Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Hearth & Soul

By Suzy Banks

OCTOBER 20, 1997:  Someone offered me a lot of money to write an article about saving money around the house. I would interview celebrities like Martha Stewart, Heloise, and Bob Vila about how they pinch pennies until they scream, while simultaneously remaining stunningly stylish. Visions of a Big Fat Check obviously clouded my reasoning, otherwise surely I would have stopped to wonder: What in the world do successful celebrities know about saving money?

I never got to find out. My article is for a new magazine underwritten by a major discount chain. Martha Stewart is a spokeswoman for the other major discount chain, so her lips were sealed. Both Bob Vila's publicist and his lawyer nixed my chance to interview him; he's got an exclusivity contract with Time Warner for any advice he dishes out and he's a pitchman for Sears and Craftsman Tools. Heloise (she was very nice) graciously declined an interview so as not to jeopardize her relationship with Hearst Publishing and Good Housekeeping, especially for an unknown magazine which won't hit the stands until the first of the year.

These "money-saving" experts were in the middle of taping TV shows, jetting off to New York for public appearances, and tarpon fishing. They are so far removed from the land of reused ziploc bags and homemade Christmas presents, asking them about saving money is like asking John Madden for nutrition advice. I know more about saving money than they do. So for this column, I dub myself the expert penny-pincher and offer the following tips:

1. Have a goal. What's the use of saving money if you're only going to use it to line your coffin? Do you want a house? A car? A kitchen remodel? An education? If it's a passionate goal, you won't miss the daily iced mocha latté. You won't mind replacing the washer in your leaking faucet yourself rather than calling a plumber. You won't mind dinner out at Taco Bell (although you might want to take along your own hot sauce. Did you know the first ingredient in theirs is water?).

2. More money represents more choices. You can quit your job, move to another state, have your radiator repaired, or escape to Cozumel before you explode from stress if you tuck away a little nest egg.

3. If you charge more than you can pay off each month, chop up all your credit cards. (As a Texan, however, I would advocate keeping one gas card for emergencies... if you have a car.)

4. Go to thrift stores when you have an urge to needlessly spend money. (It happens to everyone.) Some of my great buys, which I continually gloat over, include an entire set of Dansk Bistro dinnerware -- service for eight -- for $26.50, DKNY jeans for $3, a Scottish cashmere sweater for $2, an Albert Nippon wool suit for $5, and almost all the interior doors for my house for nothing. (I went dumpster diving on a remodeling job site.)

5. Work up a bad attitude about borrowing money. If you borrow $75,000 for fifteen years at 8.5%, you wind up paying $132,940.80. (Keep thinking about chopping up those credit cards. At a typical 17.50% interest rate on a balance of $10,000, you'll fork out more than $17,000 in five years.)

6. Use the library. Check out the Tightwad Gazette books by Amy Dacyczyn, which are filled with unbelievably frugal ideas, like making your own envelopes by turning business reply envelopes inside out or making cookies out of bread crumbs. She's fun to read, very sensible, and she's going to talk to me.

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