Friday, February 13, 2009

Book Review: The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn

I remember hearing references to The Tightwad Gazette from my mom, who became aware of the newletter during the ‘90's, so when my friend Lacy told me that anyone serious about frugality had to read it, I immediately requested it at the library. Sure enough, I immensely enjoyed this book and think it might even be worth spending actual money and buying it for myself!

Amy Dacycyzn, a former graphic designer and stay-at-home mom, founded the Tightwad Gazette newsletter in 1990 and published it until 1996. It became immensely popular, and she later published these books of compilations. The version I read is the first book, The Tightwad Gazette, published in 1992. The later version, which is the one that appears to be readily available today, is The Complete Tightwad Gazette, which includes all the newsletters. However, even the early version I read is so chock-full of information and frugal philosophy as to be, as Lacy put it, "life-changing."

The book, as the author explains in the preface, is organized seasonally, since that was how the newsletter was published. However, she mentions that only about forty percent of the material is seasonal, and the other sixty percent is applicable all year. Although the format is not topical, the book is easy to read and use. The pages alternate between essays by the author on some aspect of the "tightwad" lifestyle and practical tips and how-to’s from herself and her readers.

One of the aspects of this book that stood out to me is the author’s focus on reusing things. She gives directions for making everything from Halloween masks out of milk cartons to a postal scale out of a ruler and pencil. There are also multiple anecdotes about repairing and building things with household or "foraged" materials. I found this perspective to be thought-provoking. I realized that on my frugal journey I have spent a lot of time figuring out how to get things for less, and also some time on making things from scratch. However, using what you already have is perhaps even a more important part of frugality. Preventing waste instead of buying things is best for the environment and for the soul – not to mention that spending no money is cheaper even than getting a bargain!

Granted, some aspects of The Tightwad Gazette would seem extreme to all but the most devoted "tightwad." She has an entire article on how to wash out Ziploc bags! However, sometimes an extreme perspective is the most inspiring and motivating. There is no mediocrity here. Furthermore, at the beginning the author gives a disclaimer that reminded me of what they say at the beginning of a La Leche League meeting – that you may hear some things that are unfamiliar to you or that you disagree with, so you should take what works for your family and leave the rest behind.

As this book was published fifteen years ago, there are certainly tips that seem dated, most noticeably those dealing with letter-writing and long-distance phone calls. However, the majority of the information is still practical and applicable to today’s frugal lifestyle, and the principles in the essays can be adapted to today’s challenges and circumstances.

Overall, this is an extremely complete and detailed manual for the frugal life. It has plenty to offer both the newbie and the experienced frugalista. I can certainly see why it has been considered the foremost guide to frugal living for over ten years.

PS - I had so much to say about The Tightwad Gazette that I could have made this review twice as long! Thus I plan to run several more posts in the upcoming weeks touching on different aspects of the book that interested and inspired me. Stay tuned!

PPS - Check out more Frugal Fridays here.


  1. Wait, there are people that don't wash out Ziploc bags?!?! Actually, I never did until I was married. But since then . . .

    Another great post, Liz! Thanks!

  2. It's been a while since I read those books. I think I'll have to take them out of the library again for a 'refresher course!'
    BTW, I tried washing out those bags but wasn't too successful at it. However, I do reuse them for similar items. For example, if I have a bag where I stored flour measured out for a recipe, I'll use that bag for flour again.


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