Interview with a Savings Expert – Gary Foreman

Since 1996 Gary Forman has been spreading the word on frugality through his blog The Dollar Stretcher. He’s been quoted in USA Today, Good Housekeeping, Women’s World, the Wall Street Journal Sunday, and other publications. With professional experience as a manager and a financial planner, Gary’s tips and advice come from a place of unparalleled expertise and knowledge.

We had the fantastic opportunity talk with Gary and ask him about his site, his philosophy, and also some answers to questions you won’t find anywhere else. Take a look...  

Gary, you mentioned in an interview that your blog, The Dollar Stretcher, was your “layoff project.” Could you tell us about what motivated you to create the site and what inspired you to write on the topics you chose?

I was managing a purchasing/material control department. We were downsizing every quarter with no end in sight. So I was looking to find a way to become self-employed when the expected job loss occurred.

As to topic, it was fairly natural. I was raised by parents who lived (and taught) a frugal lifestyle. As a professional, I had been a purchasing manager and a financial planner, so getting value for money was something that I could speak on with some knowledge.

What are two or three things you’d recommend others remember when choosing their Plan B’s?

Have a plan C, D and E, too! I looked at and explored a half dozen different ideas before I started So don't assume that your first idea will work. And, don't get discouraged if it doesn't work. Failing once is not permanent. It just means you found one thing that didn't work.

Find something that you enjoy doing. It's true what they say. If you enjoy your work, it's not nearly so hard to show up each day.

Don't count on immediate success. It was about 2 years before I started drawing a salary from The Dollar Stretcher.

One of your articles talks about the “Costs of Procrastination”, and I’m so glad you brought this up because I think procrastination is something everyone struggles with (I know I do). What are three or four practical ways you’re able to combat procrastination in your life?

First, recognize it for what it is. It looks like something small, but it can have a serious effect on your success.

Next, realize that doing the things you don't like first takes them off your mind. I learned it early. Doing the tasks I liked least, first. Once they're done they can't bother you any more. That makes the rest of the day more pleasant.

We’re all aware of the age-old saying “Time is money.” Do you think people trying to stretch their dollars should keep an eye on how much time, in addition to money, they’re spending? If so, what would you say is the best way to put a dollar value on your time?

Of course! My time isn't free nor is it unlimited. So it has great value to me! But, I don't mind spending some time saving money. Many money-saving projects aren't that complicated and don't take much time. If I'm facing something that could be a time taker, I give serious thought to what my time is worth and whether I'd rather give up the time or the money.

You advise those seeking a more frugal lifestyle to know “How deep the water is.” Once they’ve measured just how deep their debt goes, what are the immediate steps they should take in the direction towards becoming financially solvent?  

The first step is to stop taking on water! Find out where your money is going and do what you can to stop it. You won't get anywhere until your income exceeds your expenses. It may be as simple as changing your entertainment habits or how you grocery shop. But it might require lifestyle changes (different car or home) or even bankruptcy. But as in any trip, you need to know where you are at the start and in which direction you're headed. Otherwise you'll never get to your destination.

Next set up a plan to begin repaying debt. And force yourself to make enough adjustments to stick to it.

Do-It-Yourself (DIY) jobs can be really gratifying, but they can also be very time-intensive and energy-consuming. What are two or three pieces of advice you would give to people debating whether or not to undertake a project themselves or hire a pro for it?

Know yourself. Some people are adventurous and fairly good with tools. Others, not so much. So size up a project and recognize what you can or cannot bring to the table. The net makes that much easier. You'll find many 'how to' videos that will help you see what needs to be done and how your skill set compares.

Figure out how much you'll save. Some jobs require special tools. You could end up spending all your savings on tools. If you wanted to add that to your toolbox, that's fine. But have a good idea of how much you'll save before you start a DIY project.

One of the contributors to your blog posted about when that line between wants and needs becomes blurred. What do you always tell yourself when you have to distinguish between a want and a need so you don’t end up spending money you might not have in your budget for unnecessary stuff?

Obviously it's different for each one of us. So there's no one size fits all answer.  I generally don't have trouble with that. For the most part I'm not tempted to make unplanned purchases. So it rarely comes up. And even when it does, if there's not room in the monthly budget, then something else would need to go to make the purchase possible.

I suspect that the whole needs vs wants debate isn't so much about categorizing purchases. Rather it's about a mindset. A willingness to put off any expense that's not necessary if the situation requires that level of discipline.

You’ve said that food bills can be the easiest place to start for a family trying to cut down on its total costs. Could you tell those who might not know what a grocery price book is and how it should be used? Are there other tools you’d recommend to help economize when shopping for groceries?

A grocery pricebook is similar to a 'buy history' that professional buyers use. It's really quite simple.

Most of us use the same 10 to 15 recipes on a regular basis. And we buy about 30 to 50 items frequently. Of those 30 or so items, there are about 10 of them that are expensive and drive the cost of our groceries.

So we keep a little book that lists prices for those items when we visit our store. One page per item. Columns for the date, which store, quantity and price. It can be as simple as a loose leaf notebook or even a phone app.

You'll soon begin to see patterns on prices. You'll know when you have a good price and should stock up. Or when to just buy what you absolutely must.

In a short time you'll be consuming the exact same food, but save up to 20% of your grocery bill. It's the best tool going for grocery saving.

Sometimes a healthy lifestyle can also be an expensive one, considering the high cost of organic and natural foods, memberships to gyms or athletic facilities, etc. In your experience, is there a way to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle complete with fitness and proper diet while still on a budget?

Sure! Our ancestors did it. So can we. It takes a little extra effort, but you can find organic foods that are locally grown without spending a lot. Moving to a more seasonal lifestyle can be a big help.

Club memberships are trendy, but people were exercising long before there were any spin classes (or whatever the current craze is). Most of us can get a lot of exercise just by putting down some of our power tools (lawn blower anyone?) and picking up something manual.

Walking and biking are free. So is playing soccer with your kids or tennis with your friends. Even a set of free weights can be found inexpensively.

So don't use your budget as an excuse for not living a healthy lifestyle. For all but the poorest of us, that's a choice. Not a necessity.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, Gary. Do you have any last-minute tips for our readers before you go?  

I'd encourage them to look at frugal living as a lifestyle choice that doesn't subtract from their life, but rather adds to it. Not worrying about debt is liberating. Knowing that you have money saved for the next emergency feels great. So the sacrifices really aren't significant. Rather they're a tool to a much better future. 

Like this interview? Check out the rest of our Interview with a Savings Expert series. Have a question for an expert or someone you want to see interviewed? Tweet your suggestions with #SavingsExperts to @CouponPal!

By: Seth

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