How can I stop being a curmudgeon

: The Dutch couple Hanneke van Veen and Rob van Eeden skimp wherever they can. The two of them want to stop working next year: misers with an audience

There are people who cut open tubes of toothpaste to scrape out the remains. There are only two showers and in the dark, and they prefer to eat the cockroaches in their apartment than to spend money on the exterminator. With Hanneke van Veen and Rob van Eeden, these people are not just met with understanding. In courses and books, the 51-year-old and the 48-year-old teach their willing audience how to become a real "curmudgeon". Unless the audience already knows. Then the outside brings relief, because after all, avarice is an outlawed quality and mostly takes place in secret. "Our courses," says Rob, "remind me of the sex reform seminars in the 70s. People laugh a lot and are incredibly relieved that that others are just like them. And they are insanely embarrassed until the end. " Rob and Hanneke have been a couple for 24 years. Hanneke has always been able to manage the money better. "I never had anything left, no matter how much I earned," says Rob. He regularly pumped up his companion. At some point Hanneke got tired of it. "It was very difficult not to give any more money because Rob thought it was withdrawal of love. But I didn't think that had anything to do with love," she says. Today they both agree more with adulthood. "People who don't pay attention to their expenses are pushing something out," says Rob. Although he can now look after himself "that is a great relief for me," says Hanneke, his wife stayed one step ahead of him. It was she who, six years ago, raised the question of whether they actually needed everything they consumed. "I couldn't enjoy the consumption at all," says Hanneke. For six months the two looked for their "personal lower limit". They got rid of the car, moved into a smaller apartment, switched to used furniture and second-hand clothing. They stopped going to restaurants, turned the heating down and learned to repair broken items themselves. "We liked that a lot," says Rob. Then Hanneke came across a newspaper article about an American who published a magazine with tips on saving. In April 1992 Rob and Hanneke published the first issue of "Vrekkenkrant", the "magazine for misers" in the Netherlands. Since then, the two have presented themselves to the public as "the most stingy couple in the Netherlands". On television as well as on the home-made couch, they tell how they foxed with the penny. When they are cold, they throw on self-made "living room coats". They extend a meatloaf with stale bread that they do not throw away. Hanneke cuts broken tights, and Rob flattens toilet paper rolls so that they cannot be unwound easily. They only spend three to four marks per person on food and other daily needs. Except for shoes, they haven't bought new clothes for years. "In the past," says Rob, "I couldn't get by on my 3,000 to 4,000 marks a month. Today I live on 1,000 marks." Their extreme frugality, the two of them insist, is not a behavioral disorder but serves a rational purpose : Through thrift they manage to reduce their expenses to such an extent and to save so much money that they can stop working as early as the next year, well before retirement age. Hanneke is a psychotherapist, the business economist Rob has advised start-ups. Both have already given up their professions because life as a public curmudgeon brings not only money but also a lot of work, because the audience is fascinated by Rob and Hanneke. Thousands of Dutch buy the magazine that Rob and Hanneke publish six times a year, tens of thousands buy the four books that the two of them have now brought onto the market. Hanneke is currently working on a fifth, which is supposed to be about food. Rob and Hanneke receive hundreds of letters every month. It says again and again: "Finally someone reports about us." More often than average, says Rob, write women, especially housewives. They ask for advice or write curious quirks that they hide from their families. "We broke a taboo," says Rob. Rob and Hanneke were surprised that so many people with low incomes had written to them who had to turn over every mark twice anyway. They would have gratefully received their tips. Some at least manage to reduce their debts, reports Rob. He even received mail from readers who managed to put back some of the welfare benefits. Rob and Hanneke had actually aimed at middle-class people like themselves who are oversaturated with consumption and careers. The "avarice" ideology offers them the perfect exit scenario: After a few years of politically correct renunciation of consumption, Hanneke in particular never forgets to point out that the environment also benefits from Knapsen, the savings are enough if the low standard of living is maintained become conspicuous outsiders, say Rob and Hanneke. "Look, we save like idiots, but we look completely normal and acceptable," is their message. Although they conserve water, they don't smell bad and they don't chew their nails hungrily. Her clothes are casual but well-groomed, and Rob finds himself slightly overweight, like most 48-year-olds. Her four books sell ten thousand times over in Germany. The German "Geizhals-Forum", a magazine that the 30-year-old financier Karsten Rossa from Grevenbroich has been publishing since the middle of last year, is doing badly. The edition is just 200 copies. "The Germans may be too full," says Rossa. "Maybe I'll make the magazine too academic." One step ahead of him are friendly misers from whom he receives tips on publishing without them buying the magazine. "You really don't get anything from that. That is incomprehensible to me," he wonders. However, a deeper understanding of misers is necessary if you want to advance the movement. Extreme frugality can hardly be sustained without passion, solely with a rational calculation. "Be creative, come up with something!" demand Hanneke and Rob in their writings. "Count on every penny!" If they use a tea infuser instead of tea bags, they have calculated that they will save more than 1,500 marks in 40 years. "It's like a sport," they say. Ambition and perseverance are required. Some of their fans, however, flag and order all 28 issues of the "Geizhals" magazine in order to keep their motivation upright by reading. Ultimately, the bottom line is that extreme saving requires at least as much effort as the addictive hunt for consumer goods. Hanneke and Rob keep a detailed record of their expenses. Not a penny can be wasted. They keep their eyes open for bargains. When they go on a bike ride, they stop at every phone booth to look for forgotten phone cards. "Avarice and waste are the two sides of the same coin," says psychoanalyst Tomas Plänkers from the Sigmund Freud Institute. Both result from a disorder in the early childhood anal phase. "The fixation on quantity instead of quality remains." In principle, our entire society is disturbed in this regard, says Plänkers. The excesses of these disturbances sometimes even shock the tabooists Rob and Hanneke themselves. One couple reported that in winter they wear oil suits over woolen clothing and no longer heat at all. One woman confessed that she only fed on pigeon feed. That only costs her fifty marks a year. Rob and Hanneke don't want it to get that far. At the beginning of this year they gave their magazine the less provocative title "Enough". Probably symptomatic for the couple themselves, because the savings trend is gradually beginning to bore its inventors. "It's not a challenge anymore," says Rob. In the next twelve months, the two successors plan to take on public relations, the magazine and the courses, and Rob and Hanneke do not want to do anything for a year. And then? They don't know that yet. For Hanneke, who is also committed to environmental protection, it will not be a problem to live without a job. But Rob becomes thoughtful. Gainful employment brings him more than just an income, he says. It also means being accepted in society. "Earning money," says Rob, "helps make me feel important." The books by Hanneke van Veen and Rob van Eeden are published in German by mvg-Verlag and cost between ten and 17 marks.