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St. Pete podcasters hit 2 million downloads; iHeart Radio comes calling

Mark Parker



Jen Smith (left), and Jill Sirianni's podcast, "Frugal Friends," recently hit two million downloads and caught the attention of broadcasting conglomerate iHeart Radio. Photos provided.

A female-led, St. Petersburg-based podcast promoting a frugal lifestyle through mindful spending continues to grow, recently reaching over 2 million downloads – and upcoming syndication through broadcasting giant iHeartRadio.

Jen Smith and Jill Sirianni launched their Frugal Friends podcast by pure happenstance, never expecting it to grow into a full-time business. Sirianni and her husband, Eric, visited St. Pete from Pennsylvania in 2017, and the two couples quickly developed a friendship over drinks and a Gulf of Mexico sunset.

When Smith and her husband made a trip to Pennsylvania to see the Siriannis the following year, Eric suggested the two young women start a podcast. Smith had a background in personal finance, but Sirianni did not, and Smith was reluctant to quit her job and take the leap of faith. Despite her hesitance, the duo launched Frugal Friends in April of 2018.

“We’re the least ‘financy’ personal finance podcast that we know of,” said Smith with a laugh. “We’re talking mostly about saving money and spending less on home and leisure stuff. We don’t talk too much about business or investing.”

Their show was a hit from the first episode, and the Siriannis moved to St. Petersburg in August of 2020. Less than four years after Smith reluctantly started a podcast with a new friend, iHeart Radio begins airing Frugal Friends in May; the company boasts 860 broadcast stations in 160 markets across America.

Smith said the rapid growth and transition to such a large national broadcaster still does not feel real to her, and the duo’s podcast has morphed into a movement for a large community of people trying to change the way they spend their hard-earned money.

“So, it feels really bizarre,” she said. “But very cool.”

Smith wrote a personal finance blog and worked for a finance publication full-time before launching the podcast. She and her husband managed to pay off $78,000 in debt in less than two years, so frugality came naturally to Smith. However, her thoughts on frugal living began to change from a mindset of necessity to becoming a more conscious consumer.

Smith and Sirianni provide lighthearted takes on mindful spending, minimalism and simple living to their listeners.

Smith said she was never interested in other finance podcasts, calling them directed towards people that “nerd-out” on the subject. One podcast, Stacking Benjamins, was different. She described it as a comedic finance variety show – like late-night TV, except about money and through a podcast.

“So, I was familiar with personal finance stuff, but I didn’t geek out about it,” she said. “I was just able to kind of teach people about it in a way they could understand.”

The idea, said Smith, was taking the Stacking Benjamins model and translating it to her passion – elevating female voices in finance and frugality.

The first episode focused on the basics of frugality, and while many people told her no one ever listens to the first show, the inaugural podcast became the most downloaded Frugal Friends episode for almost two years. The hosts now provide lighthearted takes on mindful spending, minimalism and simple living to their listeners.

“Because when you simplify your physical space, your mental space and your schedule, you can make better spending decisions,” Smith added.

She advises listeners to identify their core values and spend money accordingly, without guilt. Sustainability is also a pillar of her beliefs, and she stresses the importance of good stewardship for money, time and the environment.

Smith explained that frugality reaches far beyond saving money to reduce debt. She said it is a lifestyle that frees people from the restrictive forces of consumerism.

“A lot of times, we think consumerism is the American Dream,” said Smith. “The American Dream is being able to pursue the things that you value, not buy all the things.”

Everyone’s favorite segment on the show, she said, is the “Bill of the Week.” Smith explained the hosts came up with the idea while brainstorming for a hypothetical podcast they had no real intention of starting. The premise is simple – listeners call in and talk about their “favorite” bill, with the expectation that it would consist of lowered payments or reduced interest rates.

Smith said many times, however, the bill of the week is a friend named Bill that helped someone move or another fun play on the word. Her personal favorite is a caller who recently completed alimony payments. Due to the segment’s popularity, Smith said there is a four-month waiting list for submissions.

Smith said they look forward to growing their listenership through the iHeart Radio network in the coming months. The conglomerate offered the hosts a high level of autonomy and control over their content, and she hopes the increased exposure leads to new listeners, male or female, who might think a personal finance podcast better suits their mothers or grandmothers.

“We are so excited to tell people, ‘hey, we are in our early 30s, and we love frugality because it offers us this, and it can offer this for you too,'” said Smith. “This freedom from restrictive personal finance ideas.”

For more information on Frugal Friends, visit the website here.




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