Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Biggest Cheapskate in Charlotte?

I began to take note of James Standyck when he sent me the bar chart of his gas and electric costs of the past three years.

Before then, he was merely one of several readers emailing me tips on how to save dollars and pennies in this difficult economy.

But the bar graph, well, it was pinching to behold - a month-to-month illustration, colored in dark greens and light greens, with some nifty shadow effects.

It's almost as impressive as his energy savings video.

Say hello to the Biggest Cheapskate in the Charlotte Area. At least we think he is. If you can top it - or know of someone who can - tell us.

For now, it's a title that Standyck wears proudly. "Living good," he says, "on a short budget."

He is 49 and married and works full time as an X-ray technologist. He has always been thrifty, he says, but he became especially watchful of his outgoing dollars a couple years ago, when the economy began to stagger and his wife lost her job.

He has a well-rounded game plan - "every bill and mortgage," he says. He asks for discounts on phone bills and cable bills. He goes to financial planning lectures - not so much for advice, but if they are offering a free meal to listen.

A sampling of his X's and O's:

On food: "We primarily buy only items that are on sale and only items that we use or eat. Nothing goes to waste. - especially over the past year. When toilet paper goes on sale we buy lots. Last year Harris Teeter mailed us 40% off coupons for three months. One coupon for each week of the month. In most cases, we would only buy meat that was discount - day old meats that were sold at 50% off the regular price. Add in the 40% off coupon and we gave been getting meats at 30% of the original cost. We bought a lot of the discounted meats and filled our freezer section of our fridge."

On utilities: "We installed a programmable thermostat that only heats or cools when we are home. Often during the warmer months we suffer by wearing light clothing in the house and setting cooling to 74 to 76 degrees. This past winter ad well as previous winters, we wear warm clothing- sweatshirts in our home, turning the heat down to 64 for most periods of the day. Another thing I did was to turn the hot water heater down so that we don't mix cold water to take a shower. ... Additionally, based upon conversations with my extremely green friend, we unplugged all vampire energy suckers (appliances he doesn't use) and the door bell."

On driving: "(We're always) using the cruise control on the highway, planning our trips to the grocery store, dump, not wasting a mile on side trips or duplicate trips to the grocery store."

Now, you might be thinking there's nothing revolutionary here. But Standyck stands out because of his commitment to the cause - an attentiveness to detail that borders on obsessiveness. All the greats are driven in ways we aren't.

Plus, he gets results: A 25 percent savings - or $277.66 - in his 2008 electricity bill from the year before. A $40 savings in gas in 2008 despite the sharp increase in prices. He hopes to be debt-free, other than his mortgage, by June 2010.

"Cheapskate I am," he says.

But: "Doing all this ain't magic."

Which makes it that much more impressive - and instructive to the rest of us. Can you top it?


Anonymous said...

I set the temp at 60 during the winter and 85 during the summer. It's not unbearable and you get used to it. My electric bill is under $100 each month all summer and my gas bill got to $120 once this winter. When you've grown up in the northeast in older homes without A/C you get used to bundling up in the winter and dealing with the heat in the summer

Anonymous said...

I am 41 years old, married, both of us employed. Our 1 vehicle is paid off, we live uptown so we can get around easily via train, bus or trolley. We are by no means "Uptown Elite" as a lot of people post on this site. We are an average couple who have saved and managed money well our entire lives. We have very ordinary jobs with an ordinary pay scale at best. But I think some of our personal practices of our past that have lead to our current financial situation will also help us through these times. Not having a gigantic monthly transportation bill is probably the biggest area of savings.

