Book Review Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel

Personal finance is undoubtedly important; however, few describe the subject as fun. That was true until Phil Villarreal wrote the book called Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel. Villarreal has been accurately described “the Lex Luthor of tightwads if Lex Luthor was hilarious” and his book is anything but boring.

The book offers 100 dirty little secrets to saving money and while I’m only willing to try a handful of them, you’ve got to give Villarreal points for creativity. Plus, Villarreal’s frequent references to things like South Park and Star Wars make you feel right at home. That being said, the book’s content is anything but childish—unless you plan on teaching your child to lie, cheat, and steal.

I recently had the chance to ask Villarreal a few questions about Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel.

    Your advice ranges from outrageous and ingenious; how many of your secrets have you personally tried?

    Villarreal: Maybe half, because a number of things in the book are just awful. There are some that come from my experience, but many are theoretical or are ideas that came from friends who say they've done them. Really, the reason the book exists is out of frustration that I came up with all these awesome ideas yet couldn't do them without huge risks. My brain is basically a factory for coming up with awful, funny ways to save money, so I just started writing them down, and they evolved into a manuscript.

    Your book’s format is perfect for skimming. If I were going to read only one of your secrets, which do you recommend and why.

    Villarreal: Definitely the cubic zirconium heirloom chapter. Not only is it a great idea, but it's just so wrong and yet so right. It's the template I wanted every chapter in the book to match. But you're right. I think the book belongs on peoples' bathroom floors. It's meant to be read in 2 or 3-minute increments.

    I’ve read a couple book reviews that focused on your more “creative” secrets (which some have speculated may even be illegal!?) When I read the book, I assumed you were making a point about how you can and should always seek ways to save money. Am I being too deep or does your book have a “higher purpose”?

    Villarreal: There's no moral high ground in the book. If there's anything going on between the lines it's a satire of the hyper-frugal mentality and the obsession with personal finance in general. A lot of us, including obviously me, are so obsessed with saving absolutely every penny possible that it's easy to lose sight of what you're losing when you're fighting so hard to cut down on costs.

    On the other hand, many of the tips in the book are practical and completely ethical, such as the one on how to negotiate hospital bills. Nearly every medical office has a policy of chopping 25 percent off your bill if you pay upfront and don't try to drag the process out. I love little tricks like that.

    Finally, do you have any holiday-specific financial advice to share?

    Villarreal: Work out as many deals as possible with your friends and family members to agree to not give one another gifts. It'll save you a ton of money, as well as anguish and envy, and allow you to get what you really want/need for yourself without getting stuck with a financial hardship.

A lot of bloggers have (jokingly) suggested that you acquire the book Villarreal-style: buy it, read it, and return it. However, if follow Villarreal’s advice and keep the book on your bathroom floor, I implore you to buy it, read it, and keep it.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.