Expert Interview with Mindy Crary on Better Saving and Spending for Mint

As the founder of Creative Money and an expert with 15 years of financial experience under her belt, Mindy Crary knows how to get more out of any dollar. She spoke with us about her financial philosophy and how knowing where your money goes can lead to getting more out of it.

Let's talk a bit about your financial philosophy. What's "conscious spending"?

Conscious spending is the belief that once you examine your consumer habits and understand where you derive the most enjoyment, you can actually better utilize every dollar.

For example, when I got serious about tracking expenses, I was shocked to discover that I spent over $150 monthly at Starbucks! Instead of just slashing that expense, I chose to be conscious about change. What did I enjoy about my daily coffee shop visit, and what did I not really care about? I was able to establish a new "normal" while never feeling deprived.

The goal of conscious spending isn't to limit anyone, but instead to help people increase awareness about how they are behaving in everyday life. When you start to break down your experiences to achieve the most satisfaction from your spending, you add MORE to life, not detract from it. We really can have just about anything we want; the key is to be completely conscious about what those things are.

What are some common problems you see people struggle with when it comes to money?

The biggest issue I see isn't necessarily that people can't pay their bills; it's that they resist their current situation because they feel like it isn't where they "should" be. For example, when I was first starting my business and wasn't making a lot of money, I didn't want to curb my lifestyle! Everything became easier once I let go and told myself, "This is where I am at right now. It might not be where I want to be, but this is a temporary situation and I can handle it." I still had to cut expenses and be extremely careful with my money, but I didn't resist the process anymore.

I see resistance coming up all of the time: resistance at looking at spending more closely, at what it will take to pay down debt, or understanding what needs to happen for future goals like college savings or retirement. Your money, debt, spending, 401(k) balance...it is just a number. It's the story you're telling yourself about that number, the judgment, that is making you feel bad about it.

Once people stop resisting the data and forgive themselves for past mistakes, progress becomes extraordinarily easy.

What are some ways parents could better teach their children about money?

Usually when you teach your child about money, it's the basics about saving, spending and charity ... this is pretty standard. That's good stuff ... but if you've had your own money issues, it tends to fall under the "do as I say, not as I do" category, because if what you say doesn't align with what they notice, they aren't going to listen.

We're so afraid that lack of money or resources will make us powerless ... powerless to support our children or that our children will be powerless to get what they need in the world. This means that often, I see parents trying to shield children from financial reality. Or think that giving them every opportunity means paying for everything. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Once you "release" your child and let them know that they are smart enough, talented enough and resourceful enough to be the economic engine of their own lives, you'll be shocked at how successful they become. I see parents wanting to be the hero in their children's lives far too long. Your child has everything they need - probably by age 15 - to be a financial badass. Just trust the process.

Why is finance so confusing for so many people, and how do you break down those concepts?

Finance is confusing because there are so many entry points - budgeting, credit scores, debt management, investing, employee benefits - it's enough to make anyone shut down. The pure tonnage of financial data is overwhelming if you're not sure where to start.

For that reason, I always start with the individual and what he or she is trying to accomplish. Financial concepts aren't relevant unless you're saving or investing for a specific goal - then, suddenly, once you know what you're working toward, decisions become a lot easier.

If nothing else, people should have a list of financial goals and the timeframe in which they hope to accomplish them. That is a perfect starting point.

You don't need to be the best budgeter or the best investor or the best anything to get fantastic results. So instead of going all OCD on one of the areas that we're going to talk about and try to get this solved FINALLY once and for all so you never have to think about it again (which just isn't how all of this works anyway), shoot for sixes or sevens (out of 10), and then go back to it and refine over time.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of financial advice, what would it be?

Quit settling. I used to wait to "deserve" what I wanted, until I realized I was holding myself back. You don't wait for permission to get what you want financially; you expect it. I used to think I had to work hard to merit a raise - until I realized it was more about how I talked about my work than the actual hours I put in that earned me more money.

Look for this attitude of settling and how it plays out into different areas of your life. Examine how you allow people to treat you. Question that for all you do as an employee, friend, wife, husband etc., are you getting what you're giving, or could you ask for more? You'd be surprised at how happy most people are to give you more (and wondered when you were going to ask).

How do you think our approach to money will change in the future?

I think that the behavioral side of finance will become more and more important in getting people involved in their own financial lives. I'm not in the traditional financial services realm...because while that is great for some people, I think traditional services misses out on serving younger generations, or misses out on helping people who need financial support without product sales or asset management.

There's no space for the person who needs a little clarity and context, but doesn't want to spend his or her life becoming an expert.

There is no space for people smart enough to manage their own finances, but who just need a filter and a simple philosophy to adopt.

There is no space for people who might find it difficult to change their behaviors and need more than knowledge to do that.

The onus is on the individual more than ever to claim responsibility for his or her financial security, and going forward, the opportunity is to help these people feel like they have a right to expect more from their money even if they can't spend hours a week on this or pay someone thousands of dollars to manage this. And I think fundamental to this discussion is the idea that by changing what you expect from your money, by letting go of your traditional expectations, you change everything for the better.

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