Extreme Cheapskates: Meet Jeff and Denise Yeager

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Jeff YeagerReusable toilet paper?

The four subjects of the recent TLC special, Extreme Cheapskates, go to great lengths not to spend money—whether it be by using cloth toilet paper, eating unorthodox cuts of meat (i.e. goats’ heads), bartering with salespeople or foraging food from strangers’ plates at restaurants.

The show has garnered a great deal of attention, in part because the methods used by this frugal foursome to save a buck are far from the current American norm. We spoke to two of the show’s stars, Jeff Yeager, a former CEO, and the author of “The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches” and his wife Denise, an adjunct professor at a community college, about how—and why—they do what they do to save money.

At LearnVest, we believe in the importance of earning more in addition to simply scrimping, but our conversation with the Maryland couple makes it clear we could all learn a thing or two from these incredibly disciplined and money-savvy savers.

(And they’re not the only ones we tapped for advice: Angela Coffman, their cohort on Extreme Cheapskates, and a mother of six, explains her money-pinching strategies for helping the whole family save over on LV Moms.)

Meanwhile, these happily married “fiscal fasters” travel the world, get creative with cooking and have saved enough to put a child in the Philippines through college. What can you learn from them?

What prompted you to begin living this frugal lifestyle?

JY: Denise and I have always been frugal and we’ve been happily married for 28 years. While we have some fun with the fact that I’m America’s cheapest man, we do see eye-to-eye on money issues. People are more likely to divorce over money than just about anything else, and we’ve never had those differences.

DY: I’ve just never thought that material things were that important. I was brought up that way.

Was it a conscious choice to make your spending habits different than other people’s?

JY: There was an epiphany early in our marriage. I was working in the nonprofit sector; Denise was teaching, and we began having discussions about what we really wanted out of life. We had bought our first house—the same house we live in today—and we came to the conclusion that we were comfortable at that level, so we established a permanent standard of living.

To this day, when we run into our peers, they’ll announce that they bought a new, bigger, more expensive house and are on the front end of a 30-year mortgage. We were able to pay off our house in 16 years, and by the time we were in our forties, we could afford to become selfishly employed and do whatever the heck we wanted.

What has your lifestyle afforded you?

JY: It’s not about trying to amass a big bank account, it’s trying to spend less ourselves so that we have more to share with others. I’ll use the money we save during our “fiscal fasts” to beef up our charitable giving.

DY: Jeff and I sponsor a child in the Philippines, and two years ago for my birthday, Jeff and I decided to put her through college. So, instead of giving ourselves gifts for Christmas and birthdays, we’ve been putting money away for her education.

Jeff, you coined the term ‘fiscal fast’ in your first book as a week with no spending. Can you tell me how you came up with that idea?

JY: When I was growing up in the rural Midwest, a totally unexpected blizzard struck our house. We didn’t have a chance to stock up on food, and we lost our electricity. It was just my parents, my brother and me and, at first, we were all freaking out. We couldn’t even open the door, and we didn’t have supplies on hand, but then we started to look at what we did have. We started to search the cupboards and since we couldn’t get out to the movies, we started playing Scrabble. Suffice it to say, that siege went on for a week and we never ran out of food. In fact, the longer the week went on, the better the meals seemed to get because we got more creative about the cooking.

That was the origin of the fiscal fast because I thought, this is probably a healthy exercise even if you’re not snowed in. The goals are threefold: 1) By not spending any money during the week, you’ll end up saving money. 2) The exercise of living money-free really reveals how much money you spend—and probably waste—in a typical week. 3) Most importantly, it reminds us that there are so many great things in life that don’t cost a dime.

How long have you been doing the fiscal fasts?

JY: It became an informal part of our lifestyle from early on in our marriage, a sort of battening down the hatches to say, let’s see if we can’t go through this week or even half a week without spending any money. Even though we’re frugal to begin with, it’s amazing how much food you have on hand and how much food goes to waste. And Denise and I love a good movie, but sometimes we’ll say, rather than go to the movie, let’s see what they have at the library. It’s less about saving $200 in a week. The fast gives you a different perspective on money.

What are some of the rules?

It’s fine to fill up your gas tank before the week starts or get a gallon of milk for the kids, but there’s no stocking up. You can’t go out the week ahead of time and buy enough food for the whole week. You have to use what you have on hand, so normally you have to get more creative as the week goes on.

I encourage people to get creative with commuting—maybe that’s the week to try to carpool to work.

What are the most challenging parts of the fiscal fasts for you?

DY: If I had to do the cooking, that would be my challenge. But Jeff is the most incredibly creative chef. I can look in the refrigerator and think, there’s nothing to eat, and he’ll come up with a five-course meal.

JY: But sometimes it’s hard even for me. I think once I made a canned tuna and pickled beet casserole. It tasted better than it looked, but it sure didn’t look very good.

On the show, you bought two goats’ heads for $7.50.

DY: That is the one thing I won’t eat.

JY: Well, it’s not just less expensive, it’s about waste. Where we travel, particularly in the Mediterranean, goats’ head is one of the biggest delicacies, and one of the most expensive things on the menu. Then I get back home, and they’ll almost give them to you at the butcher shop because no American will touch them. You can argue whether the ethical thing is to be a vegetarian or a meat eater, but how can you say that eating every bit of the animal is anything but the moral thing to do?

