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Now that's chintzy

The contestants in our second annual Times Cheapskate Contest tell us how they proudly pinch every penny.

By HELEN HUNTLEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 13, 2003


Marjorie Dahl freezes leftover tuna-flavored water for future soups.

Laurence Veras cuts his own hair.

But Cathy Dellechiaie is the most brazen in her search for savings. She endures mind-numbing time share pitches to keep herself and her husband well-fed during each year's two-month stay in Treasure Island.

"My husband says I put Jack Benny to shame," she said.

The three self-proclaimed cheapskates are among dozens of readers who wrote and e-mailed us their best money-saving ideas for the second annual Times Cheapskate Contest. Many of them wear their thriftiness like a badge of honor. Often it's not the pennies they save but the principle that motivates them.

The informal contest has no real rules and a few appropriately cheap prizes. The point is to give the accomplished cheapskates among us a chance to share a few tips with the rest of us.

For her creativity, persistence and shameless pursuit of free meals, we decided to give Dellechiaie the title of Times Cheapskate of the Year. Runnerup honors go to Dahl, a St. Petersburg resident who has turned mealtime scrimping into a science.

Dellechiaie said advance planning is the secret to getting as many free meals as she wants.

"All the retirement villages and time shares offer dinner and cocktails if you view their property," she said. "If you plan it right, you can see one in the morning for breakfast and another for dinner at night. There are enough that you can go six times a week if you want."

Dellechiaie said she collects local newspapers and advertising fliers, calls properties she sees advertised and makes reservations to visit. She uses her day planner to map out a meal plan for her two-month stay in Treasure Island. As far as she is concerned, there are no drawbacks.

"Once in a while we run into someone pushy at time shares, but we let him know we just came for the gifts," she said. This year's haul included a parasail ride, which Dellechiaie, 60, said she enjoyed.

"My husband isn't happy about me dragging him along, but I say, 'We've got to have dinner anyway, so why not?' " Now retired, the Dellechiaies owned a restaurant in Leominster, Mass., where they spend most of the year. Mike Dellechiaie said his wife's quest for free meals is "sometimes embarrassing."

Their son refused to go along when he came to visit this year, much to his mother's chagrin. She said she regrets missing out on a retirement center pig roast with open bar while he was in town.

"It would have been so nice," she sighed.

When she has no free meals lined up, Dellechiaie patronizes restaurants offering two-for-one meal coupons.

Runnerup Marjorie Dahl wouldn't dream of throwing away leftovers after a meal. What she can't eat right away, she freezes. When she drains canned fish or vegetables, she saves the liquids in glass jars, which she labels and freezes. And just what does she do with a freezer full of odd bits of tuna-flavored spring water and leftover chicken? Dahl says she makes soup, gravy and other delicacies. Old bread gets crumbled in the blender and browned in the oven to make instant dry bread crumbs for cooking.

Naturally Dahl lines her garbage pail with grocery bags and reuses plastic freezer bags. Judging by the letters we got, recycling plastic bags of all kinds is the minimum requirement for being considered even an entry-level cheapskate.

But Dahl is at the advanced level. She hangs her wash on a clothesline, cuts her own hair and has, in the past, even grown her own potatoes. She said her cheapskate ways were born of necessity when she moved to Florida from Wisconsin 18 years ago. She works part-time at a discount store and sells garage sale and thrift store finds at a booth in an antique mall.

She is not the only one who cuts her own hair. Laurence Veras of Clearwater reports that he has been doing it for 20 years.

"I'm not great at it, but it's good enough for me," he said. "I never liked sitting in barber chairs, and I figure I've saved approximately $2,400."

Veras, 64, said he did relent and pay for a professional cut before his daughter's wedding after she begged him and offered to pay.

Many of our readers shop at garage sales, but for some of them even garage sale prices are not low enough.

Nancy Eggbert of Dunedin prefers stuff other people have thrown out. If she doesn't need it herself, she saves it for her own yearly sale.

"The best treasure finds are plants that were thrown out, even plants that look dead," she said. "I take them home and plant them. Lots of times it's a surprise what you end up with."

In the summer she waters her plants by collecting the condensation dripping from an air-conditioning unit.

