Interview with a Savings Expert: Crystal Paine

If living on a $30-a-week grocery budget sounds impossible to you, then you have not yet heard Crystal Paine’s story. A supermarket saver of superhero proportions, Crystal has been spreading her secrets on her blog MoneySavingMom.com as well as countless ebooks. We had the good fortune to ask her some questions just as she had a break from the tour for her latest book, “Say Goodbye to Survival Mode,” and this is what she had to say.  

Hi Crystal, great to have you with us. To begin, let me ask you about your site. You started MoneySavingMom.com in 2007. What inspired you to create the site and start sharing your tips with the masses?

MoneySavingMom.com began as an offshoot of a small mommy blog I had while my husband was in law school. We were living in a little basement apartment on a $30-per-week grocery budget, trying to stretch every penny as far as possible so we could stay out of debt. It was tough and trying, but we grew together as a couple through those lean law school years.

One day, as a sort of aside, I said something on that blog about buying all our groceries for $17 that week. People started coming out the woodwork asking how on earth we did that.

As a result, I ended up writing a series on Supermarket Savings with very practical ways on how to cut your grocery bill. That series was so popular that I turned it into an ebook. Over the course of the next two years, I sold thousands of those ebooks.

The questions continued pouring in, so I finally did an online course. This course was so well received that we realized there was a big enough market for a blog focused on the topic of practical ways to save money. So in 2007, we started MoneySavingMom.com.

You have a new book called "Say Goodbye to Survival Mode." First of all, congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment. Second, it contains a list of nine steps to stress-free, mindful, and cost-effective living, which I think everyone could benefit from. What are those steps, in just a few words?

In my book, I share with you how my life has been revolutionized by these 9 simple principles:

  1. Learn to say no.

  2. Determine your most important priorities.

  3. Set goals.

  4. Cultivate small, daily habits.

  5. Get your finances in order.

  6. Simplify your home management.

  7. Stop feeling like a failure.

  8. Become a generous giver.

  9. Take time to refresh and re-energize.

I know you get asked a lot how you lived on just $35 a week for a household and grocery budget. Really, how did you do it?

I’ve been doing this a long time, so I have some serious experience under my belt. Don’t expect to match that number if you’re new to bargain-shopping or have eight children; it’s just a number that works for our family. As I always say, “Do what works for you!”

However, to answer your question, we employ a variety of methods to keep our grocery budget low. A few of our favorite ways to save are: using coupons, pairing sales with coupons, playing the Drugstore Game, cooking and baking from scratch, freezer cooking, eating less meat, and planning menus based upon what’s on sale at the store.

I think that your success in sticking with a budget starts with your attitude. If you don’t believe it’s possible, it’s probably not going to happen. However, a can-do, creative attitude will go a very long way! Commit to doing the best you can with the time and resources you have and then approach your budget limitations as a fun challenge to see how well you can do with what you have.

On your site, you feature a series called “Time Management 101.” For someone just starting to wrangle their hectic schedule, what are two things they can start doing right away to alleviate some stress?

First off, keep your to do list short. You need a plan for your day, otherwise, you’ll most likely just end up running in circles. However, if you try to bite off more than you can chew in a day’s time, you’ll end up overwhelmed from the get-go.

Set yourself up for success by creating a short to do list for each day. I suggest no more than 5-7 items on your list. It’s better to only plan to do four things and to actually accomplish three of them, then to make a list of 47 to-do items, and a only get a few bits and pieces of some of them done.

And my second suggestion is to make your daily goals measurable. When you make your to-do list, be realistic. Don’t write down “Clear out clutter in the whole house” or “Clean house” or “Find a new job.”

Break things down into bite-sized, manageable pieces, and be specific. For instance, instead of writing down “Clear out the clutter in the whole house.” Set a goal to spend 30 minutes clearing out the clutter in one room. Instead of attempting to clean the whole house, make a goal to vacuum two rooms, do a load of laundry, and clean the toilets.

Not only are specific, measurable goals much more concrete, they are also much more manageable. The thought of cleaning the whole house is overwhelming, but knowing you just have to vacuum two rooms, finish a load of laundry, and clean two toilets is much more achievable. Plus, when you set measurable goals, you know when they are accomplished.

