After a two-year hiatus, I've brought back my Penny Pincher of the Year contest. The number of frugal folks and the lengths they go to save money even amazed me.
I received hundreds of entries from all over the country, ranging from the tried and true (reusing plastic bags) to the disgusting (bathing in someone else's used bath water) to knee-slap funny (sisters a year apart sharing the same high-school ring).
But I just love penny-pinching people. And believe me, I'm right there with them. In fact, my friends and family believe that if I didn't run this contest, I would win.
For example, I found a way to save on birthday cake, which often goes half eaten. My husband and son have the same first name and their birthdays are just a month apart.
This year when it came time for my husband to cut his cake -- his birthday comes first -- I refused to let him serve the part where "Happy Birthday" and "Kevin" were written in green icing. I stored the leftover cake in the freezer.
A month later, I thawed the cake to use for my son's birthday party. I tried to use leftover icing to cover the sliced section, but it kept sliding off. Still, I put on the appropriate six candles (recycled, of course) for my son and served the remainder of the cake.
I was teased unmercifully. But I didn't pay the partygoers any mind.
And don't feel sorry for my son either. Little Kevin wasn't bothered by the missing section. He was just thrilled to have a cake with his name on it. And right after blowing out his candles he said: "Oh, mommy, this is the best birthday ever."
You're probably still shaking your head. Go ahead. However, I've got plenty of penny-pinching company. Just take a look at the winners of the 2004 Color of Money Penny Pinching Contest:
The honor goes to Susan Ganger of Dublin, Ohio, who finds savings in other people's trash. "Go to a university campus on move-out day," she wrote. "Students throw our perfectly good items because they don't want to move them. There is no need to buy a dorm refrigerator as the students throw them out like they are paper. Carpet, clothing and furniture are there to be had." I thought Ganger could use something new so she's getting a Washington Post T-shirt.
It goes to MaryPat Wirkus of Middletown, Conn. She wrote: "After driving my husband's car one day, I suggested he purchase new windshield wipers. The following week we were in his car driving to the store and I remarked that the passenger side of the windshield still did not wipe well. He told me no one sits on that side of the seat often, so he only bought one wiper for the driver side. It saved him $7." Mary and her husband will receive T-shirts and $15, which I hope will be used to get another wiper. I've always thought it important to see out of the entire windshield.
Tina Leap, of Lusby, Md., won for her ingenuity, even though her penny-pinching strategy didn't work. Leap wrote: "I have two daughters to raise. They play softball and so I tried to make a sports drink -- with Kool-Aid, sugar, salt and water. It was terrible. They spat it out into the sink. We all had a good laugh." What good sports her daughters were for seeing the humor in their mother's frugality. Lusby wins $25 in cash. She and the girls also get T-shirts.
Finally -- and this one really takes the cake -- first place goes to Lauren Wells, whose husband, Matt, took her for a penny-pinching ride she will never forget.
Last November, the expectant first-time mother from Leesburg, Va., waited a little too long to start for the hospital.
"By the time we got into the car, contractions were coming one right after the other," Wells wrote. "As soon as I got in the car, I told Matt to take the ... toll road. He informed me that it would be just as fast to take Route 7, which is filled with traffic lights. I was in so much pain that I told him if he was being cheap, I was going to kill him. "
Good thing in this case everything ended well. The couple arrived at the hospital just in time for 7-pound, 7-ounce Madeline to be delivered.
Wells says with a chuckle now that she suspected all along that her husband didn't want to pay the $2 in tolls.
"But I had to laugh," she said. "I'm fine with it now. I'm so grateful for him because he saves us a lot of money."
For her humor and restraint, Wells wins $50, some of which I hope she will spend on Starbucks coffee, which she said she only gets to have on special occasions. The whole family also will get Washington Post T-shirts.