4/19/18

How I Took A $4000+ Flight To Hawaii For $82-And How You Can Too!

4/19/2018


Smart Money Squad, how have we been doing? It’s been a while since I last checked in. That’s because we’ve been working hard behind-the-scenes on some awesome content, all in the name of saving you some money! Today, we get to talk about one of my favorite topics…TRAVEL!

Who doesn’t love flying on the cheap? I know I’m always looking for the best deals on flights, hotels, excursions, you name it…but that often comes with a time investment. I’m here to take the time commitment away from you, giving you the step-by-step details you need to book that awesome trip you’ve been planning for years. Want to go to Europe? How about a cross-country baseball trip? Everybody has their own travel dreams, and with our points & miles game, we can achieve that and much more.

If you need a back-to-basics crash course on some of the methods we use to travel on the cheap, check out our 'Vacation Like a Baller' piece. Earning enough points & miles to see the world for free may seem hard, but I can promise you it's not as bad as it looks. Take it from one of our own, Christian, who's knee-deep in trying to earn the Southwest Companion pass from two credit card bonuses. He's doing an excellent job and is well on his way to snagging some awesome flights with Rosie, all on the cheap.

To take a page from one of my favorite trivia games (HQ), let's get down to the nitty-gritty. We're cleared for takeoff...here's the step-by-step guide you need to book the trip of your dreams, all for a fraction of the cost!


Step One: Narrow In On Your Destination

The first mistake lots of travelers make is casting a wide net when deciding where to travel. While it’s nice to have lots of ideas on where you want to go, if you can nail down exactly where you want to take a trip, it’ll pay dividends in the long run. We need to make a decision on where we want to go so we can pinpoint exactly what type of points we’ll need to make that dream a reality!

For Kayleigh and I, that was a stellar points redemption to the tropical oasis of Hawaii. We traveled with Kayleigh’s parents, who were generous enough to pay for our lodging while we were there for 8 (EIGHT!?!) days. As I type this, it’s snowing in Ohio in April, which is certainly making me long for pina coladas on the beach with no Sunday scaries inbound.

Our view from the lanai in Ko'Olina, Oahu. Not too shabby!
Pina Coladas, No Work, No Worries
Anyways, since we did not need to pay for our housing, we were determined to book killer flights in the cheapest way possible. We only had a couple of stipulations:

  •     Aim for a lie-flat bed on the way home.
  •     Ensure we can pick our seats (aka not be stuck in the middle of a 4-wide row)
Other than that, we were comfortable with any airline that could take us from Columbus to Honolulu and back. Destination, check. Now it was time for the hard part…how the hell do we pay to get there?

Step Two: Identify The Miles You Need To Get There

This is the step most people lose interest in the points & miles game. If I had a nickel for the amount of times I hear “it takes too much time” or “it sounds too hard”, I’d at least have enough money to beat Alex & Christian at NBA Jam for a whole night at the arcade. (On a side note, you don’t want these Indiana Pacers hands. Reggie Miller=cheat code!) I’m here to tell you it’s not that hard to figure out exactly what you need to get where you want to go. 

While I could go on a tangent about every mileage program & how to use their points to fly, we’d be looking at about 20+ posts. I love you guys…but maybe not enough to write that much today. So for now, let’s look at the airlines we used to book our Hawaii trip: Delta & American.

Leg One (CMH-ATL-HNL): Delta Airlines

For our departing flight from Columbus to Honolulu, Kayleigh and I elected to use Delta miles. Delta is a bit tricky with their award booking in that they do NOT publish an award chart. There’s no set-in-stone price for award booking, which can make finding a specific redemption tough to find. All it takes is a little research to find that flights to Honolulu from Columbus can be found for as little as 30,000 miles one-way (and sometimes cheaper)! With that in mind, I just searched flights from CMH-HNL for the Sunday after our wedding to see what was available. This is what came up:

Flights from Columbus-Honolulu for only 30,000 miles one way!
This is a cheap redemption for a flight from CMH-HNL but comes with 2 layovers. Kayleigh and I were able to get a similar mileage price for a one-layover flight from CMH-ATL-HNL, which worked perfectly for us. Our experience goes to show it pays to check the award charts when you have a trip in mind-you never know when a great deal is going to pop up, and when you see it, SNAG IT! For those that don’t want the multiple layovers (and we don’t blame you), I found this option for 53,000 miles:
Less Layovers=Happy Travels!

