Category Archives: Amy Dacyczyn

Save the Planet While Saving Money

Some people dismissed (even dissed) Amy Dacyczyn, author of The Tightwad Gazette, a newsletter she wrote and published quarterly between 1991 and 1996, for some of her ‘extreme’ suggestions about thrift, e.g. reusing aluminum foil and extending the life of sneakers with duct tape. But she no doubt had the last laugh after her fan base swelled to 200,000 and she closed a deal for a book that became a best seller. Following her own advice, she also was able, on her husband’s modest salary, to raise six children in a handsome, mortgage-free farmhouse in rural Maine where she still lives.

tightwad gazette-600x399The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as an Alternative Lifestyle makes recession-era ideas like frugality and avoiding debt, newly relevant in these volatile economic times. It enjoys the distinction of being one of the most stolen books from the Maine library system. While Dacyczyn (sounds like ‘decision’) doesn’t specifically tackle environmental issues, her strategies for personal financial responsibility make this classic of the genre a must-read choice for every Transitioner’s reading list. Although people have many reasons for consuming and wasting less, the positive impact on the environment cannot be overstated.

I wondered if the self-proclaimed ‘frugal zealot’ was still around, preaching what she practiced, and was a little surprised to find that The Tightwad Gazette had apparently morphed into a Facebook page and a blog (though neither affiliated with the author). Both sport the tagline: Helping You to Spend Less to Get More, and are packed with coupons. Sorry, but I think that rather misses the point. The Tightwad Gazette fan club is much more in keeping with the original along the lines of: “The highest calling in Tightwaddery is to take things that would otherwise be thrown away and turn them into something useful.” You could apply this to stuff or skills we have let languish.

It turns out that Amy Dacyczyn is happily ‘retired’ from her advice-giving career and a spell running a thrift shop (see the recent interview in The Simple Dollar). Her greatest contribution was to demonstrate that saving money could be just as effective in achieving financial stability as raising household income via all the means familiar to most modern two-income families.

Another influential book packed with ideas that will resonate with Transitioners, emerged in the same period (1992-97): Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. A new, updated edition came out in 2008, and maintains a low five-figure sales rank on Amazon. As the title suggests, the book helps readers to examine their relationship with money. Through its 9-step program, you learn to distinguish between work that enables you to thrive vs. that which demands sacrifice – of life, family, civic life, even health.  Even if you think you have a good handle on your financial life, this can be bracing reading.

Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin

As a best-seller, the book brought to a new, larger audience (myself, included) an education in financial intelligence, integrity and independence created by Joe Dominguez, a successful financial analyst who retired at age 31, “having cracked the code not of Wall Street but of money itself,” to dedicate himself to changing people’s minds about money.  (Also check out the links below for FI material, offered at no cost.) Embedded were Vicki Robin’s insights about the “environmental imperative of breaking free from auto-pilot consumerism.” Her insights into “the global impact of over-consumption and the American life-style” are now indelibly part of conversations about economics and the environment, and fundamental to the ideas of Transition. Now in my 70’s, I’ll stand behind what I wrote in Too Young to Retire: 101 Ways to Start the Rest of Your Life (Penguin Plume 2004):

“…the groundbreaking book by Vicki Robin and the late Joe Dominguez … has some excellent exercises to help measure what something costs you in life energy. Find out if you are making a living or, as Dominguez and Robin mordantly suggest, ‘making a dying.’ Small, resolute steps like these not only make practical sense, but add up to financial independence and freedom later in life. That’s wealth an accountant might have difficulty accounting for.”

Vicki Robins has become one of the most respected activists for social change of her generation, influential in the development of a number of successful initiatives, including Transition Whidbey, Conversation Cafes, Awakening the Dreamer symposia, and Sustainable Seattle. You can catch up with her as I did at https://www.facebook.com/vicki.robin?fref=ts.  Transition book clubs take note: Robin’s most recent book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us: What Eating Closer to Home Can Teach Us About Food, Community and Our Place on Earth, was published in 2014.

More reading:

http://financialintegrity.org  — the complete YMYL course

http://transitionus.org/vicki-robin-september-24

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUFyD-FTf-E

http://www.context.org/iclib/ic26/dacyczyn/