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Money Mentors: Erin Cerat on Paying Cash, Babysitting on the Side, and Buying a Home

Erin Cerat and familyFor this “Money Mentor” post, I wanted to bring attention to someone who’s doing the little things right. It’s really a chance to ask a thrifty friend — the one who seems like she always has it together — the secrets to her success.

Meet Erin Cerat, a 31-year-old special education teacher and new mom living outside Boston.

Erin has been making smart choices since college. She hasn’t had to struggle through debt, and that’s partly because she’s been a lifelong saver and huge fan of paying cash.

Maria: Erin, I’ve heard you described by friends as someone who always had her ducks in a row when it comes to finances. When you graduated from college, you had a job, no debt, and an apartment … that’s rare these days. How did you make it happen?

Erin: I was very lucky because my parents did take care of college for me. So when I was in college, I babysat, so that money that I made babysitting I was able to save. I didn’t have to use that for school.

From high school I had started working and everything I made I always saved. I didn’t have too much reason to spend too much money. And in the summers, I always worked, I waitressed, and did all the jobs that I could do.

I’m originally from Long Island, so (after graduation from college) it was a big decision whether to move back to Long Island and move back in with my family or stay in Boston … So I figured I ‘d try living in Boston, and if it didn’t work out, I could go back home.

Two of my friends from Boston College, we got an apartment and signed the lease. I had a couple weeks before my summer job started, my nannying job. In those couple weeks I was like, “I have to get a real job because when I’m nannying I won’t be able to go for interviews.” I applied to pretty much every teaching job there was. The job I ended up accepting, I had applied for it twice. My future boss said, “I knew you wouldn’t stop bothering me unless I got you in for an interview.” So I was really lucky how that worked out, and I’m actually still in that same job.

Maria: You mentioned saving your money. Were there any specific tips or tricks you developed?

Erin: My parents were very good role models for me. I didn’t get a credit card until I was in college, and that was only for emergencies. And since I babysat, I always had cash. If I didn’t have that cash from babysitting, then I wouldn’t spend money. I wouldn’t be going to the ATM and taking money out of my savings account. I would just be using what cash I had. If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t spend it. I think that was very helpful for me.

Maria: Did you continue babysitting while you were working full time?

Erin: Yes. I actually only stopped babysitting after I had my son, which was last year. Babysitting was one of the jobs that I enjoyed the most, and it was very lucrative, especially around Boston College. I found a great family to work for that treated me like family, so it was one of those things I really enjoyed doing, and it was also financially beneficial. I babysat all through, I just stopped when I had my son because I had to take care of my own baby. When I was pregnant, I was babysitting. It was also nice during college … you sort of miss that home feel, so babysitting sort of gave me that.

Maria: You bought a house early in your adult life and put a lot of work into fixing it up. What was that experience like?

Erin: (My husband and I) didn’t live together until we got married, but I met him because he was my neighbor across the hall in my apartment … About a month and a half before we got married, we bought a house. We’d been looking for a while; we saved our money. It was one of the goals we both wanted.

We didn’t want to rent because we felt like we were throwing away our money every month and had nothing really to show for it. And my brother had bought a house before he got married, so it was kind of the example I wanted to follow.

So we bought a house, a cute house in a cute little neighborhood. It needed a lot of work. Andy, my husband [who works for Microsoft], has always been very handy, and he was excited about having a house that needed work.

His dad has every tool you can imagine and was excited to help. My parents were excited to help. So a month and a half before we got married, we closed on this house and we were there taking down layers of wallpaper, my parents were painting, his dad was taking down kitchen counters and cabinets. That house we pretty much did it all ourselves. It took about three and a half years, and we pretty much redid the whole house.

It was time-consuming to do all the work, but it was fun and it taught you a lot and made you love where you live, when you do what you want. And it saved a lot of money doing it ourselves.

Maria: Do you have any tips on saving money when you have a new baby?

Erin: I took a year off from work; I was fortunate enough to be able to do that. I did breastfeed him for the year, so I never had to buy formula. I made all my own baby food, which I think helps. It sounds a lot more impressive than it is, because all you do is make some vegetables and then puree them. I wanted it to be organic and know everything that was going into it. But those little organic jars can be so expensive, so I think that did save a lot.

We’re big Costco fans.

And I use Amazon Mom. For the first year I got it free … it has a 20 percent discount on diapers and wipes. You get free shipping on anything, and it’s subscribe and save.

I do find it a lot more difficult to think of what I’m spending and saving now that I am a mom because there are so many more things to think about, and you don’t always have the luxury of going different places to get the best price. Or get coupons… I used to be a huge coupon clipper!

Do you want to ask “thrifty friend” Erin any questions? What do you think of her tips? Do you have any new parent advice?

Published or updated on February 4, 2013

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About Maria LaMagna

Maria LaMagna is a recent graduate of Northwestern University where she served as editor-in-chief of the university’s award-winning daily newspaper and studied for five months in Argentina. Before joining Money Under 30, Maria worked as a reporter for CNN and the Indianapolis Business Journal. Follow Maria on Twitter @MCLaMagna.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Laura says:

    (Correction) …a total of $10,000 in student loans

    • James says:

      Hi Laura,
      I think its awesome that you and your family did most of the work on your house. Currently, I’m enduring the same process as I have bought a house about a year ago and I’m slowly fixing it up. Lately, I’ve been getting frustrated with trying to balance fixing up the house, with working a full time job and going to grad school. So did you move into your house while you were working on it or did you live somewhere else? Also do you have any money saving tips when renovating?

  2. Laura says:

    I left college with no debt due to my grandparents leaving my sister and I $30,000 each for college. They worked hard and knew the value of an education and were smart with their money so they were able to save and retire and still save for us. We took the cheaper route of a public 4 year university and worked through college for clothes, food, gas, and anything else we might have needed. My husband comes from the other side of that where his parents and grandparents were unable to help and he had a total of $10,000 when we got married. We have paid those down and are now on a semesterly payment plan to pay his tuition at a local university – we have to save but we are able to pay tuition without acquiring more student loans. I feel it can be done in some cases – we both work full time and currently have very small monthly bills. I had great role models growing up so luckily we are 25 and in fairly good financial shape. we are now working on building our savings account and emergency fund.

  3. Jen says:

    Sounds like they are rocking it while they are still young! Kudos to them!

    I will say though that to say she graduated college with no debt seems a big misleading…the only credit (no pun intended!) it seems she can take for that is not going into CC debt. Student loans for many are because they didn’t have parents paying their way. My husband and I had to pay our own way and yes it sucked squirreling away every extra penny for the past five years but we simply just didn’t have the luxury of parents paying for our education. I’m curious how much of your readership does? I personally don’t know too many people that did but I could be talking with the wrong people. A free education is truly a luxury these days, particularly in an economy where many of our parents can’t even afford to retire! Would love to read more features like the one above, and perhaps include some people who have rocked it with student loan debt?

  4. Suzanne says:

    We sound like money twins! Keep up the good work!

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