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Getting a Degree in...

Getting a Degree in Cheap: Diary of a Cheapskate

It may be summer, but Cheapskate School’s still in session. No whining. The title of today’s lesson: “Pay a Professional to Do It? Don’t Be Silly!”

It can be an incredibly seductive notion. I realized as much the other day, when, having willingly stuck my hand down my own toilet at great length, I finally managed to loosen an unseen wad of God-knows-what that had lodged itself deep within the porcelain bowels (hee-hee). I pulled this off through a savvy combination of maniacal plunger-wielding and pigheaded stubbornness.

And all to the tune of a mellifluous soundtrack:

Plunge, plunge, plunge …

“Who needs plumbers?”

Plunge, plunge, plunge …

“Do it myself!”

Ah, “Do-it-Yourself.” The graduate-level Cheapskate’s favorite three-word phrase—right behind “you inherit everything.” It belongs to a highly selective, advanced field of study. Just like everyone with a night school economics degree and a dream of launching Pork Chop-on-a-Stick franchises nationwide isn’t destined to study for a Harvard MBA, you don’t just wake up one day deciding to get your masters in Do It Yourself moneysaving.

You have to work your way up to it, first by acing the undergraduate Cheapskate core curriculum (“Intro to Occasionally Turning Off Your Damned Air Conditioner,” “It’s Still Lettuce If It’s Brown 101”). Next, come the smaller, more specialized seminars, such as “ ‘Borrowing’ From the Neighbors,” with its seminal textbook, “Su Wireless es Mi Wireless.”

Qualifying for graduate-level coursework in Cheapskate Studies is tough, but definitely worth it. It’s not all about saving money (Ha, just kidding! Of course it’s all about saving money!) There’s also the thrilling sense of accomplishment that comes from having endured years of rigorous schooling meant to separate that small group of truly dedicated students from the mere pretenders.

Down there at C-level, the wallet-whipped wimps. Up here at the top of the class, a very few committed types like us who burn to learn that “Dry Clean Only” labels are a complete scam—especially if you’re willing to spend a whole Saturday dipping your best cashmere sweater in a generic Woolite-knockoff bath and then blow-drying it back into shape.

Not sure if you’re graduate level material? Then take this simple entrance exam to find out if a masters in Do It Yourself moneysaving is in your future (Hint: If you’re right now Googling for the name of someone you can pay to take the exam for you, you’ve completely missed the point. Good luck with that Pork Chop-on-a-Stick idea).

Exam Questions:

1) Have you ever been trapped in your own car for an hour because a piece of heavy furniture you refused to pay $60 to have delivered unexpectedly tumbled backwards and pinned you against the seat where you’d crawled to try to push it out the passenger side door?     

2) Do you currently suffer from “IKEA Elbow”? This occurs when, having successfully put together one of the low-cost Swedish furniture chain’s simplest patio chairs all by yourself in a mere eleven hours, you decide you can build anything now. The only known cure for this condition is lots of bed rest. Fortunately, you bought a new bed three weeks ago. Unfortunately, it’s still in thirty-seven pieces and you don’t read Swedish.

3) Do you lie to friends about employing a cleaning woman? Not pretending you don’t have one. Pretending you do, so you’re not shunned as the only person in your circle who’s done a cost-to-scrubbing benefits analysis of having someone else remove three inches of solid grease from your oven walls and decided to don the (imitation) rubber gloves yourself.

4) Do you regularly watch This Old House for the handy “dig your own in-ground swimming pool” tips?

If you answered “Yes” to at least two of the above questions, congratulations. You’re definitely masters material.

If you answered “Yes” to all four questions, you’re something else entirely. You’re me.

This means that when confronted with an unnerving situation like rapidly rising toilet water, your first reaction isn’t to panic and call a plumber. Nor is it your second, third, or fourth reaction. Instead, you head to the nearest place that sells plungers. Investing in one’s education is very important, after all.

Important, but not insane. You wisely choose the $2.99 model over the $3.99 one. Only loser kids on the AV squad fall for that “It’s worth more so that the handle doesn’t fall off” scare story.

Several hours of “plunge, plunge, plunge” later, situation resolved. A week later, when it happens again, you know exactly what to do: Drive back to the store, spend $3.99 this time so you don’t have to rubber band-and-Super Glue the handle in place, and simply repeat the above process.

That’s exactly how I did it, and the good news as I write this is that all systems are a go (hee-hee) on the toilet front. The bad, possibly directly related news: Water is backing up in my bathtub so rapidly, I’ve got a new soundtrack running through my head now: the theme song from Titanic.

That’s okay. Even someone with her masters in Do-It-Yourself moneysaving knows when a course of action is called for.

Call a plumber?

Don’t be silly! I’m going for my PhD …

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