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Amy Dacyczyn is so cheap that it was a big deal when she went to McDonald's to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary.

She ordered six Happy Meals for her six children but nothing for her or her husband, Jim. They ate the leftover fries.As the biggest cheapskate in the state of Maine - maybe the entire U.S.A. - Dacyczyn did the McDonald's gig as kind of a joke.

"My husband and I wouldn't enjoy it if we went to a restaurant for dinner," she said.

Yes, there's the money. But besides that, they spend a lot of time together anyway in their 100-year-old farm home in Leeds, Maine, where Dacyczyn (pronounced decision) publishes "The Tightwad Gazette" newsletter.

Dacyczyn is so cheap it has made her rich and famous. She has been on "Donahue" and "Late Night With David Letterman" and all the morning TV talk shows.

She is promoting her new book, "The Tightwad Gazette" (Villard Books), which offers hundreds of tips and strategies for saving money.

Dacyczyn's message, however, is not so much about tips as it is about a way of thinking.

"It's mostly an attitude," she said, "a whole new way of looking at the world."

The key is to set priorities, to decide what is important to you and what is not. Then stop spending money on things that don't matter and save, save, save for the things that do matter.

Dacyczyn feeds a family of eight on $42 a week. She hangs out clothes to dry rather than spend 44 cents an hour to run the electric dryer. Her kids take box lunches to school. She cuts up her Halloween pumpkin to make a pie. She writes letters instead of making long-distance calls. She reuses aluminum foil and gift wrap. She even tears open the bottom of old vacuum cleaner bags and staples them back together so she can use them again.

The most fun she's ever had, she says, is "trash-picking" items that neighbors leave on the curb for the taking.

"There's no question that what I did and do is extreme in our culture," she said. "The question is, is it too extreme?"

She answers her own question: Well, who's to say? One person's values are different from another's.

Some detractors say Dacyczyn is too extreme.

A psychologist interviewed by "USA Today" suggested Dacyczyn might have an emotional problem, because any excessive behavior - spending or saving, eating or dieting - signals that a deeper emotion is being worked out.

Dacyczyn scoffs at that suggestion. "I don't have an emotional problem with money," she said. "I just know what I want, and I don't want to spend money on things I don't get value from."

Amy Dacyczyn wasn't always this way.

She used to eat out and take in three movies every Saturday. She figures she blew $5,000 that way over eight years.

Things changed when she married in 1982 and decided to get what she really wanted out of life: a big house and lots of children.

It made her angry to hear how impossible it was for a family to buy a home or that couples had to have two incomes to do so.

"I never believed it. It made me angry, even. It was just a bunch of people not demonstrating any discipline," she said. She set out to prove it could be done without two full-time incomes.

The Dacyczyns made a down payment on their $125,000 home after saving $49,000 in less than seven years - and that was on her husband's $30,000-a-year salary.

They did it by becoming the tightest of tightwads, beginning with a potluck wedding reception.

That year she started "The Tightwad Gazette." It was an idea whose time had come. Subscriptions (at $12 a year) soared to 100,000 after an appearance on "Donahue," although they now have leveled out at 60,000. And now the Dacyczyns have a six-figure income, although she says that has had little effect on their lifestyle.

She insists that her life is not dreary - "absolutely not" - and that her children are not being deprived, as some angry letter writers have insisted.

Are her children deprived, she asked, because they have a treehouse instead of a Nintendo game? She does not deprive them of nutrition, and they are reasonably well-dressed, she said.

Most recently Dacyczyn has found hostility from some book reviewers.

"They flip through the book and find ideas that they think are too weird or too disgusting," she said. "If they had called and asked, I could have explained why they were not too disgusting or weird."

One newsletter subscriber, Debbie Conus of Olathe, Kan., said Dacyczyn can "go overboard." An example from Conus: If you can't get all the jelly out of the jar, pour in some milk, shake it up and use it to make Popsicles.

"Oh, that sounds so horrible," Conus said. "I'd throw the jelly jar out."

Dacyczyn acknowledges that others need not be as much of a zealot as she is. If you think your life is being diminished, she said, then perhaps you should rethink your penny-pinching ways.