The Tightwad Gazette (affiliate link) by Amy Dacyczyn is my favorite frugal book. It’s full of simple ideas for how to cut costs without affecting your quality of life, and Dacyczyn’s values and priorities are very similar to mine, so I find it motivating and inspiring.
The first time I read the book, the ideas were brand new to me. It was a few months before I started this blog, and it was the beginning of my frugal journey. It was eye-opening to realize how simple it could be to cut expenses even more, even when you think you’ve cut them as much as humanly possible.
I just read it for the second time, and it wasn’t so revolutionary this time — for obvious reasons. I’ve been living (somewhat) frugally for three years now. I’ve been through these ideas over and over, and they’re no longer new.
Because I wasn’t so focused on the ideas this time, I noticed how dated some of the advice is. Most of it is pretty timeless, and it is absolutely still useful. However, you can’t deny the fact that the Internet has changed pretty much everything about how we live our lives, and because the newsletters and books were written before the Internet age, it serves as a reminder to me of how much harder it was to live frugally before the Internet.
Here are a few of the things that struck me:
Throughout the book, the cost of stamps and postage is a frequent concern. While this may be bad news for the U.S. Postal Service, I use maybe three or four stamps a year. It’s just not a major expense in my daily life. I keep in touch with old friends and family through social networks, email, and cell phones. I pay bills online.
I do remember the days when it was expensive to call someone who lived even a few cities away. Long distance calling fees were a huge part of the monthly phone bill. Most cell phone plans don’t differentiate between local and long distance calls, which has eliminated this expense for me. Since the majority of my closest friends and family are on the same carrier and I make most of my calls in the evening and on weekends, our phone calls don’t even affect my monthly minutes.
Before the Internet, there was a lot more leg work involved in hunting for the best prices. You’d have to physically drive to the store or call. For insurance rates, there were no easy price comparing engines — you’d have to call each company to obtain a quote. I have no idea how people price compared items like plane tickets or hotels. Now you can hunt down prices from the comfort of your home.
Warranties & Parts
One of the ideas in the book is to call the manufacturer of a broken item to obtain cheap or free replacement parts to fix the item rather than buying a new one. Several pages are devoted to phone numbers you can call or addresses you can write to if you want to get in touch with manufacturers. I can’t imagine a world where finding out how to contact a company is any more difficult than looking up their website and clicking on the “Contact Us” link.
Many sections of the book discuss how to shop and sell at yard sales. Internet sites like ebay and Craigslist have become virtual yard sales where it’s possible to sell things to people living across the country, which vastly improves the likelihood of buying or selling things for a good price. I don’t think the Internet has completely replaced the usefulness of local yard sales, but it’s also made finding and advertising them much easier.
Online games, social networks, and streaming sites have made it easier than ever to find cheap entertainment.
My New Year’s resolution was to take at least one photo every day. The truth is, my “one photo a day” is usually 20 or 30 shots of the same thing. Most of them are bad photos that I delete without saving. I can’t even imagine how expensive amateur photography was back in the days of film cameras and developing costs. I only keep a fraction of the photos I shoot, and I keep most of them digitally. I print a tiny fraction of those photos for display in frames. The Internet and digital cameras have made amateur photography incredibly cheap, and I can keep daily memories of our life without paying for expensive film and development costs, or figuring out what to do with hundreds of “bad” photos that aren’t worth keeping.
When something goes wrong in my home or with my car, I can easily do some research to try to determine the problem and whether it’s something I’m able to fix myself. Before the Internet, this type of research was much harder and more time consuming. I suppose you could check out home and car repair books from the library or call a knowledgeable friend, but the amount of information you could garner was limited. It was much easier to just call in an expert. We’re often able to solve minor problems ourselves with the help of Google and social networking sites, so we can avoid a huge mechanic, plumber, or other expert’s bill.
The Internet has made millions of recipes available at our fingertips, and we can hunt through millions of food and recipe sites to get ideas for cooking at home inexpensively. Before the Internet, you were limited by your own culinary knowledge, cookbook collection, and recommendations from friends. Now it’s much easier to cook delicious meals at home without eating the same things every week.
Exchange of information & ideas
The biggest thing that struck me is that The Tightwad Gazette newsletters were basically the very first frugal blog. Dacyczyn shared her ideas with readers, and readers shared their ideas with each other by writing letters that she published. It’s the same concept as a blog, only it’s much much harder and more complicated. The Internet has made it possible for frugal people to build an entire community around the exchange of ideas and information. We can support each other and learn from each other from opposite sides of the world without paying postage or waiting days between replies.
I pay $40 a month for my Internet connection. I think it’s worth much much more than that. I’m thankful to live during the Internet age.
How does the Internet save you money?