You know a social phenomenon has officially arrived when reality-TV picks up on it.
Like a lot of folks, I've been living the frugal life for many years, since long before the "Great Recession" made thriftiness cool. For me, it's never been about whether the economy (or my personal bank account balance) was fat or lean. I've just never believed in wasting money or other resources. I don't believe that doing so makes you any happier, and ultimately it's just a waste of our precious time here on Earth.
So when the producers from Discovery's TLC network approached me last fall about being one of the frugal folks featured in a reality-special they were developing called "Extreme Cheapskates", I was intrigued but hesitant. Of course I'm interested in any opportunity to spread the gospel of thrift, and of course I knew that they were looking for "colorful" subjects who truly take frugality to the extreme.
Eventually I agreed to do it, and even convinced my camera shy wife to make a couple of cameo appearances. In the end we were pretty satisfied with both the experience (including two full days of filming) and our role in the show. Yes, they enhanced the quirkiness and "entertainment value" in order to get people to tune in - not too uncommon with TV. Although, as my wife told me after we watched the show, "Well, Jeff, face it: You are rather strange."
Watch a short clip of "Extreme Cheapskates" here.
"Extreme Cheapskates" will be rebroadcast in its entirety on 1/9/12 (10:00 PM EST), 1/10/12 (8:00 PM EST), and 1/15/12 (7:00 PM EST) on TLC.
Just for the record: No, I don't spend entire days bicycling around, looking for lost change -- although I do go for a bike ride most days, and I've never been too proud to bend over to pick up a lone penny on the sidewalk, or even make it a point to more aggressively look for lost change if I have the time (it's my form of "fishing" - recreation, not a career). Yes, I really do eat and enjoy offal and things like goat and lamb heads - as they do in many less-wasteful cultures around the globe - and I consider eating/using the entire animal the moral thing to do it you're a meat-eater.
And, yes, I know very well that you can buy all kinds of meat and other nutritious "normal" foods for less than I paid for the goat heads. But watching me eat a chicken thigh ain't exactly riveting TV, and since - in real life - I eat both goat heads and chicken thighs, the producers opted for the more photogenic goat head (go figure).
At least in terms of our segment, I was we glad got a chance to make some points about frugality that I consider very important, including: going for a weeklong " fiscal fast" is both possible and therapeutic (I'll be blogging about that next week); Americans spend 50 cents to $1 per mile driving cars, when there are alternatives like cycling that could save many people thousands of dollar a year; set a "permanent standard of living" and stop allowing your expenses to rise to meet your income; and you can have a pretty cool house, a loving spouse (of 28 years), and lead a seemingly content, enjoyable life, and still be a "cheapskate."
Sure, I wish they would have included some of the other information and details about our lives based on the interviews we gave (e.g., we give ~20% of our annual income to charity; we "functionally retired" in our mid-forties and spend two months out of the year traveling the world in "cheapskate style;" our frugality is grounded in a strong environmental ethic; etc.)
But my wife and I are comfortable with and proud of the life we lead, whether others consider it "extreme," gross, unappealing, or otherwise. We just consider it enjoying life more by spending and consuming less, the occasional goat's head and all.
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Photo credit: courtesy Jeff Yeager