No Need to Buy Goats’ Heads

Share your own crafty (and perhaps less gory) savings tips in LV Discussions. SHARE

How do you travel on the cheap?

JY: Our theory is to live as much like the locals as we can.

DY: Let’s say we’re going to Greece, which we’ve done six times: We will make a reservation for the first couple of nights and then we just follow our nose. We go for a month or two at a time.

JY: We’re looking for that genuine, local experience. We stay at mom and pop places, not chains or resorts. We do things like credit card reward programs to get free airline tickets, we cook almost all of our meals and when everything has to fit in a backpack, you just don’t buy much.

Can you give us a few more of your savings strategies?

Here are some:

1. Finish in your starter home.

Buy a modest home when you’re first starting out, pay it off as quickly as you can and ignore everyone who says not to prepay your mortgage. Make that house your home and get on with enjoying your life. If you do that, you’re going to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on interest over the course of your lifetime.

2. Re-examine your transportation.

Try not to take your car for any errand within a mile of where you live. Denise and I have one car, a small pickup truck with more than 170,000 miles. Maybe once every month or two, I will rent a car for the day, but even then we’re saving about $8,000 per year by sharing a car.

3. Shop smarter.

I try very hard to pay less than a dollar per pound for the food that I buy. Not only does it save you a lot of money, you eat a lot healthier. I shop the best of the best store specials, and I shop on sale and in season.

4. DIY.

Cheapskates are generally very self-reliant, and we save a lot of money by doing things ourselves. But here’s the kicker: We like to have the satisfaction of doing things ourselves and learning a new skill. It’s interesting to know how to do electrical work, gardening, plumbing and roofing.

5. Simple-size your life.

Figure out what’s important in life … and skip the rest.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5229681 Jessica Murfin

    This is a bit extreme for my family, but I love some of the ideas! I particularly would like to try the fiscal fast.

  • Libsta4

    Here, here.  I would say these two are defining how to live richly.  They don’t waste money or resources and it has allowed them to work how they want and go to Greece six times!  

  • Jdavi

    I can’t believe using cloth toilet wipes saves on anything. There’s the hot water, detergent, bleach and electricity to wash them. The electricity to dry them. On top of that are you really willing to risk your family’s health? to save a few pennies?  I’d rather eat goat’s heads.

    • Guest

      Wouldn’t it simply be better to just go to places that have public restrooms? 

  • Laurelb419

    A “Fiscal Fast”?  PLEASE!  Some of us regularly live on fiscal fasts because once the mortgage, utilities, a few groceries, and gas for commuting to work is paid, there is nothing left over, even if we wanted to spend it!  

  • wendie

    my husband and i live very much like this!  we just bought our forever home, it was in just good enough condition, that we could update and renovate everything ourselves. we share a simple honda civic with 60k miles on it and we’ve been doing that for 4 yrs now. we grocery shop with lots of coupons. but we don’t skimp on our love for sushi, but we order it via takeout rather than dine in. its more romantic and we dont have to try to talk over others in the restaurant.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/CAFJY57HO4RFK7345VFQE2G7KA Colleen

    Get real!!!  Seriously?  Re-usable toilet paper? Cmon!! What do they do if they have guests? (God forbid!!)  I would never expect my family to reuse toilet paper!!  There is just going too far with things, and this is WAY too far!! We are all living in the midst of a financial crisis, and, I agree that we could all use a few “budget tips”, but how many people are going to take up reusing their toilet paper?  That is disgusting and unsanitary!  Give up the trips, go somewhere less expensive and splurge on some toilet paper! haha!!  Matter of fact, most of these “savings” aren’t, in my opinion, saving at all, or should I say saving at the risk of losing valuable family time??  Because if I “walked” on my one mile errands, I would have to make several trips to the grocery store for example, and would have no time to prepare my family healthy, good food!  (not goat heads either!)  Please, maybe these ideas work for them, but I’d say that for about most of america, these ideas are just not worth the time or effort!! 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=59103114 Amy Bischoff Loch

      It’s not re-using cloth toilet paper you understand right? It’s using clean cloths, moistened with water and then washing them with hot water and bleach in the washing machine and reusing them. Its not something we do all the time at my house but with two small children who sometimes need help wiping sometimes I find it most efficient to use a wet rag and wash it with my towels. How is that disgusting?! 

    • Robi

      If you walked half a mile to the store (something New Yorkers do every day), you might be able to can your gym membership, or lose some weight which would save money on expensive prescriptions (you know for hypertension and other things that plague many Americans).  Brisk walk and heavy lifting sounds like a recipe for health to me!  And I don’t know how old your kids are, but maybe you could gain some “family time” by going shopping together, and then you’d have help carrying things home.

      Then, after you take that nice family walk, you can all prepare dinner together so that when your kids leave the nest, they know how to prepare healthy food and won’t end up living on beer and pizza like most of the kids I went to college with.

      I can’t believe that out of the whole article, all you got out of it was that some people use a different kind of TP.

    • guest

      it is funny how people will wash and reuse there underwear (which has microscopic poo and if you are a woman you know what else) but think cloth toilet paper is gross. You can try it or not but don’t knock others peoples ideas just because it is not for you.

      • C Toontown S

        I agree and u know what else…in the care.homes they use face cloths to wash the residents bottoms. no worries in this setting, shouldn’t be a worry at home. it’s like cloth diapers. they get cleaned after people!