Recycling is very big with cheapskate readers, who turn their Sunday newspaper comics into gift wrap and scrap paper into stationery.

When Celia Melia of Homosassa is on the golf course, she keep an eye out for golfers using large-headed drivers that require extra-long tees.

"These will break in half about every third swing," she says. "I pick up the top half of the broken long tee, take them home and use my pencil sharpener. I will never have to buy tees again."

Evi Barenholtz of Clearwater cuts the fronts off greeting cards and recycles them as post cards and place mats.

Bernice Lipman of Largo cuts apart frayed dish towels and fingertip towels, turning them into dish cloths.

Lisa Matievich uses waxed paper liners from cereal boxes as freezer bags to protect packaged meat from freezer burn.

Joan Brandenburgh of Dunedin buys used paperback books at a library bookstore for 20 or 25 cents. After reading them, she takes them to another bookstore that gives her a $1.25 store credit.

Cheapskates are very good at substituting their own common sense for conventional wisdom.

Who needs commercial denture cleaners? Gladys Griessmer of St. Petersburg soaks her dentures overnight in white vinegar.

Pat Arend of Clearwater says she uses half the amount of laundry detergent recommended on the box and cuts fabric softener sheets in half.

Suzanne Salem of Tampa says coffee manufacturers go overboard in their instructions. She uses half to a third as much as they suggest.

Drapery rods are too expensive to suit Virginia Neal of Inglis, so she cut ordinary PVC pipe to length and mounted it on the wall with hardware hooks to hold up her valances. Total cost: $25 for five double windows.

"It all looks great, and I love the fact that it was so inexpensive," she said.

Glenn Paul of Indian Rocks Beach keeps wine on the dinner table for less. He said he buys jug wines on sale, then dilutes them so they are about 10 percent water.

"The watering process does not significantly alter the taste," he claimed.

But Paul said he is careful not to take his cost-cutting zeal too far.

"We make it a point to rarely drive out of our normal driving patterns to buy sale items," he said. "I figure 25 to 30 cents per mile of car expense when looking for sale items and factor that in before making any trips for bargains," he said.

Many of our readers subscribe to the "waste not, want not" philosophy, taking rubber spatulas to seemingly empty peanut butter jars and cutting open toothpaste tubes.

"I haven't thrown out a small piece of bath soap in many, many years," said Jim Myers of St. Petersburg said. "When one gets down to about 1/4-inch thick, I wet it and a new bar of bath soap and push them together. Then I leave the fused bar overnight and use it as a slightly enlarged bar of soap."

Rosalie Czernecki of Clearwater employs a different technique. She puts her soap slivers into a jar of water and uses the soapy liquid as a supplemental laundry detergent. Angeline Bycholski of Gulfport skips a step and throws her soap slivers directly into the washing machine.

Several of our readers pride themselves on the extra mileage they get out of soap-infused steel wool pads such as Brillo. Adele Egbert of New Port Richey says she cuts hers in half with scissors before using them. Carolyn Poulsen of Tarpon Springs increases the longevity of hers by rinsing them after use, putting them in a sealed plastic bag and sticking them in the freezer where, she tells us, they won't rust and will last through several uses.

Some readers sent very detailed instructions. Thomas Blackburn of Tampa shared his technique for painting his roof white, which he says reduces air conditioning bills and extends the useful life of the shingles.

Marjorie Stevens of Dunedin offered her recipe for making a "new" lipstick from several old ones. She digs out the crumbs from old tubes (mixing colors is fine) and pours the molten lipstick into a mold made from aluminum foil. Freeze, remove foil and voila!

Max Gittler of Palm Harbor reported that he and his wife go shopping in advance of special occasions so they can select and share greeting cards with each other right in the store without having to buy them. This was also one of our favorite tips readers sent in last year.

"This costs nothing, allows giving three or four cards instead of one and saves the effort to throw them away after a few days," he said.

And last, but not least, Fred Chene of Clearwater made us laugh:

"I'm so cheap I take off my eyeglasses when I'm not looking at anything," he said.

-- Helen Huntley, who recycles plastic bags and often brings a brown bag lunch to work, can be reached at huntley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8230.

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