Money Masters: Jen Spends

static1.squarespaceJennifer Roberts of Jen Spends is our Money Master of the week. We started reading Jen’s blog several months ago because we feel her frugal living tips are within the realm of possibility. Jen has a very pragmatic, down to earth approach that any Mom and Dad could follow. Jen is, also, unique because she has a consumer section on her website where she does product reviews and highlights buy on which it’s worth spending your money. As a mother, she highlights baby and kid specific products, as well. As our Wednesday post this week shared, kids can be very expensive. Jen helps her readers contain the cost of kids, which reserves money for other things.

What’s your story?

I’m a 33-year-old mom of two boys, ages 5 and 1, and I’ve been married to my English immigrant husband for almost nine years. I earned a B.S. degree in architecture and worked in the field for close to five years before putting my career on hold and giving up more than half of our household income to be a stay-at-home mom. Since then we have learned that living more simply and being careful about our spending enables us to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle even with a lot less money.

Achieving financial literacy has been a slow process for me. I was virtually clueless about money until I graduated from college. My wake-up call came when I applied for my first car loan, and it was denied due to my “colorful” credit history. I had three credit cards that all had late payments reported, and the interest rates were 28 percent. That lit a fire under me to educate myself about debt, and I formulated a plan to pay off my credit cards in one year. There was still a lot I needed to learn, but my husband and I have not carried credit card debt since then.

I grew up lower middle class, the oldest of five children, and I’m still surrounded by lower income people now. I was so excited about the things I was learning as an adult, that I decided to start my blog, Jen Spends, to share my knowledge. People around me were not living the lives they wanted because money was holding them back, and I wanted to help them if I could.

What’s your point of view as a personal finance blogger?

static1.squarespaceMy goal as a blogger is to bring personal finance to the lower income brackets — people who hear about concepts like “the latte factor” and tune right out (because they’re not buying lattes to begin with), or who think that investing is something only the wealthy do. Personal finance is for everyone. Being rich is a mentality, not a number.

I think a lot of people are worried that cutting back on the extras will leave them feeling deprived, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I try to provide a glimpse into what a frugal lifestyle can look like, and how my husband and I make it work with a family of four. That’s why I cover a wide variety of topics, not just financial advice; I share some of the products we buy, things we like to eat, how we celebrate special occasions, how we keep an attractive, comfortable home, and more. I don’t expect everyone to copy my lifestyle choices exactly, but hopefully they see us and think “Hey, that’s not so bad.”

It’s very important for consumers of any income level to understand that they deserve and should seek quality in all aspects of life. Don’t get caught up in frenzied deal shopping that doesn’t really save money. Take a step back to determine what you really need versus what you only want. Pay off debt as quickly as possible. Save what you can, and watch your net worth grow (even if it only crawls along at first).

Yes, it’s tough reaching big financial goals when you have a smaller income to work with, but if you can master living happily below your modest means, you’ll be at a huge advantage later on when your income improves or luck comes your way. It takes some boldness to ignore “the Joneses” and live within your means. It takes boldness to have the same kind of financial goals that higher income people are working toward. Be bold.

In one sentence, what’s one piece of sage advice from your personal finance background that you’d like to share with our readers?

Make goals, not wishes, and find a way.

We hope you enjoyed Jen’s interview. Please visit her website at JenSpends.com regularly, add her to your RSS feed or sign up for her email list.

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