Expert Interview Series: Holly Johnson of Club Thrifty

Holly Johnson is a financial expert and award-winning writer who blogs at ClubThrifty.com and teaches others how to write online at EarnMoreWriting.com.

Here she talks about her passion for frugality and offers her advice on smarter money management. Read on:

Tell us about your sites ClubThrifty.com and EarnMoreWriting.com. When and why did you start your site?

My husband and I started Club Thrifty in 2011 with the goal of earning extra income. We wrote mostly about budgeting and frugality at first, and used the site and our momentum to pay off all of our debts. Over time, I began leveraging the blog to pick up writing work on the side. In 2012, I was able to quit my job to freelance full time. Then, in 2015, my husband was able to leave his full-time job to work on the blog at home.

I created EarnMoreWriting.com this year as a way to convey the many lessons I have learned about writing to the masses. I built a six-figure writing career from scratch, mostly while I worked full time. I have a ton of useful information in my head and wanted to collect it all in one place. EarnMoreWriting.com is the brainchild of that idea.

How did you become so obsessed with frugality?

We became obsessed with frugality when we realized we were working so hard to earn every dollar we brought in. When we wasted that money, we finally realized, we were wasting the time we spent earning it as well. This was a huge lightbulb moment for us. We were literally wasting our lives on stuff we didn’t really want and definitely didn’t need! Becoming more frugal was a piece of cake after that.

What are some of your biggest financial regrets? What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned in life about smarter money management?

If I could change one thing, I would have started saving for retirement in my early 20s. We didn’t start until our mid-late 20s and we had to play catch-up because of that. We’re doing awesome now, but we would be doing better if we had started earlier.

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What’s your money management/savings philosophy? How does your family approach money?

We use a zero-sum budget to plan our spending every month. What this means is, we create a budget based on our anticipated spending and regular bills, then “pay” ourselves that much every month. We include savings and investments as line items on our budget and pay them accordingly.

What are your reader’s biggest financial frustrations?

Most of our readers are tired – tired of not saving enough and tired of not earning enough. They’re looking for a better way to manage their money, and maybe even a way to earn more.

What advice on saving and/or managing money do you find yourself repeating over and over again?

Use a budget! Everyone hates the dirty “b word,” but it is easily the best thing a person can do for their finances. Budgets don’t have to be restrictive if you don’t want them to be. For us, a budget is simply a spending plan for the money we work so hard to earn.

When you tell your money what to do, it listens. When you don’t, it disappears. This is something we cover endlessly in our upcoming book, Zero Down Your Debt, which hits stores on January 10, 2017.

Where should families start when creating a budget?

The very first thing every family should do is track their spending and figure out where their money went in previous months. Doing so can be extremely shocking, and is sometimes enough to get people to change their ways overnight. Once you track your spending and figure out your weaknesses, you can begin building a realistic budget that works.

What advice do you have for families on sticking to their budget?

Learn to tell yourself “no.” When it comes to budgeting, that’s really all it boils down to. You can have most of the things you want, but you probably can’t have everything you want. By learning to accept “no,” you can create a budget that covers your needs and some of your wants – at least the important ones.

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What are some of your favorite money-saving techniques?

I love budgeting, and I also love buying second-hand. We rarely buy anything new in this house, and we love hand-me-downs. I fight back against consumerism and money drains by buying used when I can. Most of the time, my family doesn’t notice or care.

What’s been the biggest benefit of taking control of your financial futures?

If my husband and I hadn’t started budgeting and being more intentional with our spending many years ago, there’s no way I would have been able to quit my job to write full time. There’s no way my husband would have been able to take the leap out of his job and into full-time entrepreneurship, either.

By far, our biggest benefit has been having more power over our work and our lifestyle. Because neither one of us has a “real job,” we can take as much vacation as we want, quit work early to spend time with the kids, and be the kind of parents we couldn’t be if we still worked in our old jobs.