The story of ''The Tightwad Gazette''

By Tina Jordan
Updated April 02, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

The Dacyczyn family of Leeds, Maine, had a steak for dinner the other night. ”Real gourmet steak, sent by my publisher,” says Amy Dacyczyn. ”In 10 years of married life I don’t think we’ve ever bought steak.” This is a woman who can feed her family of eight on a pound of ground meat — with leftovers. But you’d expect no less from Dacyczyn, whose monthly newsletter on thrift, The Tightwad Gazette (circulation 60,000), has spawned a best-selling book of the same name (currently No. 10 on the charts, with more than 300,000 copies in print).

The professional cheapskate wasn’t always so frugal. ”Jim and I were spendthrifts when we were single,” admits Dacyczyn, 37, but marriage ended their profligate ways. In their first seven years together they saved $49,000 — on Jim’s annual salary of $30,000 — while spending another $38,000 on cars and furniture. Dacyczyn began by washing out sandwich bags and reusing aluminum foil; now she recycles vacuum-cleaner bags, buys fruit pectin in bulk, and saves the rubber bands from bunches of broccoli. ”Even Depression-era relatives think I’m too thrifty,” she says.

The Dacyczyns, who now employ eight people to work on the newsletter, grossed around $1 million last year, counting the advance for the book. But success hasn’t changed their ways. Dacyczyn still feeds her family on $170 a month, clothes them all for less than $300 a year, and spends no more than $25 on each child’s birthday. Their entertainment budget remains the same: $0. ”Frugality is not just a way of life, it is a business,” Dacyczyn says. ”I can’t do my job if I’m not being frugal.”

Her six children pinch pennies too. ”None of them fell that they don’t have things. Of course,” she adds, a little anxiously, ”none of them are teenagers yet, either.”