The Complete Cheapskate: How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out, and Break Free from Money Worries Foreverby Mary Hunt
In need of a Money Makeover?
Let America's most popular cheapskate show you how to go from financial chaos to freedom and security--painlessly and in less time than you ever imagined.
Mary Hunt has helped thousands live a debt-free life with her popular newsletter, "The Cheapskate Monthly." In The Complete Cheapskate, Mary puts all the very best money/i>
In need of a Money Makeover?
Let America's most popular cheapskate show you how to go from financial chaos to freedom and security--painlessly and in less time than you ever imagined.
Mary Hunt has helped thousands live a debt-free life with her popular newsletter, "The Cheapskate Monthly." In The Complete Cheapskate, Mary puts all the very best money advice she has in one place. Becoming a classy, dignified cheapskate is not all that difficult, and Mary shows how with her user-friendly principles of saving, restraint, and living debt-free.
This book will teach you how to:
- Create--and stick to--a monthly spending plan
- Live well off 80% of your income
- Climb out--and stay out--of debt's hole
- Stretch every dollar to its absolute maximum
- Manage savings and investments
- Lower bills on clothes, food, and gifts without lowering living standards
- Live within a financial plan that includes a margin for fun and spontaneity
With hundreds of tips on cutting expenses, The Complete Cheapskate is the indispensable guide for people ready to regain control of their finances, relieve the stress money has created, and prepare for their future.
- St. Martin's Press
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.57(d)
Read an Excerpt
The Complete Cheapskate
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: MY STORY
How I Went from Spendthrift to Cheapskate
I used to be anything but a cheapskate. I broke into a cold sweat at even the thought of being considered cheap. And I was driven to make absolutely sure a clear line of demarcation was drawn between me in my world and those pitiful souls residing in the Land of Cheap. I charged my way through life feeling quite entitled because I had every credit card known to the English-speaking world.
It all started quite innocently with a promise. As a child, I was a daydreamer, a future-planner. I grew up embarrassed that I had to wear hand-me-down clothes and things purchased at the secondhand store. I, the Scarlett O'Hara of the fifties, vowed that I would never be poor and that my children would never wear clothes from the thrift shop. I declared that my children and I had "status," as if I could establish it by waving a magic wand. In fact, I had no idea how to achieve it.
Within days of my wedding, I cautiously suggested to my newhusband, Harold, that we look into getting a gasoline credit card. After all, now that we were married, we were entering a new social stratum, and every real family must be prepared for unforeseen emergencies. We needed to get with the program and stop depending on cash so much. We needed plastic! Harold went along with the idea, and before I knew it, we received two shiny new credit cards, one bearing my name. Wow! "Free" gas whenever I wanted it! No longer would I have to dig around for loose change in order to pump a few gallons into my car. I could fill up whenever the mood struck, and I knew that never again would I be concerned with mundane issues such as the price of gas. It felt good to carry clout. Being a married woman was quite prestigious.
Before long it seemed only logical that we should have an alternative brand of gas available (just in case we were away from our regular station), so we applied for a second set of credit cards. After all, if one was good, two would be better. We obtained the second set more quickly and with less effort than the first. I could feel our status soaring to new heights; I carried the proper credentials to prove it.
By the time our babies came along, the first credit card had been canceled by the gasoline company. We'd been late with some monthly payments and missed a few altogether. Now who would have thought a big company with all that money would demand that we pay it back, in full, every month? Not to worry, though. In addition to an assortment of gasoline cards, I'd added every department store card in southern California.
It was so easy. If a particular store didn't automatically send me preapproved cards in the mail, all I had to do was pick up an application in the store. It became a game, somewhat like collecting baseball cards. I was compelled to acquire credit cardsthey gave me a sense of freedom and status. You must understand that I didn't apply for the cards with a specific purchase in mind;rather, I wanted the security I believed they would bring us. I rationalized that we needed them in case of emergencies. Little did I know that the very things I thought would provide security were to become a catalyst for crisis.
Harold was soon promoted to middle management in a large, prestigious California bank. I couldn't have been prouder. One of the perks of his benefits package was an unsolicited bank cardwith a very handy line of credit. Now not only was I "entitled" to all the gas I could use, but the department store cards and bank card prepared me for any unforeseen emergency. And unlike the gasoline companies, the others didn't require full payment each month. Instead, they were quite pleased to allow a small monthly payment. What's more, the companies all but pronounced a blessing over me every time I used their cards.
Soon I found my life filled with many little "emergencies." Often they arose from my poring over department store catalogs that showed up in the mail. My overactive mind and impulsive tendencies would join forces to convince me of an urgent need. I would become privately fixated on a certain item and be unable to relax until I found a way to get it. I felt a certain high, albeit temporary, when I bought the latest in kids' clothing or GI Joe action figures for my boys. I felt justified in spending huge sums in fabric stores. I would buy everything needed for project after project, telling myself I could make all kinds of clothes and decorator items for far less than the store-bought equivalents. In reality I completed few of the projects, and the materials became piles in the garage, destined to be included in the next Goodwill donation.
