• Personal Finance Interview with Kristen on Frugal Living for Mint.com


    When you hear the word "frugal" it's easy to start picturing a coupon-clipping miser who tolerates a cold house in the winter and drives around in a rusted jalopy. But Kristen, the blogger behind The Frugal Girl, says that pinching pennies is not about doing without.

    "I think people commonly think the frugal lifestyle is miserable and full of deprivation. But I think the opposite is true," she says. "When you live within your means and put money in the bank, then you can afford to save up for things you want, and there's no dark cloud of debt hanging over you."

    Kristen says you can live large on a small income. Her family has bought a house, relatively new vehicles, goes to the beach on vacation every year and sports wardrobes that are current-- all without spending a mint.

    Here, she offers her insight on why living frugally is so fulfilling and offers tips on how you can do it at home:

    Tell us about The Frugal Girl; when and why did you start the blog?

    In March of 2008, I'd been living frugally for years, yet as I was cleaning out my fridge, I looked at the food I was throwing out, and thought about how embarrassed I'd be if anyone saw the food waste. Then a light bulb went off, and I realized that was the key-showing people what I was throwing away. So, I began a food waste blog, where I shared my food waste each week. After a few months of blogging there, I realized I really liked this blogging gig, and I decided I'd like to broaden my blog's focus, so I started The Frugal Girl and folded the weekly food waste feature into the new blog (I still post Food Waste Fridays after all these years!)

    Who should be reading it?

    Really, anyone who wants to learn how to live a lower-impact, contented life with a cheerful attitude. Whether you're living on less by choice or by necessity, I hope that the things I share will be helpful and encouraging.

    Why live frugally? What do you love about it?

    For me, the best thing about living frugally is the financial peace that comes with it. Living with some money in the bank and being free of the burden of debt is so much more enjoyable than anything money can buy.

    Secondarily, I love that so much of frugal living is also green living. Buying used, purchasing items that will last, fixing things when they break instead of buying replacements... all of those things are financially sound habits but they also are kind to the environment.

    What do you dislike about frugal living?

    For me personally, frugal living is the most un-enjoyable when I'm forced to do it because of low income. When saving a few dollars here and there is a necessity, that does wring some of the joy out of it. But even in such a case (and I did live in that situation for many years), frugality is still the happier choice.

    Why?

    Because without careful spending and saving, a low-income situation can easily turn into a financial disaster, and that's certainly not a happy way to live.

    What are some of your favorite ways to save money on food?

    Cooking mostly from scratch is probably my favorite. We eat mostly homemade meals, and I love to make yogurt, applesauce, granola, chicken broth, rolls and breads. I feel something like a magician when I take a gallon of milk and a cup of yogurt and transform it into four quarts of homemade yogurt, and I feel the same way when I take chicken bones and produce scraps and end up with a pot full of tasty and nutritious broth.

    I also make a point of shopping at places that save me money. Aldi and Costco are great places to save money (and you don't even have to clip coupons!) and I also love to frequent local produce stands to buy boxes of seconds.

    A lot of your site seems not only focused on being frugal, but also on reducing waste. What are some of the most common household items you find yourself giving a second life to?

    Food is a big area that I focus on, of course. I put slightly soft fruit into smoothies, make sour milk into chocolate pudding and add random leftover veggies into my scrambled eggs. I often add leftovers to salads or make a soup with them.

    Clothes are another item I love to breathe new life into. I dye them, make skirts out of jeans with holes in them, turn old sweaters into boot socks, cut up old dress shirts to make cloth napkins, turn old sheets into headbands and that's just the tip of the iceberg. It makes me so happy to turn a useless piece of clothing into something new and useful.

    How do living frugally and being green go hand in hand?

    Oh, this is one of my favorite things! There are so many ways that the two overlap. For instance, cooking from scratch saves money, but it also reduces your dependence on heavily packaged/processed foods. Buying second-hand is so frugal, but it also reduces demand for new goods, which consume a lot of resources. Carefully researching and buying well-made, high-quality products cost a little more up front but saves money in the long-run and products that last don't require constant replacing like cheaply made goods do.

    Also, a big part of trying to waste less involves using up what you have or making it last longer, and you can't get much more green or frugal than that.

    What advice do you have for creating a family budget?

    Communicate, communicate, communicate. For the first half of our marriage, my husband and I didn't talk enough about money, and once we started talking more, it was revolutionary for us. I take care of our financial record-keeping, and once a month, I put together a state-of-the-finances report that we can look over and talk about.

    Also, for us (a marriage between a spender and a saver), having dedicated budget categories (and coordinating savings accounts) has been super helpful. For me, the saver, having money set aside for specific purposes (such as a vacation) helps me to spend it freely when the vacation comes around. And for him, the more spendy one, having targeted savings accounts helps him to clearly see what we have money for and what we don't.

    Beyond helping you stay financially solvent, how do you think living frugally has helped your family?

    One of the biggest advantages I see is that our children are learning that there are creative ways to get the things you want without spending crazy money. For instance, you can get a sweet new game if you wait until six months after the release and you can get a really high-quality bike if you buy on Craig's List instead of at the sporting goods store.

    What do you teach your kids about managing money?

    We teach them to divide their money into three separate categories: Giving, Saving and Spending. We also make them operate on a no-credit budget, which means that when their spending budget is empty, they can't buy anything (no borrowing from the other categories!). This helps them think carefully about their spending and also gives them practice at saving up for a desired purchase.