I used to throw money away all the time. It’s not because I didn’t like money or because I had an excess of cash that needed disposing of. On the contrary, I was constantly trying to get more of it into my pockets, but due to my formerly voracious consumerist lifestyle, dollar bills saw me coming and jumped into the nearest cash register for safety.

Submerged in my comfortable, spend-happy lifestyle, I didn’t realize I had a problem with penny pinching until I ran across Amy Dacyczyn and her quartet of books about saving more of what you earn.

Amy Dacyczyn is probably America’s most famous penny pincher. She started her career as a tightwad in the early 80s when she met and married Jim Dacyczyn. “It’s pronounced decision,” says Amy of her name, “as in, I made a decision to marry a guy of Ukrainian descent.” Amy had a career as a graphic designer, and Jim was enlisted in the Navy. Soon after they were wedded, children entered the picture.

Amy and Jim established ideas from the beginning as to what they wanted in their lives. The plans included a large family, Amy staying home as a full-time mom, and a large farmhouse (“with attached barn”) in a rural area. The problem was she had to quit her job to be a full-time mom.

That left the large farmhouse and family to be created on Jim’s military pay of $30,000 a year. In the mid-80s, with the economy in a recession, everyone was saying that a family could not survive on a single income. Determined, Amy set out to prove that a family could not only survive, but could thrive without sacrificing quality.

Conserving cash became her obsession. Amy researched the subject of frugality tirelessly. She learned to calculate her families’ costs down to the tenth of a penny. Amy, who later became known as The Frugal Zealot, transformed herself into an expert shopper that went beyond merely “shopping the sales” to feed her growing family.

She gardened, bartered, shunned pricier convenience foods, and shopped the salvage stores with streamlined efficiency. The result was that the half-dozen or so Dacyczyn family members were a well-fed, healthy bunch for around $200 a month.

The results of Amy’s extreme cash saving practices were extremely rewarding. In seven short years on Jim’s $30,000 income, the Dacyczyns saved a whopping $49,000. During that time, another $38,000 went to major purchases such as cars, furnishings and appliances. Free from debt, they were able to fulfill their dreams, and in 1989, they bought a beautiful pre-1900 New England style farmhouse with attached barn.

Amy then decided to share her expertise with other tightwad hopefuls, and in June of 1990 her newsletter, The Tightwad Gazette, was born. A major success, the newsletter and Amy’s success attracted the attention of Parade magazine. When the first article on the Dacyczyns came out, it prompted a huge amount of fan mail.

“We had, on the peak day, 22 two-foot trays of mail. Can you imagine 44 feet of mail? And we just didn’t have (any) help.” Amy told said via our telephone interview. “We pulled every non-working person from our tiny community (Leeds, Maine) to help us.”

Soon, The Tightwad Gazette newsletter was being featured in the Wall Street Journal, and Amy was making appearances on the Phil Donohue show and speaking on NPR (National Public Radio). Frugal fever hit many a spendthrift, with the result that newsletter subscriptions rose to over 50,000.

After six years, Amy made the decision to cease publication of The Tightwad Gazette, much to the dismay of her fans. She published three compilations of the newsletter material as books, which were compiled as The Complete Tightwad Gazette.

These days, Amy and Jim consider themselves truly retired, with no plans to follow-up on The Tightwad Gazette successes. While the newsletter and books have brought in enough income to send all the Dacyczyn children through college and beyond, Amy still practices tightwaddery for the principle of it.

The day of this interview, she was in the process of canning 80 quart jars of green beans. Amy and Jim’s main priority in life are still their kids, the same priority that put them on their frugal journey to begin with.

This is an updated reprint from an interview I did with Amy Dacyczyn back in 2001.  It was first published with militarylife.com, and then later with the Dollar Stretcher.  It’s been reprinted in numerous locations around the web afterwards.  If you aren’t familiar with Amy Dacyczyn yet, and you are trying to live on less, I highly recommend looking into her books.  I only wish they were on Kindle.

By Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is a third-generation Ryukyuan-American, award-winning poet, author, and publisher with 20+ years in newspapers. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), two-time Bram Stoker Awards® Winner, and HWA Mentor of the Year, she shares Authortunities, a free weekly calendar of author opportunities at authortunities.substack.com.

10 thoughts on “The Dacyczyn Decision – Interview with America’s Favorite Tightwad, Amy Dacyczyn”
  1. Hi there, just ran into this site from reddit. How cool that you got to meet Amy for real.

  2. I would like to say thank you for you taking the effort to prepare this subject. Great line up. We will be linking to this on our site. Keep up the great writing.

  3. I was reading about your topic, “The Dacyczyn Decision – Interview with America’s Favorite Tightwad, Amy Dacyczyn | :Dandilyon Fluff” at one of the other blogs I keep in my site reader. You’re site is great and fascinating..

  4. I started subscribing to “The Tightwad Gazette” back in the 1990’s, after reading about Amy in Parade magazine. I can honestly say that reading her articles and her books changed my life, and although I did not practice EVERYTHING she advocates, I did enough to pay off a mortgage quickly and retire, early. I cannot say enough about her books !!

  5. […] the two of us together live on less than one of us would alone. I believe that, like my parents and Amy Dacyczyn, we can live on one income, raise a bunch of kids, and save enough money to buy a house while the […]

  6. I loved the Tightwad Gazette and ended up getting the compilation (used, of course) and used the ideas when I was a stay at home mom raising my 3 children. I see used copies of the books in thrift stores all of the time, and they are available on eBay pretty inexpensively.

  7. […] folks. My seedling starter pots are all recycled and saved from years past. I also use toilet paper tubes as biodegradable plant pots. My back porch bean trellis are actually large, wood pallets we salvaged. When the CDC suggested everyone wear masks out of their home, I made some out of clothes headed for donation. The best dish scrubbers I have found are made from onion sacks in less than 5 minutes. When you need something, look around and see if you don’t have it already. With economists predicting dark financial days ahead, now is a good time to pinch pennies. I had a chance to interview Amy Dacyczyn, the Queen of Thrift and Frugal Zealot herself years ago. Her Tightwad Gazette* books will get you in the right mindset. Here’s a reprint of that interview. […]

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