One of the best parts of being a cardholder was this: the more I used those credit cards and continued making the minimum monthly payments, the better standing and status the card companies bestowed on me. Why else would they keep increasing mylimits? When the bank credit-card limit reached the four-figure mark, I just knew they thought I was fantastic. I was certainly keeping that promise I'd made to myself: I was not poor, and my kids did not wear clothes from the thrift store. We certainly looked good.
Shopping became even easier in the seclusion and comfort of my home. With a phone in one hand and a mail-order catalog in the other, I could create the windfall of Christmas for myself and my children anytime I had a whim. I realize now I was attempting to go back and fix my own childhood by giving my children all the clothes, toys, and attention I had missed. I was trying to fill a void by giving gifts that were bigger and better than the recipient could believe. I was making up for what I'd lacked, fulfilling my vow that my kids and I would never be poor and that I would always have the approval and the acceptance of my friendseven if I had to buy both. I lived out the only agenda I knew: External appearances are all-important. Anything going on inside myself that might conflict with my perfect facade must be ignored, denied, and put aside.
My instruments of entitlement were not limited to credit cards; I also had a checkbook. While I considered credit-card spending to be long-term deferment ("long-term" meaning I would pay hundreds of years later), writing checks was short-term deferment. Often I neglected to record the checks I wrote. It was safer that way because Harold couldn't track my spending. His tendency to be unobservant became my ally. I could all but redecorate the entire house, and he wouldn't notice.
I worked according to the philosophy that somehow, by the time the check was ready to clear, I would magically come up with funds I could sneak into the bank account. Of course, it rarely happened, but I still wrote checks, often with reckless abandon. One of two things happened over and over again: I either overdrewthe account or brought the balance down so low that when Harold went to pay bills, the account no longer held enough to get us through the month.
Writing rubber checks would have been bad enough in any circumstances, but to make matters worse, Harold was the bank manager! Let me assure you that such behavior from employees is not looked upon kindly by your average financial institution. Imagine his embarrassment and rage when one of his staff members sheepishly advised him of the situation and suggested that he make an immediate deposit. The phone calls I received when that happened are memories I'd rather forget. And you think your blood runs cold when the bank calls!
More than once, my actions placed Harold's job in jeopardy, but I still couldn't stop my outrageous behavior. I was not making enormous purchasescertainly not new cars or expensive jewelry. Yet I was five-and-ten-dollaring us to death.
Inwardly I felt frail, weak, and insignificant. The act of spending gave me momentary sensations of power and strength. I temporarily felt cared for and nurturedwonderful feelings that I made sure I experienced often.
As time went on, things got pretty sticky, especially around the first of each month. I had incurred such heavy consumer debt (all those credit accounts accruing interest at rates of 18 percent and up) that our monthly expenses exceeded our income. Fortunately for usor so I thoughtwe were benefiting greatly from the real-estate boom of the seventies and eighties. Each time we got too far behind, we refinanced the house, pulling out our precious equity and plunging ourselves deeper and deeper into trouble. And, of course, the higher mortgage payments eventually put us right back where we'd been. We bought into the debt-consolidation theory: take out one big loan to pay off all the small ones and end up with a more manageable payment each month.What a terrible mistake that was! Slowly but surely, the accounts paid off with the consolidation loan inched their way back up to the limit, and we were in worse shape than ever.
I was convinced that Harold's work in banking would never provide the level of income we needed to live our chosen lifestyle and that he should look at other career optionsones with big bucks available. So when an opportunity came along to try self-employment, he said good-bye to the bank, sixteen years of tenure, and regular paychecks. We took another financial plunge.
Together we made some crucial blunders. We were driven by the fantasy of getting rich quick, and we went blindly into a multilevel marketing-and-sales business that we knew nothing about. Worse, we did it with borrowed funds. It's no wonder that in only four months our first entrepreneurial endeavor ended in abrupt and devastating failure ... and the loss of all the money we'd borrowed.
Our debts were enormous, and our income was nonexistent. Now both Harold and I were unemployed, and the anxiety and turmoil became unbearable. Seeing no way out of the mess, I became terrified and desperate. I'd run out of options and clever schemes to deal with emergencies. I felt like a magician with amnesia, a plate spinner with paralysis, a juggler who'd just had her arms amputated. I'd brought together all the elements that frequently prompt a divorce, bankruptcy, the loss of the home, and the destruction of the family. I felt that everything in my life was on the verge of meltdown. Only when I hit absolute rock bottom was I willing to consider change, no matter how radical. Finally I'd come to the place where I was willing to do anything to alleviate the most horrible pain I'd ever known.
