They say travel can change the way you view the world and the people in it, and as Cat Alford learned, it can also have a huge impact on how you look at money.
After living in Grenada for more than two years while her husband attended school, Cat returned home more appreciative of the opportunities afforded to her in the U.S., but also completely turned off by materialism.
"I used to walk around the mall for fun and pick up a shirt or two on sale," she says. "Now, the mall is so overwhelming, and I can't understand why people are carrying around so many bags."
Living outside of the country cured her of any desire to shop and be trendy, which she says is an amazing gift. And also pretty useful, considering she's the voice behind Budget Blonde, a personal finance blog that explores everything from how she paid off oodles of credit card debt to working from home to her current adventure: raising twins born earlier this year.
Here she discusses her love of personal finance, how she saves money on everyday necessities and how blogging has made her a savvier spender. Read on:
How did you become interested in personal finance? Why is the topic so important to you?
I've always been a frugal person and someone who got a thrill out of "deals." However, after years of being immersed in the online personal finance world, I've come to realize we have a lack of financial education and understanding in our country, and it's important for me to spread the word, but in a fun and engaging way.
Tell us the story behind Budget Blonde...when and why did you start your site?
Right after a big set of graduate school exams and my 23rd birthday, I decided to start a blog. I had just written insane amounts of papers as part of my master's program in U.S. history, and I wanted to write about something fun. Writing has always been a joy for me, and in the middle of a very intense program, I just wanted to create something all my own.
What's been the biggest financial challenge you've faced in life so far? How did you handle it?
I am in the midst of my biggest financial challenge: my husband's medical school education. We have spent close to $300,000 on his education, and he still has a year and a half yet. We're handling it by doing the best we can now and making a plan for quick repayment when he's out.
What are your favorite tools for managing your finances?
I love lots of online money management programs, but I still find myself being old school and using a simple Excel spreadsheet.
We see you post your monthly budget on your blog...how has this helped you be smarter spenders?
Ha, posting it on the blog keeps me really accountable. I'm already over budget this month, and I'm totally embarrassed to write about it. Luckily, my readers are pretty forgiving!
We see you're a new mother of twins (congratulations!). What changes did you make to the family budget ahead of having the babies to prepare for them? What has been the biggest surprise when it comes to managing money with children?
Yes, thank you! I worked harder than I've ever worked in my life when I was pregnant. I was growing my online business while still working full time. In just a few months, I managed to put away $10,000 for their arrival. I also didn't go out much, especially towards the end, when I could barely make it to the next room over.
What are some of your favorite methods for saving on...
... groceries? - I don't drink anything except for water, tea and coffee in my house. There are no juices or soft drinks.
...household items? - I'm not the type of person who makes their own cleaning supplies. I love cleaning products, haha, but I really use them wisely and make them stretch.
...clothing? - I buy clothing maybe once a year. Living outside of the country wiped out my desire to go shopping for clothes with regularity. Now I shop when I actually need something, like underwear or a winter coat.
...entertainment? - With newborn twins, there isn't much time to go out and see a movie. My husband and I watch a lot of Netflix. We haven't had a TV in our home in four years.
What advice do you have for other stay-at-home moms on bringing in extra income...what are some of the easiest or most practical ways you've found?
I don't think there is anything about bringing in extra income that's easy. It's takes a lot of motivation and self discipline to create extra streams of income on your own. I've recently learned that it's just better if I work on weekend mornings and when my kids are asleep at night. When I tried to squeeze in work during the day, it was too stressful and was never quality.
You recently relocated to New Jersey, where you're facing a higher cost of living...what advice do you have to others who are relocating on budgeting for a move? What things should we take into account?
Yes, New Jersey is extremely expensive. When relocating, try to give yourself lots of time to plan. We only had 16 days to move and ended up paying very high broker fees for our apartment. The best thing we did was pack our things in a large trailer behind our SUV, which allowed us to travel together and saved us the expense of hiring movers or paying for a rental truck.