How I Got Started

Hi, I’m Kim Tilley, editor of Frugal (1998-2003), Frugal Moms², and Frugal Foodie

I’ve been a mom for 25 years, and a Frugal Mom for 22 of them. I was raised in a house full of love, but never taught much about managing money. I didn’t know anything about balancing checkbooks, budgets, etc. Finances were something you just didn’t discuss. So I was clueless as I went out into the real world and made a lot of real mistakes.

In 1988, I graduated high school and joined the military with two of my best friends. Together, we went through basic training, broadcast school, and served in Korea as military broadcasters.

Working as an Army Broadcaster was a dream come true.

Working as an Army Broadcaster was a dream come true.

It was a great job and lot of fun! I met my first husband there (another broadcaster), and after a whirlwind courtship, was married. Soon after, we had our first baby while still living overseas. We knew nothing about managing money, but didn’t have a lot of bills, since most of our expenses were provided for by the military. That was a good thing, since we didn’t make very much. I got out of the military to take care of our son, and eventually went back to the states while my husband processed out of the army.

We found ourselves back in the States during a recession with great skills in broadcasting, no jobs and no money. For about a year, we struggling mightily to make ends meet and had no clue how to stretch our money. Neither of us was naturally frugal! In 1993, I came across a publication called The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. I scraped together enough to get the monthly published newsletter subscription and her first book, which was a compilations of the first couple of years. I read these cover to cover, over and over again.

Tightwad Gazette while I was on maternity leave after having my second son. He's now 22!

I discovered the Tightwad Gazette while I was on maternity leave after having my second son. He’s now 22!

Amy opened my eyes to so many possibilities I’d never been exposed to. Inspired, my husband and I immediately began making drastic changes and improvements to our lives. In the fall of 1996, I heard she was going to retire from her newsletter. I wrote to her and encouraged her to keep going, because she had changed my life so much and had probably changed many others. Little did I ever know my letter would actually be published in the last issue as one of her success stories!

Here is the entire letter, found in The Complete Tightwad Gazette (page 910). It sums up exactly how much this woman inspired my family:

Dear Amy,

I have both of your books, and they have been absolutely life-changing for me. I bought your first book three years ago, when my second child (I have two boys) was just two weeks old. I was home on maternity leave and sucked up all the information in that book like a sponge.

Your article, “Calculating the Net Value of a Second Income” was eye-popping. My husband and I, on the brink of a divorce from stress, figured it out. I was bringing home 50 cents an hour! Within weeks, I quit my job, put the baby in cloth diapers, and started slashing our costs everywhere. We cut our income by 60% and lived off my husband’s take-home pay of $15,000 a year. It was not easy, but we always had enough. My husband found a better job, our marriage become happier, and our kids became older. This past fall, we bought our first house after months of intensive house hunting; a beautiful 70-year old home with high ceilings, incredible woodwork, wood floors, and no problems.

For our first Christmas, I found a beautiful set of dishes at Goodwill that look antique. They go with our Victorian home, filled with second-hand (and many times antique) furniture.

None of this would have been possible had we not learned the strategies in your books. That’s what I love about the way you write, you show people how to apply your methods to their situations.

While we definitely have months when we are more “tightwaddish” that others, we are realizing our dreams. It feels so good to choose tighwaddery, knowing it will get you to your goal. This year we plan to eliminate the last holdover from our spendthrift days: our car loan. Then we will start paying off our mortgage as quickly as we can.

Thanks so much for helping us reach our goals!
~ Kim Tilley
Peoria, Illinois

This letter also brought me a new dear friend in the area who was reading The Tightwad Gazette at the same time. It took her several days, but Shona worked up the courage to call me and introduce herself as a fellow local tightwad. We both had three boys around the same age and hit it off immediately. We were great friends for many years. There are legendary stories about our dumpster diving and coupon queen days together! (Like the time we bought 128 boxes of Chex cereal for $1.28 from Cub Foods!) Unfortunately, we lost touch after my divorce and I’m hoping to someday find her again. (And if you’re out there, girlie, contact me!)

Even with great frugal friends, the frugal world was not the same after Amy retired. I read and reread her books, and scoured the local bookstores and libraries for anything similar. There just wasn’t much out back then. Times were good again. The dotcoms were booming. Who wanted to be frugal? I still did!

In 1997, I got online for the first time, and by 1998 I had started Frugal Moms to reach out to other frugal people as well as teach frugal living. You can find out more about the website here, and the rest of my journey since Frugal Moms here.

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