Does it pay to be cheap? Zions Bank says it does!

Penny-pincher. Tightwad. Bargain hunter.

Ever been called one of these names?

For many people out there, being a known as a “cheapster” is the ultimate compliment. And now it could pay out in big ways.

Zions Bank has launched a new Web series called “Cheapster” at Cheapster.tv, a reality show featuring 10 college-age students from Utah and Idaho who are serious about savings. Each of these students competes in a series of challenges, everything from decorating an office cubicle from only things they found at the dollar store to cooking a gourmet meal for two under $20 to Dumpster diving. The prize? $10,000.

“I beg, borrow, mooch, plead, just to be able to get what I want,” says Lance Reano, one of the cheapster contestants competing for the grand prize.

“Everything I own I basically won or got for free,” contestant Gina Quigley says.

One contestant, Eric Richardson, has taken the phrase “living lightly” to the ultimate extreme, currently calling a tent in Logan home, something he chose to do to save on rent to help pay for his college tuition at Utah State.

Did you catch that?

Dude lives in a tent — voluntarily.

These people fascinate me. I admit I’m probably the complete OPPOSITE of a cheapster. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve come a long a way since my $500 shopping sprees at Anthropologie. I like a good deal, and certainly having two boys on a tight budget has made me want to become a little thriftier with our money. And I’ve tried — seriously tried — to become a coupon-clipper like my savvy sister-in-law. But I lack an essential quality necessary for anyone truly serious about savings: discipline. And patience.

I have a Smith’s rewards card and am always pleasantly surprised to find my favorite foods on sale, but I don’t plan my meals around whatever specials are in the Sunday paper. I get gas (and about 20 other “essential” items each month such as diapers, milk, yogurt, etc.) at Costco and always try (key word: TRY) to stay within our budget. But for me, it’s about quality versus quantity, and I just can’t seem to bring myself to buy 30 cans of Chef Boyardee or 15 boxes of Hamburger Helper because I can get them for 10 cents each, or whatever crazy deal is featured in the mailers.

I know some argue that being a deal-hunter is great for items such as food storage, but because we often rotate through our items, I like to buy things that I’ll actually eat — and won’t give me a stomachache for weeks on end. Don’t ask me why, but I have it in my head that if it’s on sale, it’s usually for a reason. And maybe that reason is that it’s packed with MSG and bright orange food coloring or is past its expiration date. Seriously, sometimes I think the girls that risk the day-old (or more) bakery items and expired dairy items just to save a buck must have stomachs of steel. But that’s why I’ll never win $10,000.

“Things that are not used around our home are recycled and regifted or used in a unique way,” says Kim Hinckley, who shared her story on Cheapster.tv. “I was born with a sixth sense for a deal, and what most think is a deal or on sale really isn’t; it’s just marketing. I know the real deals!”

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday being the ultimate deal-hunters’ dream days, I could sure use a gal like Kim to help me rob those stores blind. Not literally. You know what I mean.

You can enter your story at Cheapster.tv and see how your frugal ways match up to the pros by watching the latest episode of “Cheapster.” Who knew all those years of eating ramen noodles and shopping at thrift stores could finally pay off?

Do you consider yourself a cheapster? Have you found the hours cutting coupons or losing sleep running down the aisles of Wal-Mart fighting viciously over the last “Let’s Rock Elmo” with your otherwise quiet and reserved neighbor from across the street on Black Friday to be worth it? Why or why not?

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