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What it means to be an oily ragger

What it means to be an oily ragger

No doubt some reading these weekly columns are wondering what the heck living off the smell of an oily rag is all about?

Here’s the answer – it’s about being smarter with your money. And it doesn’t matter how much money you have – even wealthy people can enjoy the benefits of living off the smell of an oily rag - and many do, which probably explains why they are wealthy!

There are lots of reasons why people live off the smell of an oily rag. A survey of the 1700 members of the oily rag club found that about 40% do so because money is tight and they are finding it hard to make ends meet. About 20% say they hate waste. The ‘Hate Waste’ oily ragger is the sort of person who wants to get the very last drop out of the tomato sauce container and that last bit of toothpaste out of the tube.

Just over 10% said they live off the smell of an oily rag because they are serious about saving. They may be saving for a deposit on a home, to build a retirement nest egg, or for a specific purpose like children’s education. They realise that living off the smell of an oily rag leads to thrift and thrift leads to prosperity. They also know that a penny saved is a pound harvested and that dimes grow into dollars.

And then there are the greenie oily raggers. They know living off the smell of an oily rag is good for your finances and good for the environment. More stuff used is less stuff into landfills, and growing your own food is better than buying food from heavens know where and sprayed with heavens knows what.

J.B. says, “I have been an oily ragger for about 16 years since my parents brought me your book. My Oily Ragging can basically be put down to the fact I hate waste.... why waste money or anything for that matter if you don't need to."

L.R. says, "I live off the smell of an oily rag because I think it’s the right thing to do. I am not driven by necessity. I have lots of money, but I think it is better to be frugal so that I have the say-so on what happens to the savings. I actually give quite a lot away to charity. In other words, I am frugal so that I may be generous."

B.J. says they live off the smell of an oily rag because they can save heaps: “This gives me money over at the end of each week so I can save as much as I need to make sure I will have a retirement nest-egg. All of my spare money is going into investments."

J.O. from Christchurch says, "I get a lot of enjoyment out of using things other people class as rubbish and if I save money by doing so, it’s even better. For years I was on a small wage and I still managed to pay off a $10,000 loan in 3 years. I’m proud of myself and think I am a real ‘oily rag’ person!"

Others live frugally because they want to pay off debts, pay for their child’s education, or they want to spend their savings on pleasures like travel.

So being frugal isn’t about sacrifice and deprivation; it’s about living smarter. It’s also about getting the best deal on everything that you buy. That means your dollar will go a whole lot further than most people’s. It also helps to know a few basic principles about good money management – for example, how much something bought on hire purchase or by using credit cards really costs.

How good are you at living off the smell of an oily rag? Find out by taking the oily rag test at

* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at


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