Better Know… Jeff from Sustainable Life Blog

Better Know A Blogger - Jeff from Sustainable Life BlogThis is our third “Better Know A Blogger” interview. We’ll be posting one per day, except on Saturdays and Sundays, leading up to the 2012 Financial Blogger Conference next month. The purpose of this series is to introduce you to some excellent bloggers from all across the web who are able to shed light on topics ranging from debt to saving money to investing. (Each interview is conducted via e-mail and then published here)

Today’s interviewee is Jeff from SustainableLifeBlog.com. Enjoy!

fincon12_JeffFirst of all, congratulations on getting married recently! How do you expect life (and the goals you discuss on your blog) will change or not change now?

Ben – thanks a lot, and thanks for taking the time to interview me. Getting married was a lot of fun, and being married has been amazing so far. I think right now, my life (as well as my wife’s) will continue to stay more or less the same. We will continue to do lots of work on our house so we can move upstairs, and we will keep focusing on that in the near term.

In addition to that, we’ll create some joint financial goals in the future, which I will most like share on the site (with her permission of course). Getting out of debt will be a main goal, as well as trying to pay down the house as quick as possible. Other than that though, I’m not sure what the future will look like.

I love how you put your own personal debt progress bar up publicly for everyone to see. Has that helped motivate you to pay off the debt?

Ben, The debt bar has really helped a lot. When I first calculated my total debt load in 2009, and then bought a new car soon after, I owed quite a bit and needed to see that I was making some progress, which the bar helped do. One of the other things that has helped a lot has been breaking down my debts into smaller pieces – right now I do it by note (I’m focusing on paying off the vehicle I bought in 2009 right now, ~3 years ahead of schedule).

Looking at the balances like that (as smaller pieces) really makes them seem more digestible. As the saying goes, you eat an elephant one bite at a time, and you deal with debt the same way. I had my credit card debt as an appetizer, the truck as a main course, and some student loans for dessert.

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The elephant analogy is great! Speaking of ‘wildlife’ I think it’s great that you chose to focus your blog on the idea of sustainability – in all areas of your life. How did that focus come about for you?

Sustainability has always been a pretty big part of my life – at a young age my dad would teach us not to waste anything, and would lead by example (he has written on the site about plastic bags). For me, it just makes sense. There’s no reason to continue on a non-sustainable system – eventually your day of reckoning will be at hand. For finances, one day you’ll have more bills to pay then you will have access to cash, and you’ll have a pretty big problem on your hands at that point. In personal health as well, you can surely eat whatever you want, but eventually you’ll be feeling the effects – you could have heart problems or bad joints from being overweight, and end up missing important life events of family members.

The focus really came about for me after I finished undergrad degree. I was living in a very financially unsustainable manner, and I wasnt being all that healthy either, and I realized that I didnt like it and it was time for a change. As I thought about it, what I was doing was trading something in the future (sound finances, good health) for enjoyment in the now. Slowly but surely I started to change my behavior and I started feeling better about it every day. It has taken a lot of work (and i’m nowhere near finished) but it has been totally worth it.

Congrats on making so much progress already! We’ve been writing a lot about how young people and college students can better manage their finances. Do you have any lessons you could share based on your own experience?

Oh wow – I think the most important thing to learn is whatever starting salary for your field is when you’re in college, it’s not going to be nearly as good as that number looks. You’ve got taxes, health insurance, retirement savings eating out of your paycheck, and before you know it, that awesome 50k per year job is paying you somewhere in the high 30′s after taxes, and you’ve got credit card debt from school, in addition to student loans to pay. None of those things account for other stuff you need, like shelter and food, either.

One other thing is to realize how much you’re actually borrowing if you do take out student loans. When I was in my 2nd year of undergrad, I took out a loan for 5500 dollars – I had no idea how long it would take me to earn that much money to pay back, not including interest, etc over the life of the loan. Loan balances go from 0 to really high numbers really quickly, but they dont go down near as fast. I’ve been paying on a 12,500 loan from 2009 for the last 3 years – i’ve sent them about 4500 bucks, and the balance is still above 10k. It is not as easy as you think it will be to pay off debt when you graduate.

I agree completely, and I think that is one of the hardest things to understand when you’re younger. I remember thinking a $50,000 salary would be so much money, before I understood the real expenses of adult life. On your About page, you mention finding ways to find synergy in all your goals (with riding a bike to work being an example). Are there other examples you’ve found?

The bike example is one of my favorites, because it easily hits all 3 areas: It saves you gas money & wear and tear on the vehicle, it helps you exercise and it cuts your emissions. One of the other great examples that I’ve found is keeping a garden. Having a garden will get you healthy food (you cant grow hamburgers, unfortunately), give you a very cheap hobby (which will save you money that you would have spent on a more expensive hobby, as well as save on food) and lower your environmental footprint.

It’s estimated that most food travels an average of 1500 miles (!!!) to get to your plate from where it was grown. If you put a garden in your back yard, you’re reducing that distance to 15 feet. Lessening your footprint, saving some money and eating healthier are all great things in my book, and with a garden you can kill all these birds with 1 stone.

I never thought of it that way before, but you’re absolutely right. I may need to start a garden (once I get a yard!). Okay, time for the final question: have you been to FinCon before and what are you most looking forward to at FinCon12?

I actually have been to FinCon before. I went last year, and the night the conference ended I proposed to my then girlfriend (now wife) at the restaurant on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building in Chicago. That was one of many awesome memories I had from that trip. This year, FinCon is on ‘home turf’ (I grew up in Denver) and I’m excited for that, and Im also excited that the conference is going to be bigger this year. I’m looking forward to learning some new strategies and tips for how to write better, as well as connect with my audience better.

It will be nice to also see everyone that I was able to meet at last year’s conference and catch up with them. I have a feeling most will be a lot different than I remember. Overall, I’m just looking forward to learning new things at the conference, and having a good time. My wife even got a ticket this year (she did not last year), so I’ll also be looking forward to her making fun of me for being a nerd.

Thanks for taking the time to interview me, Ben.

Wow! That is a wonderful story and makes me excited for this year’s conference. Congratulations again on all your progress in the last year, and thank you for taking the time to be interviewed!

Have any questions for Jeff? Post them in the comments!

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