Awhile back, my friend Phil Villarreal asked me if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing a copy of his book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel. I’ll be honest: I didn’t even know he’d written a book (some friend, huh?) so I looked it up on Amazon.com first.
When I saw the premise – Save Money! Have Fun! Beat the System! - I was a little reluctant to read the book. After all, my readers know I’m not exactly a fan of frugality. But because Phil is my friend, and because he is one of the men behind the curtain at The Consumerist, with the power to help or hurt my little blog with the press of a button, I decided it would be in my best interest to give it a try. (Kidding! Well, sort of.)
I read the Amazon reviews of Stingy Scoundrel while waiting for my copy to arrive, and I have to tell you – they are HILARIOUS. Not because the reviewers are so witty, but because some of them obviously didn’t get it. I cracked up at the people going, “Oh my gosh, the tips in this book are so immoral and wrong!” Apparently they had never read any of Phil’s tweets, Facebook statuses, or blog posts. Because if they had, they’d know that he makes sarcasm an art form.
Stingy Scoundrel gives us 100 creative ways to save money without giving up the things we love. Yes, it’s been done before… just not like this. These are NOT your grandma’s savings tips (and thank goodness, because I have no intention of reusing old Kleenex or plastic forks). You have to maintain a sense of humor – and a strong stomach – to make it through this book, but you’ll be glad you did.
Basically, Phil invites us to think of every situation we would describe as “cheap” or “extreme” and multiply it by the number of free refills you can get before your fast food cup disintegrates (usually 8 to 10, if you’re wondering). He goes places that many writers wouldn’t dare, from impersonating an illegal immigrant for free healthcare to conning a car salesman out of twenty bucks just to prove that you can. Every tip is accompanied by commentary that is either (1) the honest truth, because you can’t make that shit up, or (2) complete and utter crap. I didn’t even care, because I was too busy laughing as I compared the stories to the habits of people I know.
Some of my favorite tips, which I may or may not have used at some point in my life:
- Tupperware Thief – Mom doesn’t really need that casserole container back, does she?
- Art of the Well-timed Fight/Breakup – Why you should save your big fights for just before birthdays and holidays
- Bank of Best Buddy – Why it’s always better to borrow from a friend
- It Could Happen to Me – Buy lotto tickets for the Christmas gift exchange for a win-win
- Garage Catalog – The real Home Depot is your next-door neighbor’s garage and shed
I may be giving Phil too much credit here, but I found some poignant observations and truths in Stingy Scoundrel. First, like those funny product warning labels, these tips couldn’t exist unless someone actually tried them. I want to be shocked that people would go to such ridiculous lengths to save money, but I live in a rural town – I could probably see most of these in action on a trip to Walmart, if I paid attention.
In general, people are cheap. Old people have the excuse that they lived through the Great Depression; now my generation has the excuse that we lived through the Great Recession. But what about all the people in the middle who DIDN’T experience an economic disaster ending in -ession? They may not have a reason, but many of them are total cheapskates, too. And sometimes all you can do is shake your head and laugh – this book gives you permission.
In case it’s not obvious, these tips are not meant to be taken seriously (or at least I hope not). They serve as proof that none of us have the right to say, “I can’t find ways to save money,” when we really mean, “I can’t find things I’m willing to do to save money.” And if you’re so cheap (or uptight) that you don’t see the humor in Phil’s tips, maybe Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel can teach you a few new tricks.