NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Rick Kuhlman isn't ashamed to say he's frugal.
The 33-year-old Topeka, Kansas resident replaced all 52 light bulbs in his house with fluorescents three years ago, in order to cut his monthly electricity bill.
"I even replaced the one in the fridge," he laughs.
His savings, however, are no joke. Rick explains that his $60 investment in energy efficient light bulbs saves him some $20 a month. And he has yet to replace a single bulb.
"The return on that is astronomical. I wish that I could find that in the stock market," Rick states.
Rick, a computer help desk supervisor and part-time financial advisor, learned to live on less than the $49,000 he makes annually after struggling with debt. In late 2001, Rick had a $20,000 car loan and another $8,000 in credit card bills, not to mention $90,000 left on his mortgage.
He's since wiped out his car loan and paid off the balance on his cards, but the plastic is still used for everyday purchases. Rick pays off that bill each month and uses a reward card that offers a 1 percent cash-back award on all purchases and 5 percent on gas and grocery charges.
Rick refinanced his home using a 15-year mortgage, with a 4.875 percent rate, instead of the traditional 30-year. A bi-monthly mortgage would be ideal, but his lender charges a fee for the service.
The $74,000 he has left on his mortgage doesn't bother him as "you have to have a place to live," and the interest is tax-deductible.
Rick has a bevy of other secrets, which boosts his total savings to $18,000 a year.
For his car, he figures he saved about $5,000 by buying a slightly used 1999 Nissan Maxima, with 5,000 miles.
And he plans to drive it as long as possible. The Maxima now has 85,000 miles but he wants to stretch that out to 185,000 miles, which he's hoping will take about 10 years.
Buying quality big-ticket items is key, he says, because cheap goods don't last as long. But all non-perishables should be bought in bulk, when possible, as to save on high retail markups.
"I buy from a warehouse club, so I only buy paper towels and toilet paper once every other year," he says. "It might sound crazy, but you never run out and never have to run to the store to pay retail."
Entertainment costs shouldn't be a budget buster either. Rick likes to eat out, but he noticed that drinking quickly boosts the bill. Drinks are now limited to once a month with a two-glass limit.
DVDs are also preferable to going out to the movies as it's "cheaper and cozier on the couch." Rick also switched to DISH from cable three years ago because it was a better deal than cable.
Basic service costs about $275 a year -- thanks to a discount he receives for paying up front -- versus $660 a year for cable. And with 60 channels he hardly thinks more is necessary.
"If you are watching more than 60 channels of TV, you need to read a book," he says.
And you can learn a lot from a good book. Just be sure to keep your library card handy, because it's another money saver.
"I would read three or four books a month on [personal finance] until I knew what I was doing," he says. "If I would grab one idea out of a book I would consider it a success."
"Rich Dad, Poor Dad" and "The Millionaire Next Door" are among his must-reads. The first book, in particular, helped him reframe his thinking. Instead of saying, "I can't afford it, " he now asks himself, "How can I afford it?"
One thing he can afford is a vacation, and he's booked one through Sam's Club. Rick splurged on a seven-day Caribbean cruise, airfare included, but figures he saved $500 by going through the wholesaler.
"If you're smart 360 days a year, then you can celebrate the other five," he explains. A couple of extra days of celebration, though, can hardly be held against him.