We saved enough to put 65% down on our condo a few years ago. This afforded us a manageable $145,000 - 15 year mortgage. The condo isn't huge but it's plenty for us at 1,100 square feet. We actually could live in a lot less but the extra room is nice when company comes to visit. The mortgage is our only debt. HOA dues, property taxes, food, electric, cell and lately minimal entertainment are our only extra monthly payments. We have also installed a programable thermostat for savings. With all of the windows in our unit it stays pretty warm in the winter without much heat. In the summer we close the blinds during the afternoon hours and that helps as well. Winter the electric is about $95, summer $110, spring and fall $50.
We haven't had cable in 5 years. We rent with Netflix and get about 10 network channels for free via the antenna. A few of them even come in Hi Def. Or we can go to the media room in the club room and watch cable on the big plasma. We no longer have a gym membership since the condo has a gym. Internet is included with the HOA dues. All in all it ends up being a big savings at the end of the year. I've found that although uptown real estate is pricier I have saved a lot of money in other areas by living here. At the very least it has been a break even if not more money saved.

I am thankful because I think we may be in better shape than most since the mortgage is our only debt and we have about one years salary saved in the bank. But like everyone else we are worried about the security of our jobs, our drastically smaller 401k's and IRA's. There are plenty of times we don't go out and op to just stay in. Which is hard when we live were we do. Entertainment is in your face and lately it seems wiser to not partake in it all that much.

But it's a double edged sword. We want uptown to stay vibrant and keep heading in the upward direction it has been for the past 5 years. So we don't want to cut back too much. I think other residents possibly feel the same way. We have always wanted retail uptown and now it's starting to show up. We can't simply not support them otherwise who knows when it will ever return to uptown.

So I don't know if you would call me a cheapskate or not ? Just cutting back where we can here and there and not being too drastic. If all of us totally shut down all of our spending how on Earth are we ever going to get this economy turned around ? Granted, if you are unemployed that philosophy goes right out the window. But as long as I have a job I will possibly spend a little less and be wiser with my purchases but I wont stop completely.

Anonymous said...

If he's so cheap, why does he still have a mortgage?

Anonymous said...

In the winter, as long as the low is above 25 or so, I turn the heat off to sleep at night (I like it cold), and usually keep the heat at about 62 during the day in the winter. In the summer, the lowest I ever turn the air conditioner down to is 78. Usually I keep it higher, and don't even turn on air conditioning unless the high is 90 or above. I've NEVER carried a balance on a credit card. That is truly money down the drain. Beans and rice are cheaper than meat, and healthier, reducing health care costs as well as the grocery bill.

Anonymous said...

Your cheapskate can definitely save some more $$ in the summer. I set the temp to 80 in the summer when we are home, and 85 when we are not home. My car has a manual transmission, and I put the vehicle in neutral on hills - I coast down, and then don't put on the gas again until my speed drops down to the speed limit. I shop online where I can in order to avoid sales tax, and always get free shipping or a discount by shopping around and/or using online coupon codes.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
If he's so cheap, why does he still have a mortgage?

Because it's a write off on taxes. That equals more savings.

Tim said...

FYI, a write off on taxes isn't a savings if you're paying more than that in interest on your mortgage! You're going to pay $12,000 per year (just example numbers here) for a $6,000 write off? Doesn't make sense. Run the numbers. Have no mortgage and yep, you will pay a little bit more in taxes. But...it will still lead to money in your pocket which you can turn around and invest. Don't be fooled by tax write offs and refunds, it was just your money in the first place!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
If he's so cheap, why does he still have a mortgage?

Because it's a write off on taxes. That equals more savings.


The tax write-off is only saving PART of the interest you are paying on your house. So no, the write off on your taxes is not saving money in comparison to not having the loan.

Rebecca said...

