Interview with a Savings Expert: John Schmoll

John Schmoll created his blog, Frugal Rules, after seeing how badly debt can affect one’s finances. The site offers great insight into how to make positive financial decisions, and many readers have benefited from his sage advice. Read on for a look at how this financial expert has beaten the money game!

You started your blog, Frugal Rules, after overcoming serious debt and becoming an expert in the financial services industry. What was the initial inspiration for starting the site?

Aw, thanks for thinking I’m an expert. :) The inspiration to start Frugal Rules really came from a desire to talk with and to people about money. I had left my job in the investing industry to help my wife run our advertising business full-time. I saw that I was missing talking about money and thought I could use my free time to start a website to do just that. Little did I know back then that it would take on a life of its own.

In the “About Me” section, you write about not always making good financial decisions in the past. In fact, you left college with more than $20,000 in credit card debt. What steps did you take to pay off your debt?

Yes, I graduated with just shy of $25,000 in credit card debt – and that was 15 years ago to boot! After hitting rock bottom, the first step I took was to establish a budget that was in line with my priorities to paying off the debt. It wasn’t easy by any means, but it was the jolt to the system I needed to get me started. With that came taking on side gigs, watching my expenses like a hawk, and learning to live under my means.

You’ve made it your goal to provide readers with tips on how to live frugally. What one financial lesson do you wish you had learned years ago?

That’s a great question and one that I probably have too many answers to give . Seriously though, one thing I would’ve learned years ago is that more is not always better. I’m speaking specifically in relation to mindless spending. If you’re unhappy with something in life, there’s little that mindless spending will do and will usually only make matters worse.

In your post, “Why Financial Literacy Is So Important to Me,”  you write about the importance of teaching children how to manage money. What lessons are you teaching your own kids about finances?

I believe teaching kids about money is one of the most loving things you can do as a parent. I did not get that in my childhood and we’re aiming to be different with our kids. I’d say likely the biggest thing is involving them in our decision making, which can be difficult as our oldest is 6. However, I think sharing the insight as to why we have made certain decisions helps us teach them about priorities and goal setting. Beyond that, we also work to not just give them a “No” answer, but explain the reasoning behind it and that money is not just given to you, but that you have to earn it and respect it.

You recently launched another website, Sprout Wealth, where you write about ways readers can increase their incomes. What are some reliable ways that people can supplement their income or earn a little extra cash?

Thanks for mentioning that! I think there are many ways to make extra income, you just need to be careful not to limit yourself. I’d say the most reliable ways, generally speaking, is to monetize skills you already have. If you feel that isn’t going to work, then there are plenty of other, more mundane things from dog walking, to secret shopping, to picking up gigs off of Craigslist, etc. You just need to make sure you maximize your time while doing it so it’s worth it to you.

You have more than 20,000 (!) followers on Twitter. Has interacting with fans through social media influenced the topics you write about on Frugal Rules? If so, what topics do people seem the most eager to read about?

Thanks! It has to a certain extent. I feel that social media helps give people a real time way of telling you what they’d like hearing about. I’d say ways to save money, make more money, and how-to’s are what seem to be the most common requests.

You’re also a contributor to US News, and you’ve written about everything from cutting entertainment costs to saving money at restaurants. Are there tips you’ve learned that you’ve incorporated into your own habits?

Yes, I’ve picked up many of those tips through personal experience. In terms of those general topics, what I’ve tended to use the most is ways to maximize the value we’re receiving for what we’re paying for. It really comes down to value based spending, in my opinion, and finding ways to enjoy what we like without breaking the bank in doing so.

Some people might feel a little lost when it comes to investing their money. What resources would you recommend readers use to understand the basics?

A lot of people feel that way. I spoke with many of those individuals on a day-in-day-out situation for several years, and many are just at a loss of where to start. It can be easy to allow debt, starting out “small,” and lack of knowledge to hold you back, and the thing is none of those need to hold you back. The thing I’ve seen more often than not is lack of investing education, which really goes back to the lack of a priority that is made of it in our culture. With that being said, there are many resources to help towards that end, and much of it is free! If your employer offers a 401k, most 401k plans offer some sort of free educational resources. That is also the case with many online brokerages, not to mention other websites that are devoted to investing. Another resource you can use is one of my favorite investing books, A Random Walk Down Wall Street. It’s a great resource and has very actionable tips. Whatever resource you use, the great thing is that you only need a little education to get started, and if I can do it, then I know anyone can.

Our readers love learning about ways to get great discounts on travel. What are some ways you’ve been able to cut costs on vacations?

We love to travel in our family and are always looking for ways to save. We do a good bit of travel hacking with credit card rewards, but there are many other options. My suggestions are likely what you’d commonly hear – travel in the off season, travel during the week, rent a house instead of staying at a hotel and things like that. The other big thing we do is budget a set amount of money for each day while traveling, that helps us prioritize what we want to do.

We really appreciate your time answering our questions! Any last minute words of wisdom for our CouponPal readers?

Not a problem, thanks for asking me – it was my honor! I’d say regardless of where you’re at in your financial life, to spend your money based off of what you value and to avoid consumer debt as much as you can. I’ve found that value based spending has freed us up quite a bit in terms of spending on things we want without feeling guilty while doing so. The latter point, on debt, is somewhat self-explanatory but make sure you’re making your money work for you as opposed to being enslaved to it because of poor decisions.

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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