I’ve decided to bring back an oldie but goodie, the personal finance blogger spotlight interview series. Long time readers of Bargaineering will recognize the PFBlogger Spotlight series as I’ve interviewed quite a few bloggers in the last few years. Today I have the joy of introducing you to Jason of Frugal Dad , a site “created for the average family to find financial resources with a [financially] conservative slant.”
I’m a fan of Jason’s blog because, despite its name, it is about more than frugality. Frugality is merely a tool towards overcoming debt and life’s other financial challenges. I hope, after this interview, you’ll gain a little more insight into what he’s about and why that makes his site so good.
Q: Hi Jason, could you tell us a little about yourself?
A: I’m a 32 year-old husband and father of two. When not working at my full-time gig, or writing for my blog, or being an involved dad, I can be found sleeping between the hours of 1:00am and 5:00am. Seriously, I’m an avid college football fan and am gearing up for the new season. I also enjoy lifting weights (though not nearly enough) and spending time tinkering with various household projects.
Q: What motivated you to begin blogging and how long have you been doing it?
A: I started writing for the web over two years ago. Initially, I wrote for Associated Content, but at some point I thought to myself, “Hey, why not create my own blog and post this stuff there?” I bounced around a bit with Blogger, and a number of different blogging platforms and site names, before settling on “Frugal Dad.” It seemed to sum me up pretty well! I hope to inspire others to live more frugally by sharing a few things that worked well for us. I also hope to steer others clear of the same mistakes I have made along the way.
Q: What do you think makes your perspective unique?
A: I like to joke that I have seen the underbelly of the financial world, from deep behind enemy lines. I worked for a third-party credit card processor for six years, beginning with a graveyard shift in their customer service call center. Eventually, I moved over to fraud and investigations, then the credit department, and my final year or two was spent analyzing web projects. I’m appreciative of the experience, but I burned out enabling people to go into debt. Many of our clients peddled “subprime” products, and I was less than proud of my work.
Q: How do you think that has affected your mindset, and, subsequently on Frugal Dad?
A: You would think it would have had a chilling effect on me when it comes to debt. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect. Dealing with people day after day deep in debt had a way of normalizing it for me. Coupled with perks of employee banking, low rate loans, etc, I took advantage of the various ways to borrow money from the bank affiliated with our company. I financed a vehicle, I ran up my employee credit card, and I took out a personal loan to cover school expenses when tuition reimbursement fell through. Pretty soon my credit report started to look like the applicants I was rejecting.
I still take an anti-debt approach to life, but I’m not quite as angry at the individual products as I was immediately after resigning from that job. I think it was Trent at The Simple Dollar who once compared credit cards to power tools – they are useful in properly trained hands, but they can be dangerous if you don’t know how to use them. That could be said for many financial products.
Q: What are your favorite personal finance books?
A: This is an easy one. Without hesitation, my two favorite personal finance books are Your Money or Your Life  and The Total Money Makeover . Both booked changed the way I looked at money, and broke a lot of the (incorrect) rules about money I had reinforced for me growing up.
Q: Which lessons from those two books really hit home for you? The insights you got that really changed your life?
A: I started listening to Dave Ramsey before he was a radio and TV finance star. I found him on the Internet and started listening to his archived shows at night when I was trying to sort out my own financial mess. His passion for living without credit cards, rejecting debt and materialism, really resonated with me at the time. Most people I worked with thought he was a nut, but I soon figured out that meant he was on to something!
Your Money or Your Life finally drove home for me the idea of a “real wage,” which factored in commute time, wardrobe (I had to wear a coat and tie early on in my career), and other miscellaneous costs of being employed. When I ran the numbers I realized I wasn’t making as much per hour as I thought I was, and when I bought something it cost much more in life energy than I had imagined.
Q: What’s something no one else in the blogging world knows about you?
A: I once saved a man from choking. My wife and I were outside Birmingham, AL visiting family for the Christmas holiday. Two nights before Christmas we went to a local diner – the kind of place where everyone knew each other – for a quick bite to eat. As we were getting up to leave a man at the table next to us began choking. After a few seconds of panic from everyone in the vicinity, I positioned myself behind the man and performed the Heimlich maneuver. On the second attempt, just as he was turning blue from lack of oxygen, a piece of Salisbury steak was dislodged and he gasped for air. Strangely enough, this wasn’t my first life-saving attempt. I performed CPR on a man in high school (unfortunately, he later died at the hospital), and always seem to happen upon accidents, injuries and illnesses. Strange.
