Utah State University student Lori Thompson remembers growing up happy but frugal.
“When I was little, my parents didn’t have much money,” said Thompson, 23, a Logan resident. “We really were penny-pinchers. We’d gather up change to take to the grocery store to buy milk.”
Though family finances have improved, conservative spending habits remain.
But now, Thompson has taken home the $10,000 grand prize in Zions Bank’s Cheapster competition, an online reality show featuring 13 students from Utah and Idaho colleges.
During the seven-episode series, viewable at www.cheapstertv.com, students competed in challenges that asked them to make cheap, nutritious meals; to dive into preloaded, clean Dumpsters to search for valuable items; to dress themselves for a fancy evening event from items they bought at a Deseret Industries store; to create a memorable gift on a low budget; and more.
The show is currently accepting applications for its second season on its website. This time around, the prize is $10,000 for the winner and a matching amount for the winner’s university.
“In 2011 we decided to put more emphasis on the millennium market, people 30 and younger,” said Brad Herbert, a Zions Bank vice president. “Cheapster is a medium to communicate with them, and it’s a lot of fun. The response has been much bigger than we expected.”
Thompson was chosen as a contestant because of the variety of her cheapskate techniques.
“I found out I was more of a cheapskate than I thought,” she said. “I use coupons, shop online, and hold off buying things I really want until I can find a good deal. I go more for necessities than things I want. I try to make budget. We buy quite a bit secondhand. Sometimes we get really good deals online for things, through the clearance sites.
“I have auto repair knowledge,” she continued. “My dad owns an auto and boat repair shop. It’s a tradition with our family that each kid got a car, but it was totaled. You had to learn to fix your own car and do the body work. My Ford Mustang was totaled. I still have that same car. It’s a 1995 with 175,000 miles on it. Those cars make it to 400,000 or 500,000 miles if you take care of them.”
Thompson wowed the judges with her kid-friendly budget meal, which included mini pizzas, bread sticks and smoothies. She didn’t do as well on the Dumpster dive.
“It was my worst challenge,” she said. “I found a rake that was worth $5. I got trampled. With the Dumpster dive, a lot of it was luck rather than skill.”
Lance Halladay, now a Brigham Young University graduate living in Centerville, found a sports bag in the Dumpster challenge.
“Surprisingly, it was worth a lot more than I would buy it for,” said Halladay, 27. “It was a bag to hold baseball bats and gloves, and it was worth $40.”
Halladay’s downfall came with the thrift-store formal-wear challenge. For $40, he purchased a dark suit and a lime green tie. He cut up a child’s green T-shirt and sewed it into a matching pocket square and a pair of socks.
Halladay landed in the bottom two, with someone who had paid just $10 for her off-target ensemble.
“It was a tough call,” Herbert said of Halladay’s elimination.
“Lance did a really good job and had lots of fun, and was really creative.
“We started realizing there are a lot of different types of cheapsters: couponers, minimalists, creative cheapsters. As the competition went on, we had to look for cheapsters who were more practical. It could have gone either way.”
So, just what would a young woman who could never splurge do with a windfall of $10,000? Put it in savings, of course.
“Taxes took a huge chunk, but I still saved quite a bit of it,” Thompson said. “I had to dip into it a little for some of my husband’s tuition. That’s what it was set apart for. But we’ve got no debts or loans so far, and we have money in the bank.”