Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Penny Saved is a Book Deal Earned

Back in my college days, I actually got paid to write about various topics ranging from escaped West African performance artists to Carl Reiner to the legalization of the abortion pill and interracial relationships. I also spent a semester serving as Arts Editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat with a shyly brilliant observer of human habits named Phil Villarreal.

A few years ago, he asked me to edit his first book, Stormin’ Mormon, which he went on to self-publish. One of the only copies sold now sits proudly on my shelf and I was honored to be included in the acknowledgements.

More recently, Villarreal (here's a link to his blog) released Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel: 100 Dirty Little Money-Grubbing Secrets to broad publicity including book signings, stories in newspapers nationwide and coverage on morning shows in his current home of Tucson and in the bigger market of Phoenix. And since shameless self-promotion is a habit the author and I share, I was all too happy to add my own critical take on the book to his list of clips.

Many of the suggestions are utterly ridiculous and yet incredibly logical if you follow Villarreal’s central premise that saving money is a noble goal unto itself. Into this category falls #33 about the psychology behind the dealer and customer when buying a car. Similarly, #35, advises readers at the negotiation table to simply ask for another $20 or $50 off the deal in order to get your name on the dotted line. Audacious as it is, when you think about it, why shouldn’t you ask for an extra $50 off? It’s a free night out on the town or family time at the movies and you earned that money!

The section of the book that I would seriously consider implementing, societal judgment be damned, was the portion covering Finance. Villarreal offers such logical suggestions of avoiding ATM fees, paying down debt and taking advantage of rebates.

He even manages to challenge fiduciary stereotypes while bringing an element of humor to the art (or tedium) of coupon clipping, “It saddens me that coupon clipping is viewed as the pastime of the desperate housewife…Here and now I want to start an effort to reclaim coupon clipping for men everywhere. I want Harley riders to start keeping plastic, accordion-style coupon holders in the back of their hogs. I want UFC fighters to tout the benefits of $1 off Raisin Bran coupons after bouts. I want John Wayne to rise from the grave, visit a Circle K, and push a buy-one-get-one-free Thirstbuster card over the counter.” Classic.

Also in Finance is #44 which offers Villarreal’s personal story of shaving $1000 off the hospital bills that came with the birth of his second child earlier this year. How did he accomplish this feat? By simply calling the billing department and asking for a 25% discount in exchange for paying in full right away. Audacious, but I will admit I trimmed $600 off my rent for the year just by making a phone call to my management company.

But back to those utterly absurd suggestions that other critics of this book have been so eager to point out. There’s an entire section of them that Villarreal prefaces with the following disclaimer, “Let me make clear that the advice from here on out is strictly for laughs, and I’m not held responsible if you actually enact any of this insanity. Try any of these heinous tactics and you’ll be in need of a soul cleansing, but you’ll also have a bigger bank account and great stories to tell at parties.”

So what falls into this odious section that has raised the ire of humorless columnists and morning show hosts? Let’s just say some of the suggestions involve posing as an illegal immigrant, turning your pet in a foundling, scamming bartenders and the ever-popular Dumpster diving. The book advises against ever attempting these money-saving tactics for fear of incarceration, but my hunch is that many of us have pondered such schemes, generally under the influence of booze or various hallucinogens. Besides, as a Netflix user I’m a big fan of #76 and I’m pretty convinced my last two boyfriends used #82 on me.

Ultimately, anyone who’s been poor, merely felt poor, gone through unemployment, gone through college or who doesn’t mind losing a few points of social grace for the same of saving a few bucks will thoroughly enjoy Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel. If you loyally adhere to the tips contained therein, you will more than make up for the $9 price tag on Amazon. Avoid the shipping fees to make Scrooge and Villarreal proud.

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