No matter what option you go, we’ve identified that Delta is a viable option and we’ll need to earn Delta miles for this portion of the trip. While there are definitely cheaper Delta options (booking through Flying Blue, transferring alternate FF points, etc.), for the sake of simplicity, we'll stick to strictly Delta miles.

Leg Two (HNL-DFW-CMH): First Class on American Airlines

As I previously mentioned, I was looking for a flight where I had a lie-flat option for my return trip. These flights normally cost upwards of $1,500 one way and are not within most of our traveling budgets. Personally, I’d rather spend the $1500 doing amazing things in Hawaii-and that’s why we play the points & miles game. I had identified American Airlines as a potential option for this trip & luckily, they actually post their award chart online for ALL destinations. Let’s take a look at what a trip home from Hawaii typically costs:

You can fly from Hawaii-Mainland US for only 40k miles one-way in BUSINESS/FIRST CLASS!
From the chart, you can see that American has “SAAver” awards from 40k miles one way, while their normal redemption rate will cost you 67.5k miles. Again, this seems like a lot of miles on the surface, but we’ll find that earning that many miles is much easier than you think. Taking a look at flights a week after our original flight to Hawaii would allow you to see these redemption options:
First Class Redemption Options HNL-CMH

Economy Redemption Options HNL-CMH (20k miles one way!)
Two very different types of redemptions: one first class flight for 67.5k miles with all the bells and whistles, and one economy flight with a killer redemption at 20k miles! Again, this all depends on your personal preference for travelling. Kayleigh and I wanted the lie-flat seats on the way home, and therefore we opted for the first class flights on our February Hawaii trip. If you’re on the fence about first class, I say GO FOR IT. Here’s a few pics from our Hawaii first class redemption:


Kayleigh was digging the "Pod"-style seating!
Nicer Interface & ALL THE LEG ROOM
Adjustable Controls For The Seat


Full Service Dinner Menu
Drinks Menu (All Included!)

Mixed Nuts, Tito's & Golf-Never a Bad Combo!


Can't Beat An Ice Cream Sundae At 30,000 Feet!
Needless to say, Kayleigh & I really enjoyed our first long-haul first class flight. Drinks were had, food was consumed, and the best part? We were both able to lie flat at the end of the day and actually sleep on a plane, something that both of us struggle with.

Ok, Smart Money Squad…you still following along? We’ve identified exactly what kind of miles we need to make this trip a reality. Now we just need to earn them! Let’s look at some of the cards you can utilize to book that dream trip you’ve been planning.

Step Three: Earn The Miles You Need To Travel

Now that we know we need Delta & American miles to travel, we can take a look at a few of the cards that can get you the mileage needed to book your trip. Here’s a sampling of the cards available on the market for Delta and American:

Delta
·       AMEX Delta Gold Card-Earn 50,000/60,000 miles after spending $2,000/$3,00 in the first three months from account opening; $50 one-time statement credit after making Delta purchase; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.
·       AMEX Business Delta Gold Card-Earn 50,000/60,000 miles after spending $2,000/$3,00 in the first three months from account opening; $50 one-time statement credit after making Delta purchase; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.
·       AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card-Earn 50,000 MR points after spending $2,000 in the first three months from account opening (MR points transfer 1:0.75 with Delta, equating to 37.5k Delta miles).
·       AMEX Business Premier Rewards Gold Card-Earn 50,000 MR points after spending $3,000 in the first three months from account opening (MR points transfer 1:0.75 with Delta, equating to 37.5k Delta miles).

American Airlines
·       Barclaycard AAviator Red-Earn 50,000 miles after making your first purchase with the card after account opening. Comes with a $95 annual fee, not waived first year.
·       Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select-Earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months from account opening; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.

·       Citi Biz AAdvantage Platinum Select-Earn 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months from account opening; $0 annual fee for first year ($95 2nd year); free checked bag.

These are just a FEW of your options in the points & miles world that can get you exactly where you need to go. Kayleigh and I used only two cards each on this list to book our flights. While there is certainly a stigma around having multiple credit cards, I’m here to squash that. My credit score keeps going up with the more credit I accumulate-and so do my mileage accounts!

For those of us that can’t meet minimum spends on these cards in three months, another reminder-we go over all the ways you can meet minimum spends without actually spending money in 'Vacation Like a Baller". Check it out-it's literally saved Kayleigh & I thousands of dollars throughout our travels.


