For MoneySavingMom blogger, fulfillment, frugality go together
By Jay MacDonald
CRYSTAL PAINE, AUTHOR,
TO SURVIVAL MODE'
Crystal Paine learned from her parents how to work hard and become debt free, but hard work alone brought her only more stress and less sleep. She turned that around, and passes along the secrets of her success in her book, "Say Goodbye to Survival Mode." The book debuted in January 2014.
Starting in 2007, the pragmatic wife and mother of three created the frugal living website MoneySavingMom.com to share the money-saving tips and insights that enabled her to keep her family debt-free while her husband Jesse completed law school.
But as her website caught fire, with more than 1 million readers anxious to learn how she fed a family of five on $30 a week, Paine found herself a stressed-out, sleep-deprived slave to her own creation.
In her latest book, "Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More and Restore Your Passion for Life," Paine again shares the secrets of her success -- this time in digging herself out of the all-work, no-play hole she'd allowed herself to fall into.
The nine reminders, including learn to say no, set goals, give generously, take time to re-energize and cultivate small, daily habits, are valuable reminders -- to anyone -- that money only rents happiness.
Q: Did you start out in survival mode when you launched MoneySavingMom?
A: Basically, MoneySavingMom kind of drove me to that place where I was hitting rock bottom, because it just exploded. Then I was working way too many hours in a week because I didn't want to bring on help because I thought that was kind of extravagant -- I mean, hello, I'm MoneySavingMom! I was just completely exhausted and burned out and overextended.
Q: One of your goals was to get your husband through law school debt-free. How did you prepare for such an ambitious undertaking?
A: Part of it was, both of our parents had modeled financial stewardship before us. When I was about 6, my parents decided they wanted to get out debt, so they worked really hard, paid off their house, which was the only outstanding debt they had, and then saved up to build a house debt-free. When Jesse and I got married, we just decided to stand on their shoulders and take this further by setting this audacious goal. There were many times when we didn't know how we were going to pay our utility bills and our rent check, but we learned so much through the process. It's just really neat to look back and realize how the things that we learned in those lean law school years was preparing us to then help thousands and thousands of families around the globe with financial stewardship.
There were many times when we didn't know how we were going to pay our utility bills and our rent check, but we learned so much through the process.
Q: You mention that one hidden danger of survival mode is the temptation to get used to it. How so?
A: When I've shared my story and talked about goal setting with other women, so many of them are so stuck in survival mode that they don't even realize that there are possibilities outside of that. It's like you're in this deep, dark hole trying to make it through and it's hard to even envision a life outside of that hamster wheel. But when you give them a taste of what it could be, the potential and the possibilities, then it's amazing how that will inspire women to realize, "Oh, wow! There is a world outside of being stuck in this wheel and I can take tiny little steps to get there!"
Q: Don't many of them say, "Oh, sure, easy for you to say"?
A: We're all just everyday moms. It's not like we have any amazing talents or skills or training. We're just taking tiny little steps that result in big life changes.
Q: How important is it to set achievable goals rather than prop up the supermom image?
A: What I've found is, there are so many books and speakers out there who are speaking to people who are climbing the corporate ladder and they're giving them so much hope and inspiration for setting goals and having drive and momentum, but there are very few people who are speaking to the everyday woman, the stay-at-home moms. She doesn't have that same drive and motivation, and my heart is to speak to those women and say you have purpose, too. You matter. And even if your goals are much smaller than someone who is in a completely different season and place in life, you can do something with your life.
Q: Your nine principles are a great place to start. Which one was hardest for you?
A: Honestly, the very first one: saying no. That was by far the hardest for me, but it was the one that started the momentum of everything going in the right direction. I had to accept and own the fact that I was the problem and also the solution. Just getting to that place where I could say no was so hard because I have always been very type A, very driven, and convinced that I can do this myself if I just push harder, try more, sleep less. For me, being able to own the fact that I can't do it all, and to be vulnerable and authentic and set boundaries, was really hard. But once I started doing it, saying no little by little, cutting back and setting good boundaries in my life, it was so empowering for me that it made me become much more of a "no" woman than a "yes" woman. Because I realized that when I say "no" to the mediocre, then I can say "yes" to the best.
