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A skinflint _ and he's proud of it

Ron Moore pinches his pennies hard enough to make Lincoln cry uncle.

He hits the yard sales on Saturdays, looking for bargains. He collects aluminum cans and turns them in for money. He drives a 1974 Ford pickup with 143,000 miles on it, or he'll catch a ride with a neighbor and split the cost of the gasoline.

This is a guy who makes Ebenezer Scrooge look like Donald Trump.

You could call Moore a skinflint, and he wouldn't mind. That's what he calls himself. In fact, he makes his living telling other people how to be skinflints, too.

Every month, Moore and his wife Melodie produce the Skinflint News, a publication full of tips about saving money. The pieces range from a two-page treatise on using coupons to items such as, "Get the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube by placing the almost empty tube under hot water before rolling and squeezing it."

First published in 1987, the newsletter now goes out to about 30,000 stingy subscribers around the country, Moore said. Some of the suggestions in the newsletter come from the readers themselves.

"About six or seven months ago, we ran an article on dryer lint and asked people to tell us what they do with theirs," Moore said. "People started bombarding us with ideas. One woman saved hers up in a Kmart popcorn bag over a period of months, and then used it to make her daughter a stuffed animal."

Other ideas come from Moore and his family. All his relatives are skinflints, too. That's how the newsletter got started.

The family is a large one. His mother, for instance, was one of 19 children and grew up in Kentucky. All of them learned to buy clothes at thrift shops, make their own toys and crafts, scrimp and save in any way they could.

"People didn't have money for vacations, so they would get together on weekends at grandmother's house," Moore said. "And everyone would bring a list of stuff they wanted to swap or sell."

Eventually the list began to include tips on saving money. Some family members shared the list with neighbors, and soon the neighbors wanted to get copies of their own. So the Moores began distributing it as a newsletter and charging $1 for every monthly issue.

Nearly five years later, the price of a subscription is still $1 a month, and Moore promises, "If you don't think you got a dollar's worth of information, let us know and we'll refund your money." So far, he said, no one has asked for a refund.

Sometimes readers write in with specific questions. When the Moores write back, they use a 19-cent postcard instead of a first-class letter with a 29-cent stamp.

Although Moore has always been a skinflint, he didn't always make his living from it. He used to be an electrician. But he didn't like the work as much as, say, scavenging parks and playgrounds for aluminum cans. He's a lot happier now that he's a full-time miser.

"This is my niche," he said.

His niche used to be a lonely one, but not any more. Now that the free-spending '80s are over and the whole country seems to be abandoning chic for cheap, the lifestyle promoted by the Moores' newsletter is gaining popularity.

That's partly because frugality is fashionable now _ Time magazine and the New York Times have both run recent stories in praise of parsimony. It's also because the recession's layoffs, pay cuts and business failures have forced Americans to become thrifty.

"I think people are really in trouble now," Moore said.

As a result, one of the few growth industries right now is selling people ideas on how to save money. There are at least two other national newsletters like the one the Moores publish.

One of them, the Living Cheap News, is published by a Californian named Larry Roth, who also has written a book called Living Cheap: The Survival Guide for the Nineties. The other is The Tightwad Gazette, produced by a woman named Amy Dacyczyn who describes herself as "just this housewife up in Maine."

Ms. Dacyczyn, who is working on a book of her own, said she's not sure whether stinginess is a short-term trend. "I hope it's not a fad," she said. "It's something we need to do."

Roth said he's sure it's more than a fad. This recession may end, but the American middle class won't ever be the same.

"I think in the long term, people will become more conscious of money," he said. "People are not going to have a choice. People are poorer now than they used to be."

Most of the people who read the Moores' newsletter apparently have become skinflints by necessity, not choice. A recent readership survey showed the subscribers to be senior citizens on a fixed income, large families with one income and single people, Moore said.

"I think most of our people are seriously wanting to save money," Moore said.

The skinflint capital of the world used to be the Moores' home in Kentucky. But most of those thrifty relatives of theirs have moved to Florida, and now the Moores and their 12-year-old son, Nick, have followed suit, settling into a modest home just off U.S. 19.

They will publish their first Skinflint News from Palm Harbor this month. But don't look for it to recommend moving to Florida as a way to save money.

"I don't think you save money moving to Florida," Moore said. "We moved because my wife said, "Why are we living up here with all this snow?' "

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