Kristen Cross of The Frugal Girl On Saving Money While Still Having Fun

Kristen Cross blogs at TheFrugalGirl.com, where she inspires people to cheerfully live on less.

You’ve been passionate about saving money ever since you were little. What was the first moment that inspired you towards a lifetime of saving money?

I think my personality is just naturally frugal and waste-averse. Getting the most bang for my buck, avoiding waste, and saving as much as possible have always felt really appealing to me!

A lot of people are passionate about saving money, but not everyone is diligent about sharing their tips with others. What made you want to start The Frugal Girl to share your experience with others?

While watching my frugal efforts over the years, friends and family kept telling me I should write a book about saving money to help other people. But I’m a homeschooling mom of four kids, so a book seemed out of the question. Blogging, though, is a far more manageable way to get money-saving information out there because it can be done in smaller bits and pieces. It’s perfect for me!

One of the things that separates The Frugal Girl from other financial blogs is your positive attitude, which you summarize in the statement, “Cheerfully Living On Less”. How can you enjoy yourself so much, while pinching pennies and balancing spreadsheets?

Well, I strongly believe that attitude is much more important than circumstances when it comes to happiness and contentment. If you can learn to see the bright sides of things, to look for the good in each day and not just the bad, and to focus on what you have rather than on what you don’t have, you can cheerfully live with a low or high income.

But if you don’t have a contented outlook, you’re probably not going to be happy even if you DO have a lot of money!

You’re highly passionate about mindful spending, as one of the main motivations behind The Frugal Girl. Can you describe what you mean by mindful spending? How can it help someone to greater enjoy their life?

To me, mindful spending is about thoughtfully spending my money in ways that reflect my values. Sometimes this means buying inexpensive things (second-hand items on Craig’s List, for example), and sometimes it means buying more expensive things (a Vitamix blender that promises to last a lifetime).

What I’m trying to avoid is the mindless buying of things that I won’t really love or that won’t last. I want my spending to be purposeful.

You’re also highly passionate about buying super high-quality stuff that lasts. What are some of the personal benefits of this approach? What are some of the global ramifications of this mentality?

I love the way that high-quality stuff is a win both financially and environmentally. Quality costs more up front, but when an item lasts a long time, it can actually end up being more frugal than cheaper, shoddier counterparts.

And items that last are kinder to the environment, due to the reduced trash output. It’s better to buy a quality item that lasts 15 years rather than 5 poorer quality items that have to be thrown away every 3 years.

You’ve talked about not being much of a couponer, despite being passionate about savings. Why are you reluctant towards using coupons? Can you recommend any other ways of finding deals that take less time and effort?

Coupons require a lot of time, and they often encourage poor eating habits, as they’re typically available for processed foods.

Instead, I prefer to shop at stores that have everyday low prices (like Aldi and Costco) because then I can save money with almost no extra effort. I’m also a huge fan of store-brand products. They’ve come a long way in the last 20 years, and most come with a money-back guarantee.

In his autobiography Act One, playwright Moss Hart states, “Boredom is the keynote of poverty — of all its indignities, it is perhaps the hardest of all to live with — for where there is no money there is no change of any kind.” First of all, why does not having much money, at this point in history, not necessarily equate with being bored. What are some fun and interesting things people can do for little or no money?

While it IS easy to entertain yourself if you have plenty of money, there are options for people on smaller budgets too.

For instance, you could read library books, watch movies from the library or Netflix, play board games, visit a park, go for walks, invite friends over and cook a meal together, visit a second-run theater, learn a new hobby, or maybe start a blog!

Likewise, Hart’s quote talks about there not being any room for change, if there’s no money. For starters, what are some things that people can do to advance their lives and careers, without spending a dime? And how can having a solid budget and sticking to it actually create MORE money to enact positive changes in our lives?

If you don’t have a budget and you haven’t developed the habit of living within your means, then you will probably exceed your income no matter how much you make. So, living within your means is a foundational skill.

If you’re spending less than you make, that can free up cash for further education. And if you have money in the bank, you are more free to take career risks without worrying you’ll be out on the street if something goes wrong.

Plus, if you know how to live on a small income, you won’t have to become a workaholic due to anxiety about needing to earn more and more and you can keep your work/life balance in better shape.

Not only are you cheerfully balancing your own finances, but you’re successfully raising four kids and maintaining a marriage while doing so. How can having one’s finances in order be beneficial for someone’s personal relationships? How has this manifested in your life?

The absence of financial stress is a huge boon to marriages and families. Though my husband and I have lived on some very low incomes, we were almost never on the brink of financial disaster, and we almost always had a savings cushion in the bank. This brought a lot of peace of mind to our marriage and family, and enabled us to stay out of the consumer debt spiral.

On The Frugal Girl, you post everything from recipes to DIY projects, for little to no money. Can you recommend two or three fun, cheap activities someone can do at home, by themselves or with friends, that will not only fill their time but enrich their lives?

Painting ugly old furniture is so much fun! Find something on craigslist or at Goodwill, sand it, paint it, and you’ll have a beautiful new piece for your home. (directions here)

At-home bread baking is another fun project that’ll give you delicious, uber-affordable bread. If you’re a beginner, try these no-knead rolls or this French bread recipe.

And here’s a fun, cheap seasonal idea: make some cinnamon applesauce ornaments.

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