Interview with a Savings Expert: Jacob Irwin

Jacob Irwin’s blog, My Personal Finance Journey, is a key source for everything from overcoming debt to understanding investing. Over the years, he’s developed a comprehensive site that helps readers answer a wide variety of questions about personal finance. Read our interview with Jacob below for some great tips on managing your money!

The goal of your blog, My Personal Finance Journey, is to dispel some myths about investing and give readers frugal living tips. What initially gave you the idea to start the site?

I stumbled across personal finance blogging by coincidence. In Jan 2010, I found myself with some extra time and energy left over at night after working at my day job, and I was looking for a side business to start that would allow me to set my own hours and not over commit myself all at once should I get busy with other things in life.

One day, I was reading a book about side businesses that can be started from your home with little or no start up capital. Blogging was included on this list of ideas. Since I had been doing a lot of reading about personal finance and investing as a hobby, blogging about personal finance seemed like the best fit.  

You list one of the most important articles on the site as the “Account Hierarchy Priority Order,” in which you break down how people should manage their money. How did you come up with this system?

One of the most fascinating topics in personal finance is how money should be prioritized once we all receive our paychecks. This is likely so fascinating to me because there are so many options available to us, and it really becomes a psychological investigation.

The idea of priorities for our money is what the Account Hierarchy is all about. It basically is a summary of how several of my favorite personal finance authors (David Bach, Ric Edelman, etc.) think that money should be used.

You encourage readers to develop their own “Purpose Focused Financial Plan.” What do you think is the most important first step towards managing one’s finances?

The most important first step towards managing your finances is to define what your life values and dreams are. From there, you will be more motivated to manage your finances well in order to achieve what you care about.

There’s a list on your site featuring a variety of offers you’ve tried out (including ones from Netflix, CitiBank, and Bank of America). What are 2 or 3 of the best ‘free money’ offers you’ve taken advantage of?

The best free money offers, by far, are no-annual fee credit card sign up bonuses. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I typically find these offers by visiting this site - http://www.creditcards.com/cash-back.php. You simply look for no annual fee cards. Several of them are currently offering $100 cash for signing up and then spending $500 in 3 months after opening.

In October 2011, you opted to start donating some of your blog earnings to the 10% Give Back Project. What made you decide to start the project? And what steps can people take towards making donating a part of their budget?

After doing some thinking at the beginning of October 2011 about what direction I want my blog to grow and evolve towards in the future, I decided that any income made from this blog would have more significance to me at a personal life values level if I knew that a portion were being given back to the following places: 1) the readers and 2) charitable organizations. Along with being a great way to interact with readers and do good for the community, it also is a good way to bring in some new traffic to the blog.

Since starting this give-back project in 2011, I have often encouraged other bloggers to do the same. Many have said that once they start making money, they will start, but I have not yet seen anyone else run a give-back. It’s pretty easy to get started though! Each month, I simply tally up my blogging income and see what 10% of the net, after tax amount comes to.

From a more general perspective, the best way for people to incorporate donating into their normal budget is to make the process automatic and happen directly after they get paid.

For a lot of people, the world of investing can be very confusing. Are there specific resources (besides your blog, of course!) that you would suggest readers use if they want a basic understanding of investing?

Definitely. The book that got me started learning about the world of investing and personal finance was Eric Tyson’s Personal Finance for Dummies.

Creating and sticking to a budget is vital to many people’s financial success. Do you have any go-to websites or apps that you think are helpful when managing money?

There are a ton of apps and budgeting tools that have popped up over the past few years that I have been blogging about. For me personally, I favor a high degree of customization with my budgeting, and therefore, I do everything with a regular Excel spreadsheet in Google Drive.

However, as a starting place, a great tool to use is Mint.com.

Your site features a great "Best Credit Cards" section. Since it can be overwhelming trying to discover which credit card is the best, what cards do you rely on and why?

My favorite credit card is the Chase Freedom Visa Card. It is a no-annual fee card, and provides 5% cash back in rotating categories, with 1% cash back globally. While the rewards aren’t as good as they used to be, it’s one of the most competitive cards out there today.

For gas, I use the Bank of America Cash Rewards Card because it gives 3% cash back for gasoline.

A lot of Americans are currently struggling with paying off debt. What would you say is the most important step towards becoming debt-free?

The most important, most basic, first, and most difficult step to take is to tally up all of your assets and debts to get a clear picture of where you are. From there, the next important step is to track every penny you spend to get a feel for your spending habits and where you can and cannot cut back.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions! Do you have any last words of advice for our CouponPal readers?

Thanks for having me! My best advice is to get started learning about personal finance and saving money from an early age. I started at age 18, and by doing so, I am better able to get compound interest on my side! 

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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