Interview with a Savings Expert: Philip Taylor

Since 2007 Philip Taylor has been imparting financial wisdom and savings knowhow to the online community through his blog PT Money. After working for a number of years as a C.P.A., Philip chose to apply his accounting acumen to personal and family finances, writing prolifically both for his own blog as well as for companies US News & World Report, Turbo Tax, ING Direct, and more. Proud father of two, and loving husband, Philip is above all a family man who understands what it takes to keep a household solvent.  

Before you started PT Money back in 2007, you were working as a successful Certified Personal Accountant. What prompted your career change?

Nothing was planned out. The truth is that it could have been any independent, entrepreneurial endeavor that took me away from my traditional finance career. I was bored with it from the beginning and only tolerated it because it paid well and I hadn’t found anything else yet. I’m glad I had that career though because it allowed me to get ahead financially.

I didn’t actually make the official change until 2010. From 2007 to 2010 I treated PT Money as a hobby that just happened to be bringing in some side income. I worked nights and weekends. It was fun and I was passionate about the subject. By 2010 the blog income had replaced around 25% of my take home pay. My wife and I had been living lean and saving a ton, so we took a chance and the rest is history as they say.

A whole section of your site is dedicated to analyzing the best credit cards based on a number of attributes. What advice would you give to freshman credit card users looking to find the right starter credit card?

First time users should know that credit cards aren’t an excuse to spend more than you earn. Never carry a balance and always pay on time (i.e. set up auto-payment). I use credit cards for the rewards points and that’s mostly what I advise people to use them for. If you can use a card instead of cash and earn some extra points without incurring fees or interest then it’s probably something worth looking into. Look for a rewards card that aligns point earning with your spending. But don’t let the card entice you to spend more. Most issuers have an “everyday” type card (like the Chase Freedom) that are great starter cards for getting into the points scene.

In these tough economic times, everyone’s looking to pocket some extra cash. What would you say are one or two of the easiest money-making practices that you yourself have tried on the side?

I like the quick money that comes from freelancing with skills I’ve picked up. Since I run my own website, I’m very familiar with creating websites, and can do it quickly. It’s something that I can have up and running in a couple of hours and potentially pocket $100 or so. I do the same with some freelance writing gigs. Check out sites like fiverr.com and elance.com to market yourself.

I also like taking advantage of ticket flipping. If I know I’m buying a ticket to a popular event (i.e. sports, concert, etc.) then I will sometimes pick up a couple of extra tickets to resell on stubhub.com or craigslist. This gives me a little extra cash to afford the expensive venue food. Sometimes it will even pay for my original ticket.

You mentioned that you and your family live very frugal lifestyles. Could you tell us some of the things you and your family do for fun that don’t cost that much (or are even totally free)?

We like to travel and we use credit card rewards to pay for most of the expenses. Last year we went to Disneyland with the kids and my wife and I went skiing in Utah. Both trips were probably 50% off of full price because of the points.

Here in town, we like bringing the kids to the library or the park. We also visit the mall’s play area. Personally, I like to ride my mountain bike or play pick-up basketball. Being outside and active is some of the most enjoyable time we spend together.

Sometimes finances can be a tough subject to talk about with a spouse. Do you have any tips on how to bring up the topic of financials with a spouse so that the conversation can be constructive and keep both sides supportive?

I suspect that if you have trouble talking about it then it means you didn’t start off the relationship with a solid understanding of each other’s beliefs about money (likely you just didn’t have well-formed beliefs yet i.e. you didn’t care). At some point, someone in the relationship is going to start caring about properly managing your money. When that happens, go to a Dave Ramsey class, or pick up some other type of course that you both can go to. You need an objective, third-party influencing you both. Once you’re on the same page, managing your money together is a cinch and you’ll do incredible things together. But I suspect getting on the same page is harder than it sounds. Some spouses don’t care because they aren’t in a place to be mature about money or they have other priorities. Sorry I don’t have a good answer here. I guess I would say pick a spouse who aligns with your beliefs about money.

From a conversation standpoint, I think it’s most constructive to talk about money in terms of your higher level goals (i.e. retirement, security, lifestyle, etc.). When you tie everything to your life goals and plans it makes decisions about little things easier. In other words, keep the conversation about high-level things vs “look what you spent on such and such!”

It’s really easy, as you know, to spend money unwisely – I love coffee, but I realize I spend a fortune on it! Off the bat, what are some easy costs that can be eliminated or reduced without too much of a hassle?

Any type of service - home phone, cable television, gym membership, cleaning, etc. Insurance premiums are also a great place to look. Call your insurance companies and check for lower rates, and ask about ways to reduce your premium. I like looking for ways to cut services and insurance premiums because it’s usually an automatic billing and can result in significant annual savings; unlike trying to cut back on little splurges, which will always pop back up overtime. Debt interest rates (mortgage, credit card, auto) are another big place to look. Refinance if you can without incurring too much one-time costs.

You mentioned that before you became a successful blogger, you were in a great deal of debt, and needed to make some life changes. Could you talk a little about the very first steps you took to get yourself out of that tough financial situation that someone else might be able to learn from?

I moved into the cheapest apartment I could find. I traded cars with my Dad so I could be without a car payment. I did without television or internet in my home. Basically, I lived like I made no money. Actually, I was making around $40,000. I put much of my paycheck to my credit card debt (around $5,000) until it was completely paid off. Years later, after marrying, I was still hanging on to some low-interest student loans and car loans. My wife and I lived off of one income until we had paid it all off - around $60,000 in total combined debt.

To sum it up, I lived well below my means until the debt was gone. It wasn’t magic. Just living well below my means. I still do this today. And instead of paying off more debt, I use the extra money for investments, or fun.

Along those same lines, if someone is broke, how would you suggest they break the news to their family and closest friends?

Don’t. Managing your money properly has exactly zero to do with other people (unless you’re talking about your spouse, who you are contractually obligated to). Make a choice to fix your financial life and let nothing get in your way. Don’t take any handouts either. It is within you to fix your financial scene. The quicker you realize that the better.

You started the FinCon financial bloggers conference. I made it to my first event this past October 2013 and had a great time connecting with all the fantastic writers. What do you hope to accomplish by bringing together so many experts?

I’d like to see the independent financial blogging community blossom into a small industry or sorts. I’ve been able to make a living doing this and I’d love to see more “full-timers”, or whatever success looks like to each attendee.

We all have one common goal: help others see their financial lives improve. So in some way I think the conference needs to be a place where we come together to best figure out how to reach more people with a positive financial message. On top of that, we try to have a lot of fun and build stronger relationships with each other.

Thanks so much, Philip, for taking the time to speak with us and share your secrets. Do you have any last words of wisdom?  

I’ll just add that I am lucky to be a very blessed guy. But the recent successes I’ve seen in my life (entrepreneurial endeavors, happy marriage, great experiences, etc) have resulted, in great part, from fixing my financial life. I would encourage readers to think about where they want to get 5, 10, 25 years from now and make plans to align with money situation with those goals. It starts now. Make it happen!

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!

By: Seth

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