Runway to Real Life: Secrets From the Frugal Model

US News

Models may have a reputation for extravagant spending habits, but Ashley Stetts doesn't fit that stereotype. Between modeling gigs, the New Yorker launched thefrugalmodel.com, a blog where she shares tips on choosing an online bank, finding deals on eBay, living below your means and other aspects of personal finance.

In honor of New York Fashion Week, which runs Sept. 5-12, U.S. News caught up with Stetts to find out why she's passionate about saving money, how she resists the urge to splurge and more. Her responses have been edited:

You grew up in a family so frugal that they reused paper towels. Is that how you got interested in personal finance?

Yes, it's not taught in schools, so how you grow up has a huge impact on the way you handle money. Because it was such a big thing in my family, it was kind of ingrained in me.

[See: 50 Smart Money Moves to Make Now.]

When and why did you start your blog?

I started my blog a little over a year ago because I had so many ways to save money, and I was always telling everybody about it. I'd tell people they should negotiate with their cable company or you should do this. It got to the point that my friends said, 'You really should start a blog with all of the ways that you save money.' I had a lot of friends that were working in nightclubs, working as models, making a ton of money and they were all broke, because they didn't know how to handle their money properly. There wasn't really a source for young women and young people to get tips that aren't boring money advice. I thought it was definitely something that was necessary.

What do you think are the biggest financial challenges that the people in your industry face?

Modeling or any kind of freelance work is something where you never know when your [next] job is going to come. It's so important to have an emergency fund in case things go wrong. Especially in New York City, which is the fashion capital, when you go to casting, you have to look a certain way. And for young people in general, I think there's pressure to keep up with trends and with the Kim Kardashians and everything.

How do you deal with that pressure yourself?

There are so many ways, especially in the city, to get really cool stuff and not have to pay full price for it. You can buy things that are secondhand. I'm a huge eBay fan. I've bought Christian Louboutin shoes that were used slightly, and nobody's ever going to know. If I can get them for a couple hundred dollars, I'm feeling better than most people that will just walk in the department store and buy it for full price.

[Read: Secrets of Successful eBay Sellers.]

Aside from buying Christian Louboutins on eBay, what are some other strategies you used to build up your savings?

It's really just a matter of being aware and living below my means. I was making great money, but I wasn't acting that way. My frame of mind was always that I have to save my money. That's what a lot of people lack. Once you start making better money, your standard of living rises. Now you're in the exact same place. You're not saving any more money. And as my income began to rise, I stayed in that place of very low income.

I was lucky. I know that a lot of people don't have the opportunity to make the kind of money that I was making. But everyone's hopefully going to be getting their raises and changing jobs and getting promotions and no matter what, it's just really paying attention to where your money's going and paying attention to every transaction. When I would go out, I would never order a cocktail at dinner. It's silly little things like that that saved me in the long run because I was always mindful of what I was spending my money on.

Is it challenging for you to stick to your budget when you're around people who have different priorities?

My friends know by now that this is the way I am, so it's not a surprise that I'm really frugal with my money. I don't think my friends would ever say that I'm cheap. It's important to be around people who have similar values as you. It is easy to get caught up with people who say, "Oh, you're only young once, and you only live once, and you should have fun and whatever." It's easy to get caught up with that, but I made a point of surrounding myself with successful people because it really pushes you to work harder.

What would you say is the difference between being cheap and being frugal?

Being cheap really affects other people, like when you can afford to buy a friend a birthday gift but you don't because you're cheap, or a guy who has the money to pay for dinner but makes the girl pay. Being frugal is just being mindful of your money and understanding its value. It's still being generous, and you're not being inconsiderate.

[See: 10 Things You Need to Stock a Frugal Kitchen.]

Do you think the word frugal has a negative connotation? Or has the recession made frugality a virtue?

More people understand the difference between being conscious with your money and being cheap. The new American Dream is keeping afloat because people are out there spending their money to show what they have, but they aren't making good decisions. Millionaires don't have second homes. Millionaires don't drive luxury cars. I think people are starting to understand now that people who have money don't need to show it and don't need to flaunt it. People are starting to see the value of that.



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