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A Professional penny-pitcher works hard ar not working

Published September 3, 2003 at 4:00 a.m.

Roy Haynes called it quits 10 years ago, when he saw his father get laid off after three decades of labor. He hasn't worked "a real job" since. But Haynes is not exactly retired. The fiftysomething Huntington resident has a full-time gig as the tycoon of tightwads, cutting corners every way he can. The "Cheapest Man in America" -- a title he's earned from the tabloids -- Haynes has appeared on dozens of talk shows and in publications from the Washington Post to Giant Robot magazine. He's encouraged others to "Roy-cycle," to resist "the call of the mall" and to cure themselves of "affluenza."

Because of his penny-pinching ways, Haynes and his wife Lisa live on a fraction of the amount most working families require. Instead of a briefcase, he carries a metal crate and gloves, for dumpster diving. While others pay up at the pump, he fuels his car with free gas, which a local store gives him in return for the errands he runs. He's insulated one wall of his home with Styrofoam packing peanuts. And he collects, for five cents apiece, thousands of bottles and cans -- a trash-for-cash approach that earned him the 1998 Vermont Governor's Award for Environ-mental Excellence in Pollution Prevention.

Haynes forgoes golf, kids and other expensive pastimes. His hobbies are volunteering and saving pets with Lisa -- who also does not have a job. For their animal rescue work, the couple formed a nonprofit that allows them deep discounts on pet food and vet bills for their own six dogs. Recently, before trolling for free samples at Shaw's Supermarket, Haynes sat down with Seven Days to talk trash. SEVEN DAYS: When did you first start finding ways to save money?

ROY HAYNES: I grew up poor in a city housing project in Brooklyn. I was the first person in my family ever to own a car. At a young age, I worked all the time, I had two jobs, and I hated 'em. One of them was at the Coca-Cola bottling plant -- this is July and August -- steam-cleaning bottles as they came off the conveyor belt. No air conditioning. The next summer I was actually a gravedigger. From those points on, I got a bad taste about work and realized that, without a college degree or any real skill in trade, New York was a very expensive place to live.

Both of my folks died when I was young, so I had to be self-sufficient, earn my own living; I didn't get any inheritance. I started to clip coupons and collect soda bottles, just do little things to get an edge when I was still working. As I got a little older, I just started doing it more to the extreme. It's kind of become a way of life for me, being resourceful and inventing ways to save money.

SD: How did you come to live in Vermont?

RH: In 1980, I moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Sold almost all my possessions in New York, and a friend was driving down on vacation so I went with him in his car, with about $1500 in my pocket. I rented a little efficiency apartment and worked two jobs part-time -- as a moving man, which worked very well, because people would leave behind furniture and I'd take that home and sell it on the side and make extra money.

I was also working security. I had this uniform shirt, one of those real official-looking ones with the epaulets and military crease, and I had a stain on the pocket and a rip under the arm. So I took it to the cleaners to get it fixed and they wanted like $8 or $9. I wasn't going to spend that. So here's what I devised to do -- and to this day I think it's one of my best ever: I donated the shirt to the Salvation Army, they fixed it up, took the stain out and put it on the rack. And I bought it back for $1 two days later.

SD: So how long did you stay in Fort Lauderdale?

RH: Fourteen years; we moved here in '94. We bought a place in Florida, thought it was going to be our dream house, nice little retirement community and, you know, we changed. I was getting stressed out with crime and traffic and everything. We sold the house, made a little money out of it. We'd been up here a few times, because Lisa's a college graduate from the University of Miami, and she had a job that used to send her on travels to different states... So we rented a place in Hines-burg. A few months later, we bought our home in Huntington.

SD: What types of bills do you have?

RH: We pay utilities. We don't have cable; we just have two local TV channels. Whenever I leave the house I pull out all the electrical appliances, because even in the off position the juice still flows. We have a phone, but we don't have a long-distance carrier; I try to call collect when I can. We mostly heat with a wood stove. I helped a neighbor clear some trees off his land and got some wood -- I get it every winter. The house is more like a cabin, with a big, open room. We pay taxes, car insurance -- can't avoid it.

SD: How were you first recognized by the media?

RH: (Laughs.) We were in Florida and one of the tabloids ran a contest that said, "Nominate a Tightwad." Lisa said, "This is you!" And we wrote in, just told them a few things I'd been doing on a daily basis. Such as hanging out paper towels to dry. And my toilet paper, which I buy two-ply [and] I separate it. So for the same price you get two rolls out of one! They thought it was humorous, I won the contest, they sent a camera crew, and we had our picture in the paper.

We had some fun and didn't think anything more of it. Well, a few weeks later, I got a call from the producers of the Joan Rivers show... I was pretty nervous, 'cause I'd never been on TV before. But apparently it went pretty well, because we got home and had messages from other talk shows. Do you remember "A Current Affair"? Well, they did a segment on Willie Nelson and his bankruptcy. And on the same show here I was, a regular jerk living like a king.

When we got married, we swept up the rice they threw and cooked it for dinner, and we didn't have a honeymoon. And then we went on Montel Williams; he said, ‘I have a gift for you.' We thought it was a gag gift, but it was a Caribbean cruise, all expenses paid.

And we just came back from Hollywood, [taping for] a new show called "Steve Harvey's Big Time," which debuts on the WB in September.

SD: How else do you save money? And what about dumpster diving?

RH: I'm a decent guy -- on a special occasion I bring my wife flowers. But it's the thought that counts, right? So I get them from a funeral home.

In dumpsters, a lot of times, [the stuff is] not too great in monetary value. But I don't leave any mess, let that be known; I'm very professional and I only take what I can use or sell. Stuff that students have tossed out... nice furniture, and we get it all for free.

If we eat out, which we do occasionally, we use coupons, or... for a present [people will] give us gift certificates. And I've been known to ask people at the next table for their leftovers. Lisa is not very crazy about that.

SD: An old boyfriend once gave me a bagel from a dumpster. Would you ever take food from one?

LISA HAYNES: A lot of places in Vermont, they give food to shelters, so he doesn't want to take things that aren't supposed to be his from somebody who it's already earmarked for.

RH: I'm greedy, but I'm not needy. And if it's free, it's for me.

SD: You certainly have a lot of clever catchphrases!

RH: I'll give you one more, and it's my motto: ‘I started with nothing and I still have half of it left.' ...Vermont has the scratch-off lottery tickets -- a lot of people are not aware, or don't care, that if you have a losing one, [the ticket] has a second-chance drawing. Now, I don't gamble, but people throw out these tickets, which go in the dumpster. Roy goes in the dumpster. I fill them out, invest in a stamp, and look! (Shows certificate.) From someone else's losing lottery ticket, a trip for two to Hawaii! Westin Resort, Maui. We're gonna go in the winter. (Laughs.) From my dumpster diving!

People are too busy making a living to enjoy living, they don't know about these little things... And as the cost of living goes up, it doesn't affect me. No bearing whatsoever. People who are making $100,000 a year at IBM, it affects them; it doesn't affect me. I'm not lucky, that's just the way I've played my cards.

SD: Is there anything that would ever make you change your mind and go back to a regular job?

RH: No. Out of the question.

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About The Author

Chris Michel


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