When I thought about doing some blog posts on The Tightwad Gazette, I was hoping to start a little closer to the actual 20-year anniversary of the newsletter's starting date. I had a vague impression of "1991" in my head--turned out that, oops, this is indeed OUR 20-year anniversary, but Amy Dacyczyn started the newsletter in May 1990.
When I first knew Mr. Fixit, I was sort of a tightwad wanna-be; or perhaps a frequently-misbehaving tightwad. By the time we got married, necessity made us both more than ready to tighten things up more than they had been; late-night courting pizzas had been fun, but a new house (even a small one) and a Squirreling soon on the way meant a different reality. Plus the whole economy was in a bad spot during those years. As I've said before, wedding rings were cheap; broccoli was expensive.
So all that is to say that, from our earliest Treehouse days, we tried to be careful with money; we had other books about frugality and quite a few broke-and-or-frugal friends to learn from; but I don't remember exactly when or how I first heard about The Tightwad Gazette. The first book was published in 1992, but I bought it used sometime later, maybe in 1993 or '94. The second book came out in 1995, and I got it with "four free books for joining" from a book club (I still had some things to learn). At that point we started subscribing to the newsletter, and almost right away heard that it would be winding up in 1996.
But we did get several months' worth of newsletters, and then bought the third book when it came out at the end of the year. Brand new, $17.95. I knew it would be worth it.
So knowing all that, I guess our most intense apprenticeship with Amy would have been through the early to mid '90's. I took the handles off a small pot, trying to make it fit inside our pressure cooker to make rice and beans (I gave up on that--pot and cooker were just the wrong shape). I tried a whole lot of things, especially food-related, from the books: gelatin, popsicles, coffee mixes, chili, breadcrumb cookies, practicing "how to avoid feeling deprived," home haircutting (Mr. Fixit was the first to try that here); buying grains and beans from a co-op; juice-lid toys; the "snowball principle"; the "combining frugal strategies" principle; frugal-baby ideas; newspaper Easter bonnets; and egg-carton crowns. (I passed on the dryer-lint Halloween mask.) We didn't try everything (have never been dumpster diving either), but we learned one main principle: nothing is too weird to try if it means you stay afloat. And another one: that a lot of "radical tightwad" ideas are just the "normal" of a couple of generations ago--less stuff, more time and so on.
If fixing, scrounging and occasionally doing without things meant that we could pay off our house, have me stay home with the kids (and eventually homeschool them), and stay out of credit-card debt--then, as Amy says in the intro to her first book, we weren't too frugal.
It wasn't until years later that I realized, via Google, how many people out there had issues with certain frugal practices and Dacyczyn parenting points. Given the number of critics who are STILL trashing Amy on message boards for powdered milk and making her kids clean their plates, it's no wonder that their family went into a more private lifestyle after the newsletter ended. I still admire her, though, and am still learning through her books (I keep them with our cookbooks); Amy stuck her neck out, did the math instead of just saying "this should save you money," and took the risk of being called extremist.
Maybe it's fifteen years since we connected, maybe it's more; it doesn't matter exactly. The Dacyczyns' risk gave us more confidence to live the way we wanted, and to keep working on that over the years. And for that, we thank them, and the Gazette.
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