America's Cheapest Man Spends The Night on Couch

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Jeff Yeager calls himself America's cheapest man. To prove the point, he passed on the rental car for his book tour, and he's staying on stranger's couches -- including my couch in Cleveland. He earns his frugality stripes right away. When I offer him a drink, he describes how he serves his own wine at home.

YEAGER: I do recant my wine as opposed to decant my wine. I have a couple of premium label wine labels that I've saved over the years. I fill those with box wine and serve it to my guests. They never know the difference.

OK, so the guy is cheap. Real cheap. But it's not because he has had to be. He was the CEO of a small Washington D.C. environmental group. His wife is a teacher. They make a decent living. But he's found that happiness doesn't cost all that much.

YEAGER: It's not about sacrifice or deprivation. I lead a very comfortable life. … My contention is very simple. For most Americans, not all Americans, I believe they'll be happy and the quality of their life will improve if they spend less, not more.

With the Ultimate Cheapskate as my guest for two days, there really isn't much of a question as to what we'll be doing while hanging out. After admiring the Free Stamp sculpture for a bit, we head to the Federal Reserve to see…

YEAGER: The Money Museum: This is sort of a high point for me. I'm telling you. There's a little flutter in my heart. I hope you have a defibrillator handy for me.

Laughing in the background there was Jennifer Ransom of The Federal Reserve. She gives us a guided tour, but it's Yeager who does most of the talking.

YEAGER: I have this theory which is Ohio, and particularly Cleveland is the cradle of cheapskate civilization. The Federal Reserve Bank, the Free Stamp down there, this is the Tigris and Euphrates of cheapskates.

Yeager appears to be in Heaven. He's practically salivating as Ransom talks about the money tree - a fake tree with historic currency sprouting from its branches.

RANSOM: In fact, we do have one $10,000 bill hidden among the branches of the money tree.

YEAGER: Now you've got me going. You'll see me shimmying up that tree.

Throughout the tour, Yeager has been begging Ransom for some cash. He asked for a fill up of his piggy bank. He asked if they have any "samples" he could take home. Finally, at the end of the tour, she gives in.

YEAGER: Shredded money! Holy smokes! Do you have glue I can use?

Beyond the laughs, Jeff Yeager hits on some points that really resonate with folks. At a book signing in Mentor, which he biked to from Cleveland, two dozen or so folks sat to listen to him speak. Amy Frank and Sean Hentsly say they've been cheap for a while, and frugality has helped them in their relationship.

HENTSLY: I truly think we do a whole lot more than the average couple and have a wider range of experience than the average couple.

FRANK: I'm less concerned about my bank account and more about smelling the roses.

And that's Yeager's point.

YEAGER: Maybe you don't need to be rich to be happy. Maybe you'll be happier if you're not rich, in some instances.

Yeager's book, The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches, is available online and in most local bookstores. Or, of course, you can borrow it for free at the Cleveland Public Library. For 90.3, this is Andy Netzel.

Andy is a writer for Cleveland Magazine. His article about Jeff Yeager is due out in July.

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