An interview with the Ultimate Cheapskate, Jeff Yeager

aaronLast week, I was fortunate enough to have a brief Q&A with Jeff Yeager, the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less and more recently, The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means.

Yeager is a product of the Midwest and grew up with a mindset of “spending as a last resort”. He notes how his grandparents lived below their means and were happy.

“At least they weren’t unhappy, let me put it that way.”

Deemed the “Ultimate Cheapskate” by Matt Lauer of the Today Show, Yeager spent 25 years in the private sector working as a CEO and executive at national non-profits.

He came to a belief system centered around – what he calls – a “permanent standard of living“. The idea that after a person is able to live at a certain level comfortably and within their financial means, you can put a cap on your lifestyle. Yeager also promotes the idea of finishing in your starter home.

“My wife and I have owned one home throughout our married life. Any extra money we’d make would just go towards investing and paying down the mortgage.”

Yeager noted this wasn’t the case with his peers. He saw how they would trade-up in homes, cars and in their standard of living.

“We didn’t do that. ”

He and his wife were able to pay off their mortgage in 16 years.

“I never have been comfortable with debt. Sooner or later you have to realize that time is more important than money. You have that in limited quantity.”

In his newest book, Yeager went around the country interviewing some 300 “cheapskates”. These were folks who had contacted him directly and were willing to share how they lived a life of thrift.

Yeager found a couple interesting tidbits about the so-called cheapskates. Among them was the fact that less than 20% had a written budget. A budget to them was something a kin to a traditional new years “diet”: you do it for a little while and then quit. For these cheapskates, budgeting and living frugally came as second-nature. It’s a way of life.

The other thing he found was less than 20% had an established “emergency fund”.

“It’s not that they are against emergencies funds. It’s just that these folks are debt-free and already prepared for the 20-year old car about to break down.”

Before our Q&A session ended, I asked Yeager if he might share a few cheapskate tips with us.

“Obviously you want to buy used cars. And, preferably a manual transmission. It will save you about $30k over the life of the car.”

“Another thing is try and live close to your work. I computed that if you were to live close to your workplace and invested the money you’d have spent on gas over a 40-year career, you’d have about a $500k.”

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