Expert Interview with Tonya Stumphauzer on Setting Financial Goals for Mint

The best thing you can do to start managing your money better is to set goals, says Tonya Stumphauzer, owner and blogger of Budget and the Beach.

"It just gives you more laser focus on what you really want out of life," she says. "Do you want to keep buying random stuff you don't need on a daily basis, or do you want to take a fabulous vacation next year in France? Do you really need that jet ski, or would that money best be suited for retirement savings? Goals give your money more meaning and purpose."

Tonya was kind enough to offer her insight on why getting your financial house in order is worth the time and effort and how you can do it with minimal headaches. Read on to find out what she had to say:

Tell us the story behind Budget and the Beach...

I've always loved writing, and have had many blogs in the past, but for some reason when I started Budget and the Beach, it just stuck and became my most successful blog. I wanted to do a personal finance blog, and I love the beach and spend almost every day there, so the name just seemed to flow really well.

So when did you know it was time to get your financial house in order...what started you on the road to fiscal responsibility?

I've had a good job most of my adult life, working full time as a video editor at various companies. Because money always flowed pretty well, I never spent too much time worrying about money. I had a 401(k), put money towards retirement, and spent pretty freely.

In 2008, I was laid off from my job, and because of the recession, no one was hiring full-time editors, so I started freelancing. I live in L.A., which is expensive, and had saved quite a bit of money, but the jobs were not coming in at the time, and I was spending like I still had a full-time job and was not budgeting or doing any kind of saving.

Finally, in early 2012, I had a financial rock-bottom moment where my car was towed, and I barely had enough money in my account to get it back. It was at that point I had my wake-up call and realized I drastically needed to change my life. Then I started Budget and the Beach in May, 2012, so I could document my journey and share my experiences with other people in hopes they could learn something from me.

What were some of the biggest adjustments you've had to make when it comes to how you spend, save, and invest your money?

I started having to say "no" more than I said "yes." Most of my friends do really well (or at least they appear to) and have no problem going on vacations and eating out all of the time, so at first it was really hard not to go out for meals or go to concerts. I also cut my expenses way down over the last several years. Now I embrace frugality, and even if money was great, I'd still be very frugal.

What is the most surprising thing you've learned about money since you started blogging about it?

I learned to value money a lot more. I read Your Money or Your Life, and that gave me great perspective on what money should mean to you and how you should use it, i.e., to be more mindful of money. Before I used to buy magazines or other random items without thinking, and now I think about each purchase I make. I also learned that when it comes to financial challenges, you are not alone, which is why being part of the personal finance community has been wonderful.

What are your favorite tools/resources/books/etc. for managing your money?

I love technology, but when it comes to budgeting, I use a simple Excel spreadsheet. The easier it is to use, the more likely I am to stick with it.

What advice can you offer on making a budget you'll actually stick to?

This is tough because I think it depends on each individual. It's like someone who is trying to lose weight and get in shape. What works for one person doesn't work for another. But, in every case, keep trying until it sticks. I know for me, I started and stopped budgeting in the past many times before it finally became a habit.

Also, don't drastically cut back (unless you really have to) all at once. Start with something like cable and seeing if you can live without it and find cheaper entertainment options. Once you get used to that, try eating out only once per week instead of twice. Make small changes and adapt to them so it's not a total shock to the system.

If you could get a do-over for your 20s, what financial decisions do you think you'd make differently based on what you know now?

Hands down it would be having a budget. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to know where their money is going so they can make smart decisions on how they want to spend and save.

How do you view credit cards now? What tips can you offer others on using them responsibly and wisely?

I use credit cards for points, but I would only recommend using a credit card for that if you are very responsible and can pay your balance each month.

How do you save money in your day-to-day life now?

Luckily, I'm kind of a homediv who doesn't feel the need to go out much and spend money on entertainment. I love Netflix, Hulu, and Redbox as cheap entertainment options, and I'm perfectly happy with a home-cooked meal and curling up on the couch on a Friday night. But I'm also not a hermit, so I find inexpensive ways to exercise (for me, it's running on the beach and beach volleyball), and when it comes to seeing my friends, I keep it inexpensive by having potlucks.

I also try to be very mindful of my purchases and live a pretty frugal (but not cheap) life.

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