The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Über-Frugal Supermodel: Tyra Banks

By Vicki McClure Davidson

Being a supermodel and business woman hasn't much altered the frugal mindset of Tyra Banks.

Being a supermodel and business woman hasn't much altered the frugal mindset of Tyra Banks.

Tyra Banks is more than just a pretty face. Growing up in a single-parent household with her mother and older brother Devin, she has overcome many challenges and has not only become one of the most-recognizable international fashion models in the world, but she is also a successful business woman and TV personality.

She is also one of the most frugal of Tinseltown's celebrities.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Banks learned early on to value a dollar. While the family wasn't poor, money was always tight. Her mother and father divorced when she was six and her mother (and best friend) Carolyn worked as a medical photographer to support young Tyra and Devin.

There was rarely extra money for luxuries. The now-financially solvent Banks still finds it surprising that she can now buy non-essential things without guilt. In 2007, Banks was listed as one of the wealthiest women on television, earning more than $3.5 million a year and having a bank account and investments worth many times that amount.

"I have a poverty demon," Banks revealed in a Forbes interview. "I'll ask my accountant if I can afford something, and he'll say, 'What are you talking about?'"

Banks has survived the odds of being a has-been fashion model in her thirties. Early in her modeling career, her mother instilled in her that she must "always look at the ending" because the "here and now" will soon be a distant memory, especially in an unforgiving industry obsessed with youth, like modeling. She had to plan for and strive toward the next phase of her life and career before "the ending" arrived.

And she did. Driven by passion, creative energy, and fierce determination, Banks is involved with two, soon to be three, hit television shows. And she accomplished this remarkable feat while still working as a top model.

America's Next Top Model has been the highest rated show for several seasons on the CW television network. Her Emmy-winning daytime talk show has a large, diverse, and loyal audience.

In an interview, when asked about her wardrobe on The Tyra Banks Show, she said that she had no interest in owning designer fashions. Her wardrobe for the show, which is predominantly form-hugging, low-cut dresses, is within the budget and tastes of her audience. When not broadcasting and working at her production company's offices, she prefers to wear jeans or loose-fitting sweater dresses. Banks is currently in production for her upcoming third show, Stylista, which she'll serve as its executive producer. The fashion reality show is slotted to launch in the fall of 2008.

Banks discussed her frugality in a June 2008 interview with Lynn Hirschberg of The New York Times; here's an excerpt from that interview:

"I'm frugal," she said. "I’ve always been this way. When I was young, my mom would give me my allowance, and I’d peel off a little each week and have some to spare." She looked around the room, which had cream industrial carpeting and walls painted in a shade somewhere between cantaloupe and terra cotta. "When we moved into these offices, I didn’t like the carpet," she continued. "But do you know what carpeting costs? It’s really expensive. So, I picked out a color palette that would go with this carpet, and I painted the walls instead. Painting is much less expensive than carpet." She considered this decision for a moment. "One of the first things I ask when I hire someone who deals with the financials of the company is about their spending habits. How you spend money reveals a lot about you."

A few years back, Banks' mother was interviewed about Tyra's obsession with saving money when, with so many millions in the bank, she didn't need to.

An early Sports Illustrated magazine swimsuit issue photo of Tyra Banks


Sports Illustrated | Tyra Banks

Her mother laughed, and explained that Tyra had always been frugal and hated waste. She recounted a story of an evening with a group of friends and family who were together for dinner, eating vast amounts of spicy chicken wings. Banks insisted that they save the bones, and later, her mother saw her scraping off all the leftover hot-wings meat to use later in an omelette.

While many people would be horrified by such a thing, Banks' mother was quite proud that her daughter hadn't let her fame and vast fortune distort her values and make her wasteful. Her mother also pointedly informed the interviewer that Tyra's hot-wings-meat omelettes were delicious. And any germs on the chicken scraps would also be killed once the meat was thoroughly reheated.

Banks' frugal mindset is often in the main topic of discussion on her talk show. Topics have included tips on discount shopping, dressing for less, how to spend less for weddings, "Design on a Dime" decorating tips, millionaires' secrets to success, and how to teach children about the value of money, plus countless others. Her Tyra Banks Show website is chockful of helpful information, much of it archived from shows since Season 1. One sassy, informative section is the "Smarty-Pants Guide to Shopping."

Autographed fan photo of Tyra Banks.
Autographed fan photo of Tyra Banks

Beyond her fashion runway and TV celebrity and her success in those forums, Banks has launched charities to instill self-confidence in young girls and women. She believes her life's mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Banks founded TZONE, a charity that strives to empower low-income and disadvantaged girls and gives scholarships annually to black students. As the first black model to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and only the third black female to ever be signed to a major cosmetic firm's ad campaign, Banks understands the harsh realities of the world for women and minorities. She is passionate about helping those who have potential but lack self-esteem and support.

Her values also influence some of the philosophies showcased on America's Next Top Model. Here, Banks encourages the competing models to be more environmentally conscious and less wasteful by taking shorter showers, appreciating and preserving nature, and using recycled materials. She feels it is important to promote an awareness of "green issues" in the show's young viewers to educate and inform them.

For the business-savvy, sometimes goofy, sometimes over-the-top Banks, her message is clear and fierce. Spending less, saving more, working hard, and believing in yourself, no matter how many times naysayers tell you that "you can't do" something and yet you keep on trying, is her sure-fire recipe for success.


Tyra on the cover of Ebony, December 2008


Tyra on the cover of Ebony, December 2008




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