Woody Guthrie imprinted his “Mission Statement” on his guitar — “This Machine Kills Fascists,” it said. If Amy Dacyczyn were to follow Guthrie’s lead, she would need to carve onto the back of her book The Complete Tightwad Gazette the words “This Book Saves Marriages.”
It’s the only wedding present I give anymore. In the unfortunate event that any of the couples to whom I have given this gift becomes divorced in days to come and then the two spouses remarry, I’ll give them both second copies on the thinking that the fact that the first marriage failed is a sign that they didn’t read the first copy carefully enough.
Good writing is not about stringing together fancy words. Good writing is about changing lives for the better. I cannot offer higher praise of a book than to say that it saves marriages. Amy Dacyczyn is a Hero of the First Order in the Financial Freedom Community (and just think, she earned that title without even once mentioning safe withdrawal rates). No one has accomplished as much for our movement as Amy Dacyczyn.
If you are interested in attaining financial freedom early in life, you need to buy a copy of this book and read every page. To entice you to do so, I will offer you in this article a small sampling of its riches.
Sample Insight #1 from The Complete Tightwad Gazette — Effective saving is a radical act (Volume One, Page 3)
Dacyczyn tells the story of how she was listening to a voicing of the conventional woe-is-me money message on a daytime talk show and became angry enough to shout back at the television that “it is not true…it was still possible to raise a large family and buy a house without two full-time incomes.”
We “buy” ourselves options by saving effectively. Money is power. When you hold onto it rather than letting it pass through your hands, you liberate yourself. Our influence over many aspects of our lives is greatly limited. You don’t get to decide how tall you are, or how healthy you are, or whether you can sing well. You have a great deal of influence over how much of the money you earn you commit to savings.
Sample Insight #2 from The Complete Tightwad Gazette — Those seeking to save effectively need a support network (Volume One, Page 12)
Dacyczyn notes that she remained in Weight Watchers after she had attained her weight-loss goal to benefit from the support group. We are all influenced by what we see other humans doing. When everyone else is making poor eating choices, we feel tempted to do so too. It’s the same when everyone around us is making poor money choices.
A big reason for the low savings rate is our natural human desire to want to feel that we belong.
Sample Insight #3 from The Complete Tightwad Gazette — Even those of us who don’t think we follow budgeting rules follow budgeting rules (Volume One, Page 15)
People often say that the reason why they don’t keep budgets is that they cannot stand being governed by rules about what they can do with their money. The reality is that nearly all of us follow some sort of spending rule. Dacyczyn explains that, during her single years, she maintained a checking account balance of between $1,000 and $1,500. When the balance exceeded $1,500, she felt free to spend. When the balance dropped below $1,000, she felt pressure to watch her spending carefully until the balance headed back upwards.
We all follow spending rules. The difference is that some of us write them down. Some of us make conscious choices as to what we will spend money on. Those of us who do that attain a larger number of our most important life goals.
Sample Insight #4 from The Complete Tightwad Gazette — A Price Book is essential (Volume One, Page 31)
Dacyczyn urges that you keep a list of prices that are the best that you have found available for grocery items. Take the Price Book with you when you go shopping and you know whether a “sale” price is a good price.
Sample Insight #5 from The Complete Tightwad Gazette — The conventional money advice is not good enough (Volume Two, Page ix)
“Traditional financial and consumer writing offers safe, halfway advice….I knew that people could achieve the ‘impossible’ with a little discipline and a willingness to do things that mainstream thinkers deem too extreme.” So says Amy Dacyczyn.
I hate seeing the word “extreme” used in money discussions. What is “extreme” depends on your financial circumstances and your life goals. Few of us can help but be influenced by suggestions we hear that our money decisions are “extreme.” But it is not possible for media messages being transmitted to millions to take our personal circumstances into account.
I needed to take some “extreme” measures to achieve my life goals within the limited number of years given me to travel through this Valley of Tears. I’m glad I did.
Sample Insight #6 from The Complete Tightwad Gazette — Theory alone and practical implementation steps alone are both boring (Volume Two, Page 4)
Amy Dacyczyn says: “Tips alone are boring, as is process alone, but the combination tends to be far more interesting.”
People seeking money advice often want to be told what to do in three easy steps. Due to the demand for this sort of information, a lot of people have made an effort to supply money tips. There’s a place for that sort of thing. The trouble is, money tips don’t usually do much good.
The problem with most money tips is that they only apply in a limited number of cases. To save effectively, you need to develop a new way of making money decisions. You need to go deeper than tips. You need to look at why it is that you spend and how it could come to be that you would elect more frequently to save rather than to spend.
Pure theory is boring too, though. The good side of tips-oriented thinking is that it keeps things grounded. Dacyczyn is right that the most interesting stuff is the stuff that sets forth a strikingly fresh idea and then shows how it can be implemented in a particular circumstance through use of a tip.
Sample Insight #7 from The Complete Tightwad Gazette — You need to sweat the small stuff (Volume Two, Page 20)
Most people think for a good bit of time about buying a car or a house. Most people spend little time thinking about expenses that come up every day. It’s the little expenses that matter most. There are a lot more of them and they come up more frequently.
Sample Insight #8 from The Complete Tightwad Gazette — Having lots of money is not the point (Volume Three, Page vii)
After Amy Dacyczyn made it big, she quit. She could have milked her thrift-advice-giving business for a whole big bunch more money. But her unconventional money ideas steered her clear of the trap of letting her business come to own her.
“I prefer the luxury of freedom from a job to the luxury of material goods…. All along, I have pointed out that both earning and saving money should be means to an end, not ends in themselves. The end that I plan to pursue for the next several years is being a full-time mom to my six kids.”
Sample Insight #9 from The Complete Tightwad Gazette — Early retirement is an option for many (Volume Three, Page 253)
“Financial independence is possible for a surprisingly broad range of people,” says Amy Dacyczyn. She notes that many middle-class workers do not concern themselves with learning about how to be frugal because they earn enough that they don’t feel a “need” to be frugal.
This observation highlights the damage that has been done by general acceptance of the Sacrifice Saving approach to money management. Frugality is viewed by many as a necessary evil, something to be employed only when there are no good alternatives. It’s that kind of thinking that causes us to throw away so many exciting opportunities to live bigger and bolder and better.
Frugality is not something you turn to when you are blocked into a corner. It is something you embrace when you have a vision of a better life that you want to see brought to fruition before the sand runs out of the hourglass.