Cheapskates Rejoice

Champions emerge from every crappy situation, and our long, lousy economic condition is no exception. Sometimes in the name of environmental sustainability, sometimes as a matter of one-upmanship, extreme thriftiness and downsizing have usurped ramen noodles and Geo Metros to become an art form.

1) Big on Small

Dee Williams of Olympia has become a poster child for the Small House Movement — a phenomenon that’s getting a lot of ink and bandwidth as more Americans are shedding their belongings and asking themselves just how far they can scale back before they’re running around in loin cloths. Dwelling in a $10,000, 84-square-foot home on wheels that’s parked in a friend’s back yard, Williams pays $8 a month in utilities. She has a sleeping loft, one-burner stove and a composting toilet to call her own, space for a couple changes of clothes and a little porch for hanging out with friends, who are best to be small. Curious? The Small House Society has a big list of resources that’ll help cut you down to size.

2) Freeganism

Bolstered by an awful economy, the freegan movement, which comprises a lot of people who hate the word “freegan,” is all about extreme sustainability and living off the wastes of capitalism. If you’re really good at it, you can avoid the ravages of employment and find abandoned digs in which to squat (i.e. Las Vegas). The urban-foraging lifestyle requires bountiful dumpsters for food and other cast-offs, with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s dumpsters getting good reviews. The downside to getting all your goods on the take: Bedbugs (which have made a bigger comeback than the ’04 Red Sox) and getting busted. Cities that are cracking down: Salt Lake and Sacramento. As far as bed-bugs go, Cincinnati leads the national pack, with the rest of Ohio close behind. Denver is the only Western city to make the top 10, ranking a hearty, scratchy fourth place.

3) Cheapest place in the West

In most of the western U.S., you’re statistically screwed if you want to live cheaply. Tennessee comes in as the cost-of-living champion at an overall index of 89.05, with Hawaii at the high end at 163. In the West, Idaho is the cheapest in 10th place, with an overall score of 92.07. Colorado comes in 31st with a 100.83; Arizona 37th at 104.27; and California in 48th place with 131.46. In housing, Idaho comes in at a reasonable 78.9, while California tops the Western charts at 185.74. FYI — the median 2020 home price in Oahu is estimated at over $1 million. Best to stay in Idaho.

4) DIY disasters

Do-it-yourselfers have taken on a certain swagger these days, accounting for a $160 billion business in the U.S. But before you attempt to join the ranks of Bob Vila, remember that complete failure is a strong possibility. For example, it’s common for DIYers to install bathtubs without hooking them up to drainpipes. And sure, that wax ring under your toilet looks easy to replace, but this widespread blunder has an ugly outcome that requires no elaboration. In Las Vegas, where the housing industry has driven homeowners to despair, home inspectors see Darwinian slip-ups such as ceiling fans installed so low that they hit people’s heads and outlets installed right next to tubs so bathers don’t have to get out to plug in their whirlpool spas. If you need more encouragement to call a handyman: http://blog. servicelive.com/blog/diydisasters/0/0/homeowner-tips-how-not-to-repair-your-washing-machine

5) Hot rocks and yard sales

Last year, a Milwaukee man shelled out $10 for a strange chunk of metal he found at a rummage sale, figuring he’d be able to salvage it as copper or bronze and make a few dollars in these hard times. Too bad he watched a TV show that indicated he probably had a rare meteorite on his hands. A collector then offered $10,000, while posts on the all-reliable Internet said he might make $100,000. The bad news: The chunk turned out to be part of the big Canyon Diablo meteor, which strayed from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and landed in the Arizona desert in 1942. Some jerk stole it from the Meteor Crater Visitor Center in 1962. The Milwaukee man returned the find, which rewarded him $1,000. He says he doesn’t remember where the rummage sale was.

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