Interview with a Savings Expert: J Money

Think personal finance can’t be fun? Well then, you’ve never read J. Money’s blog, Budgets Are Sexy. He’s put together a helpful site with tons of tools to assist you in managing your budget and saving money. Check out his interview below to see the secrets to his success. (Hint: it involves being awesome.)

Your blog, Budgets Are Sexy, has been featured in tons of well-known publications, including The Los Angeles Times, Time, and Glamour. What makes your site different from all the others out there?

Oh man, because I'm feisty? :) Honestly, I couldn't tell you with any accuracy, but I do know I try my best to be as engaging and entertaining as possible since the subject we're dealing with is usually anything but. And I pour my heart into it for hours too, so I'm glad it shows. My goal is really just to get people to stop for a few and think about their money, so as long as I'm accomplishing that, I'm one happy blogger.

You mention that you had to get your finances together after buying your first home. You started by tracking your expenses and making a budget for yourself. When you reviewed your finances, were there areas where you were significantly overspending? Were these findings surprising?

Heck yes! The one area that really caught me off guard was all our extraneous spending we were doing. I had never been too bad with money generally speaking, but what I mentally budgeted in my head for "extra" stuff up to this point was incredibly different than what was TRULY going out the door when we started tracking it. To the tune of over $300 too – no chump change! Which is why I'm now so adamant about tracking this stuff whenever someone asks me for advice on getting their money in order. It's not the most glamorous tip a person wants to hear (so they usually ignore it), but anyone who's been successful will tell you that it helps immensely. Even if just in the beginning before you get your act together.

Your Budget Templates are an extremely helpful tool for your readers. Because there are so many finance websites on the web, it can be confusing to select sites that are truly helpful. Of the ones you’ve mentioned on your blog, can you select two or three of your very favorites?

Sure, my all-time favorite is the one I created myself – but of course I'm pretty biased ;) It probably irks people that it's bright and colorful, but it totally changed my finances around mainly because of the "net worth" section included at the top. I'm a firm believer of tracking that too over the months, so it's nice to have everything in one pretty page to keep things simple (and of course you can always change the colors). My second favorite is probably the one from My Money Shrugged, because it's a little more in-depth and "normal" looking, and then my 3rd favorite would probably be one of the online management sites such as Mint.com. It really depends on how actively or not you want to manage your money though. I prefer to manually track this stuff 'cuz I'm a nerd like that, but for those who just want to set it and forget it, it's probably better to go the online route.

J’s Million Dollar Club features your to-do list for putting yourself on the path to becoming a millionaire in the next decade. You’ve created a list of tasks to help you reach your goal. The list includes things like maxing out your 401k and selling unwanted items on Craigslist. So far, what has been the hardest one for you to stick with?

The selling stuff on Craigslist one! I sit in front of a computer for 10 hours on a good day, so the last thing I want to do is then write about a tchotchke I have to sell, only to have the guy flake out on me in the end (why is CL so bad with that?). I've since learned that I'm much more motivated with bigger payoffs than smaller ones, so now I stick to my online business or side hustles, and just list off the bigger items on Craigslist instead. Like, say, a couch or a canoe. On the other end of the spectrum, I'd take 401(k) all day, every day if I weren't self-employed! You get FREE money for just investing some of your own, which you should be doing anyways! It blows my mind that people turn that down.

The Side Hustle Series on your site presents guest posts from readers who have interesting side jobs (everything from food taster to referee). If you had spare time after writing your blog, what side job would you be interested in trying out?

I'd be totally interested in doing something with coins. I recently started collecting them as a hobby last summer (yes, like an old man!), and the idea of making money with something physical would be rather refreshing – maybe as a dealer? I was just telling my wife how weird it is sometimes that I get paid to write about my *thoughts* vs, say, a *product*, so getting into the coin industry would be quite the interesting ride. Though you know it would eventually lead to yet another blog for me.

You also run the site, Rockstar Finance, which features stories by other personal finance bloggers. Are there certain types of articles that you enjoy reading more than others?

Yes, anything that's *unique* and / or has tons of passion. As I alluded to earlier, personal finance isn't the most exciting topic in the world, nor has it really changed in hundreds (or thousands!) of years, so those bloggers who freshen it up a bit and put their own spin on stuff really grab my attention. I comb through over 150 articles a day to find these "gems," so personality and thought definitely shines through (and that's not to say I wouldn't feature good quality content that's a bit dry; I have, but in those cases it brings something super good or helpful to the table). It's funny because as a blogger we always think our own stuff is amazing every single time (myself included!) but the fact is not every article of ours can be a home run. So my job is to go out and find them, and then promote the crap out of them to better spread the word along :)

Your post, “My One-a-Day Habits (And Why They’re Important),” touches on the importance of sticking to a plan to help you reach your goals. On the flip side, bad habits can wreak havoc on your life (especially your budget). What were some bad habits you had to break in order to get on top of your finances?

There's been a handful of habits I've had to break along the way. One of the earlier ones was to quit going to the mall whenever I was bored. I never really went to go shopping per se (mainly just to get out of the house), but when you go to places that ask for your money, of course you're going to lose some of it. So I went on a "no spending" spree for 40 days where I wasn't allowed to buy anything outside of the main necessities (mortgage, bills, etc), and that helped me break that pattern right away. I still go shopping here and there, but only when there's a real *point* to it all – not just to go do something. Another bad habit of mine was always transferring money from my checking account to savings account to try and save, only to then transfer it right back at the end of the month when I ran out of money ;) This would go on month after month never saving a thing – even though it kinda FELT like I was saving. Then eventually I wised up and created a padding amount of $1,000 into my checking to cover me going forward. Which was only made possible after tracking my money routinely and subconsciously saving more (I also had to break the habit of not budgeting correctly there or else that $1,000 would have disappeared eventually too!)

You have nearly 16,000 (!) followers on Twitter. Have you learned any interesting or surprising tips from your fans?

Hell yeah! Those guys are always sending me little nuggets here and there. I love it. Just the other day, I learned that someone found a penny in their office drawer that's probably worth 25,000,000x face value (that's $250,000). And then a little later that I was apparently in a Pizza Hut commercial driving around on a cooler! Haha... Not really personal finance related, but still very much interesting and surprising ;)

Kiplinger named Budgets Are Sexy one of the “best blogs for twenty somethings.” If you had one piece of advice for people just starting to take control of their finances, what would it be?

To just spend the time working out a nice little system for your money, so that by the time more comes your way later you've already got a good system in place. As one of my good blogging friends likes to say – "Treat all your dollars as employees and make sure to give them a job to do!" And the beauty with money is that you only need to figure out how to deal with it once, and then you're all set going forward! It's really not that complicated!

Thanks so much for your time today! You actually make personal finance fun (and yes, sexy too!) Any last words of wisdom for our CouponPal readers?

Yes, make sure to HAVE FUN with your money! It's important to save and invest and pay down your debts, yada, yada yada, but it's also important to LIVE a little too. There's nothing wrong with setting aside some "do whatever the hell I want" cash every month to help keep you sane... If you don't have balance in your life – whether with money, or sex, drugs, rock n' roll? – you're liable to burst at the seams.

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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