Andrew Schrage is an economist who previously worked at a Hedge Fund.  Andrew received a BA in ecomomics from Brown University.  He decided to take his knowledge of finance and apply it not only towards his own life, but to help others be financially fit.  He runs the blog Money Crashers with Gyutae Park, an industrial engineer who graduated from Northwestern University.  Read on to learn about their origins, their interests and some timely personal finance tips.

Can you talk about how you guys got started writing about personal finance? What were some of your early lessons on this topic?

We got started in personal finance due to my educational background in economics, and also because at the time we began work on Money Crashers, the country was mired in a recession, and we wanted to help out in even a small way with an educational financial website.

One of the biggest lessons we learned early on is that money management is not rocket science. All it takes is a few key components: Education, organization, and a true willingness to improve one’s financial picture. We also learned the importance for all people of all ages to set money aside for retirement, as most people are woefully unprepared.

What are some personal finance topics that people have a difficult time understanding? What is your advice to these people?

One of the main reasons people don’t save for retirement (besides a lack of funds) is that they’re unsure of how to get started. However, you don’t need to be an investment professional to establish a well-rounded retirement portfolio – you can open up an IRA or a 401k plan via your employer with relative ease.

When reviewing individual investment options, people should look at the long-term performance of each investment (five years or longer). The short-term data just doesn’t give you a complete picture. In order to drum up the cash needed to fund your retirement investments, you can clip coupons to save on groceries, adjust your thermostat to save on home energy, and look for ways to generate income in your spare time.

I noticed you are based in Chicago – can you talk about whether you think Chicago provides a balance between value and city living? Are there any other cities that you believe are similar to Chicago in terms of this value?

Chicago offers a great deal of value despite being a major city. Although the cost-of-living is slightly higher than the national average, it is much lower in comparison to other big cities such as New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Chicago has a wide variety of diverse restaurants, plenty of sporting events, and a solid public transportation system. A couple of other larger cities that offer similar characteristics are Cincinnati, Ohio, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

What are some extreme examples of frugal living that you’ve come across?

I’ve been in the personal finance industry for a number of years now, and I’ve heard of quite a few extreme things people do in order to save a buck. Some take their garbage to work with them so they don’t have to pay for pickup, and I’ve even heard of people reusing items around their home such as plastic bags, wrapping paper, aluminum foil, and even tea bags and coffee grounds. I just recently read about someone who went through a cemetery the night before their wedding so they wouldn’t have to spend money on flowers!

Any advice for people currently struggling to make ends meet?  What game plan should they follow to get out of a hole?

The first thing to do to get out of a financial rut is to implement a personal budget. Compare your total monthly income to your total expenses, and look for ways to trim you costs so that you spend less than what you bring in.
It’s important to save money any way possible – clipping coupons, reducing your energy bills, and finding ways to save money on gas are all ways to trim expenses. One creative way to get your head above water is to generate income in your spare time. Part-time work always helps if you can find it, and you can also sell unneeded items from around your house on the Internet.

You should also set up a plan to pay down and eliminate credit card debt by setting aside your extra savings each month and adding them to your minimum credit card payment.

You mentioned that student loans are not the answer. This industry seems to be a great big bubble. What options do people have outside of student loans?

The first thing that both students and parents can do is research all forms of financial aid before determining they need from student loans. There are many scholarships and grants available based on a variety of qualifying factors, including gender, religion, race, and more. Next, students should consider participating in paid summer internships and finding a part-time job during the school year. This can at least allow them to start paying back student loans faster.

Lastly, can you tell us a bit more about yourself? What do you do for fun? What do you splurge on?

During my free time, I enjoy playing tennis and ice hockey. I’ve always been a fitness enthusiast. And honestly, I try not to splurge on anything. I’ve taken some nice vacations in the past, but only after researching all of the ways to save on airline tickets, hotels, and entertainment options.