The “Lucky” Ones – An interview with personal finance whiz Sarah Greesonbach

Time for another edition of The “Lucky” Ones series, and you know what that means—it’s almost-but-not-quite the weekend! Last night was the Mobbies awards, and I had an awesome time meeting fellow bloggers and attempting to identify them based on my memory of their Twitter pictures. I also maaaaybe have good news to report back (spoiler alert: I WON!!), but I’ll save it for the recap that will come this weekend. Right now, I’ve got an excellent interview lined up. Meet personal finance blogger Sarah Greesonbach!

It should be noted that Sarah Greesonbach isn’t just a personal finance blogger. She also writes about life, love, careers, and design, among other things. But it’s her passion for smart money managing that sets her apart. Whether doling out advice on surviving unemployment or drinking on the cheap at Starbucks, Sarah’s expert tips make even the most adverse-to-budgeting willing to reconsider the daily to-go latte.

Before blogging, Sarah was an English teacher, and she’s currently pursuing ventures in young adult fiction. By day, she works as a quality of life support liaison for military families and finds just enough spare time in her busy schedule to read, exercise, and experiment with slow-cooking. 

 

And here she is!

Finance can be a very unsexy topic. How did your finance blogging get its start, and how do you keep the content fresh and relatable?

This is tricky, because some would argue that there’s no way for personal finance to be fresh and relatable because the basics are so basic: spend less, earn more. And the numbers involved could keep things pretty dry. But that’s kind of like saying we should stop talking about health because we all know about exercising and eating right. That doesn’t make it any easier!

I got started because I found myself with a lot of opinions and questions and I needed an outlet for it. There are so many permutations and perspectives of life and finance because everything is new the first time you experience it for yourself. So while I could read a book about a person clawing their way out of debt, I could also read a blog about it and write one of my own and all three would be original stories.

What keeps my content fresh and hopefully relatable is the attempt share my own personal story of debt, career, and relationships to make sure I’m not making any stupid mistakes.

Would you mind sharing some of your own financial ups and downs? How did they affect you on a more personal level?

I have been very, very lucky to have not felt the consequence of most of my bad decisions. I have a student loan and a car loan that I wish I had put more thought into, but I have also had gainful employment to pay for these things without severe financial discomfort.

The ups and downs (and the personal realizations) have been more about realizing the freedom I am missing out on by having these loans. For example, did you know that if you don’t have expenses you don’t need to earn an income? Like… if you had no car loan, student loan, rent bill, or property to insure, you could literally travel the world and freelance on a comparatively tiny sum of money? My college self did not know that, and so my late-20s self cannot do that. A good lesson to learn. If you want any kind of freedom, pay attention to your money.

Have you had to make any sacrifices along the way? Why is it important for anyone to be willing to do so?

I struggle with some serious workaholic/OCD problems, so if anything the only thing that feels like a sacrifice is to not be working, cleaning, or doing something productive. In that sense, I have made sacrifices in limiting the amount of work to do for my health. To stop working, put down the computer and relax and destress is something I struggle with (and fail with) daily, but I am getting better about it.

Apparently human beings were made to enjoy being alive, not work themselves to death. Who knew? And it stinks but it is so important to reach that breaking point where you find out what is too much — it helps you to realign your priorities and make sure you are working on the things that matter. For example: a perfectly-in-order bathroom and clean laundry? Not more important than spooning my husband.

Is achieving financial stability a matter of trial and error, or are there any fail-proof ways to lead a comfortable life?

I would like to think that the whole of society is accruing more and more information every century and that that information will be effectively organized and stored and lead to never making mistakes ever again…but yeah, that’s not happening. So it will always be a slightly educated trial and error. But the trick is that you can decide to be comfortable in the face of trial and error, it is a matter of what Rainer Maria Rilke says about “loving the unresolved question itself”. Because if you can be happy while you’re trying to figure things out, figuring things out will be the icing on the cake.

What are some of the most common indulgences you see other people buy into?

Stuff. Just stuff. We downgraded from a 4-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment and I can’t even remember all the crap we used to own that we now make do without. I’m sure when we have kids we’ll need more, but it’s so refreshing to go home and just see things I need or want — no wondering where to put something or moving things to get to another thing. It also saves us money to not be constantly shopping for things to cover our home space with. Our decor isn’t utilitarian, by any stretch, but we’re slowly swapping out the unnecessities for necessities and really enjoying the process. It also takes me about two hours to do all of our laundry with a half-size washing machine. That makes me very happy.

What’s the best thing a young professional new to the working world can do for themselves in terms of money and establishing independence?

I failed financially for a long time because my goals were so unspecific. Even though I heard the “save, save, save” motto from my parents and friends, it never seemed real to me so I never really saved. But there are two quick ways to start caring a lot about money:

1 – Add up how much you have made in the past 3 years and compare it to your savings account. For example, as a teacher I made a little over a 100G in 2-3 years. It’s easy to think about blowing $50 on dinner or a few hundred on groceries, but when you look back on three years and say one hundred thousand dollars passed through my hands, and I have nothing to show for it, finances get really real really quickly.

2 – Set your first starter-goal to save up two pay checks. This is such a huge freedom-thing. No one should feel trapped in a job or so stressed about being fired or laid off that they have stress dreams. Find the number it would take for you and your spouse to leisurely job hunt for a month and save that amount. The day that we officially saved enough money to cover one paycheck was very emotional for me. The thought that I could get fired or laid off and — while it would suck and be stressful — we would literally be able to pay our bills and have food for a few weeks was an incredible feeling (and seems so simple and obvious now!).

