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PFBlogger Spotlight: Green Panda Treehouse

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Green Panda TreehouseWhat color is US currency? It’s green. What’s one of the most content creatures on the planet? Well, one of them is a panda. And what happens when a bunch of kids get into a treehouse? Well they play fort, have a good time, and otherwise bond and become better friends. If any of that seems like a stretch, it shouldn’t be, because that’s the namesake and origins behind Green Panda Treehouse. I had the opportunity to interview the Green Panda herself for my PFBlogger Spotlight series.

jim: Hi Green Panda, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Green Panda: I’ve pretty much have been working since I was 14. As the oldest kid in my family I helped my mom balance the budget with one income. I’ve had paychecks were half (or more) went to help with the bills and I blew the other half. I wasn’t saving any of it.

I got a credit card in college and like many of my friends, I charged on it like crazy. At the same time I was financing college on my own through apply for grants and financial aid. I was smart with money on some things, but an idiot on others.

Slowly I became more responsible with my money and eventually it lead me to start blogging on personal finance.

jim: Care to share how crazy that was and how you “got out” of it? A lot of pf bloggers seem to start with debt, it’s always interesting to hear stories of how they undid it.
GP: I would go out to eat for lunch and treat some of my friends (who would return the favor and use their credit card next time). I also thought I was helping my family by paying bills with my credit card. A couple hundred on groceries, utilities, etc. Part of it was that I felt bad that my mom was struggling to pay bills with 3 kids. I justified this bad budgeting habit by using my financial aid refund to pay down my cards every semester (but I still had a balance carried over).

My grandmother’s health required her to be taken to the doctor about once a week. Since we were close and I had a more flexible schedule, I volunteered to help her twice a week for appointments and errands. That was a wonderful experience as I got to know her even better and had some wisdom shown by example from her.

Here was a woman who literally was living on less than $1000/month ( she had subsidized housing), had a disability and yet always had money saved. In fact, while some of children had really good jobs and things, she was the one to offer money if things got tight for them. I realized that my grandmother didn’t carry debt. She didn’t have any schooling beyond the 8th grade (she came to America in the 50s) yet her budget was balanced and always had money leftover.

She eventually lost her battle with cancer. She had life insurance to cover for final expenses and she left me some money to pay off my debt. I wish I could say I spent the money wisely and eliminated my debt then, but grieved by her loss, I spent it things that made me feel better like restaurants and gadgets. I felt so bad reflecting on that waste, that I decided I would be better with my money.

At that time I was dating my husband and he was a college student on a fixed budget. He helped me cope with my loss and helped me with the basics in finances. He learned to no to expenses that weren’t necessary and instead of seeing him as being cheap, I appreciate his frugality. It’s been a slow uphill journey and I’m still learning along the way. I paid off my credit cards and built my savings. I’m now working on finishing my car loan and just started last money paying my student loans.
jim: What motivated you to begin blogging and how long have you been doing it?
GP: I always liked sharing what I learned with my family and friends. I had a habit of sending emails to them. Blogging allows me to fulfill this need of sharing with a wider audience without cluttering inboxes.

I started in 2006, but it was basically news that caught my eye. I was using dig to post some stuff on my blog and I’d offer my 2 cents on it. I realized from reading some personal finance blogs that I could focus my efforts on something that was very useful. Who doesn’t need to know more about personal finance? I got started on July 2007 and been blogging about personal finance since.
jim: What makes your perspective unique?
GP: I’ve seen personally how money can help enhance or stress your life. My money is a tool; you just know how to use it. I try to break it down so things can be explained quickly. That’s one reason why my posts are short. I figure that if you’re as busy as I am, short posts are easier to keep up with.

I’ll will break it down to questions like how to start an emergency fund when you’re in college, how to save money grocery shopping, and I even included recipes. I try to imagine my classmates and my younger brother who’s a freshman when I write.
jim: What are your favorite personal finance books?
GP: The very first book that made me what to focus on reducing debt and saving was Debt Free By 30. The authors, Jason Anthony and Karl Cluck, were young and able to put a less intimidating spin on finance. I still have the book and read time to time.

