rubber bands from a 1/2 inch band.
    Dolores Ruskin, Largo


    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.
    Angie Aunelia, Gulfport

    Save lint from the dryer to stuff toys for grandchildren.
    P. Daniels, Gulfport

    Stick a deodorant soap wrapper under your car seat as an air freshener.
    Laurence Veras, Clearwater


    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.
    Alice Stubbendick, St. Petersburg

    Slit the "empty" toothpaste tube up the long side. You'll end up with a few more days of toothpaste. This can be used for all tube products.
    Patricia Pennachio, Clearwater

    Use baking soda instead of toothpaste.
    Patrick Grzegorczyk, Clearwater


    Use trash bags twice. First as laundry bag for carrying clothes to Laundromat, then as trash bag.
    Melvin Paris, St. Petersburg

    Use newspaper bags for sandwich bags and food storage.
    Paul McMahon, Lecanto

    Reuse plastic storage bags by cleaning them with your regular wash and hanging them out to dry.
    Lucy Peak, Oldsmar


    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.
    Sue Guest, St. Petersburg

    Use a tea bag four to five times before throwing it away. A box of 48 tea bags will last at least six months.
    Bernice Lipman, Largo

    Collect chicken and turkey bones from friends and neighbors and buffet luncheons. Freeze until you have enough for the stock pot, then make a broth that can either be a lovely soup or the base for more elaborate recipes.
    Margaret Duckworth, Largo

    Ask for condiments, napkins and plastic utensils when you eat out. Take them home.
    Jim Johnson, Clearwater

    Buy plain cheese pizzas during pizza chain specials and add your own canned toppings.
    Beth Dobos, Clearwater


    Make your own pillowcases. A twin size flat sheet will make three king or queen size or four regular size cases.
    Jean Sklenar, Seminole

    Decorate a blouse with paint and glitter to hide a stain. Your friends will think you have the prettiest tops with the most original designs.
    Pat Hooper, St. Petersburg


    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.
    Emil Czerwinskik, Port Richey

    Wash car with one bucket of water by wiping it down with a wet towel every three to four days. Waxing it every six months makes it easier to keep clean.
    Robert Sauers, St. Petersburg

    Use a hose to drain water from washing machine at the end of the wash cycle for lawn irrigation. The soapy water irritates lawn insects and you can save 55 gallons of water per load. Preparation takes three minutes, collecting the water takes the length of the wash cycle.
    Nick Nickles, Beverly Hills

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