You also blog on a number of other topics, like careers, relationships, and design. Explain your passion for these and how they all tie in together in your life and blog.

My guiding light has always been the hope that someone else out there has the same questions I have. Why some things are so easy for other people but so hard for me, or vice versa. So when it comes to ideas for writing, it’s a matter of what’s been on my mind lately – making friends and being a friend, having a successful career and choosing a professional direction, and then sometimes just struggles with blog design and social media. Even though these are random bits of life, the thing they have in common is me experiencing them and wondering about them.

How do you stay motivated to keep writing constantly on top of a demanding day job?

I am motivated by my desire to create meaningful and useful work.

After college, I went through a very long dry spell of putting everything I have into my career, leaving very little for myself or anything creative. So when my career as a teacher turned out to be toxic for me, it was a huge let down and I struggled for a long time to get back to feeling like myself.

Writing has been the only constant for me. When things were good or when things were bad, in the back of my mind I could hear all the professors and supportive people I’ve known saying write, write, write. And it’s true. A crappy poem or an illogical paragraph is embarrassing, but it’s something you have created and put into the world. Not to get all High Fidelity on you, but deciding to have a voice and be a part of the creative output is something I am very proud of and that I try to remind myself of daily. Now, hopefully after a while it will be good stuff you’re putting out. But even if it’s not, at the end of your work day you can look back and say I birthed that and it is mine. 

So, when I get home from a long day and a long commute of working for someone else, it’s a life-affirming and energizing practice to put my time into something that is for me and my loved ones. And it is a kind of stress release, too: when I get down about people who are having (what appears to be) crazier adventures than mine or making tons more money, I am able to have a certain amount of pride that I created something and that I am doing something special to me, too.

Describe your path to reaching your dream job. How can others do the same?

You would think it would be as simple as finding out what you like to do and finding a job that matches that description, but I learned the hard way that you won’t like doing anything very long if it is with the wrong people. So, my goal in life is to find my people—where are the people I want to be (and be with) hanging out and interacting? As a teacher, I was doing what I loved (talking about English and explaining things) but the people I was with all day hated English. It broke me down. So I am looking for that perfect combination of words and complementary people.

The best advice that has come my way was over on Brazen Life a few weeks ago where a writer suggested that finding the perfect job is much like finding the perfect spouse. And it makes so much sense — jobs are almost as different as people, so how could you possibly know anything about your dream job until you find it (or create it). So the way to be successful is to find a job that you share interests with and try it out. I think it is very common for the new generation to job hop 3-5 times before finding the right fit.

What do you love most about what you do?

After 28 years of living, all I know about myself is that I like communicating ideas through writing. Sometimes that’s personal finance writing, and sometimes it’s as simple as crafting the perfect (and I mean perfect!) email! So, in my current job I get to do a lot of emailing and coordinating, and that is very satisfying to me.

Are there any books you’d recommend to anyone looking for a way to improve their financial destiny?

How’s this for being cheeky: any book at all. Read instead of going out to dinner. Read instead of going shopping for fun. Read instead of paying $10 on a movie ticket, then talk to your friends about it over tea in your own house. This will improve your spiritual, emotional, and psychological destiny, and the savings will help with your finances, too.

 

Sarah, you rock! Thanks so much for being a part of The “Lucky” Ones series—you’ve got a great attitude. Like what Sarah has to say? Please let her know in the comments!

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Comments

  1. I can completely relate to what you’re saying about finding the right “fit” where you work. We spend so much time at work, on some days, my time at work is longer than my time with my own family. So it means so much to “get” the folks we work with. It can make all the difference in the world. To our creativity, our emotional well being, and just being able to cope with a difficult day. Thanks for all your insight, it was a fun read learning more about you. 🙂

  2. kind of in love with that last bit of advice. wonderful, inspiring, so smart.

  3. I’m absolutely going to start working towards saving up two paycheques. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by my distinct lack of savings lately and this seems like a reasonable goal. Great advice!

    • Good luck, Sarah! You can DO IT.

    • Sarah Greesonbach says:

      Hi Sarah – Best of luck with it! I completely agree about the firm saving advice. It’s so easy to say “save, save, save,” but then you get a windfall and have no idea what to do with it, so it goes to movies or clothes (or whatever else I really, really “need”). Having a hard number based on MY needs makes it so much more motivating to hide the extra $25 or $50 found in the budget.

      http://www.lifecommaetc.com

  4. Wow, another great interview, Cassie. Sarah presents herself and her advice in a totally non-judgemental way, which can be hard when it comes to finances. Going to check out her blog now!

  5. “Now, hopefully after a while it will be good stuff you’re putting out. But even if it’s not, at the end of your work day you can look back and say I birthed that and it is mine.”

    I LOVE that. It’s such a refreshing way to think about writing.

    Also, that Rainer Maria Wilke quote is a gem. I love everything about this interview!

    • Yup. A great reminder to be proud of everything you put out there.

    • Sarah Greesonbach says:

      Thanks for your comment! That thought always gets me through my “jealousies”… I know a lot of people who make waaaay more money than I do, so when I was complaining about it my husband said, “Yeah, they make X/year, but when they’re done with that year what do they have to show for it?”. Love it!

      http://www.lifecommaetc.com

  6. I love her attitude, and there are some great pieces of advice and inspiration in here. Just added Sarah’s blog to my bookmarks. 🙂

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