Expert Interview with Crystal Stemberger on Fun and Finances

For those who think living life on a budget means living like a miser, Crystal Stemberger has a refreshing take:

"My entire philosophy is to live within your means to the point that you can comfortably live within your means, have a great time now and put aside enough money to have a good time in your golden years, too," she says.

The founder of personal finance blog Budgeting in the Fun Stuff thinks we should all plan for a long life while realizing that you might not be blessed with one. So while you should set aside money for your future self, you should also maximize the life you live every day - including the fun stuff.

"You can budget this, whether you make $2,000 or $10,000+ a month," she adds. "It's just a matter of prioritization and being realistic and honest with yourself."

We recently checked in with Crystal to learn more about her financial successes and mistakes and find out how she's turned her blog into a lucrative career. Here's what she had to say:

Tell us about Budgeting in the Fun Stuff...when and why did you start your blog?

I started Budgeting in the Fun Stuff in February 2010 because I was a personal finance blog addict and realized that I wanted to say way more than would fit into comments on other blogs.

Who's your audience?

My audience seems eclectic. I receive about 7,000 unique visitors per month, mainly from the United States, but a couple of dozen countries overall. The statistics say that the majority of my readers tend to be college-educated and between the ages of 30-40, although I know some of my commenters are in their early 20s and range into their 70s.

Why are you so passionate about personal finance, and what made you want to help others with money management?

I love that money is one of the things in life that you can control up to a point. You receive X dollars a month and need to pay your bills and save for your future. I truly enjoy working out the details to make that happen. I decided to start blogging since I think that managing your personal finances is not only fun, but also helps to achieve a better quality of life now and in the future.

What are the most common questions or concerns your readers come to you with? How do you respond?

The most frequently asked question to me has been how to start a blog. I ended up writing an eBook about it so I can refer to it, along with a very general checklist that I have saved to use just for those emails.

How long were you blogging before you were able to earn money from the site?

I blogged for about two and a half months before I made my first $200. It took me about nine months before I was bringing in $1,000+ a month regularly.

What advice do you have to others who hope to earn some extra income via blogging? What are some best practices?

First, you have to write. Frequent, informational or popular content will build your site, which enables you to make money. Then decide in advance how you would like to make that cash. Paid links are frowned on by Google, so some bloggers take that risk, and others go the affiliate income route instead. I'm the person to talk to if you take the risk. But If you want a great example of a blogger maximizing his affiliate income to the max, check out SmartPassiveIncome.com. Affiliate income requires you to provide quality content regularly to build your readership. Then you choose your affiliates and literally spell out to your readers why they should care and how they can benefit by using your links to sign up.

What's been the biggest financial mistake you think you've made, and what have you learned from it?

In 2007, we invested $15,000 into a friend's game store business over six months. She was flaky and unreliable. That led to one too many mistakes, and the store closed and she had to declare bankruptcy. We lost all of the $15,000. It hurt, but we learned to do our due diligence WAY better with investments. I also learned that I can really only depend on myself and my husband when it comes to our money.

On the flipside, what's your biggest financial success story? How were you able to achieve your goal?

Starting my blog was the best financial and personal decision that I've ever made (well, maybe second best after marrying my husband). Without my site, I would never have gotten into online entrepreneurship at all. My online work has led to me to making $90,000+ a year instead of the $30,000 a year that I was bringing in with my previous day job. It also led to many friends that I hold very dear that I wouldn't have met otherwise. My blog changed everything for the better.

What are your favorite money-management tools?

For my budget, I use a basic Microsoft Excel worksheet that I started about a decade ago. I also take advantage of being able to have many accounts with CapitalOne 360 (formerly ING Direct). It's a simple but very helpful system to use.

Follow Crystal on Twitter and Facebook.