When you and your husband were first married, you lived on a very tight and restricted budget. For some, this can be very dispiriting. How did you two stay optimistic and confident during those trying times?

I won’t pretend that it was a walk in the park... because it wasn’t! There were many difficult days when we wanted to throw in the towel. But a few things that kept us going were:

The Grace of God: As Christians, God is our hope, our Sustainer, and our Provider. He has proven Himself faithful time and time again.

Our Parents’ Examples: My husband and I were both blessed to have parents who modeled wise financial stewardship before us. Seeing them make short-term sacrifices in order to achieve long-term benefits was a huge inspiration to us and one of the main reasons why we made the audacious commitment to stay out of debt during law school.

Being on the Same Page as a Couple: One of the biggest keys to our financial success has been the fact that we are wholeheartedly on the same page when it comes to finances. We are best friends, we talk about everything, we see all of our finances as “ours,” and we set goals together — taking into account both of our needs and wants.

Nagging and dragging your spouse along never works. Believe me, I’ve tried that and it was a miserable failure. Both of you must be willing to communicate and compromise in order to get on the same page and the same team — in finances and in all of life. There is no “I” in team.

Monthly Budget Accountability Meetings: Not only have we set financial goals together since the beginning of our marriage, but we’ve also held a practice of having Monthly Budget Accountability Meetings. This is when we both go over our current financial standings — what we spent over the last month, what each of our budget categories are looking like, and where we have a surplus and a deficit.

We talk about areas where we struggled, we discuss possible changes and tweaks to the budget, and we look at our yearly financial goals to see the progress (or lack thereof!). The Monthly Budget Accountability Meetings are not always fun and yes, sometimes there are some hearty discussions (ahem!), but without these regular check-ups, it would be a lot easier to lose touch with where we are financially and it would be a lot easier to get way off course without realizing we were going in a bad direction.

Remembering How Far We’d Come: It’s easy to focus on how far you have left to go, or how little progress it seems like you’re making. Instead, we tried to focus on how far we’d come.

Sometimes when we were feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, we would sit down and look at our budget and bank account and just be in awe that it had held up for so long and we’d been able to pay all of our bills. That gave us hope to keep holding on and holding out.

Can you share a way that you have been able to instill in your kids the same frugal spirit you have that our readers might be able to try with their own children?

More is caught than taught when we’re raising children. We can tell our kids how important financial stewardship is. We can read them stories of people who are wise with their money. We can stress how much of a difference we can make in the world if we manage our money well. But our actions will always speak louder than words.

We’ve sat our children down from a young age and explained to them the reasons behind why we’ve chosen to stay out of debt, to live simply, and to not use credit cards. It’s not just so that we can be in a better financial situation, but so we can be in a position to give generously.

But we don’t want to just talk to our children; we also give them opportunities to act. We have paid chores and non-paid chores at our house. They have chores that they do just as being part of our family and then extra chores that they can elect to do and get paid for.

I love the real-life learning that is taking place through the paid chore chart system. The kids are learning that, if you apply yourself and work hard, you reap rewards. Conversely, if you choose to play instead of doing paid chores, you won’t earn any money and therefore won’t have any money to buy anything when we go shopping. It also significantly cuts down on whining and keeps things simple: if you don’t have money or you didn’t bring your money, you don’t get to buy anything.

While earning money in real-life isn’t always as simple as completing more chores on a chart, the kids are still learning so many valuable lessons with regards to handling money. And the neatest thing has been to see how they are working together as a team – sharing payment for chores when they help each other out and pooling their money to buy different things.

We also encourage them to use their earnings to give to others. They have used their money to fund Operation Christmas Child boxes, to purchase goats and chickens for children in other countries, and even to contribute to purchasing clean water for those who don’t have it. It’s been so rewarding to see our children becoming givers... truly, I think it’s been one of our greatest joys as parents. And we wholeheartedly hope that these lessons are ones they carry with them for the rest of their lives!

Thanks so much for speaking with us today, Crystal. Is there anything you’d like to leave our readers with before we let you go?

I leave you with these words: stop letting life happen to you and go happen to life! You’re not stuck unless you choose to be. So choose to change your life... one small step at a time!

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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