Jeff Yeager calls himself the “ultimate cheapskate.” He drives a 15-year-old pickup truck with 200,000 miles on it. He’s never had a cell phone. He cooks goats’ heads for dinner. And he makes a living at it.
Yeager, a former executive in the nonprofit sector, is the author of four books about living on the cheap – his latest is “How to Retire the Cheapskate Way.” He’s also an expert for AARP, and the host of a weekly web show.
“Live within your means always, live below your means whenever you can. It sounds simple, it's very rare for Americans to do that. We tend to live beyond our means,” he said. “If you were simply, for most Americans, to reduce or eliminate waste from your life, and stop buying stuff that ultimately is going to disappoint you, most people's financial ships would be righted. “
Yeager recommends going on a “fiscal fast” twice a year, a week during which you spend no money at all. Seven days of canned beans from the pantry and library books will teach you what you spend, what you save and how you waste your money, he claims.
He said he believes you should buy a modest “starter home,” pay off the mortgage as quickly as possible, and ideally, never move again.
Yeager, an environmentalist, has written an entire book on what not to throw away, and how to re-purpose almost everything. “I write, for some reason, a tremendous amount about pantyhose. Somebody said that one of my books wouldn't even exist if it hadn't been for pantyhose,” he laughed.
He recants boxed wine. He draws the line at buying used mattresses, but stocks his wardrobe from thrift stores, and couch surfs in the homes of strangers.
“Protection from fear seems to be the new angle to get you to buy something. The world is not nearly so scary as we believe it is. Every day, we pay what I call ‘the fear tax.’ We pay money to try to protect ourselves against things that are risks that either can't be mitigated, or aren't nearly as pervasive as we think they are, “ he said.
“People always say, ‘If everybody believed like you do, won't it ruin the U.S. economy?’ Give me a break. I'm one cheap guy literally writing out of my garage in rural Maryland. I doubt that I'm going to put the brakes on the U.S. economy. By most estimates, every American is bombarded by about 5,000 commercial messages a day, saying, ‘Buy some stuff, and you'll be happy.’ I'm one, lone voice saying, ‘Hey, maybe not. Maybe you don't need to buy as much to be happy,’" he said.
“I certainly can't fathom people who make a huge amount of money, whether they're CEOs or in some other capacity. They can't possibly be worth it,” he continued. “Making an amount of money that no human could actually ever use or need doesn't make sense.”
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“I ask people all the time, ‘How much is enough money and stuff for you?’ And normally what I get is a non-answer. ‘I want more than I have. I want as much as I can possibly get.’ A lot of guys say, ‘I want more than my ex-wife has.’"
But there are some things Yeager will spring for. “Even though I am America's cheapest man, I believe that I pay too little in taxes. I believe that taxes are actually some of the best money that I spend in a given year. I get a tremendous amount in return,” he said.
And he has his septic tank cleaned professionally. “One of my neighbors cleans out his himself, using a bucket,” he said, “and he wonders why we never invite him to dinner!”