Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Book tells how to be happy with less

Accokeek man pens secrets to frugal living

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Photo courtesy of James A. Parcell
Jeff Yeager, author of ‘‘The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches: A Practical and Fun Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less.”
With a knack for getting the most out of a dollar, Jeff Yeager likes to call himself the ‘‘Titan of Tightwads,” ‘‘Maestro of Misers” or ‘‘Commander in Cheap.”

‘‘I am cheap and I am a loser,” the 49-year-old Accokeek author said Jan. 21 as he pointed to his simple, soiled shirt and blue jeans. ‘‘Look at me. Do I look like an author? I am a mess.”

Yeager recently wrapped up a bike tour in Arizona to promote his first book, ‘‘The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches: A Practical and Fun Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less.”

Three years ago, he entered a Penny Pincher of the Year writing contest about frugal spending sponsored by Michelle Singletary, a syndicated columnist who writes ‘‘The Color of Money” for The Washington Post.

Yeager did not win the $50 he hoped would help him buy his groceries, but Singletary passed his losing entry on to the producers of NBC’s ‘‘Today Show.”

Two weeks later, Yeager received an e-mail from the program’s producers, who said he should have won the contest. He appeared on the show with host Matt Lauer, who gave him the title ‘‘Ultimate Cheapskate.”

‘‘We spend more money than we need to spend just to be happy,” he said. ‘‘Eighty percent of the books in the market are about how to make more money. My book is about how to live a good life on little money.”

Yeager worked as CEO for the American Canoe Association, was a director for American Youth Hostels, and served as director of fundraising for the Partnership for Public Service. After 25 years in Washington, he decided to quit in 2004.

After he left his job, he picked up freelance writing.

‘‘I was having a ball. I was enjoying it, but nobody was buying what I wrote,” Yeager said.

During Yeager’s career in fundraising, he spent time meeting with rich donors. He said he was never envious of their wealth.

‘‘It’s part of the epiphany I had in my own life,” he said. ‘‘They are no more happier than the little guy like me.”

Yeager says he does not advocate poverty. A family living on $20,000 a year will still struggle if it follows his advice, he says.

‘‘I am not telling the guy who makes $23,000 that he ought to be happy about it,” he said.

Among the alternative money-saving suggestions listed in his book, Yeager suggests holding an occasional fiscal fast. In a one-week period, he challenges an entire family to not spend a single dollar regardless of the expense.

‘‘Live for a week without spending any money,” he writes. ‘‘Yeah, that’s right, totally doing without legal tender for the sake of tenderizing your non-monetary soul.”

Other recommendations made in the book include shopping smarter, volunteering, paying off home mortgages as quickly as possible, trading a car for a bicycle, living within a budget at 30 years old and staying there, and hanging up that cell phone for good.

‘‘The cheapskate: someone who proudly consumes less and conserves more, because it increases the quality of his own life and the lives of everyone else on the planet, as well as the health of the planet itself,” he wrote.

His advice for stretching the money available has worked for him and Denise, his wife of 24 years. Yeager even gets a kick out of hearing his wife call him ‘‘America’s biggest cheapskate.”

‘‘Materialistic things have never meant a lot to us. We have been very frugal, even when we met,” said Denise Yeager, an adjunct professor of Health and Physical Education at Prince George’s Community College, recalling the days when the two attended Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

On Yeager’s Web site, the contact information for a cell phone reads, ‘‘Never has, never will.”

‘‘I have had the luxury to work part time in a job that I love — teaching. I have left a couple of fulltime jobs in the recreation industry because I wanted to do what I really loved,” he said. ‘‘Since we don’t spend a lot of money, we don’t need a lot of money.”

Grace Griffith, an Accokeek neighbor and musician, said Yeager calls her his ‘‘unofficial muse” because she gave him her CDs for free.

Yeager also used his cheapskate skills to help the Moyaone community where he lives, working three years as a volunteer treasurer for the Alice Ferguson Foundation until last year.

‘‘He was very humorous in the way he presented his treasurer’s report,” recalls Griffith, who has known Yeager since she moved to the neighborhood in 1995.