Expert Interview with Stephanie Halligan on the Lighter Side of Finance for Mint

In a tough economy, money is no laughing matter. Unless, of course, you're a personal finance blogger with a penchant for cartoons, like Stephanie Halligan.

The financial empowerment consultant and founder of The Empowered Dollar says that discussing money - especially debt - can range from dry and boring to touchy and emotional.

"As I started regularly doodling on my blog, I realized that comics could not only make people smile about a serious topic, but they could also inspire others to find their own superpowers and defeat their money monsters," Stephanie says. "If I can make one person laugh when thinking about their Debt Monster, I feel like I've done my job!"

Here, Stephanie shares about her journey from aspiring artist to financial educator and offers advice to young people on smarter money management. Read on:

Tell us a little about The Empowered Dollar...what will we find on your site? Who should be reading it?

The Empowered Dollar is a personal finance comic blog helping millennials crush debt and create financial freedom through practical advice, stories and funny cartoons. It's a great way to combine two things I love: money and comics! If you need help getting out of student loan debt, you're looking for more financial freedom in your life, or you just want to see a cartoon of me going on a date with a bank, this is the site for you.

How does a comic artist become a personal finance consultant?

Growing up, I always wanted to be a cartoonist and an animator. As I grew up, I kept doing art on the side, but I decided in high school and college that it wasn't a lucrative career path. After college, I got into the financial education space, helping nonprofits and companies design programs that helped students and family manage money. Soon after, I started my own consulting business. It wasn't until recently that I circled back around to my childhood passion and I realized how perfectly comics could fit into The Empowered Dollar!

You paid $35,000 off in student loans in four years...what do you credit the most for battling your debt?

I wanted to pay off my debt really quickly, so I knew I would have to find ways to bring in a lot more money in the short term. That's where negotiation came in. I started negotiating everything in my life: from my internet bill to a pair of jeans at the flea market. But the biggest wins for me came when I asked for a raise and negotiated my starting salary at a new job. Both netted me more than $13,000 in bonuses and a higher income, and that was huge for paying back my debt. I'm a big proponent of negotiation. It never hurts to ask!

What tips do you have for young people on finding money for college?

FAFSA is the easiest, best place to start! Even if you don't think you'll qualify for federal financial aid, it's always worth applying. Second, don't overlook the little, local scholarships in your town or city. Those tend to be less competitive, and every dollar matters when it comes to paying for college. Finally, don't forget to keep applying for scholarships and grants once you're already in college. Lots of students forget to keep looking for funding sources after freshman year, and that's where the student debt monster can start to sneakily creep in.

What's your favorite piece of advice for young people on how or where to start managing their money?

Spend money on what matters to you most and cut back ruthlessly on everything else. If you want to get out of debt and you like to travel? Funnel your funds into those two things. But that means trimming down on going out to eat or buying new clothes. You can't have everything with your money, but you can use it on what you value and still live a great life.

What are some of your go-to methods for saving money?

Like I mentioned earlier, I love negotiating. If there's a chance I could get a better deal, I'll always ask for it. I'm also a big library junkie. It's a great feeling walking out of a building with an armful of books and DVDs without having spent a single penny!

Over the years, what things have you decided aren't worth spending extra (or any) money on?

I've never been one to spend a lot of money on clothing. I love thrift stores, and I've found that I really value experiences (like traveling) over owning things. I also rarely eat lunch out. I'll pack a lunch wherever I go - it helps my wallet, and it just makes me feel generally healthier. Oh, and since I spend so much time at the library, I hardly ever buy new books!

Any advice for creating a budget you'll actually stick with?

Budgeting can feel like an impossible task. "You can only spend an exact amount on entertainment this month, and you have to keep track of every penny that you spend." That just doesn't make sense!

I'm a big fan of creating general buckets that you can spend from freely. I have three buckets: fixed expenses (like rent and bills), goals (like saving, debt repayment and investing) and flex spending. If I'm all set with covering my fixed expenses and my big goals, I can use my leftover money to spend however I want each week on everything from groceries to concerts. That gives me more freedom with my money and less guilt.

Tell us how being frugal can also be fun.

Frugal can definitely be fun! I try to make a game out of spending less money. Anytime I go to Goodwill, I'll listen to Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" and challenge myself to see how far I can stretch the $20 in my pocket. But I have the most fun turning everyday money situations into cartoons.

Follow Stephanie on Facebook and Twitter.