Q: Do you get ever emails from readers telling you that you saved their financial life? Or at least helped them turn it around? If so, which is your favorite?
A: Yes, I do, and they seem to come in at just the right moment when I need an emotional boost. My favorite was from a student working his way through college to avoid student loan debt, and already thinking about his financial future. He was making smart decisions, but needed them reinforced to counter what he called a “culture of free spending” he had been raised with, and was now surrounded by at college.
In a way, I felt like I was chatting with my 20 year-old self, and this time we were going to get it right! I’d like to think I helped him avoid the rough decade I had following school.
Q: Which of your posts do you think all your readers should read?
A: I’d encourage visitors to check out a short post buried in the archives: Live Frugal, But Stop to Smell the Roses . It sums up my feelings on living frugal without depriving ourselves of a little fun once in a while. I’ve learned over the years that allowing yourself a small “fun” budget helps keep you from growing to resent your financial plan.
Q: What financial “mistake” that you’ve done has bothered you the most?
A: When I was 20 years-old I leased a brand new Isuzu Rodeo. I’m not making the argument that leasing or buying new is bad (I’ll save that for my blog), but it was definitely a dumb move at twenty years old with little income and no savings. That was my first and last new car.
Q: How about your best decision?
A: Five years ago I left the job I described in my third response, left my hometown to relocate to a different city, and began a career in a new industry. It was a leap of faith. We were expecting our second child, our house was not in shape to sell, and I was one semester shy of completing an elusive undergraduate degree that I had been working towards by going to school at night for the previous two and a half years. To say the timing was horrible would be an understatement. But sometimes you have to seize an opportunity and just go for it. I’m glad I did.
Q: How did you prepare for the big move? How did you overcome that fear? New place, new job, new child… it’s a lot of things to tackle all at once!
A: Psychologists say you shouldn’t take on more than one life-changing event at a time. Doing so greatly increases stress. I can vouch for that! We relocated, sold our old house, bought a new house, changed jobs, and had our second child in the span of about three months. It was a crazy time, and we knew it would be.
The way our family makes most of these types of decisions is we try to project how we’ll feel six months or a year down the road. Will being closer to family be good for us? Yes. Will a new job, a slight bump in income, and a better school system be better for our whole family going forward? Absolutely. Recognizing the long-term benefits of relocating, we knew we could suck it up and get through those few months of turmoil.
Q: What is your favorite personal finance blog and why?
A: Well, besides Bargaineering of course, I really enjoy The Simple Dollar . I relate to Trent as a husband and father trying to live frugally. I stumbled upon The Simple Dollar in December 2006 while recovering from shoulder surgery. The day after surgery I read every single post in the archives and was hooked. After the morphine pump was taken away I still read and enjoyed it, so I figured it was a keeper!
Q: How about your three favorite non-personal finance blogs, and why?
- Zen Habits  – I’m hoping some of Leo’s “zen” rubs off on me.
- The Art of Manliness  – Reminds me of the time when men were real men. From relationships to careers to health and manly skills – there is plenty of testosterone flowing here.
- LifeHacker  – Where else can you learn how to defrag a hard disk and where a burglar suggests you hide valuables in the same day? They’ve also mentioned Frugal Dad a couple times, which is a sure-fire way to get in my top three!
Q: What do you hope to accomplish this year?
A: From a blogging a perspective, I’d really like to join Jim in the “10,000 Subscribers Club” by year’s end. My wife and I also have a goal to pay off all our non-mortgage debt. Admittedly, it’s a stretch goal, but we are doing all we can to make it happen.
Q: And, lastly, if your blog ended today, how would you like people to remember it?
A: I would hope people would remember Frugal Dad as the place that introduced them to square foot gardening, or a 48-hour spending fast, or some other frugal concept. I would hope that at least one of the 700 posts there stuck in someone’s mind and helped them move towards financial freedom.
A big thank you to Jason for taking the time to answer all of my questions! Jason’s a great guy and if you don’t have his blog in your RSS aggregator, you need to subscribe to Frugal Dad  now. Help him reach his goal of the 10,000 Subscribers Club (I didn’t know there was a club!).