I can top it. Our HVAC broke 3 years ago - a month after moving in to an old hose we "downsized' to and a day after my hubby got laid off. With one son in college at the time, (since graduated - YAY) and other about to start/now in college, plus two little ones at home, we have yet to find the cash to get it fixed. Some mornings you can see your breath in our house! But the up side is we have a $25 gas bill! (gas dryer and hot water -tankless) We live in an old neighborhood where trees are constantly coming down/being chopped down so my husband will offer to take the wood for free which the tree service loves cause it saves them money -- we put our college age sons to work in the summer chopping wood to use in the fireplace which we use to heat the downstairs when it gets really cold, and use a space heater up stairs in the little ones room, which my husband cuts off when he goes to bed and I turn back on about an hour b4 they wake. It is really not that bad -- it is all in what you get used to! In the summer we have a window unit we can turn on if we have company - but mostly just use cieling fans and open windows. Our electric bill is also seldom more than $100. We also have no credit card debt and take showers at the pool whenever we can to save money and have never watered the lawn or washed the car at home. I also walk everywhere for errands except once a week I drive my diesel ecomony car to grocery a mile away, and I ride the bus to work so I only fill up once every 4-8 weeks! My hubby rides his bike to work (8 miles each way). We splurge on a bagel each Saturday morning and except for that we eat out exactly 6 times per year - on each person's birthday. We did not always live this way, and it was hard to cope at first, especially as I worried about the effect on my children - funny thing is, they don't even seem to notice! They have pretty full lives and even though all of their friends are fairly well off, all of the kids are at our old house every weekend! It helped that I grew up pretty poor as one of six kids, and my parents set a great example for how to have a great life without much money, and I am thankful to them everyday now for the great lessons they taught me about the things that are REALLY important in life. It gave me a resiliency I might not have had otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I understand the interest versus tax argument totally.But we really need all the write offs we can for my wife's biz. Besides that, I have a years salary saved for when the going gets rough. That's fall back money, not something to be used to pay off my mortgage. And like I said, we have average jobs. A years salary saved in the bank is no where near enough to pay off my $145,000 mortgage anyway. We currently add an extra $200 a month towards the principle to pay it down in 12 years.

In looking back we would have been better off buying a 1 bedroom unit and having no mortgage at all right now. But who knew we would be in this mess ?

Anonymous said...

wow - you people are impressive!! only thing about mr cheapskate is that I believe using cruise control actually uses more gas than if you just drove the speed limit and coasted as much as possible.

Anonymous said...


Great story. If we all learned to live within our means what a different world we would live in.

What's in store for economy as others start to realize this same lesson ? Our economy has been based on consumer credit for decades. What lies ahead ?

Anonymous said...

I can top all of you. I wake up an hour early to steal my neighbors Charlotte Observer. That way I don't have to pay for a subscription.

Anonymous said...

I would rather stay in debt than to live as frugal as some of these posters.

We shouldn't waste our natural resources but to go to the extremes as some do is laughable.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many toys he wastes all that savings on...I bet he is a SERIOUS gadget guy and justifies things that could be even MORE savings!

Anonymous said...

First of all I don't need to justify a single thing. I am very financially responsible and my current financial situation is a result of that.

Zero gadgets, no gaming stations, 5 year old cell phone, bought my 6 year old mountain bike on eBay.

All the amenities I enjoy are no different than what a lot of people just pay for separately. Gym and internet just happen to be included in my HOA. I was paying $95 at the YMCA and $45 for internet previously.

I am plenty busy with work, exercise and just life in general to even think about playing with toys or gadgets. Hate to burst your bubble.

Anonymous said...

I just ripped the thermostat out of the wall to save money. I eat dead animals from the side of the road too.... Come on people, quit trying to out cheap the cheapskate!

Anonymous said...

That's funny.

But the author did ask us if we thought we were "a bigger cheapskate".

How would you have us answer ?

Anonymous said...

I can't stop thinking of the scrooge movie! Are the children grown? Grandchildren? Oh I bet that's an interesting situation.
This has to be putting a strain on life esp after three years.

What are the affects of this ongoing calculator tapping? When is all this an "attentiveness to detail that borders on obsessiveness" too much?

The economy is rough and his wife did lose her job but come on man she's getting older turn off your computer and take her out eat! Afterall you would be supporting our economy which means more jobs.

I too would rather have some debt than live such as this.

Anonymous said...

Cancel the newspaper subscription. Why buy it hen you can read it on line?