Interview with a Savings Expert: Karyn Fleeting

Karyn Fleeting’s blog, Miss Thrifty, has created legions of fans because of her unique suggestions on how to live a full, fun life while still on a budget. Read on for some insight into Fleeting’s frugal tips.

With your blog, Miss Thrifty, you’ve become a beacon of inspiration for frugal people all over the world. But, your background is in journalism, and you worked as a reporter for “The Sunday Telegraph.” What inspired you to shift your focus from your journalistic career to starting your own website?

In a word: necessity! I left newspapers in 2007, when we moved to North Yorkshire. Yorkshire is a beautiful region in the north of England, but by the time we pitched up here we were on our uppers. In the space of 18 months we had married, given up our jobs, moved to Arizona so my husband could attend school there, gone off on a three-month honeymoon (a roadtrip around the USA) and returned to the UK. My husband launched his new business in North Yorkshire, and we bought a house. By the time we moved in, we were broke and in debt.

We changed the way we lived and went in for extreme frugality. As I paid back debt at a rate of knots and discovered new tips and ideas for saving money, I became enthusiastic about our new, thrifty lifestyle. I wanted to shout about it from the rooftops: my problem was, our friends and family didn’t want to know! In the UK people are buttoned up and they don’t like talking about money. It is regarded as an indelicate topic of conversation. So I launched the Miss Thrifty Blog in 2008, as a channel for all my energy and enthusiasm. It began life as a blog for short, sweet money-saving tips and went from there.

My timing, it turned out, was spot on. Later that year the UK economy crashed…and traffic to Miss Thrifty soared. Suddenly, money-saving was no longer taboo here. In 2011, the Miss Thrifty Blog won the Lifestyle Blog of the Year at the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards, which was smashing for me in more ways than one: I had gone from being desperately uncool, to being featured in a glossy fashion magazine. It was official: thrift was back.

You’ve been featured in some of the biggest publications around, including BBC News, “Glamour” magazine, and “The Daily Telegraph.” What are some websites you read for budget tips?

I have to admit that I’m a blog tart: I dip in and out so often, I lose count of the number of websites and blogs that I read. Current favourites include The Money Principle, Stacking Benjamins, Barbara Friedberg, Frugal Confessions, Frugal Beautiful and Budgets are Sexy. Maria from The Money Principle is a fellow UK blogger, and I met the bloggy brains behind the other sites at FinCon 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. I had been following some of these bloggers for a while, but had never expected to meet them in person. I am already looking to FinCon 2014.

Miss Thrifty features daily promotions and coupons. Of course, everyone can appreciate finding a bargain. So, how do you find all these amazing deals?

Tip-offs from readers, mailing lists, Google alerts, emails, and other blogs. When I find a great deal on another site, I’m not adverse to pinching it for mine, with a hat-tip to the original deal detective. I don’t serve up masses of deals - mine isn’t a straight-up coupon site - but when I come across something that is too good to miss, I want Miss Thrifty readers to know about it.

You have a huge following on Facebook and Twitter. What has been the best piece of advice about being thrifty that you’ve ever received from a fan?

I am still working through the 250-odd tips left by readers on a post about saving money on your household energy bills. Just last week I was popping aluminum foil behind my radiators.

The Thrifty Holidays section of your site gives great tips on how to travel on a budget. It can be extremely hard to justify vacation expenses when you’re living on limited funds, but exciting travel opportunities are difficult to pass up. What are a few easy ways for people to save on vacation plans?

Book as far in advance as you can.

Travel on a Tuesday! The prices are often cheaper. This was a tip I picked up from a lovely blogger called Kristi Howard, who I met at FinCon.

Look for alternative forms of accommodation. In the UK, for example, visitors to the Lake District (a beautiful and very popular tourist region) can go “barn-hopping”: literally, staying in local farmers’ barns for a sliver of the price that a hotel would cost.

There was a piece on your site called “Are You an Extreme Frugaller or a Frugal Artist?” that talks about the difference between saving on items (making your own food vs. buying it at the store) and going out of your way to get bargains. The piece uses the example of driving a long distance for a sale even though you’re wasting money on gas. Although it’s important to focus on long-term gains, are there certain areas of your life where you refuse to be frugal?

Ah, that was a guest post by my fellow UK blogger Maria Nedeva, of The Money Principle. It certainly hit a chord with a lot of readers.

I rarely pay full-price for anything, but the only area where I still spend big is cosmetics. I buy a couple of expensive products every year - but they last for a long time, so I suppose that is still focusing on long-term gains. My total beauty spend for last year still came in at less than $140.

In your Thrifty Food section, you share ways to make your own products at home. This is super helpful for people trying to save money on items they use everyday. What are three of your favorite things to make instead of buy?

1. Banana bread, because it uses up mushy old bananas. I hate food waste.

2. Crockpot dishes, because crockpots use a fraction of the electricity that the oven would use for the same meal.

3. Sandwiches, because if you make your own and take it to work, instead of buying your lunch when you are, you can save a lot of money very quickly.

You recently wrote about an app called Compare My Spend, which helps people see how they really budget their money. Sometimes people are completely unaware of how much they spend per month on entertainment or going out to eat. Are there any other apps or websites that help you stay on top of your spending?

I used to keep a monthly spending spreadsheet, but we cut back so much that I now know exactly what flows in and out of our joint bank account every month.

However I never buy an item, from clothes to home internet, without first punching it through Quidco and TopCashback to see what comes up. These are UK cashback sites: buy through them, and they’ll top up your bank account at the same time.

You give so many great tips on your website – from which bargain beauty products to try, to home decorating ideas. What piece of advice about being frugal do you wish you’d learned earlier?

Truly? To stop giving a stuff about what other people think. When I launched Miss Thrifty, I did so anonymously because the people around me regarded the whole enterprise as, well… a bit embarrassing. But you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and there is no point comparing your own lifestyle to others and getting yourself in knots. What I discovered, very, very quickly, is that there were plenty of like minds out there to inspire me and push me on. These days I’m out and proud.

Your site helps people around the world learn to live on a budget, without sacrificing style or having fun. Any other last tips you’d like to share with CouponPal’s readers?

My favourite tip is to never borrow against a depreciating asset. In other words, pay for electrical items, cars and the like with cash.

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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