By Sheryl Smolkin
Today we are continuing with the 2014 savewithSPP.com series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox is one of my perennial favorites.
Kerry started blogging in 2008 and has since been voted Canada’s Number One Money Blogger by the Globe and Mail. She also wrote a book called “397 Ways to Save Money.” In Kerry’s own words, “Squawkfox explores frugal living topics that are sexy, delicious, and fun.”
Thank you for joining me today, Kerry.
Thanks so much, Sheryl. It’s a pleasure talking to you.
Q. How did you end up writing a personal finance blog?
A. I grew up in a very thrifty family. When I started my first job in an IT firm a lot of the engineers I was working with were just blowing through their paychecks.
Meanwhile, I was riding my bicycle to work and bringing my own lunch. They wanted to know how I managed to max out my RRSP every year. So I started creating little emails about how biking was great for your butt and good for your bank account. I also wrote about really earthy, fun things like how soaking dried beans could change your life.
They loved it and repeatedly forwarded my emails. My email list became so big that the engineers said I should have a blog so they could check it regularly and comment. So I started the blog and my audience kept growing.
At some point I was just overwhelmed with how many readers I was getting. And then I was voted Canada’s Top Money Blogger at the Globe and Mail and HarperCollins offered me a book deal.
Q: So who is your audience?
A. That’s a great question. I’m always overwhelmed when I see who is emailing me and commenting on my Facebook page or my Twitter posts. And it’s really people of all ages. Internet savvy seniors email me and say, “I wish my daughter or my son were more thrifty like you,” and then they forward my posts to them. I have college students who read my site because I write a lot about my student debt days.
Q: How frequently do you post?
A: I don’t really keep a posting schedule and I think that surprises a lot of bloggers. However, the average length of my blogs is probably anywhere from 1600 words to 2100 words. And I usually include a lot of photographs or descriptions and an infographic to explain my frugal approach. So I generally aim for a few posts a month.
But, you know, if I don’t really have anything I think is worth saying to a large group of people, I just don’t say it. Because I don’t want to bug people I want to make sure I only put my really good stuff out there. And it seems to have worked for me so far.
Q: Tell me about the range of topics you’ve blogged about.
A: Well, anything from cutting your costs on groceries, to the cost of childcare, to the cost of raising kids. It’s really varied. I think money can touch every aspect of your life if you open your eyes and you see it.
For example, I was in a Starbucks a couple of years ago, and people were buying frappuccinos and I thought, what are they made of? I can probably make that at home. And, sure enough, I made a $4 tall frappuccino for something like 32 cents. That was a post idea right there that just happened by keeping my eyes open.
Sometimes it’s a career post; sometimes it’s a food post; sometimes it’s a tough love post. I wrote one about the real reason you have no money. I did that kind of tough love thing because I was tired of people emailing me that they’re broke. And I said, “Well, then, do something about it.”
Q: So, how many hits does your blog typically get?
A: It depends. I’ve been on the front pages of Yahoo. I get a lot of social sharing on Facebook. I don’t usually give out the number but I’m not a teeny, tiny blog. I’m currently probably one of the higher traffic personal finance blogs on the internet.
Q: Tell me about some of your more popular blogs.
A: Well, the frappuccino one was unusually popular with readers. Anytime I knock off a product and make it cost less, it really strikes a nerve.
I wrote an article in my first year of blogging, called “Six Words That Make Your Resume Suck,” and that’s been hugely popular with people because it’s got a strong voice and a sense of humour.
People also love the tough love stuff when I kind of dish it out because I’m mean, but I’m kind of a friendly mean. I think one popular blog that really surprised me was “how keeping your fridge well stocked and clean can really cut your costs.”
Q: What about your wedding blog?
A: Oh, my wedding blog. How to get married for 239 bucks. It was insanely popular.
I basically started with the premise, what do you need to get married? You need a marriage license and the services of a commissioner of sorts. Add those two together and it costs under 250 bucks.
So anything over that cost is really adding to your wedding expenses needlessly because the bubble machine and the horse-drawn carriage aren’t going to do diddly to get you hitched. Then I explained how I bought my wedding dress at a huge discount on eBay. I think I spend a hundred bucks on it.
I called around to see how much wedding cakes cost and discovered that as soon as you say the wedding word, you’re paying the marriage mark-up. I think my post about how I had a very frugal wedding really hit a note with people because rather than blow all that cash on one day, I saved it and bought a house. People either loved or loathed it, so it was a fun post to share.
Q: So you previously lived in rural B.C. Where exactly were you located?
A: I was in an area called Vernon, British Columbia and I lived on an organic farm with my husband’s family. We moved just recently to Toronto. I’m from Mississauga, and I wanted to come back home to live in the big city again.
Q: I understand you and your husband decided that Carl would be the primary, weekday caregiver for your daughter Chloe. Why was that decision made and how is it working out?
A: Both my husband and I work full time but for the first year when Chloe was home, Carl went on parental leave because he qualified for it at work. Because I’m self-employed, I don’t qualify, so we looked at the budget, we looked at the benefits he got at work, and we just decided that one of us is going to stay home with the baby and why not Carl? He loved it and it turned out he was the first guy in his office to take parental leave and after he did this, two other fellas from his office did the same thing.
Q: So what are some of the spin-offs from blogging? How has it changed your life?
A: Well, I never knew I had a voice that people connected to and I think that was a really big surprise for me. As a result of the blog I was asked to write books for a big publisher, which I really enjoyed.
I love talking about money in a really down-to-earth style that is very accessible to people. And I think it’s just fun to put up a post that is so different from what everyone else writes, because I kind of look at things sideways and try to be a little sassy about saving money.
Q. So how long do you think it will go on? Do you ever run out of ideas?
A: No. I have a book that’s so full of ideas it makes my head spin. It’s just a matter of finding the time to write. Ever since we became parents, writing has been really tough in the evenings and on the weekends.
Q: If you had one piece of advice for readers who want to better manage their finances so they can meet their financial objectives including a well-funded retirement, what would you say?
A: Well, I think a lot of people say focus on the small stuff, but I say you should focus on the big stuff!
Look at where you live, how much house you own, and how much house you owe to the bank. How much rent do you pay a month? All these really big decisions add up to a lot of money. The car you drive, or the car you don’t drive, that’s a lot of money as well.
We need to be more careful about these really big decisions because a couple of hundred extra bucks a month off your rent or your mortgage means that you can put that money into your RRSP or tax-free savings account. That’s real money you can retire on later.
It was my pleasure Sheryl.
This is an edited transcript of the podcast you can listen to by clicking on the graphic under the picture above. If you don’t already follow Kerry K. Taylor on Squawkfox, you can find it here and sign up to receive an email each time a new blog is posted.
If you do sign up, Kerry will send you a free ninety-two page e-book, called ‘Frugal Food and Fitness.’