In late 2010, shortly after I got a contract to write the book that would become All the Money in the World, I started asking everyone I knew for people with interesting money stories. One friend, who at the time was quite into couponing, mentioned a coupon blogger who’d paid cash for a house. I thought this sounded intriguing, though I believe my line at the time was “I don’t think you get enough cash to pay for a house by cutting coupons.”
Anyway, my friend sent me a link to Money Saving Mom, and I started reading some posts. The more I read, the more I became both fascinated and (I'll admit) perplexed by the world of Crystal Paine. On the one hand, in some posts she was touting coupons for $1 off yogurt and giving readers instructions on how to fill out surveys online to earn a little extra cash. That is, the sort of personal finance writing that drives me nuts. But reading her series on paying cash for a house, it soon became clear that, as I'd guessed, the coupons had little to do with it. The reason she’d been able to buy a house outright in 2 years is that she’d made enough from her blog, after expenses and taxes, to do so.
This is one smart business woman.
Indeed, she turned out to be employing half a dozen or so people. And as for ridiculous frugal practices like trying to make your own toilet paper? She wrote on her blog that she had a minimum wage of at least $20/hour for her to deem any frugal practice worthwhile (a fact she mentioned in her post on “Why I don’t make homemade tortillas.”)
Curious about these two sides of Money Saving Mom, I sent in a request for an interview. Shortly afterward, I heard back from Crystal that “I’m reading your book right now and loving it.” Indeed, she soon mentioned 168 Hours in her Time Management 101 series, which she’s included in her “Best of...” list. I interviewed her, and found her even more fascinating, particularly as someone who’s managing to run a growing and profitable business while still finding time to homeschool her children. Talk about time management. I think we have different ways of viewing certain things, but I really respect what she's done and built. We wound up both blurbing each others' books.
Which brings me to the point of this post: Crystal’s new book, The Money Saving Mom’s Budget, is out this week (and selling phenomenally well!). I continue to be not-so-into the coupon stuff, but that’s not all of the book. She also talks about the psychological pain involved with paying cash for things -- one of the best antidotes to mindless spending around -- and how to use this to your advantage. She talks about financial goal setting, about getting rid of clutter as a first step toward financial control (the two are more related than one might think), about trying not to cram too much into a day and building in margin time just like you’d have an emergency fund. She discusses ways to save money on food without cutting coupons. This is a much more sensible approach, in my mind, that involves buying produce in season or on store sale, making simple meals, and eating less meat (and cereal. Which is expensive). Going out for a dessert date is cheaper than going out for a dinner date, and accomplishes the same goal. Order water at restaurants instead of soda. Shop for birthdays and Christmas ahead of time. A good idea -- and one I did last weekend by going to Target and buying enough birthday presents on post-Christmas sale for all the parties my kids will go to this year. Pay off? I will never have to run to Target on the morning of a birthday party again.
If you’re looking for an introduction to budgeting written in a cheery you-can-do-this style, Crystal’s book is a good one. I especially like her tales of living on $900/month in a basement apartment, something I have done too (albeit an attic in my case). You can be down about such things, or as she puts it, you can “choose contentment.” Sometimes, as in Crystal’s case, the skills learned in such tight times can turn out to make you a mint later on.