I vividly recall that Saturday afternoon in 1982the day I finally faced reality. I needed to get away to think things through,and I ended up at my in-laws' house. More than likely, I was looking for the kind of comfort and reassurance only parents know how to give, but that particular day no one was at home. Looking back, I see clearly that God needed to take me to his woodshed to teach me a hard lesson. What I needed was the truthhowever painfuland not soothing words from parents telling me that everything would be okay.
At no time before or since can I remember feeling so hopeless. Sure, my faith in God was real. But I'd never depended on God when it came to finances. I trusted in my credit cards and in my own schemes more than in God's promises. That day, as I sat in the silence and emptiness of my in-laws' house, it was as if the floodlights of heaven illuminated the dark caverns of my life. For the first time I saw in living color the magnitude of the mess I'd made. I'd been deceptive, deceitful, and manipulative. I'd lied and cheated in order to have things my way. And I was certain that I'd all but destroyed my husband's life.
As I began to deal honestly with my situation, I asked for God's forgiveness and His help in rebuilding my life. As I prayed and poured out my problems and worries to God, I was comforted by reading the Bible.
There in the kitchen I fell to my knees and begged God's forgiveness for the horrible mess I'd created. I made a new promise: I would stop my irrational spending and debting, and I would do whatever it took to pay back whatever we owed. I asked God to help me change. I realized that I had far more control over my spending than I had ever wanted to admit. I could change my bad habits. I no longer had to convince anyone, including myself, that I wasn't poor.
I understood something elsethough both Harold and I had made big mistakes, it was primarily me who had brought us to thepoint of financial (and emotional) ruin. I needed to start making major financial contributions to our marriage partnership. I had made far too many withdrawals.
Willing to do anything (fear is a great motivator), I accepted a full-time job that was offered to me about ten days later. Because I had earned my real-estate license, I was able to combine property management with sales, providing a steady income plus commissions. It was a good thing, too, because Harold decided he needed to stay home for a while. I became the breadwinner.
What a turn of events! We immediately eliminated all day-care costs. Two little boys got to spend huge amounts of time with their dad, and I was relieved of the pressure that many working moms experience, because Harold took over the household tasks. We switched roles, and it was awkward at first. But I adapted quickly. Being scared witless was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.
At the same time, we had to learn frugalitya new concept. It didn't come naturally by any means. However, we were shocked at how much we were able to cut back. The most amazing thing, though, is that no one, including the kids, really noticed our scaled-back standard of living. It just goes to show that others are not nearly as impressed with our artificial lifestyles as we think they should be.
Gradually, as we were able to reverse our spending habits, we began to get out of debt, and our drastically reduced living requirements became our way of life. Things went so well that in 1985 we were able to go into business for ourselves in a more practical and sensible way. With backgrounds in banking and real estate, we opened our own industrial real estate company.
If all of this sounds too easy, understand that I'm telling the condensed version of our story. Nothing happened overnight. In fact, it took us the next thirteen years to get completely out of debt.While we did pay back every single dime of interest, penalties, and principal, the scars will be with us forever. We will always wonder what might have been had I not been so financially foolish. But one step at a time, we continue to make progress. And I am still learning that my dignity and self-worth do not come from possessions and that my self-image cannot be dependent on the number of credit cards I carry.
Thankfully, we didn't have to file for bankruptcy, we didn't lose the house, and, best of all, our marriage has been strengthened by the tremendous challenges we've faced. We learned to save money, and our two sons have grown into fine young men who have learned financial responsibility right alongside us.
After struggling for ten years not only to make ends meet every month but also to make significant repayments toward the massive debts I had run up, in October 1991 I became impatient with the snail's pace of our progress. My impatience drove me to think of some way I could increase our income in order to get this repayment thing over and done withand quickly! We had better things to work for, and, quite frankly, I was tired of living with monthly reminders of the pathetic mistakes I'd made.
Trying my hand at writing a newsletter seemed like a good idea. I certainly had a timely topic, lots of material, and lessons from the school of hard knocks. Since I already had an office established, I was pretty much set up to start another business. The writing part was an unknown, but I felt confident enough to at least give it a shot. Having mastered the effective business letter, I figured a newsletter would have some of the same characteristics.
So on January 1, 1992, Cheapskate Monthly premiered. It received a surprisingly positive response from readers across the United States and Canada. Today, our fifty thousand subscribers, both through the mail and online (www.cheapskatemonthly.com),continue to learn that with a little ingenuity, perseverance, and determination, they can live within their means without sacrificing their dignity or quality of life.
God has taken the mistakes and blunders in my life and begun to weave a tapestry of unbelievable beauty. I cannot express how thankful I am.
Cheapskate? Who, me? You bet!
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by
Meet the Author
Mary Hunt is the creator and publisher of "The Cheapskate Monthly," a newsletter that has provided help and advice since 1992 to overspenders and those burdened with debt. Author of several books on living debt-free and a popular speaker, she has appeared on such shows as Good Morning America and The Oprah Winfrey Show, and she has been featured in USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, Newsday, and The Wall Street Journal. She lives with her husband in Orange County, California.
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