I’ve read parts of Total Money Makeover. I agree with Dave Ramsey on the thought that personal finance is a behavior issue as well as a money problem. I read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Personal Finance in Your 20s and 30s regularly.
jim: Could you tell me one thing that no one in the blogging world knows about you?
GP: I love racquetball and I can be very competitive. I used to part of a group that played doubles and that was intense. Keeping up the ball is hard; keeping track of three other people is difficult. I’ve gotten cut and bruised. I accidentally gave a hairline fracture to a friend. We’re still friends. :)
jim: Do you have any other passionate hobbies outside of blogging and giving hairline fractures to people in racquetball? :)
GP: I’ve been playing sand volleyball since we moved. We found a pretty good group of friends who are around our age. I enjoying going to concerts, swimming, and running. I like being outdoors and playing sports rather than going to a gym to exercise. I absolutely love the beach and missed it since we moved away. I’m pretty good with Mario Kart on the Wii and now I’m trying to find the Wii Fit.
jim: What posts on your blog should all visitors read?
GP: On the top of my list is the Car Repairs Gone Bad Series. Readers saw us go through horrible treatment from a mechanic, scheming from insurance companies, going to the local news station, and representing ourselves in a lawsuit just to get back the money we spent fixing our car that they broke. I’m grateful we won, but the money wasn’t the point. The whole ideal taught me and hopefully whoever read them that you can’t let ignorance and fear keep you from taking care of yourself.

The mechanic shop’s owner, attorney, insurance agent, and the adjuster were expecting us to just give up because we were young and we didn’t know any better. We came close several times, but it struck a nerve that we’re not the only ones in this situation. It’s a sad truth in this world that most give up.

I also did a Rich College Student series that was written specifically for college students, such as financial aid, setting up a budget, and getting value from the grocery bill. I had friends give me feedback on what they wanted to see.
jim: What’s the biggest financial “mistake” you’ve ever made? (or regret you have)
GP: This is hard, as I’ve made many ignorant mistakes. I would say getting my car loan. I had one car loan before but got out of that when the car was totaled. I got a check from the insurance company for $2000 (the difference between my loan and its worth). I should’ve gotten a used car with that. I let ego and peer pressure to cloud my judgment. The first clue that this was a bad idea was when the dealer said I needed a co-signer. I still regret this.
jim: How about the best financial decision you’ve ever made?
GP: I started putting money away for retirement early. It was not a lot by any means of the imagination, seriously $40-50 a month. I just wanted to get into the habit of saving.
jim: What was the impetus for saving for retirement early? How did you “know” to save for retirement? And young did you start?
GP: I was working at a Rita’s Italian Icee and my co-worker was about 20 or so was the shift manager. During slow times he’d talk about his plans with money. He had an IRA or something and sizable savings account. I asked how was it possible since no one was making more than $8/hr there. He explained that he saved a big chunk of his paychecks since he was young and he did computer repair on the side. I forgot exactly what percentage, but it was more than 10% and he did it for all his income. No exceptions.

He also talked about how his parents helped him set it up and he was determined to put as much as he could into it. I thought it was so weird and cool to see a young person have money and worry about retirement. I didn’t follow his example right away.

A couple of years later, I worked a doctor’s office part-time and qualified for the retirement plan. He was really encouraging all of us to participate. He said to set aside $50/month at least. I figured that was a small amount and so I started from there. Once I got started I realized that it wasn’t as hard as I thought.

I keep learning new things such as load vs no load, ETFs, fees, etc. I try not too worry too much about mistakes.
jim: What is your favorite personal finance blog and why?
GP: That’s a really tough call. I’m going to go with Ramit’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I love how he balanced with using money to enhance your life, avoiding stupid bank fees, reducing expenses, and also saving it. He has a seriously twisted sense of humor. He just seems like a the type of friend you would go for to get advise on money. His articles are never dry or boring. He really seems like he wants to help you.
jim: What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?
GP: On the finance side I would be really happy if I can pay off my auto loan. It’s what keeps me up at night. I got a high rate (13.75%) on it and I have two years left on it.

As for blogging I would love to write and have more guest posts on investing. I would love to learn more about this and I know many people have the same questions like I do.
jim: If your blog ended today, how would you like people to remember it?
GP: I would be completely ecstatic if I helped make personal finance relevant and less complex. There are people who prey on the ignorant, whether it is through ridiculous fees, keeping people unaware of their FICO score, giving horrible customer service, etc.

I hope you enjoyed the interview, please do check out Green Panda Treehouse and if you enjoy what you see, be sure to subscribe to the Green Panda Treehouse’s RSS feed!

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One Response to “PFBlogger Spotlight: Green Panda Treehouse”

  1. Laura says:

    Thanks Jim for the interview! I had a good time with it. You really had me thinking on a couple of those.


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