Interview with a Savings Expert: Clark Howard

Clark Howard has definitely made a name for himself as a personal finance expert. With a widely successful radio show, more than 10 published books, and a popular blog, Clark has proven to readers that his advice is certainly worth taking. Read on for our interview with this savings genius!

Your nationally-syndicated talk show, “The Clark Howard Show,” is heard on more than 200 (!) radio stations every day. How do you decide which topics to cover for your show?

We have a pre-show meeting everyday around 11:45 a.m. to discuss the day's stories. That way we can determine what's timely and needs to be covered and what can be held for another day. Then it's research time until 1 p.m. when I go on the air.

I'm blessed to work with some very talented and smart people on my staff who help me do my job!

You used to run a travel agency, which resulted in your first radio appearance. Does this prior experience influence how you find deals on vacation plans?

No, the industry has changed so much. When we first started, we called the airlines to find out if there was a seat available and wrote out tickets by hand! Today it's all about booking online and finding the best deal that way. But I will say this, no matter how much changes, my one key rule of travel stays the same: Buy the deal first and then figure out why you want to go there!

You’ve already written more than 10 books on saving money! Your latest one, “Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul,” details ways to overhaul your finances and increase your savings. What do you think is the first step someone should take towards financial stability?

The first step has to be the smallest one of all: Contributing to that 401k at work, or an IRA or Roth IRA outside of work if your employer doesn’t offer any retirement plan.

Many times people feel there's no money to save with. If you feel you couldn't possibly do a 401k because there's no room for any savings, I want you to start by saving just 1%.

Then, 6 months down the road, bump your contribution up by just another 1%. And then do the same again in another 6 months. After 5 years of that, you'll be saving 10% of your pay before any employer match!

But by doing it just 1% at time, you won't notice the difference in your paycheck because it's all little baby steps.

In “Clark’s Big Book of Bargains,” you suggest ways that shoppers can get the most for their money. What are 2 or 3 of your favorite recommendations for cutting costs on everyday expenses?

There are two no-brainers for most people. First, reduce what you pay for your cellphone service. There are so many cheap no-contract offers in the marketplace. You can pay as little as $25 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data through a company like Republic Wireless. Search 'smartphone guide' on ClarkHoward.com to see a full list of what's available from the various companies out there.

Second, reduce what you pay for pay TV. There are so many cheap options out there like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime for on-demand programming. To make getting that Internet programming on your TV an easy process, try some of the products like Roku and Chromecast. You'll find you can easily cut what you pay to the cable or satellite companies in half. The only downside, for guys particularly, is you won't get ESPN!

You’re very involved in giving back to your community, and you’ve even started several civic programs including Atlanta Volunteer Action and The Big Buddy Program. How can people still find a way to donate to charity even if they’re living on a strict budget?

Every year, Americans prove themselves to be the most generous people on planet Earth. We as a nation give more to charity than any other people anywhere else.

But donations don't have to be money. If you're short on cash, donating your time can be just as valuable, if not more valuable. Mentoring a young person as little as 1 hour a week can help get that person on track if they've gotten off course.

If you are lucky enough to have money to give, I like to use CharityNavigator.org and Give.org to vet charities online. Both sites will allow you to check the exact name of a charity to make sure you're giving to legit groups. They'll also tell you how well charities handle the money you give them.

The message boards on your site gives fans a chance to speak up about their favorite topics. Can you recall any money-saving tips from your readers that have influenced your own behavior?

Yes, one of the biggest fan-submitted tips has become a classic piece of advice that people know me for. It has to do with shaving.

Years ago, I got a call on the show from a listener who happened to be an engineer. This man said he had a way to save money on shaving by making his disposable blades last extra long. He went on to explain that blades corrode from moisture more than they do from the physical act of shaving. So, if you just dry your blade after each use, you can make it last and last.

I've taken this tip and had a lot of fun with it. I routinely try to go a year on a single blade—without cutting myself and without degrading the quality of my shave…and I've done it. It's become one of those things that people know me for. I've taken this trick on national TV, on my book tours, and just about everywhere else I go in life!

You have more than 81,000 (!) followers on Twitter. How does this interaction through social media influence the topics you decide to cover?

Monitoring social media helps us keep track of the trends people are talking about and sharing with their friends. My social media presence allows a bigger swath of people than ever to be a part of "Team Clark"—like the man with the shaving tip I just told you about—and offer helpful advice or sometimes ripoff warnings to their fellow consumer. I want to meet my audience wherever they want to be met!

It’s been so great getting the chance to ask you some questions! Any other last tips for our CouponPal readers?

Keep on saving!

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!

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