Finance isn’t just about MBAs and 401(k)s; it’s about making ends meet, making the most of what you have, and striving for the life that you desire. For the last three and a half years, Jana Lynch has been blogging about finances at Jana Says. While originally focusing only on money and finances, Lynch found her attention waning and opened up the concept to become a more general lifestyle blog. The result is an attractive mixture of money-saving tips interspersed with thoughts on being a wife and mother, scented candles and podcasts, becoming a personal finance blog for people without high finance degrees.

Jana Lynch took a moment to answer our questions and share her expertise.

How did you get started blogging?

About three and half years ago, needing an outlet to talk about money and everything that relates to money, I decided to start a blog. It seemed like the most logical place to put all my thoughts, was a good outlet for the ideas bouncing around in my head, and it was a great way to connect with people who had some of my same values.

Who is your main audience?

My main audience is women in their 20s and 30s who make “normal” salaries and like to do regular things (like shop, take vacations, read) with their money, and have to balance those expenses with having husbands, kids, and pets (or some combination of the three). We don’t talk much about investing or retirement or long-term planning; we deal with the day-to-day aspect of life (and money).

What are your goals for Jana Says?

The primary goal for Jana Says is to make women realize it’s okay to be imperfect. That as long as you’re trying your hardest, whether it’s being a mom, a friend, a spouse, or managing your finances, as long as you’re trying your hardest, it’s okay to mess up.

On your website, you outline a lot of money-saving tips, such as avoiding unplanned trips going out to eat, or making hot drinks at home rather than going to a coffee shop. How successful have you been with these kinds of activities, and how much has it saved you, since you began?

Honestly, I’ve been doing it so long, it’s mostly second nature to cook or make my tea at home, and I always have ingredients in my pantry or freezer to cook something quickly. Sometimes it’s a challenge, and we do cave in to the ease of going out to eat or buying a drink at Starbucks, but we’re not perfect with our money; we just try the best we can. But it all balances out. In the years we’ve been doing this, I haven’t tracked how much we’ve saved but I’d guess over seven years (when we first started making better choices), it’s in the thousands.

How have you found your lifestyle has changed since you began these money-saving activities? Has it been challenging, or have you found yourself enjoying yourself as much, if not more?

In the beginning, it was definitely challenging. My husband and I both had to switch our mindsets completely. And I’d be lying if I said that some days it still wasn’t difficult, but overall, it’s been fun. It’s enjoyable to try to replicate restaurant meals or drinks (Pinterest is especially helpful for that) and it’s nice to have the money available to put towards savings goals. We’re much more conscious now of where and how we spend our money and when we do decide to use it. Knowing that we’re purposefully choosing how to spend our money, and we can do it without wondering how we’re going to pay for it later, makes the activities much more enjoyable.

You talked about celebrating your 10th anniversary with only gifted money and free activities. Were you successful in this, and if so, was it as special and celebratory as you would have hoped?

Our anniversary turned out exactly the way we wanted it. Years ago, we’d planned to take a long vacation, but life happens and circumstances change and we were able to still have a great weekend without breaking the bank. I think we overspent by a little, maybe less than $50, but we proved to ourselves that we can still have a nice weekend, celebrate a fairly big milestone, and we didn’t have to spend a ton of money to do it.

You’ve taken on longstanding challenges, such as the 52-week savings challenge, where you stand to save either $344 or $1100 in a year. What are some savings plans that you recommend? How do you find this kind of thing? How do you keep yourself motivated for a long challenge such as this?

Yearlong savings challenges, like the ones you mentioned, are all over blogs and Pinterest, and there are all different ways you can try to do them. Some people add small increments each week, with bigger numbers at the end of the year or do the bigger weeks up front with the smaller amounts towards the end. Saving money is such a personal thing, and there’s no “right way” to do it, and I don’t know that there’s one I recommend over the other. Regardless of the method you choose, staying motivated is key and I’ve found that when I’ve set a goal for the money, rather than it being thrown into a pot for “something,” it makes it easier. For instance, right now we’re in the process of saving money for two vacations next year. Knowing that I’ll be able to relax on a beach in the Bahamas when we hit our goals makes it that much easier to put the money in the bank!

You manage to balance marriage, family, writing a blog, and still finding ways to cut expenses. What advice would you give to people who think they’re too busy to save money?

Saving money is like anything else – if you want to do it, and it’s important, then you’ll make time for it. But for me, it’s all about planning and how you want to use your time. If you plan properly, saving money can be as easy as preparing weekday meals on Sunday while you’re watching a football game or making sure to use the coupons you uploaded to your smartphone or scheduling the auto-deductions to a savings account on payday, and before long, you’ll wonder how you didn’t do it before. And you’ll realize it’s not as time consuming as you once thought.

You’ve talked about getting organized as a way to save money, avoiding what you call “the stupid tax,” things like late fees at the library and the video store. Have you noticed how much little things like this have helped you save? How does this kind of planning affect the other areas of your life, such as health and peace of mind?

I talk about those things a lot because I’m terrible at avoiding them! I frequently lose track of days and wind up returning books late or bringing back movies to Redbox after the coupon has expired. It frustrates me because after awhile, those little expenses do add up, but I’ve learned to rein it in a bit with reminders on my phone or planning errands to places that have a Redbox for the day after I rent a movie. It’s nice knowing that when I go to the library, I don’t have to have cash on me!

What are three of your current favorite savings tips?

1. Save with a goal in mind. Goals will keep you motivated.
2. Auto-deposits to savings accounts take five minutes to set up and you won’t miss them from your budget or your bank account.
3. Find friends who are doing it too. I participate in semi-annual Wallet Watch challenges that a friend runs, and it makes it so much easier to save and curb my spending when I know I’m not the only one.

For more tips and tricks, and not just about money, like Jana Says on Facebook, or follow Jana on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram.