full time blogger intrerview with Leah Althiser of The Frugal South & The Budget Mouse

This is an interview with Leah Althiser of The Frugal South & The Budget Mouse.

Hey, Leah. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

Thanks so much for having me! I spend my days homeschooling my 11-year-old daughter (which involves a lot of Mom Uber to her various classes/activities), running my online business, and traveling. Also caring for our pets – two dogs, two cats, a guinea pig, and a horse. 

What was your life like before becoming a full-time blogger?

In my previous life I was a public school teacher, grades 5-8 in both Ohio and North Carolina. I “retired” from teaching in 2013 and started blogging soon after that. 

passive income blog boss graphic

When and why did you start your first blog? 

I started my first blog (The Frugal South) as a hobby to keep from losing my mind as a stay at home mom. I needed a creative outlet and followed some bloggers, so decided to start one for fun.

I documented how I was trying to live a rich life on a VERY limited income. At first it was more of an old-school blog where I wrote about my life. I had very little time to devote to it so it was slow going. 

How did you decide on the name and pick a niche?

At first I called it “Frugal Living Southeast” and then had the good sense to simplify it.

I had no idea I was picking a niche (that wasn’t really a thing back in 2014) but I wrote about frugal living – cheap recipes, money-saving tips and tricks, some DIY, and some affordable family travel.

Also read: 50 Lucrative Blog Niche Ideas

How long did it take you to make your first money blogging?

I remember realizing two years in that the site had the potential to start earning money. That was never even my intention with the site, so I started to think about it differently at that point.

I made my first money that year, from affiliate links I believe.

How did your first year as a blogger go in terms of traffic, income, and site growth?

I had little traffic and no income for many years!

How much traffic does your blog get now? What are your top traffic sources?

The Frugal South gets about 1.3 million views per year. The Budget Mouse much less at 300k per year

Google Search has been my top traffic source for years, but prior to 2020 most of my traffic came from Pinterest. It started tapering off and my search traffic steadily rose. 

At what point did you decide to start a second blog and why?

My Disney World content on The Frugal South started taking off in about 2016. In early 2018 I decided to start a second site dedicated to just Disney travel and later a podcast, Facebook group, and courses dedicated to Disney.

I’m glad I did since it has a stronger brand presence than The Frugal South, which is still in essence a lifestyle blog

What are its metrics? 

The Budget Mouse has about 150 articles on it and The Frugal South 375 articles. 

What’s your current content strategy like? 

Honestly I have always worked extremely part time on my business. My responsibilities as a homeschooling mom have always come first.

I took several years off of working much on my sites during the pandemic and just this year really started working consistently on them again (5-10 hours per week).

The fact that they have generated a full-time income since 2018 (and recently a six-figure income) shows the power of making passive income online!

I have hired VAs over the years to update old posts and optimize posts for SEO. I also had a Pinterest VA at one point.

I rarely write new posts at this point. Probably under 20 per year. I only write a new post if I really enjoy writing about the topic and I’m confident I can rank for many keywords related to the topic. 

When did you get into SEO? And do you optimize every blog post?

I got into SEO in 2017 thanks to my mastermind group of myself and four other women bloggers here in North Carolina. That group was definitely the turning point for my business.

We essentially figured out SEO together and helped each other make WAY more money from our sites. I can’t underemphasize the power of working with other bloggers!

I do optimize every post though how I am going about it will change based on what is working after this March 2024 Google Core Update.

What’s one SEO strategy that has worked best for you?

That’s a tough question because I think SEO is shifting right now. So many people thought they were doing “all the right things” and saw all of their traffic lost during Helpful Content Updates. 

I’d honestly say writing for people instead of search engines.

I have always tried to make my content easily understood and helpful to everyone reading. I call it being very “third grade” LOL.

But really it is just writing clear, concise, easy to understand content that genuinely answers people’s questions. 

How big is your email list and what role does it play in your blogging business?

My email list is critical to my business, especially now that I am trying to grow my course sales. I also use it to drive traffic to my sites.

My list is branded to The Budget Mouse and is currently 38k. It’s an active list with an average of 40% open rates and 5% click rates. I send out about 6 emails per month.

What social media channel has worked well for you?

I really abandoned social media years ago. I have a Facebook group with almost 50k members but it is essentially dead because I don’t show up in there. I don’t use social media in my personal life so I have found it hard to implement in my business. 

How much are you currently earning as a blogger per month?

I earn roughly $10k per month and have been at that level consistently for years.

My income is roughly 75% ad revenue, 20% affiliate revenue, and 5% courses.

My goal moving forward is to have my income be ⅓ ads, ⅓ affiliates, and ⅓ courses. So obviously looking to move away from relying so heavily on ads.  

Are you actively building backlinks to your blog?

I build backlinks willy-nilly and always have. I wish I could get more consistent with it but my boss is horrible about keeping me on task (that’s me of course).

I am part of some Facebook groups that do link swaps. It is nice to have two sites to facilitate 3- or 4-way swaps. 

What has been your most successful post? Why do you think that is?

Probably my Disney Genie+ post on The Budget Mouse.

I think it gets so much traffic because 1) it addresses a topic that confuses lots of people so it is often searched and 2) it hits SO MANY longtail keywords that people search for.

It is a “skyscraper post” that continues to do well in 2024. 

Have any of the recent Google core updates affected you?

The fall HCU didn’t affect me and I thought I was immune. But this March 2024 update hit me.

My search traffic is down 40%. I have just started to look at what is currently ranking and it is perplexing.

Some of my old crappy posts now rank and some of my best content lost rankings. Go figure. 

What actions do you take if you see a dip in traffic?

In January of this year (before I saw the drop in traffic) I decided to pursue traffic from Pinterest again. I used to get 500k pageviews per year from this channel, and I personally like using the app.

I’m already seeing a 100% increase in my Pinterst traffic just from actively pinning again. When the core update hit I was glad I had already started on this traffic stream!

I’ve also been dabbling in courses and printables for YEARS, and never really pursuing it much since my ad revenue was great and I could just sell to my email list.

I have doubled down on learning how to be a course creator. Turns out it involves an entire new set of skills and there is very little overlap with blogging! But I’m determined to learn how to create and sell stuff online and move away from being so heavily dependent on ads. 

Tell us about the podcast. What’s your podcasting strategy like? 

I am an extremely casual podcaster. I have taken months off at a time. It amazes me that when I post an episode hundreds of people listen on day one.

It is definitely an under-utilized part of my business. I find it overwhelming to try to monetize so really just use it for brand awareness. 

How do you manage your time when running 2 blogs?

I mostly work in the morning for 1-2 hours before anyone wakes up in my house. I have to be ruthless with my time.

I have learned to stay away from email until after I have accomplished something to move me towards my goals. This line of work is such a marathon, but I think I have gotten used to doing just a little bit each day to move things forward, and over 10 years the progress is amazing!

What’s next for you and blogs? And where can people find you online?

I’m really excited about creating courses and printables that can help people with travel. Almost all of my energy is going into that at the moment! People can check out what I am working on here.

Learn how Leah Althiser of The Frugal South & The Budget Mouse became a full-time blogger while homeschooling her daughter and makes $10K/mo: