Interview with a Savings Expert: Carrie Rocha

Carrie Rocha is a wife, a mother, and a debt-defying guru. Since 2009, Carrie has been spreading the word on savvy savings techniques, both on the ground to stay-at-home parents as well as through her now much-developed blog, “Pocket Your Dollars .” After interviewing with FOX and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Carrie quickly became the city’s trusted expert on savings. Here’s Carrie.  

Hi Carrie! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. You mentioned that the impetus for founding your blog “Pocket Your Dollars” was a mounting pile of debt you and your husband were facing that you were determined to clear away. When did the debt hit a tipping point for you?

In June 2006 – which was during the boom, my husband and I decided to get out of debt and stay out of debt for the rest of our lives. The impetus was a sense that we’d die with regrets of opportunities we passed up because money held us back. We wanted to rearrange our finances to be able to fulfill our life’s dreams.

You and your husband managed to get out of debt right before the economic crash of 2009 shook the country, and your family enjoyed relative financial stability. How did you manage to steer clear of the financial uncertainty and restructuring happening around you?

In February 2009, we became a single income family, by choice, as my husband started grad school at night while caring for our two young girls by day. Three weeks later, we got word that I’d be laid off. We were grateful to have our mortgage as our only debt and a 4-5 month emergency fund on hand.

We never had to tap our emergency fund because the craziest thing happened during the 9 months between my notice of layoff and the actual last day of work. I started a blog, as a hobby, and it become insanely popular and I figured out how to monetize it. I transitioned into self-employment when I was done working in January 2010.

(We were very grateful for the government subsidy on COBRA payments that we qualified for and used for over a year. Not sure we would have survived those first few months of self-employment without that).

Your remarkable online presence has attracted the eyeballs of such notable companies as General Mills, who has invited you to teach savings classes to their employees. In these classes, what do you plan to achieve?

I have taught numerous financial wellness classes at Fortune 100 companies. In some, my goal has been to teach employees how to stretch their paycheck with frugal living hacks and tips. In other classes, my goal has been to inspire and equip a financial transformation including a debt-free life.

O.K., so one of your rules for pocketing your dollars is to “stop clipping coupons.” That sounds a little counterintuitive, but your alternative is something called the Grocery Coupon Database. Can you tell us what this database is, how it works, and how it can help facilitate smart purchasing?

Who likes to sit around all day and clip coupons? Instead there are so many digital and online options that allow you to either print coupons at home or load them to your smartphone, that you don’t need to clip from the Sunday paper. On my website, I keep a database of all the available grocery discounts – coupons, plus the digital offers I just mentioned. Use the database to find these discounts before you head to the store.

You’ve got tons of great techniques for cutting back costs. Can you share two or three saving rules with our readers that are easy to follow and also really effective?

Know the price history of an item before you buy. This is the only way to ensure that you are really getting a deal. I use online tools like CamelCamelCamel.com and ShopSavvy.com to get this information.

Here’s a pretty easy way to save on gasoline. Use the free Gas Buddy app. It will locate the lowest price gas station near you, using GPS, so you can spend less on fuel without driving out of your way to get the savings.

While you assumed the role of breadwinner of the household, your husband transitioned to stay-at-home dad by day, and graduate student by night. What are two or three pieces of advice you’d give to our readers who might be considering adult education, or stepping out of the office to raise their children?

  • Have enough cash on hand, in an emergency fund, to cover 4-6 months of expenses.

  • Resist debt. Before you assume that you’ll need to take out loans to pay for grad school, explore your options. We paid cash for my husband’s education by shopping around to find a lower-priced, yet quality program that allowed us to make year-round monthly payments to spread out the financial load.

One of your articles discusses your particular approach to, as you call it, delaying your children’s gratification. These days this has become a very big issue in the realm of childrearing. What is one of the most effective ways you go about instilling patience in your young ones that our readers might try with their own children?

I've got a long way to go before my girls have their own bank accounts and their first jobs. But  I know that right now, in their preschool / early elementary years, I have got to teach them some fundamental lessons about money. Yet they are too young to understand the abstract nature of money. Hmmm…it seemed like a quandary until I realized that they do have currencies within their control, but none of them are legal tender.

TV time is our main trading currency right now. Each day my girls are allowed to watch two 30-minute television shows. Taking the marshmallow study to heart, I started allowing them to bank their TV time. If they forgo 30 minutes today, then they can have 90 minutes tomorrow. Ninety minutes feels like a bigger deal than 60 because it's enough time to watch a full-length film on Netflix. And hey, that beats two episodes of Caillou any day, right?

Savings experts agree that one of the keys to financial stability is distinguishing between wants and needs, and then retrenching the former. Do you share the same belief?

I’m not a fan of the distinction between want and need, actually. The reason is that we justify anything we really want as a need. Instead, I approach this matter by encouraging people to prioritize the things that are most important to them – want or need. Make your money work toward the things that matter most to you.

As long as you can get an expense into your financial plan, so you aren’t buying on impulse and derailing yourself, then buy whatever you want.

For me, personally, a couple trivial things that I *really* enjoy – coffee ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, expensive haircuts, and traveling.

Thanks so much for your time today, Carrie. Is there any bit of wisdom you’d like to leave our readers with before you depart?

Lasting financial change doesn’t come because of some magic budget worksheet or revelation that you need to live within your means. We know those things. Change happens when we do what we know to do. That’s why I’m so committed to talking about our attitudes/beliefs about money.

When we understand the mindsets that fuel our saving, spending, and earning choices, then we can adjust them. From there, the behaviors that have often alluded us – creating and sticking to a budget, for example – are much more likely to stick around.

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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