Interview with a Savings Expert: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Whether you’re looking to find a way out of debt or just want some help creating a budget, money-savings expert Michelle Schroeder-Gardner can help you do just that. Her blog, Making Sense of Cents, features ideas for paying off debt, boosting your income, and using credit cards effectively. Read on to see what Michelle has to say about how she improved her own personal finance situation!

Your site, Making Sense of Cents, is all about your personal financial journey. What made you decide to share your story through a blog?

I decided to start my blog in August of 2011 as a way to talk about everything that was going on in my life. I had debt, my father had passed away just a few years before that, and I was struggling to live on my own. Blogging was therapeutic, and I quickly grew to love it and the community it brought. Blogging was also a great way to track my progress with my financial goals, which was something I really loved.

Although receiving multiple degrees was a huge accomplishment, your education did leave you with a ton of debt. When you graduated, you had nearly $38,000 (!) in student loans. What was the most effective step you took towards paying off the debt?

My most effective step I took towards paying off my debt was to work hard towards earning extra income. I often worked 100 hour weeks between my full-time job and my side hustles. It was difficult, but well worth it.

Through your experience, what are some common mistakes you’ve seen people make when they set out to pay off their debt?

One common mistake I have seen others make is not having a plan. Creating a plan for debt payoff can make it much more easier. You should decide what you will pay off first, what actions you will take to pay off your debt, and what you need to do in order to stay motivated with your debt payoff plan.

You eventually left your day job in the financial services industry to become self-employed. What advice or words of caution would you give to others who are thinking about following the same path?

My advice is to try to build your business on the side before you decide to leave your day job. This can make it somewhat easier as you can keep your stable day job income, while determining if your business is a viable idea. My next top tip is to have a well-funded emergency fund. This is important because an emergency fund can help you if your business starts off slower than you originally thought, if you have a bad month, and so on.

Your blog has become hugely successful with over 60,000 monthly readers. You’ve even been cited by several sites (like Ready for Zero and WiseBread) as being a top personal finance blog. Are there any specific bloggers or sites you like to read for money-saving tips?

I have several favorite blogs that I love to read. This long list includes:

Most of us have some amount of credit card debt, but you manage to avoid that. What are some steps others can take to take to prevent the overuse of credit cards?

My top tip is to completely avoid credit cards if you don’t know how to use them correctly. Even though credit cards may have some benefits such as travel rewards, they are not worth it if you are paying anything towards interest or late charges.

Even though you advocate not overusing credit cards, you’re still a huge proponent of using credit card rewards for cheap travel. What’s the best way to determine which credit card rewards program is right for you?

Yes, I am a huge proponent of credit cards. I always advise a person to look for credit cards that work for them. This means making sure they have the exact benefits and rewards that you want, such as hotel rewards, free gift cards, and so on. Also, make sure you are aware of what the minimum spending is, what the annual fee is, and so on.

Every month, you post your actual monthly income for your readers to see. Money can be a very personal and sensitive topic. Did you ever worry about sharing this information publicly?

Yes, I often worry about sharing this private information to the public. I have toyed back and forth about what I should do, but in the end I think it’s what’s best for me. I love helping others, and I know that my income reports truly do help motivate others towards working towards their passion.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! Any last words of wisdom for our CouponPal readers?

Thank you so much for interviewing me! Glad to be a part of this. My last word is that if you have a financial goal you are working towards, try to find a way to earn extra money. Cutting your budget is great, but if you want to reach your goal quickly, then making extra money can really help you get there faster.

Like this interview? Check out the rest of our Interview with an Expert series. Have a question for an expert or someone you want to see interviewed? Tweet your suggestions with #Experts to @CouponPal!

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