Expert Interview with Sherry Tingley on Cool Checks and Smart Finance

With the rise of online banking, debit cards and digital wallets, one might think that no one uses personal checks anymore. But that couldn't be further from the truth, says Sherry Cook Tingley, president of One Click LLC - the parent company of CoolChecks.net and other ecommerce and affiliate marketing sites.

"Each year, banks process more than 24 billion checks," she says. "They are a great way to pay, especially for businesses. They are familiar and universally recognized."

Debit cards are great for everyday purchases, but people still use checks to pay rent and utilities and send money to individuals, and small businesses use them to pay vendors, employees and other bills.

Need numbers to back up this claim? Deluxe Corporation, the largest company in the check-printing business reported stock prices at $13.25 a share in November 2009. As of April 2014, those prices have risen to $51.07 a share.

We recently checked in with Sherry, who offers money management advice on her personal finance blog housed on the CoolChecks site. She offers her take on how to get a handle on your money as well as shares some of the hottest trends in the check-printing world (think zebra print and Harley-Davidson).

Here's what she had to say:

What's your background in personal finance?

In my 20s, I had very little personal finance training. Nothing was taught in my high school, and nothing was included in my course of college study to become a teacher. My family wasn't much help. Their own personal finance skills were sadly lacking.

In 2002, at age 51, I found myself a single mother of two teenagers, earning less than $30K a year and still renting. I wanted my future to change, and I knew I had to do it myself.

I decided to educate myself about anything I could do to control my financial future. I vowed I would try everything in my power to avoid personal financial mistakes and focus on increasing my income. I used to participate in the Fool.com forums, and it was there that I started to understand the basics of personal finance. I remember getting a lot of encouragement and support after I paid off $5,000 in credit card debt. From that point on, I read everything I found related to personal finance - from Dave Ramsey to Suze Orman - and began looking for ways to increase my income without incurring more debt.

I tried and failed in many money-making efforts. It wasn't until I taught myself web design skills, PHP programming and effective use of databases that I started to become successful in affiliate marketing. Each success inspired me to add to my knowledge about managing my money and investing wisely.

With a lot of hard work and perseverance, I am on the road to financial security. I now own two residential properties, have been regularly investing money in mutual funds and have an emergency savings account. Most importantly, I make much better financial decisions on a regular basis than I did in the past.

When did you start the blog component of the site? What types of articles do you offer, and who should be reading them?

I started my personal finance blog in November 2007. Since then, there have been many improvements! I used to write all the articles myself, but now I have experienced journalists and mutual fund experts who will share their personal finance expertise as well.

My target audience is really anyone who needs help with finances. I spend a lot of time talking about setting budgets, controlling spending and distinguishing between needs and wants. I also try to find new ways to save money on media bills and other expenses that can be lowered. I abhor the way that credit card companies entice people to spend more and more. The consequences of uncontrolled credit card debt can be devastating to people. Most of my articles help people deal with human mistakes in financial judgment.

The second area of focus I have on the blog is to encourage people to find ways to make money by becoming entrepreneurs. I have many articles about successful business startups and how they achieved that success.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing Americans these days when it comes to money management?

The biggest challenge for Americans is the tendency to want things immediately. Doing a little online research and price comparisons can take a little time, but really saves you a lot of money in the long run. A second problem is that it is getting harder and harder to distinguish between wants and needs.

When it comes to money, many people bury their head in the sand. Better to face reality.

What are some basic ways you'd recommend the personal-finance-averse can get started in addressing debt/savings/budgeting, etc.?

The first step is to evaluate what you make and what you owe. That means figuring out how much income you have coming in on a monthly basis and writing down every debt you owe. Next you need to evaluate how you are spending your money. Categorize in an excel spreadsheet exactly where your money is going. Create a realistic budget and evaluate it every month. You will never reach your financial goals if you don't know where you are starting from, what you are spending and what you owe.

Now hold up your cheerleading pompoms and tell them: Why should they get excited about their money?

People shouldn't get excited about their money per se, but about what their money can do for them. By practicing sound personal finance principles, such as saving on a regular basis, paying bills on time, not spending more than you earn and understanding what you need versus what you want allows you to walk away with the ability to control your destiny. Few people realize they are more in control of their futures than they think.

What's the biggest money-management lesson you want the readers of CoolChecks.net to take away?

Whether you make $15K a year or over $250K a year, the answer is the same. You have to manage what you have. It is far better to develop the attitudes and habits that put you in control over what happens to your earnings than to relinquish that job to someone other than yourself or to ignore it completely. I am inspired by these words from the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley - "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."

How many different types of check designs does CoolChecks.net offer, and what are some of the most popular designs?

We have over 6,367 products that are check or related items. Most of them are unique designs. Licensed artists have contributed much of their artwork to be used on checks. People can even upload their own photographs to create checks. The design supply is endless. Our entire database of products is more than 19,000 items.

Animal prints are currently very hot. The pink zebra print has topped our best-seller lists for a while now. High heels and girly themes are also very popular. For the guys, Harley-Davidson and sports checks are the most popular. Cartoon characters such as the Disney princesses are among our top categories. Another popular category is dog checks. We have more than 94 unique breeds of dogs featured.

What about the strangest or most unique designs?

One popular fad right now features checks with skull patterns. Some of the skull designs are pink and cutesy looking. Others are downright ghoulish in style.

What advice do you have for individuals when it comes to choosing a design that fits them? What about businesses? What should they be aware of?

Personal checks should bring you pleasure when you have to give someone a check. A wide variety of hobbies and special interests are available to choose from. With such a wide selection, it is not hard to fall in love with a particular check that expresses your individuality.

Businesses need to order checks compatible with their check-printing software. The Quickbooks checks are popular with small businesses. Travel checks are at the top of the business choices today.