Personal Finance Interview with Melissa Flagg for Mint.com



It's pretty safe to say that most employees, at some point in their careers, have wanted to leave work at the end of a long, grueling day and never return. You know, say goodbye to sitting at a desk all day staring at a computer screen, the annoying co-workers, domineering managers, lunchtime line at the microwave and endless commutes.

There are plenty of people who do leave their full-time jobs in order to pursue new opportunities, whether it's starting their own businesses, telecommuting, freelancing, staying at home with their kids or a combination of those.

Writer Melissa Flagg is one such brave soul who left behind a career as an ophthalmic technician to homeschool her daughter while freelancing and blogging to make ends meet. She says anyone can make the switch, but they should be sure it's what they really want first.

"Not everyone is cut out to work at home," Flagg says. "You have to be very organized and extremely disciplined."

If possible, she recommends taking time off work for a trial run to get an idea of what working from home would mean for you. Knowing what to expect can make the transition much less stressful.

"Working at home is a big commitment, so make sure you're ready for it and all the work it entails," she adds. "And let me just say, it's a LOT of work."
For more advice from Flagg on everything from balancing work and family life to managing family finances, read on:

Tell us your story - how did you come to start your Mommy Writings blog?

I actually started blogging, actually freelance writing in general, out of necessity. When I left my 16-year career to be a stay-at-home mom, we took a huge pay cut and I needed to bring in some kind of income to make ends meet. I started out as a freelance writer and blogging was a natural progression.

Tell us about your family.

Now that's a topic I could spend all day on! I've been married to my soul mate, my best friend, Greg for nine years, and we have an adorable little girl, Sam, who is seven. We also have six cats, a dragon fish and a dog. It's definitely a full house!

What did you do before being a stay-at-home mom? What made you want to stay at home?

I spent 17 years as an ophthalmic technician (I performed eye exams on patients before they saw the doctor). I had been in the field since I was 18 and although I loved my career and the medical field as a whole, I was sick of the office politics. One day, I realized I had gotten burned out and I quit.

I had been toying with the idea of homeschooling Sam and debating the SAHM thing for a while and when I became fed up and quit, I decided to that would be a good time to try the lifestyle and see what happened. I must say I was pleasantly surprised.

How do you balance your raising your family with your blogging duties?

That's a great question and to be honest, I'm usually always off balance. I manage four blogs and write for a number of clients as well as a couple websites. I also homeschool our daughter and take a few classes here and there online. Most recently I took a part-time job as an ophthalmic technician because we're trying to buy the house we rent and the extra money will help speed up the process. So how to I balance all of that? I wish I could say I had the perfect formula, but I don't.

But I plan. Everything. I have a blogging planner that I use to manage everything I need to do for my four blogs, and I also use a home-management binder to manage my main to-do list. Once a week, I figure out all of my deadlines and I prioritize my writing and classes. I use a weekly planner that I found from one of my favorite bloggers, and I plan what I need to get done each day. I don't always get everything done, however.

I think the perfect balance is what makes you happy. As long as you get your work done and the kids are taken care of, whether or not the carpet got vacuumed is inconsequential.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make as far as family finances go when you first decided to stay home?

When I decided to stay at home, my husband went to work, and so the biggest adjustment was the difference in our income, which was essentially cut in half. You start to look at money differently when you're in that situation and you get really resourceful.

What's been the most surprising thing or biggest lesson you've learned about managing a budget while staying at home?

How creative I can be when bills need to be paid, or we haven't gotten to the grocery store on time! Since we're vegan, it's not as easy to come up with something for dinner when you're out of just about everything! So I started creating a monthly menu so that we could go to the store at the beginning of the month and get everything we need. I also keep a price list of all the groceries we buy, so the menu and the price list keep us on a strict food budget.

What tips do you have for pinching pennies as a stay-at-home mom? Easy places to find savings, etc.

Shop around and do your research. I'm a huge vitamin nut, and when I first started staying home, I couldn't afford them. So I did some research to find where I could get the best deals and surprisingly it was Amazon.com.

As a prime member, I get free shipping, and you can do subscribe and save, which will usually save you about $3 off the order and you can set how often you want delivery. This actually saves us gas money too since I only have to go to the store once a month, everything else is delivered.

You just have to keep your eyes open and consider everything, like how much gas it will cost you to get to the store to get that awesome deal. If you're only saving $1 and it takes a gallon of gas to get to the store, you're not saving any money.

What advice do you have for finding supplemental income?

Research and networking. This is one of those things I try to keep updated on my blog. There are a number of websites out there that detail ways to make money online and there are a select few that continually update lists of work at home jobs available online. The best way to find legitimate jobs is to look through these websites, and if you find something, run it by the people in your network to see if it's legit and get opinions on it. Whatever you do, don't pay for a list of online jobs, or spend money on an eBook that simply lists sites where you can find work. Any website that offers work-from-home positions that is worth its salt can be easily found through Bing or Google.

What are your favorite tools or resources for helping manage your family budget?

Honestly, pen and paper. I know there are tons of apps out there to manage your finances, but I have found that my home-management binder system works the best for us. There's just something about actually writing on paper that I enjoy.

How often do you think families should re-evaluate their finances?

I think family finances should be evaluated constantly. In other words, when you are sitting down to pay the bills, look over what you're paying and also look at how you are paying it, what income are you using to pay the electric bill, or the cell phone bill.

I think most people have become complacent and assume that income is income, it just pays the bills. But when you focus on where that money comes from and how much goes where, you see a different picture.

For example, my income comes from several different streams including my client work, my own websites, my Etsy and eBay sales, a part-time job, etc. When money comes in like that, you kinda have to decide "okay money from my client work will pay electric and internet, and the blogs will pay the cell bill etc." I'm constantly re-evaluating our budget whenever I pay bills or make a purchase, and that keeps me on top of it.

What tips do you have for teaching your kids how to handle money responsibly?

The best tip I can give is to teach by example. Kids are great imitators and they love it imitate their parents. So if you want your kids to be responsible with their money, be responsible with yours. Don't hide your financial decisions from your kids. Tell them why you did or did not make a purchase. Most importantly, teach them to think critically so they can solve their own problems when the time comes.

Follow Melissa's adventures in homeschooling and weight loss on her blog, Daughter of Maat. She's also on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.