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THE COLOR OF MONEY

Tell your tale of extreme saving

In a time of conspicuous consumption, I feel like a frugal outcast.

To me the world seems in tune with poet Ogden Nash, who wrote: ''The further through life I drift, the more obvious it becomes that I am lacking in thrift."

But I know there are legions of penny pinchers who are thrifty to a fault. In fact, I want to hear from them, which means it's again time for my Penny Pincher of the Year Contest.

The contest is simple. I'm looking for original penny-pinching strategies. You can nominate yourself, a friend, a co-worker or a relative. Winners will be featured in a future column.

And, of course, there will be prizes.

Susan Ganger of Dublin, Ohio, won honorable mention last year for saving money by going through other people's trash. And where is some of the best trash? A university campus on move-out day, Ganger said.

''Students throw out perfectly good items because they don't want to move them," Ganger wrote in her entry last year.

''There is no need to buy a dorm refrigerator as the students throw them out like they are paper. Carpet, clothing, and furniture are there to be had."

Third place went to Mary Pat Wirkus of Middletown, Conn., who wrote that her husband saved $7 by replacing just the driver-side windshield wiper.

Tina Leap of Lusby, Md., won second place for trying to concoct a homemade sports drink for her softball-playing daughters. The mixture of Kool-Aid, sugar, salt and water was not a hit.

''They spat it out into the sink," Leap wrote. ''We all had a good laugh."

Last year, the winning entry was submitted by a Virginia expectant mother, Lauren Wells, whose husband, Matt, took her for a penny-pinching ride she will never forget.

Wells had waited a little too long to start for the hospital. As the couple climbed in the car on the way to the hospital, her husband opted to skip taking a toll road to save $2.

Thank goodness this mom had a sense of humor. She arrived in plenty of time to deliver her baby girl. And she wasn't even mad at her maddeningly frugal husband.

I loved her attitude. Wells knew her husband wouldn't put her or the baby in danger. She appreciated -- although not at the time -- his penny pinching.

''I had to laugh," Wells said. ''I'm so grateful for him because he saves us a lot of money."

You have to have a good sense of humor if you're married to, related to, or friends with a penny pincher. I know I drive my family nuts with my constant preaching about penny pinching.

In fact, my oldest child, Olivia, had a money meltdown recently because I was grilling her about a particular purchase. Her school had an arts and crafts fair in which the children could purchase each other's creations.

Olivia decided to buy a dream catcher, a work of art inspired by a Native American tradition in which a web is hung over your bed to catch bad dreams while good dreams are allowed through.

Olivia was proud that she had bought the dream catcher for $6.

''Are you sure that was the best price you could get?" I innocently asked.

''Mommy, please," she said with exasperation. ''It was a good deal. Why are you always talking to me about money? I know more about personal finance than any 10-year-old in the world."

As I tell my children often, I sweat the small stuff because when you do you have big money for the things that really matter -- like a college education.

In my house, every time one of my children asks for something and it's not in the budget, I have two words for them -- ''college fund."

When they fall down in the store trying to embarrass me into buying them something they don't need, I say: ''I've got two words for you -- college fund."

So what's your penny pinching story? Enter the Penny Pincher of the Year Contest and let others share in your frustration or pass on a helpful hint.

Edited versions of entries may be published. Only e-mail entries will be accepted.

Send your entries by June 20 to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please put ''2005 Penny Pincher of the Year Contest" in the subject line. Include your address and daytime and evening phone numbers.

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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