You can absolutely use these cards to your advantage to travel around the world for free-and there’s no reason you shouldn’t! To summarize the mileage-earning portion of our free trip, just do the following:
  1. Calculate how many miles you need to get to your destination.
  2. Find the credit card offer that earns the appropriate mileage for the trip.
  3. Meet the minimum spend requirement using your natural spending/SMS alternate methods.
  4. Spend miles on your destination!

Cleared For Landing

All in all, Kayleigh and I were able to fly round-trip to Hawaii for pennies on the dollar. Our Delta/American flights’ cash price equated to $4,159.38. Now, I talk a big game, but I certainly don’t have that much money to be blowing on flights. However, with credit card bonuses & some fees we incurred from meeting the minimum spends, our final net cost was $82 for our flights.

Breakdown:
  •          $22.40 in taxes & fees for the flight
  •          $60 in activation fees while meeting minimum spends for the credit cards

If I told you that you could fly round-trip to Hawaii with one leg in first class for $82, you’d tell me I was crazy, right? Nope-that’s the reality of the points & miles game.

So what’s holding you back? Join us in travelling the world for pennies on the dollar-it’ll be the best decision you ever made. Until next time-safe travels!

From the top of Diamondhead!


Cheers,

Ty

4/6/18

My Newbie Travel Hacking Journey Part 2

4/06/2018


Happy Friday Smart Money Squad! The weekend is upon us and the Tribe is playing their home opener - that's my definition of a good day! (Smart Money Seed unanimously agrees that the Tribe is the best team in baseball, no questions asked).

Like I mentioned last week, I'm following in Ty's footsteps and venturing into the amazing world of travel hacking! I've got my eye on the Southwest Companion Pass which will allow Rosie to fly for NEXT TO NOTHING on any flight I book, even if I book the flight using points.

Click Here for last week's article if you missed it.

What's happened since last week?

My Southwest Plus card came in the mail and I got my account set-up and ready to roll. I'm really enjoying the Chase app, it's super easy and convenient to use! (Yes, I've lived under a rock for the past few years. I've mostly used smaller banks that don't have a fancy iPhone app.) I'm still waiting on more details with the business card, but they told me that process may take a few extra weeks.

Now that the Plus card is ready for use, the next step is meeting the $2,000 spending threshold. I've decided to accomplish this through a combination of everyday spending and manufacturing spending. I'm planning on using $500 over the next month or two on regular expenses (groceries, gas, restaurants, bars, entertainment, and certain bills that can be easily paid with a credit card), and then practice Ty's manufactured spend recommendation for the remaining $1,500.

Need a manufactured spend refresher? CLICK HERE!

Yesterday I took my first big step in the process and purchased the Visa OneVanilla gift cards from CVS, just like the Doctor ordered. Being the rookie travel hacker I am, I was a little nervous, so I made Rosie come with me for moral support - thanks Rose!! Buying the gift cards was like taking a hot knife through butter - easy and painless.

What's the next step?

Now that I've acquired the coveted gift cards, I need to convert the funds into my bank account. Again, following the Doctor's orders, I'm going to take the money order approach in attempts to limit the number of fees I'll have to pay.

I plan on purchasing and depositing the money orders within the next few days, so I'll let you guys know how I do it and where I go. Don't tell her yet, but I'll probably drag Rosie to the store with me for that too!

Is travel hacking right for you?

Not sure if the world of travel hacking is right for you? Talk to Smart Money Seed. We have a resident expert and two others that are rapidly learning! Leave a comment or message us on Facebook - we'd love to hear from you.

That's it for today, back to the weekend vibes Smart Money Squad!

4/3/18

My 7 Step Blueprint I Used To Become Debt Free In 14 Months

4/03/2018


Let's go back in time for a moment to May 10, 2015. 10,000 of my closest friends (including our very own Ty Henze) and I are dressed in our finest black robes on what was inevitably the hottest day in the history of mankind.

It's finally time to put the college days behind us and join the real world.

After Archie Griffin's speech about regaining Woody Hayes' trust after fumbling on his first collegiate play, I admittedly start daydreaming about what's to come instead of cheering on the 1,000 or so new doctors getting their names called individually (yes that process is as brutally boring as it sounds).

Here's a brief synopsis of 21 year old Alex's life:
  • Starting job at Marathon in just over a month
  • Upgraded from the '94 Corolla for the 1.5 hour daily commute
  • Signed up for a $19k car loan for my new 2015 Ford Focus
  • $11k in student loans
  • Dwindling bank account under $1,000 for the first time since high school (the east coast baseball trip and countless beers were totally worth it)
  • Moved back to Bucyrus to save money on rent (and enjoy plenty of home cooked meals)

That equated to about $600 total monthly loan payments, $0 in rent, and about $200 per month in gas for the long commute.

