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Mediocre and unrealistic handbook for "saving" and living simply
on April 10, 2008
This isn't the first such book, and it won't be the last given the coming recession. The last recession in the 80s gave us stuff like "The Tightwad Gazette", which was clearly an influence on Jeff Yeager, as well as "The Millionaire Next Door".
I wanted this book to be better than it is, because I think there is a lot of potential wisdom in living more simply and avoiding materialism, and a lot of practical stuff that people could learn in terms of saving money and avoiding the credit card trap. Unfortunately, if Mr. Yeager has some good tips, he is keeping them to himself. The most "Ultimate Cheapskate" has to tell you is either really simple ("buy a less expensive/house/tv, etc.") or flatout wrong ("the least expensive stuff is at big box stores like Sam's Club" -- WRONG!).
One big problem is that Yeager and his wife of 22 years are unusual, in that they don't have children. Don't get me wrong, it's a personal choice and I respect it. But he never really owns up to it (I had to read sections over twice, until I figured it out), and he never admits that many of his "savings" schemes would not work, or would work differently, if he had young children, or kids in college. Yeager brags, rather shamelessly, about things like living on just one income (his, while his wife's earnings are saved or invested) -- but you can't do that if one spouse stays home with toddlers, or if you have to pay most of one spouse's salary for day care. He also brags about paying his house off early, but again he has not had to support small children or pay their expenses, but could save/invest half the income of a DINK (dual income, no kids) couple.
Finally, he tells us that he's managed to acquire a net worth of $900,000, at age 48 (his wife is 54). But half of that is the over-inflated value of his home in a premium suburb (suburban Washington DC) -- when the housing bubble deflates completely, will his home still be worth almost $500K? And again, the Yeagers have not had to send three kids to college, which most people their age are working on. Furthermore, his chapter on investing -- which is high school level economics, so beware -- doesn't mention that the OTHER $400K of his "net worth" could disappear in an instant if he's bought stock in companies like Enron or Bears Stearn, or if there is a stock market crash. All that "cheapskate" arrogance could vanish in a flash.
I have found that other such "cheapskate" or "tightwad" books don't realize that if EVERYONE lived a simple and cheap life, then all the bargains and free stuff that the Cheapskate lives for would not be there, as everyone else would be competing for the same "cheap stuff". Right now, it's only available because OTHER PEOPLE are buying regular goods and services.
Some of the advice is really crappy, too -- Yeager shops heavily at Dollar Stores. I have found that such stores often stock sub-standard merchandise, such as outdated food items and defective items. They also rely heavily on imports from China! How does this help the US, address unemployment or save the environment? And as far as "big box stores" or "warehouse clubs" -- consumer magazines have exposed them as often not having the cheapest prices anyhow. You can do better by watching sales at your local merchants, or pairing sale prices with high value coupons.
One of the most offensive sections in the book deals with Mr. Yeager's glee at his paid up home, with a valuable, income producing rental unit. First, Yeager tells us he bought the home in 1986, when he was 28 and only earning (he claims) about $10,000 a year. Yet he somehow could afford a $157,000 house! This was expensive back then, and I don't see how someone with so little income could have ever qualified for such a big mortgage -- without heavy parental help, which he fails to mention. He's been coasting on the rental income for 22 years, but most of us really can't count on finding a house with a rental unit attached -- such homes are rare, and when they exist, they are costly. Unless Yeager tells us how much a comparable home, in 1986, would have cost WITHOUT a rental unit, we cannot figure out if the extra cost was justified by the rental income anyways.
This is a little like saying: "I can live cheaply because I was lucky enough to inherit a nice trust fund". Most of us are not willing to forgoe having children, or sending them to college and we can't magically find homes with lucrative rental units over the garage!
I picked this book up hoping for a handful of clever tips for saving money, and instead got a lecture about dumbass stuff like "shop at the Dollar Store". You'd get better, more practical advice from any old lady who lived through the Great Depression.
It would have been far more fair, also, if Mr. Yeager had admitted that it's much easier to save money and live cheap -- if you DO NOT have children...and that many of his "tips" are not applicable to FAMILIES. Or that stubborn kids or teens might be very resistant to not having any cell phone, internet service, cable TV...or to eating a diet of stale outdated canned goods from the Dollar Store.
The book is also greatly lacking in visuals, such as photos or even pie charts, making it a dull read. In short: you won't find any useful tips here if you are serious about saving money.