I have always been very type A, very driven, and convinced that I can do this myself if I just push harder, try more, sleep less. For me, being able to own the fact that I can't do it all, and to be vulnerable and authentic and set boundaries, was really hard.
Q: Financial problems are the No. 1 cause of divorce in this country. You and Jesse have addressed money management head-on by holding monthly accountability sessions. Were you both on the same page financially from the start?
A: We talked about so much stuff before we got married, and I feel like the fact that we could openly communicate set us up with such a good foundation for a marriage. That seems to be what's lacking in so many marriages today; they don't have that freedom to openly communicate and speak what's really bothering them.
Q: Do your spending habits differ?
A: My husband is a spender and I'm a saver. Coming into our marriage as complete opposites was very hard and we've had to learn and make a lot of mistakes. We've both had to compromise and find that middle ground.
Q: What's the secret to keeping your money disagreements in check?
A: One thing that has been so fantastic for us has been to have "blow money," designated money that we can spend on whatever we want. For me, I could care less whether I have that money; I'll find something good to spend it on that is already something important. But for him to have money that he can spend on whatever he wants, he needs that. As a spender, he needs to spend money; that makes him happy. It took me a very long time to accept that; I can't wrap my head around that (laughs) because spending money doesn't make me happy -- saving money makes me happy! We're so opposite! But I think that having that open communication has just been really good.
Q: The system you've devised of paid and unpaid chores for your kids seems like a great way to instill sound money basics at an early age.
A: With our kids, we started at a very young age about everything, like debt and why we don't have credit cards. We've taken them to the bank to set up their accounts and given them small goals to work toward at a very young age. It might seem kind of silly to do it when they're 6, but I want them to make those $3 mistakes to save them the $3,000 mistakes. So we give our kids a lot of opportunities to earn money so they learn how to handle money.
It might seem kind of silly to do it when they're 6, but I want them to make those $3 mistakes to save them the $3,000 mistakes. So we give our kids a lot of opportunities to earn money so they learn how to handle money.
Q: How would you rate them as money managers at this point?
A: We just returned from a family vacation to Oklahoma City to visit the science center and I told them ahead of time, "If you don't have money in savings right now, you might want to earn some money because there are going to be places and shops where you're probably going to want to spend money." So they all had brought the money they earned, and it was just so neat to watch them analyze, "OK, I have $3. How am I going to spend it?" Now, some of the stuff they bought wasn't necessarily what I would consider a good deal, but for them to have to decide that and go up to the cash register and pay with their money is really great to see. One of my daughters saw something that was $5 and she only had $3, and we're like, "Next time, do some more chores, earn some more money. This is how the real world works." It's trying to give them those opportunities because they're going to be out on their own someday, and if we don't train them and give them those skills, they're going to have to learn the hard way.
Q: How has success changed your goals?
A: When I first started goal setting, I did not set realistic goals. In fact, in writing this book, I found my page of goals from 2007 and at that point I had these little kids and my business was just mushrooming and I set 36 goals for that year. And they were mostly all these completely unrealistic goals. So one of the ways my goals have really changed is, I've simplified them a lot. So for 2014, I just set 12 goals, and they were all very specific and measurable goals, such as "I want to blog 52 DIY or recipe posts this year, one a week." Something that's measurable, instead of "I want to blog more." So they've changed in that regard.
Then also, we are no longer in that place of just trying to make it and live paycheck to paycheck; we're in a place where we now have wiggle room in our budget. So now that we're in a place where we have more income than outgo, we're really set big giving and savings goals. We want to continue to live simply so that we can give generously. That's really our heartbeat now that we're in a different place financially. We want to give back. If we continue to live frugally and on a budget, we can make such a big difference in others' lives by doing that.See related: 8 ways to save without feeling (all that much) pain, Saving money versus paying off debt