Dacyczyn Interviews: Jamie Part 1

I tracked down the Dacyczyn daughters to see how growing up in the Tightwad household impacted them.  Jamie is the eldest Dacyczyn daughter, and her interview will appear in two parts.

Jamie, in the Tightwad Gazette and in interviews, you were portrayed as the child who was most in conflict with the frugal lifestyle.  Was this accurate and do you still feel the same way?
Yes, I would say that those interviews and articles were accurate. I was always the most difficult/rebellious child, so naturally I felt the most opposition to certain aspects of the frugal lifestyle. I think part of this may have been the oldest girl; I had to plow the way for the younger girls who may have had a little more leeway as they reached the same age.  Now as an adult, I'm definitely more in line with the frugal lifestyle. Naturally, this is because I have to pay for everything myself! I don't think I'm in conflict with the frugal lifestyle at all, and I definitely love thrift shopping nowadays!

At what age did you become aware that your family was different?  How did you feel about those differences?
I'm not sure at what exact age I was aware that our family was super frugal. I was more aware of the "celebrity" aspect of my mom's success first, before the "being different" frugal side of it sank in. I remember bringing extra copies of the newsletter to my primary school teacher proudly as gifts thinking that she'd be thrilled, and I remember when we went to New York to be on the Phil Donahue show. 

I think I started to feel the frugal side of things a little bit later, maybe third grade? Since we didn't have an allowance like other kids, we had to earn our own spending money through household chores. I remember one time that I really wanted to buy a Trapper Keeper at the school store (which were probably $5 or so?) and I had brought in a handful of well-earned change that didn't come close to buying one of those. We were certainly well equipped with yard sale school supplies, but I remember really wanting one of the ones from the school store. I got upset because I couldn't buy one, and ended up sulking in the principal's office (a common occurrence for troublemaker Jamie). That was probably the first time I felt different because of frugality specifically: other kids could buy stuff from the school store, and I couldn't unless I did a lot more chores. 

Similarly, as an early bookworm, I used to drool whenever the Scholastic Book Fair came to the school, but of course I could never buy a brand new book until the year that my best friend and I pooled resources to buy a book that came with a stuffed animal (we traded these two items back and forth for years). We also always had packed lunches, as opposed to hot lunches like many other kids. 

Later, as I reached adolescence, I felt the difference more keenly in a lack of what I felt were acceptable clothes (I think this was hinted at in one article). Of course we had adequate clothes....but when you're a shy 13-year-old girl entering middle school, keeping up with fashion feels like a critical part of life. I remember that most clothes in thrift stores at the time were definitely dated from the late 80's or early 90's...and I entered my tumultuous teens during the era of wide-leg jeans and then flare jeans during the late 90's. For some reason, jeans are what I remember feeling the most angst about. Being tall and skinny, I felt like my pants were always too short, and they were always the dreaded "tapered leg" from the earlier era....not "cool" flares like the other girls had. I always felt very self conscious about my clothes during this stage. 

Later, in high school, some of the newer styles had made their way into thrift stores, but I always had (and still have) problems finding jeans long enough so that the wider more fashionable pant legs didn't just flop around when I walked. I eventually started just finding straight-legged pants that were long enough, and then making cuts in the inner seam by the hem so that they at least flared a little over my shoes. Yes, I know this was all very silly....but the teen years are always very silly anyway, and this is what I remember feeling the most "different" about.

While it's easy to point out things that we didn't have that other kids did.... I should definitely point out that the positive differences were countless. At the time, I didn't realize how valuable it was that we always had at least one stay-at-home parent. Looking back, I see that this was a massive luxury that I might not be able to give my future kids. Because our parents were so frugal, we got to see more of them because they weren't working long hours to make ends meet. We were always able to bring the best homemade snacks in our lunch boxes, and we always brought the best goodies to share at scouting or church events. Our birthday parties always rivaled all others (this may have had less to do with frugality specifically, and more to do with my dad's handy skills and my mom's creativity).  

Having our parents around meant more one on one time with parents. Our own interests, hobbies, and creative outlets were always highly encouraged. Alec was the science whiz, and had his own lab in the barn. How many boys can say that? I flipped rapidly through interests and hobbies, but my parents encouraged each one. When I was an older teen, I decided I wanted a kayak to use on the river near us. My dad ended up finding a neighbor who had a one-person canoe that was willing to sell it for $50. I worked in the garden alongside my dad to pay him back for this. Looking back, I bet it actually cost my dad more than that, but my dad really really wanted to support a budding outdoorswoman so badly that he probably absorbed whatever the real cost was without telling anyone...I never asked. 

So, although at the time I FELT deprived in stupid, superficial ways the way teens and tweens tend to do.....I see now that we were all completely blessed (even spoiled) in ways that were far more valuable.

