Bensenville resident Andrew Thies would be the first to tell you he's not a professional financial adviser, entrepreneur or expert on investments. He's a commercial artist who sings in several musical groups in his spare time -- a very right-brained kind of guy.
But he does know how to manage his money. On take-home pay of less than $30,000 a year, Thies has traveled to Europe several times in the last five years, owns his condo, put himself through school and still has money in the bank.
He's wrote "This Book Will Pay for Itself: A Non-Expert's Guide to Managing Your Money" to tell you how he does it.
"A lot of people said I should write a book because I've always been good with my money and I've always been good at finding bargains," said Thies, who is single and has worked as a commercial artist at Trader Joe's for the past 10 years.
His book doesn't tell readers how to get rich, but how to live better on what they have. Published last year by Tate Publishing and Enterprises, it's based on principles Thies said he's learned over 47 years of living, starting with some advice from his mom.
Thies still remembers the year he received $3 for his birthday and his mother said to hold onto it until there was something he really wanted to buy.
But with the money burning a hole in his pocket, Thies went to the local Ben Franklin store and selected a toy that turned out to be not much fun. Shortly after, the store was selling a glow-in-the-dark sword that he really wanted.
"It was only $1.49, but I had already spent my money so I had to save up for that one," he recalls.
Little wonder then, that Thies counsels over and over again to stop and think before you buy in his 98-page common sense volume. Buy only what you really want and don't buy what you can't afford.
"The best way to save money is not to spend it in the first place," he says. "If you're not sure you want to spend money on something, think about how many hours it would take you to get the money. If it's worth it to you, go ahead and buy it."
Thies offers tips on finding sales and bargains on everything from food and clothing to electronics, vacations and movies, music and books, with a summary of the main points at the end of each chapter.
"I don't think I buy anything that's not on sale," he says.
Online shopping can pay off in finding bargains, Thies says, but don't buy things just because they happen to be on sale. And don't be shy about asking for discounts. If you find a good airfare online, call an airline and ask if it will match it. If you buy an item of clothing that goes on sale soon after, go back to the store and ask for the sale price.
Another big part of Thies' strategy is simply patience and waiting. An item that goes on sale one week may be even more deeply discounted the next. He admits the waiting game can backfire sometimes when the desired item is no longer available.
"Sometimes you lose, but that's part of the fun of it," he says.
Don't forget all the free stuff available to you, Thies says. That applies to everything from workplace benefits (which employees sometimes leave on the table) to travel.
"There are so many things to see that are absolutely free," he says. "You can walk through Rome all day and not spend a dime unless you want to eat."
But to afford that trip to Rome -- or a bunch of other stuff you might want -- Thies says you need to start with a budget. He says anyone who wants to save should keep track of everything they spend for a month, add up the expenses and categorize them to find how much should be put aside from each paycheck to cover normal living costs. Savers also should look at their monthly expenses to see where they could cut back. For Thies, it was eating too many lunches out.
Have some liquid assets to cover emergencies and stick with the budget, even when it means skipping a night out because of some extra purchase you made.
"If you can't afford it, then you can't buy it," he says in his book.
Thies said his advice has rubbed off on his friends, who often tell him they thought of him when they saw a sale and were contemplating a purchase.
"I'm more conscious of what I'm spending and what I'm doing with it," said longtime friend Roseanne Benson of Addison.
Benson said she's given Thies' book, priced under $10, to friends and family for Christmas presents.
"The book is an easy read," she said. "Everybody can get something out of it."
Lisa Miller of Villa Park, another longtime friend and co-worker of Thies, said they've both helped each other out when they lost jobs. He helped her find her current position and adjust to a salary that is half of what she once earned.
"It was a real drastic change, but I'm in a better position than I was four years ago," she said. "I think I'm much better at looking for bargains and not buying something unless it's a bargain or deal."
For his part, Thies says his goal is to be able to retire early. He admits his target retirement age moves back a little every year, but he's taking his own advice by watching out for the little expenses that add up.
"I want to be comfortable when I retire and have money to do things I want to do and not have to struggle," he says.