Interview with a Savings Expert – Danielle Leonard

Not all moms are created equal. When it comes to being frugal, there are tons of ways to save, and no does it quite like Danielle Leonard - The Frugal Navy Wife. This expert savings blogger brings a perspective unlike any other I have found online with extensive knowledge to help everyone from the everyday mom to military families. Join me and celebrate the Fourth of July with The Frugal Navy Wife!

I read that you started to focus on saving money after discovering you were pregnant with your first child. What steps did you first take towards living a more frugal life?

My first son was a Honeymoon Baby. We knew that since we were just married, we needed to be as frugal as possible. We started with him. I asked friends that had kids if they were getting rid of any baby items. We got 2 swings, a bumbo seat, a bouncer, a play mat, and a few toys all free from friends. One friend even gave me an entire wardrobe for a newborn to 12-month for $30! To this day, I still get clothes from friends and at thrift or consignment stores. I then started couponing once he was born and had to be on special formula. We were spending over $300 a month on formula alone, not to mention diapers wipes and more!

It must have been difficult to stay on top of saving with a growing family. What advice or suggestions can you give new parents looking to cut back on expenses? Do you use any websites or tools to keep track of the money you save or is it all receipts and calculators?

If you are looking to cut back on expenses you need to know where your money is going! I use Mint.com. It’s free and you can link it to your bank account. It tracks all your income, purchases, bill payments, and fees. Once you know where you money is going, you can cut back. We had one month where I saw that we spent $900 eating out! I sat down and cried and that's when I realized I needed to track it weekly. We could have spent just $200 on dining that month and put $700 in savings!!

The Frugal Navy Wife launched in June 2010. What inspired you to start sharing your savings expertise?

While I was pregnant with my daughter (my 2nd kid) I started ‘extreme couponing’ (not as extreme as the show). I wanted to stock up on diapers and wipes and have a small stockpile of items to cut my grocery bill each week once she was born. I was posting the deals on my Facebook of me walking out of the store getting packs of diaper for $2 each and my friends kept asking me “HOW?.”

I started the blog to just post how to coupon so that when people asked I could direct them there. I shared the deals I was getting and my friends shared it with their friends. At one point, it took off and I took it on as a full-time work-at-home job.

The Frugal Navy Wife is the first site that I have seen catering directly to military families. What challenges do you see military moms facing that other moms could learn from?

I think the biggest challenge is knowing our service member can deploy at any time. Because of that we have to be flexible, in our budgeting, in our planning and scheduling. My biggest lesson from this is to expect the unexpected and it’s helped a bunch in our budgeting and saving.

Your site features an entire section dedicated to military discounts and deals. What type of savings opportunities are out there for military families that people may not realize?

One of my favorite Military Freebies is the free welcome home banner. You can customize it for free and just pay shipping (order it at the beginning of the deployment for the cheapest shipping costs!). It’s a vinyl banner and we save each of ours in the deployment boxes we keep.

Another great freebie it think about are the many organizations that spouses can apply for while their service member is deployed to send them free care packages on top of the ones that you send.

Military families tend to change constantly – whether it’s dad coming and going from deployment or relocating to a new city every few years. How does that affect your budgeting throughout the year? How are you able to overcome those challenges?

I do my budget monthly using mint.com (it’s free!). This way I can change as needed. One tip is to have a military miscellaneous budget and add as little as $20 a month to it. That way when he surprises you and says that he needs a new shirt because he ruined his old one, needs a new ribbon, or any other request – you have it already budgeted in. This is also great to have for those last-minute deployments costs that pop-up.

I know it can be costly to send a bunch of care packages to loved ones overseas throughout the year. Do you have any favorite techniques to cut the cost of shipping?

If you got to your local post office and ask for FPO/AE Flat rate boxes. You can shove them full and pay a flat price. To go a step further, you can print your postage online and save 50¢ box! To get the most for your money, take things you can out of the boxes. My Hubby likes these breakfast bars, so I would buy a box or 2. Since they are individually wrapped, I take them out of the box and fit them in the care package, which allows me to fit much more in!

You feature a ton of deals on your site. Is it ever difficult to keep from purchasing things just because they are a bargain?

I admit I probably spend more on deals than I would if I wasn’t a blogger. But, how I else can have my Christmas Shopping done before Black Friday, have a nice stockpile of birthday gifts, and not pay full price for diapers since we had my son? Hubby and I are OK with that. We have an ongoing joke with the UPS man – he thinks it’s funny how much stuff I get from Amazon alone!

I read that you save up to $50 a month by paying in cash and keeping the change and even email manufacturers directly to ask for coupons. Can you share one more expert technique to get a great deal that our online coupon users might not know already?

Last year I started the June Grocery Challenge. I challenged my readers and myself to use only cash to buy groceries. The reason is when you swipe your card you don’t care if you are over a few dollars. But those few dollars add up yearly. Plus, if you have to break a $100 bill, it hurts more than seeing the same amount on a card reader! So, each month I pull out cash for my grocery shopping. I coupon and shop sales and have been able to stay under my budget each month and put that money into savings!

Even with all the sales and deals online today, it can be difficult to find the best price on some items. If you could create a coupon for one thing in your  life, what would it be?

Free house cleaning? Really, who wouldn’t want that? But for one product? I would love to see more coupons for fresh meats, ground beef, chicken, pork chops, roasts and more. I stock up when they are at my rock bottom prices but If i could get some coupons for those I’d be a happy shopper!

Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with our readers. I really appreciate you taking the time. Any last words of advice for aspiring frugal moms out there?

I want to say if you are just starting out saving money and budgeting – don’t try to do it all at once. Make one small change a month and add a new one each month. If you try to do it all, you will get wiped out and most people will end up back in their old habits. Also make sure your whole household is on board with that change each month, even the kids!

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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