Interview with a Savings Expert: Jefferson and Michelle

Jefferson and Michelle started their blog, See Debt Run, with the goal of finding a way to pay off their debt and live a more financially secure life. Today, they’re old pros at discovering ways to make extra cash and save on everyday expenses. Read on for their tips for living the frugal life.

You and your wife, Michelle, created See Debt Run to document your journey paying off your debt. What were your original goals in starting the blog?

When we first started, we truly had no idea if anyone would ever read the articles that we were writing. Our goal was 100% to find a way to get out of debt, and we agreed that by sharing our successes and failures with the world, we would be motivated to make it happen.

The biggest hurdle you faced was overcoming nearly $22,000 in debt. What first step should readers take to pay off their debt?

The first and most important step in any debt repayment plan is setting up a special savings account called an emergency fund. Emergencies will happen, and without a buffer in place, you will find yourself reaching for the credit cards again. You will never successfully climb out of debt a long as you are still using your cards, so setting up the emergency fund should be priority one.

You note that one of the most important steps to financial success is to create a budget to live by. Are there any specific websites or apps you use to manage your money?

We still use Mint.com to keep track of where our money is going. This is especially important when you are trying to get out of debt, but we still use it today. In the past, we have really struggled with keeping our grocery expenses in check, and we use tools like Mint to make sure we aren’t falling into older patterns.

The “Making Money” section of your site is devoted to providing readers with ideas on how to increase their income or make extra cash on the side. What are some easy ways that people can supplement their income?

I like to tell people that they should turn “making money” into one of their main hobbies, and always be on the lookout for opportunities. Signing up for paid surveys and focus groups, selling your old things on Craigslist and eBay, and creating your own blog or niche site are all good recommendations.

You have more than 7,000 followers on Twitter! Have your fans ever surprised you with a money-saving tip that you didn’t know before?

We often have fans who ping us about new sites or online tools, and a few of these items have made it into our regular rotation. We actually first learned about the concept of an “emergency fund” (mentioned earlier) from a regular SDR commenter who is also a finance blogger.

Like you mentioned before, it’s very important to create an emergency fund. What are some easy ways to create this fund while still sticking to a budget?

An emergency fund is really nothing more than a savings account which should remain untouched except for when something bad happens. If you dig a little, you will find that many banks (like Capital One 360) offer a bonus when you sign up, to help you build up that e-fund quickly.

Your expert advice has been featured on several other sites, like Consumerist, LifeHacker, and The Simple Dollar. Are there any media sources that you rely on for personal finance information?

I love reading other personal finance blogs, and try to mix it up and get a nice variety. I love hearing real-world stories of how other families are making ends meet. There is just a rawness that comes along with blogs that is unmatched by the traditional media.

As a parent, you probably have come to see how important it is to teach your children to effectively manage money. What are some lessons you’re making sure you instill in them regarding finances?

We actually handle this a little differently than many parents. We tell our kids that we will cover food, clothing, and shelter. Meaning, if they have video games that they want to play, or a place they want to visit with friends, then they are expected to find a way to pay for it themselves. At the same time, we give them lots of opportunities to earn cash by doing chores around the house. The grand result of all of this is that they have to learn how to manage money and how to weigh their desires vs. their budget.

See Debt Run is filled with helpful articles like “8 Changes You Can Make Today to Save Money on Gas.” What are some sure-fire steps you take to consistently save on gas or other everyday expenses?

To save on gas, I’d recommend investigating carpooling or telecommuting (if that’s an option for you). You also probably want to make sure to pull the golf clubs and lawn chairs out of your trunk if you aren’t planning on using them that day, because the more weight you are hauling, the more gas you are burning.

It’s been so great getting the chance to pick your brain! Do you have any last minute tips for our CouponPal readers?

Even if you are living the frugal life, don’t be afraid to treat yourself. Life is too short to go without the little things that make you happy for long periods of 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!

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