Paper’s penny-pinchers popular

Posted July 09, 2009, at 8:57 p.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — The Sun Journal’s editor knew he was taking a risk when the newspaper launched a penny-pinching series with a bold promise: Readers who didn’t save money from the tips over a six-month period could demand a $97 newspaper subscription refund.

The Lewiston paper offered penny-pinching pointers on everything from making your own laundry detergent to getting into state parks for free to pooling money with neighbors to buy yard equipment together. The paper ran “fun on the cheap” stories each Thursday, and had daily cost-cutting recipes.

In all, the newspaper’s “Tough People Smart Money” project offered 186 daily tips with potential savings of more than $7,000, said Executive Editor Rex Rhoades.

And Rhoades is breathing a sigh of relief. Only three readers of the newspaper in Maine’s second-largest city, 35 miles north of Portland, have seen fit to demand a refund.

“We had a number of people who sent us letters that thanked us for saving them money,” Rhoades said.

But the savings didn’t add up for Lauris Bailey, a 75-year-old retired teacher from New Sharon. Unimpressed with the thriftiness tips, Bailey asked for his money back.

Give Bailey a minute and he’ll tell you 20 different ways he saves money. He scrapes every last bit of peanut butter from the jar, unplugs his TV when he leaves for the day and takes “military showers” where he turns off the water when he lathers up and turns it back on to rinse off. He even measures out his toothpaste when he brushes his teeth.

“The things I was doing were saving me more money than the things they were writing about,” Bailey said.

The Sun Journal launched its series in January after the economy tanked and editors sought ways to tap into what was sure to be a big ongoing story.

The newspaper told readers it would refund the cost of a six-month subscription if tips didn’t offer savings of at least twice the cost of a subscription. At the time, a media analyst at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla., said he knew of no other news organization offering such a guarantee.

At first, it was projected that the suggestions would lead to savings of up to $1,000. Instead, they totaled seven times that, Rhoades said.

Many readers wrote the paper saying they liked the project. In fact, it was so popular that the paper is continuing with a slimmed-down version of the series.

But it’s hard to say if the series prompted anybody to subscribe to the paper or to hold onto an existing subscription, he said.

“The whole thing is unquantifiable, but our sense is it was a good thing to do,” Rhoades said.

Bailey said he’s already frugal and that some of the newspaper tips were impractical, so he decided to take Rhoades up on his pledge and ask for a refund. Still, he likes the idea of people figuring out ways to conserve, whether it be gasoline, water, electricity — or money.

“There are hundreds of things you can do every day,” he said.

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