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Book Review: 'The Cheapskate Next Door'

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Book Review: 'The Cheapskate Next Door'

Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News

Book Review
Title: "The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means"
Author: Jeff Yeager
Publisher: Broadway Books, 2010; 256 pages; $12.99

At the start of the recession, Jeff Yeager became well-known in personal finance circles as the self-proclaimed Ultimate Cheapskate, publishing his first book, "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches," and then walking his talk by bicycling the 3,000 miles of his book tour, crashing on couches and in tents the whole route.

Apparently, during all those overnight stays in the rooms of children of cheapskate parents who hosted him, Yeager picked up a few secrets.

He realized, he explains in his latest book, "The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means," that his cheapskate hosts were very diverse in background and how they lived out their frugal philosophies, but they shared in common (a) "a set of vitally important practices and philosophies when it came to money and the role money played in their lives," and (b) they "were sleeping soundly at night at a time when so many Americans were losing sleep in an economy gone haywire."

So, Yeager collected up a set of his fellow American cheapskates' insomnia-preventing frugality secrets and put them together in his take on the now-classic tome, "The Millionaire Next Door" (which paradoxically, was also about cheapskates -- cheapskates whose frugality has brought them undercover wealth).

And voilà, "The Cheapskate Next Door" was born.

If you're interested in shifting to a lifestyle of enjoyably living below your means, read this book -- but know going in that the differentiating element of Yeager's brand is his persona as a raconteur of comedic, bizarre and gross tales from the extreme edge of Cheapskate-land.

I'm talking tales of eating testicles of some unnamed fauna, roasted whole over his pal Clive's cinderblock rotisserie. I'm talking stories of drinking some near-stranger's denture water while crashing on their (generously offered) couch overnight. I'm talking total strangers, uh, "eliminating" on top of Yeager's roadside tent-cum-motel room that wasn't tucked quite far enough under the bridge.

But don't let this deter you. If you're on the prissy side (like myself), you might read the first few pages of this book and think, "Egads! Whatever that dude is doing is the opposite of how I want to live." But these tales are included for their entertainment value.

The entire point of the book is to underscore that whoever you are -- whatever your personal style is -- there's a way for you to live well below your means. And Yeager proceeds to share how your fellow Americans are doing it -- most of them, without getting peed on.

Who are these people? He tells of interior designers who live cheaply, yet in high style. Yeager speaks about cheapskate parents of large families, and 30-somethings planning upcoming retirements -- all powered by their frugality. He mentions college students and pastors -- all cheapskates. So, what makes them all cheapskates?

They're used-car-buying, student-loan-eschewing, early-mortgage-paying, debt-avoiding folks who tend to use what they buy until the wheels fall off, get divorced at half the rate of non-cheapskates and are 100 times more likely to adopt a stray animal than to buy one.

Yeager starts out by exploring the 16 idiosyncratic mindsets of a cheapskate, from not giving a rip about the Joneses, to preferring to shop for value, not for bargains -- because bargains cost time, and time is more important than money -- in the land of the cheapskate. He moves on to the habits and meticulous money management practices that characterize the personal finances of these cheapskates: "Admittedly, the cheapskates next door know far more about how to stay out of debt than they do about how to get out of debt."

Next come chapters on how cheapskates raise financially savvy families, live green while minimizing the green they spend, avoid wasting food, and find freebies on everything from Internet access to foreign language instruction.

Yeager walks readers through the basics of dining out on the cheap, bartering and negotiating, homeownership -- cheapskate-style, and the common food shopping and cooking philosophies shared by the cheapskates he encountered. Whether clothes, cars, health insurance or recreation, Yeager shares the cheapskate way of life when it comes to all these essentials.

"The Cheapskate Next Door" is an enjoyable read with an extreme take on living frugally -- it offers hundreds of tips on saving every nickle and dime (including carrying around a yardstick to grab the fallen quarters beneath the vending machines you come across -- no joke).

If that's not your style, though, it contains many very sound basics on how to approach the larger purchases and recurring expenses of life in a way that eliminates the debt monkey America seems to be tiring of carrying on its back, along with the inspirational stories of members of "The Cheapskate Next Door" community who are loving living their lives in this way.

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