Mary Hance, better known as Ms. Cheap of the Tennessean, has been making readers chuckle for decades. She offers up her plate of cheap delights daily, everything from a coupon to a theme park, to a ridiculously super deal on your next meal. What most people don’t realize about Mary is that her shtick comes from a heartfelt place: She genuinely wants her readers to understand that family, friends and a love of life are what matter most.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I love my job as Ms. Cheap, and l like to think that the column helps people. I have been coming to work in the same building at 1100 Broadway since January of 1976, starting as a copy clerk for the Nashville Banner. I worked my way up to become a cops reporter, state and federal courts reporter, chief Metro writer, editorial writer, children’s book editor, business writer, assistant business editor and finally came up with my Ms. Cheap column.
Personally, this is a wonderful time in our lives. My husband Bill and I have been married for 32 years, and we are unashamedly proud of our daughters Elizabeth Miller, a wonderful nurse and mother, and Anna Tefel, the owner of Studio Novo. We love our son- in- laws and our baby granddaughter. And having all of them in town and getting to spend lots of time with them is such a gift.
Can you share with our readers how you became Ms. Cheap?
When I was a business writer for the Nashville Banner, we were trying to get more non-traditional business page readers to read our stories. We had a rotating column and I sometimes wrote about bargains since I covered retail and hospitality. I found that readers were eager to know about bargains, so I proposed the column. Those editors laughed and accused me of “wanting them to pay me to shop.” I think their hesitation was that they feared I couldn’t sustain it. Even Bill said, “how much cheap stuff is there for you to write about?” But the truth is that the possibilities for cheapness are endless because there are always new stores, new strategies and interesting people doing creative things to save money. The first column was in March of 1994 and Ms. Cheap and I moved to the Tennessean in 1998 when the Banner closed. I have just celebrated 20 years as Ms. Cheap and I still absolutely love what I do.
As Ms. Cheap, you must feel lots of pressure to walk your talk. Does this come naturally to you or do you have to work at being cheap?
It is not really pressure, because I thoroughly enjoy stretching my dollars. I feel like being careful with my money is smart, that saving money in some areas frees up money to spend in others. It is prioritizing and I like to look at it as being a good steward of my money. I’m a fairly competitive person and for me my cheapness is sort of a game, a challenge to get more than my money’s worth whenever I can – honestly I would shop like this even if I won the lottery. I love the thrill of the hunt.
Can you share with us your funniest submission from a reader?
I’d say 98 percent of the tips I get are good useful things you and I would consider doing, but that other 2 percent?! I get a big kick out of the tips I receive that I deem “too cheap for Ms. Cheap.” The entry that took the cake, and that readers still remember, though, is the lady who wrote that she turns her panties inside out after a first day’s wear for a second day of wear in order to save on laundering and wear and tear on the panties. Life is too short that that kind of cheapness, but it does make good reading.
There’s lots of discussion about the demise of newspapers, yet your column is so popular. Can you give me insight on where newspapers are today and the success of your column?
The newspaper business has definitely changed since the day I walked in here in 1976, but I believe that people in and around Nashville want a trusted and reliable 24-hour daily news source and I believe (and hope) that we will always have a newspaper here in Nashville. My Ms. Cheap column is a niche for sure, and I am happy that it has a loyal following. I am also proud to work alongside some incredibly bright and hardworking reporters and editors and photographers who bring our readers all kinds of interesting and compelling news every single day. And, these days we are working hard to offer all of this news to you on a lot of platforms. The print readers still get their news in print just like your parents did, but you can also get your news on your phone, or iPad or desktop. We recently upgraded all our mobile products and saw almost 700,000 visitors to the mobile sites. I think people will be surprised at how much our digital products have improved. If you are a subscriber, I urge you to register your digital account (it just takes a minute). And if you are not a subscriber, you can still check us out digitally to get a taste of what we are doing.
If you could share with our readers a piece of advice on saving money or living within their means, what would it be?
I think it is discipline. Nobody I know has enough money to do everything they want to do, so we all have to decide where to spend and where to make ourselves save. I think saving and saying no to spending gets easier when you have a clear goal for what you are saving for.
What is a valuable piece of advice you have been given?
I know it sounds trite, but it would have to be that old quote about “love what you do and you will never work a day in your life.” I truly love what I do, almost all of the time. There have been very few days in my career when I have not looked forward to going to work.
Is there cause or a community project that you’re involved in and why is it important?
I have been involved with my Penny Drive for Second Harvest Food Bank and I look forward to many more drives in years to come, but right now, I want to support and encourage others to support the Gail Kerr House The Homeless fund that the Tennessean set up with the Community Foundation after Gail’s death in March. The fund, which honors Gail and her work, will support How’s Nashville, a coalition that provides services and resources to the homeless. Gail and I were friends for 30 years and I miss her every day. Hers was a life well lived, and I know she would be pleased with this fund. People can still contribute to it through June by visiting The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s website.
Is there a recent meal at a local restaurant that has wowed you?
I am obsessed with Mas Taco in East Nashville, where the tortilla soup and tacos are wonderful, and cheap. I also love to eat lunch at the First Harvest Cafe on Fridays at Second Harvest. Where else can you get an all you can eat gourmet lunch, with drink and dessert for $12 and be helping the food bank feed hungry people at the same time?
And if I have a business lunch, I always suggest Midtown Café. Did you know that your AAA card will get you 10 percent off at Midtown? I love that. We don’t go out to dinner very much but when we do, we love Jimmy Kelly’s, especially when we have bought one of those half-price gift certificates they sell one day a year.
If you could change one thing about Nashville, what would it be?
Traffic for sure, but I also wish that more people would read the newspaper and keep up with the news. It disturbs me for people not to take the time and make the effort to be informed on important issues in our community.
What books are on your bedside table?
Do you have any irrational fears?
Can’t think of any specific fears, but I’m a constant worrier about all kinds of things with our children and grandbaby… I definitely say my prayers for them every single night.
Tell us one thing that people might be surprised to learn about you?
That I am not cheap about everything. I love a good splurge, every now and then – particularly on a vacation.
Name other women you admire and why?
There are so many women I admire and these days Gail Kerr is at the top of my list, because of the way she took her illnesses in stride without whining and complaining, her strong faith, her straight-shooting demeanor, her ability to make complicated issues make sense, her kickass attitude when she thought something or someone was in the wrong, and her sense of humor to temper all of it. She was, and continues to be, an inspiration to me personally and professionally.
I also have to mention the women in my family. I was so lucky to have a grandmother who treated me as though I were absolutely the most interesting person she had ever met, and a mother who was strong, very funny, had a world of common sense, a genuine interest in people around her and was full of faith and patience. I wish that I could be as selfless and patient and worthwhile as she was.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
We love to go to Perdido Key, where we rent a first floor condo unit right on the Gulf. It’s best when the whole family can go and it’s very relaxing — no agenda, just reading, talking, playing some tennis, laughing and enjoying some great seafood (Bill is an amazing cook). And yes, we do enjoy some wine on the beach too.
What are 3 things you can’t live without, excluding God, family and friends?
- Laughter, (I love to laugh and to make people laugh)
- Something good to read, and
- A vacation to look forward to. I know this sounds crazy but I love the anticipation that comes before a vacation almost as much as the vacation itself.
Thank you for the fantastic interview, Mary! To follow Ms. Cheap on Facebook, click here:
And special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for her always gorgeous FACES photos each Monday. To see more of Ashley’s work, visit her website: ashleyhylbert.com.