When I began to pare the family budget out of necessity, I expected quite a few bumps and even potholes on the way to the right numbers. I had no idea that becoming a tightwad would actually bring me a better life along the way.
A few years ago, I suffered from Potomac Fever. That’s the disorder that causes so many working around the nation’s capital to believe that their jobs are more important than everybody else’s.
I got up each morning at 4 and worked on my graduate degree while taking a commuter bus to and from work. It was considered vogue to telecommute a day or two each week, so I did that. This meant I needed to lug a laptop that weighed a ton back and forth on the bus.
On the days when I ran projects from home, I never knew when to expect the phone to ring. It seems that 5 p.m. Eastern time is not 5 p.m. California time.
Change of Direction
When I agreed to surgery for Crohn’s disease, I assumed I’d be back to work within a month. It didn’t happen. Two months afterward, I still struggled with an infected incision.
I never regained the stamina for commuting and some months later, filed papers for a very early and very reduced retirement. The six-figure compensation I received my last year of work turned into a net of just a few hundred dollars in my monthly pension, after income taxes and health insurance premiums.
How, I wondered, would life enfold after such a drastic change?
My husband and I were fortunate. We had no credit card debt. While I had also paid in full the mortgage on my small townhouse, over the years, real estate taxes had crept closer and closer to the value of the initial monthly payment. Adding high medical expenses resulted in a number almost exactly the same as my very first mortgage payment.
I had a ton of vacation pay coming and used it to pay off the loans on both vehicles. Before retiring, I applied for a home equity line of credit in case we had a huge emergency someday. My husband continued working full time.
Since both of us were already frugal people, it was initially hard to figure out what and how far to cut to reach the monthly number we needed. Being a frugal person, however, is not the same as being a tightwad.
While toying with being frugal, I came across the exploits of super-tightwad Jeff Yeager and figured out the lengths to which I was willing to go to save money. I especially liked his examples of repurposing but found little in our home that qualified. Overall, we just wanted to be comfortable and weren’t really all that concerned with getting the lowest price on everything our fingers touched.
I took a lot of inspiration from the Economides family, who bill themselves as America’s Cheapest Family, when it came to keeping the grocery bills reasonable. We still ate well.
The Cat Caper
It took more than a year for the numbers in the financial ledger to consistently reach the ones we wanted. Thankfully, we had adequate savings in the meantime.
Two years after my retirement, we did something we had said we’d never do. After the death of the last rescued dog the prior year, we agreed that we could no longer afford pets that might turn out to be more special-needs animals.
That changed when a thin, sad-looking gray cat looked at us through the glass patio door. I grabbed my purse and headed to the 7-Eleven up the street to buy cat food.
“It’s just for one night,” I told my husband. He agreed, though neither of us had any idea how to care for cats.
That cat must have told all the rest about us. Within a month, we had 15 to 20 feral cats from a neighborhood colony dining at our place. As we socialized them, we became involved with a trap/neuter/release program. Over a four-year period, we neutered close to 30 cats.
We adopted a handful. Today, we also feed 10 ferals twice a day outside. That’s a lot of cat food.
It was definitely time to make the transition from really frugal to tightwads. I cranked it up a few notches and began visiting local pet stores for ripped bags of food. I found a vet willing to give us a rescue discount. At times, he’s donated his services. I cut every expense to the bone but was pleasantly surprised at the results.
Pace of Life
My husband and I agree that life as a tightwad has so many benefits we never anticipated. Our days are quiet now. The last time we talked about dining out, we discovered the restaurant had been closed for more than a year.
We’ve sorted, tossed, or sold at least a third of the “stuff” we had after 15 years of marriage. In addition to the cat rescue, we have time and the means to support a local monastery. I slowed down enough to take a seat on the board of the homeowner’s association. We’ve weathered several medical crises since my retirement. Our days are definitely predictable now, and they don’t include commuting in the dark.