What impact did your frugal childhood have on your adult financial life? Do you consider yourself a frugal adult? 
My childhood has impacted me in more ways than I can even count. Obviously, having my parents around probably had the biggest impact, but the frugal upbringing was also crucial. I'm definitely more frugal than anyone else my age that I know of, but not as frugal (yet) as my parents were. That may come when we buy a house and have kids (necessity is the mother of invention and all that). I know I automatically steer to more frugal options that others might have to make a conscious decision about. Name brand versus store brand? Of course we go with store brand. Buying a $100 pair of heels?...Yeah, no. Automatically looking at the unit price of food before buying? Always. 

I just reached the point where I'm sick of spending $3-5 for shaving razor refills, and I'm going to have a go at using a safety razor (Although the vintage Lady Gillette safety razor that I just bought on eBay was $25, it SHOULD pay for itself in a couple months...right?). No one else I know has the mindset: this is too expensive so I'm just going to go outside the box for something cheaper. (And yes, along the lines of personal hygiene, I also began using a DivaCup in the last couple of years and highly recommend it without feeling at all bashful on this topic.)

I went to a community college before finishing out my Bachelor's degree at a private college. During college, I spent two summers living in a small fixer-upper camper during internships rather than spend the money on rent. After college, I found an apartment that was about as cheap as I could go before living in a bad part of town. I furnished it with free or thrifted items. The most expensive thing in my apartment was my twin mattress set which I had purchased at Mardens (a local liquidator store) for about $100 (later swapped out for a free full-sized set), and my computer. I had a futon that I bought off of a college roommate for $50. Actually, that first Christmas I gave my mom a sketch of my living room that I styled after her sketches from the newsletter; individual items labeled with how they were acquired frugally.

Despite being labeled as the cheap one by my coworkers, I honestly can't say that I'm yet as frugal as my parents. After getting my first real job with a paycheck, there was definitely what I'd call a "spending binge" stage. Unaccustomed to getting a whopping $200 a week all at once, I squandered a lot of it on junk food, clothes, going to the movies, etc. It's definitely a shock to go from where earning $2 an hour babysitting a neighbor's kid was big bucks to suddenly getting a paycheck...and that shock definitely made me a spendthift for a little while. I don't know if my other siblings hit this same stage, but I did. That eventually calmed down as regular bills arrived with buying a car, going to college, etc. 

Other areas where I'm less frugal...Well, I don't care about fashion as much as I did when I was 13, but I do put my foot down and refuse to wear too-short jeans (I guess I still feel scarred in that regard). Because I've still got the tall Dacyczyn frame, but adult curves, I learned that finding jeans I like at thrift stores is still difficult....but don't want to buy any brand-new. Now, I've learned to find specific brands and styles that work for me, and I buy my jeans used on eBay for $20 at max. Shirts are less concerning to me, as I'm just a t-shirt sort of girl. I prefer get the rest of my clothes at thrift stores or at the local Maine discount store called Reny's. 

I have also learned that sometimes a splurge to get a good quality item is not a bad thing. For example, I used to try getting by with buying outdoor clothing and gear that was on-sale or the cheapest of its kind....even if it wasn't really what I wanted. Well, what happens when you buy a pair of boots that were cheap but you don't really like or don't really last? You end up looking for a replacement pair sooner than later. Now, I will hem and haw over an expensive purchase FOREVER, but when I do I at least know that I'm going to have that item for years. I've spent years wearing coats and parkas that weren't really doing what I wanted, and finally bought myself a nice, down LL Bean parka after about six months of deliberation. Two years later, I still love that parka and it's holding up great. 

 A million thanks to Jamie for her candid replies and engaging story-telling!!  Part 2 of her interview will appear tomorrow.


Ruthie said…
This is awesome! The Tightwad Gazette made such an impact on my life when I found it right before I got married in 2003. I always thought it was interesting that at the time of the writing I was actually closer to the age of the kids (I was born in '83) than the age of the author.

Thanks for finding this special family. The interview is really well written and I can't wait for future pieces!

Rhonda said…
Amy D. was a big influence for me too back in the 90s. How fun to read about her daughter. Thank you.
Julia said…
First time at this blog. Loved the interview! Great idea!

Paula said…
Thank you for this update! I was a TG subscriber from 1993 until the swan song edition. I re-read the books every so often when I need a 'reality' check. This interview with Jamie is great! I am looking forward to reading the follow ups!
Arlee Bird said…
Outstanding interview. Real life hits home when we start paying our own bills. My daughters were never deprived, but we did live a pretty frugal life. They don't seem to be unhappy about their upbringing and now I see them being fairly careful about their own households.

It's good to hear this story of the outcome of one who grew up in a frugal household. There was wisdom and realistic perspective in this family.

An A to Z Co-Host
Tossing It Out
I'm so glad you are all enjoying the interview thus far! I found all three of the ladies to be intelligent, thoughtful, and gracious.
Annie Logue said…
I just found this today - it is wonderful! It is so nice to hear how these kids turned out, as I feel like I know them from The Tightwad Gazette.
Kelly Black said…
I still have all of Amy's original newsletters in binders. I gobbled up all of her advice like a starved person! I still miss Amy D!

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