Extreme Cheapskate CPA: NY Living on the Cheap

By Teresa Ambord

By day, Kate Hashimoto is an employed New York CPA. By night, she's a self-confessed "extreme cheapskate" whose entire focus seems to be on ways to spend almost nothing. She spends so little, in fact, that the TLC network recently followed her for a couple of days to feature her in an episode of its new show Extreme Cheapskates
 
Here's a peek at how much she spends and how much she puts into savings every month:
  • Food: $15
  • Toiletries: $0.17
  • Clothing: $0 for the last eight years
  • Housing costs for her condo: $237 in real estate tax and condo fees
  • Amount put into savings: $4,000 plus $1,000 into her 401(k)
 
According to the breakdown above, her monthly net is over $5,000 and her monthly outgo is about $252. How does she do it? You may not want to know all the details.
 
Most of the food she eats comes from the refuse of upscale restaurants. Kate lives in Harlem, but treks to the Upper West Side three times a week to scavenge through the trash put on the curb by eateries there. The restaurants don't allow that, said Kate, but she maintains that once trash is put on the curb it's legal to pick through. In an effort to gain sympathy from restaurant managers, before embarking on her dumpster diving, she dons old clothes that make her appear destitute. She still gets told to leave, but that doesn't bother her much.
 
Most of the food, she said, is totally edible. A lot is thrown out because it has reached the expiration date, but Kate takes it home and, depending on what it is, will continue to eat it, months and years after it has technically expired. "Consumers in wealthy areas expect their products to be perfect," she explained, "so upscale stores throw out a lot of items that are still good. New York can be the most expensive place to live, but it can also be the least expensive if you know how to work the system."
 
Occasionally she'll pay cash for food items, but she approaches vendors with a handful of coins that equal much less than the actual price and asks vendors if they'll settle for a smaller amount. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. If it doesn't, she moves on.
 
On the reality show, Kate is seen having guests to her condo for dinner - a rare event. The guests are a colleague and his girlfriend, who are fully aware that her lifestyle is "cheap." But when she serves them a meal and then tells them the food was picked out of restaurant trash, they suddenly decide the food is stale and doesn't taste right, and they quickly leave.
 
Personal items like shampoo, toothpaste, and feminine hygiene products come mostly in the form of free samples, which she avidly pursues. Sometimes she participates in clinical trials and product testing to get items - including five years' worth of free birth control. Other times she takes online surveys in exchange for gift cards.
 
What about toilet paper? She refuses to buy anything that's going to be thrown away. Instead, she opts for the old soap and water routine. On TV, she actually sat on the toilet to give a demonstration of how it's done. 
 
Hashimoto has never purchased furniture, preferring to do her "shopping" on the streets. She sleeps on used yoga mats, which she said are very comfortable. On the show, she invited her visitors to sit on her bed to test the comfort but they refused, rudely suggesting it was probably filthy and might have bugs. 
 
She has no transportation costs because, instead, she runs to work. "I was extremely angry about the latest round of subway fare hikes," she told New York Post reporters.
 
Her housing costs are minimal because she owns her condo outright. She purchased the tiny Harlem studio in 2010 for $200,000 and paid it off nine months later. That's obviously one great result of her thrift. Still, with all due respect to frugality, why would a person making a decent living opt for such extreme austerity?
 
"No job is guaranteed, so I live as if I could be fired at any time," she told reporters. "I've always been frugal, but it was when I was laid off in the dot.com crash that I became extreme." 
 
There's no arguing that her methods work. Needless to say, not everyone has a taste or the will to live life Hashimoto style.
 
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