Kristin Wong, a frugal living blogger from Brokepedia, knows what it’s like to get by on a shoestring budget. That means you can learn a lot from her (everything from cutting down on expenses to saving on travel). She started to practice thriftiness back when she was a tot, so she’s perfected the art of surviving on a budget. Check out our interview with Kristin to get some great ideas on saving money.
You’ve written for many sites, like Lifehacker and Bankrate, as a personal finance expert. What made you decide to start your own blog, Brokepedia?
I’ve been writing all of my life, and ever since blogging became a thing, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of having my own blog. But, I never knew what to write about.
I have a lot of hobbies, but I’m not very good at most of them. For example, I love to cook, but I’ve made some dishes that are pretty questionable. Gardening is fun, too, but most of my poor plants are dying right now.
So I thought, “What can I blog about that I don’t suck at?” Really, the only answer was being frugal. Sadly, I have few productive talents. I think I’m an okay writer, and I’m very good at living frugally, so I decided to combine these talents and launch Brokepedia. Plus, I spend a lot of time reading about money and frugality anyway, so it’s a win-win.
Your blog covers everything from food and entertainment to travel and shopping. How do you decide which topics to write about?
Most of the tips are based on strategies, apps, or tools that I’ve actually used. I decide to share those tips with my readers. But when I’m brainstorming fun stuff to write about, I consider reader feedback, and I’ll ask friends what topics interest them.
You have a great following on Twitter. Do you ever get helpful money-saving tips from readers? Can you share one of your favorites?
I do? Haha. I feel like I could use more Twitter followers. Follow me, people!
But yes, I’ve gotten so many useful tips from readers. One of my favorites: a reader who packs an empty water bottle when she’s flying. She brings it through security and then fills it up when she gets inside the terminal. Simple, but smart!
As a frequent contributor to Get Rich Slowly, you often write about ways to budget your personal finances. What are some of your favorite ways to cut down on everyday expenses?
Negotiating bills is my favorite way to cut down on everyday expenses. Being frugal is about spending money on things you care about and enjoy, right? Well, I do not care about or enjoy my bills. I mean, sure, I like having Internet. But, if I can negotiate a cheaper rate, I’m happy. The best part about this is, you negotiate once, but you continue to save each month.
In one post about the ‘next stage’ of your finances, you mentioned that your outlook on money has changed over the years. What one piece of advice would you give yourself looking back that you wish someone had told you?
Stop being afraid of money. I grew up with a huge fear of finances that continued into my adulthood. I’ve been poor, and I don’t want to go back to that place - it scares me. So fear ruled a lot of my financial decisions. For example, when I landed my first “real” job, I was afraid of not having enough money, so I vowed to save every penny of my paycheck. I made an unreasonably strict budget, and then I inevitably busted that budget, because I gave myself no breathing room. For a while, this made me feel like a failure, so I just gave up on budgeting altogether, and my finances suffered for it.
For a long time, I also avoided investing because of fear. Investing sounded intimidating and risky, so I didn’t even bother to learn anything about it. Here’s another example. A couple of years ago, I landed an amazing job that happened to pay really well. Instead of enjoying that job, I spent two years worrying about whether I’d lose it. I took something fun and turned it into something stressful and negative.
Fear can be motivating sometimes, but it can also make your life pretty unpleasant.
In “How to Decide Whether a Frugal Habit is Worth Your Time,” you write about instances when being frugal actually backfires. What is a common trap that people fall into thinking they’re saving money?
Gardening, maybe? Obviously, whether or not you can save money with gardening will depend on different factors. But for most us, I think the cost of gardening - including the time and effort spent - nullifies the savings.
That being said, I like gardening! I garden because it’s pretty and it can be fun. I know I’m not saving any money by growing a tomato once a month. But, I bet plenty of people with greener thumbs do save money by growing their own stuff.
Your site features a section with tons of entertainment ideas. What are some of your favorite ways to have fun while still sticking to a budget?
For dining out, happy hour is a great way to save without feeling like you’re sacrificing anything. For free entertainment, most cities always have some kind of free concert, art show, or reading going on. Libraries are also an underutilized resource. Most library systems host some pretty cool events, so it’s worth checking with your local library.
As you might expect, at CouponPal, we’re pretty big fans of online shopping. How do you manage to shop without hurting your wallet?
Practically speaking, I use sites like yours to look for the best deals on stuff.
Emotionally speaking, I set limits and try not to test my willpower too much. For example, I live within walking distance of a Marshall’s. This has been a problem for me. I go in for one thing and come out with five. So I’ve learned to just stay away from it. Kind of.
You’re a pro at finding ways to save money on travel. What are 2 or 3 surefire ways to save on airfare or hotels?
For hotels, I’m a big fan of HotelTonight. I’ve used it for pretty much every trip I’ve taken in the past two years. You get last-minute deals on hotels that need to fill their rooms, but you have to book at the last minute, too. So, theoretically, there’s a risk that there won’t be any rooms available when you arrive in a city, and that’s probably not fun. However, I can say that, in the many times I’ve used it, that has never happened to me. (But if it happens to you, please don’t be mad at me.)
With airfare, it’s great to time your pricing. This is a big generalization, but sources say the best time to buy a flight is on a Tuesday, 54 days before departure. I’ve found the “Tuesday” rule to be true in my own experience. Here’s another tip that my friend Kendal at Hassle Free Savings just wrote about. If you’re pricing a flight for two people, it might be cheaper to book the flights separately rather than combine them in one purchase. Weird, right? Also, sometimes I’ve found that it’s cheaper to buy two one-way tickets than one round trip.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Any last minute words of advice for our CouponPal readers?
Stay frugal, my friends.
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!