To summarize, my financial situation looked like this:

$30,000 Debt
$800 Monthly Payments ($200 non-debt payments)

I was by no means in dire straits especially when you consider that the average student loan debt and average auto loan are $30,000 each. But the idea of throwing that $600 out the window each month for the next 4 years really pissed me off.

SO I DECIDED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

I'll never tell you that paying off your debt is the only way to achieve financial success. But if you really feel like your student loans or other debt is your biggest obstacle holding you back, then quit complaining and do something about it.

Get focused, make sacrifices, and change your life.

/rant.


My Debt Free Blueprint

My story is a little bit different than most, and I'll be 100% transparent about three important factors.
  • Becoming debt free was not my plan from day 1.
I knew I wanted to save money to allow for financial flexibility in my life, but I didn't know until about 6 months in that becoming debt free was what I wanted to do with that money.
  • My plan did not maximize my return.
Since I valued flexibility so much, I decided to make my normal monthly payments and save the extra money in my bank account until I was ready to pay everything off at once -- then I spent $25k in one day. I could've saved a few bucks by making payments along the way, but I preferred the flexibility of building up my bank account. 
  • I did not make every possible sacrifice to pay debt as quickly as possible.
I had plenty of fun going down to Ty's apartment almost every weekend to hit up the bars and the Ohio State football games, taking trips to New York to see Amanda. We believe we're here to enjoy life and balance short term gratification with long term success. Sure, I could've paid off my debt a few months earlier, but I wasn't putting myself or anybody else in any financial danger by enjoying myself within reason (I took the bus to NYC twice -- never again). 

I would never recommend completely throwing away your early 20s to pay off debt unless your situation absolutely calls for it which is certainly the case for some. The key is to understand your situation and to live within your means. If you've lived outside your means in the past and now have loads of credit card debt, you should probably be making more sacrifices now than if you just have student loan debt. 

Step 1: Maximize Income

Regardless of what I was going to do with my money, I knew I wanted to make a lot more money than I spent especially for those first couple of years right out of school. Amanda had 2 years left until graduation, and I didn't exactly know where life would end up taking me at that point. I did know that I wanted to be prepared for wherever that was.

I worked my full time job at Marathon, mowed 2 lawns, and worked several weekends (including holidays like Labor Day and Memorial Day -- my birthday weekend) at Home City Ice. I spent my free time building a business with my dad (which wasn't successful but taught some important lessons) and a blog with Christian (which led to Smart Money Seed as you all know it today).

And yes, I still made time on the weekends for Ohio State football games and general shenanigans with Christian, Ty, and the rest of my friends. No, I wasn't neglecting Amanda -- she spent the 2015-2016 school year in New York City.

Step 2: Educate Yourself

I spent most of my 1.5-hour daily commute listening to Dave Ramsey, Pat Flynn, and Tim Ferriss. Pat & Tim provided the knowledge and motivation I needed to start working toward my dream of entrepreneurship, and Dave put this bug in my ear to start thinking about how quickly I could accumulate wealth if I wasn't throwing away $600 each month.

Like I mentioned earlier, I wasn't in dire straits like seemingly half of Dave's callers. Although making incredible sacrifices to throw every penny I could find at my debt would've maximized my return and allowed me to pay it off in about half the time that it actually took me, I didn't feel the need to go extreme. 

I still had my fun and spent money on stupid shit from time to time, but the idea of a debt free life became very appealing. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to pay off my debt so I could start investing in myself and my entrepreneurial journey.

Step 3: Set Your Target

Once I decided I would work toward my goal of becoming debt free, I set a target to pay off my debt in 2 years total. I planned to live with my parents for a year and save like a madman during that time. I finalized this goal after about 6 months (I had already started saving the second I started getting paid), so I had about a year and a half from the time I dialed in my focus until I planned to be debt free.

I actually ended up working a little more for Home City Ice than I had anticipated and spent an extra 8 months with my parents which really helped me supercharge my savings and pay off my debt in 14 months -- a full 10 months ahead of schedule!

Step 4: Make A Detailed Plan

I'm not going to sit here and pretend like I made a detailed budget to turn my debt free journey into an exact science, saving the same exact amount of money each month. That would be a bold faced lie, and you know I love you guys too much to lie to you.

I did make a calculation to figure out how much I needed to save each month. I knew some months would be more expensive like December when I bought Christmas presents and a New Year's Eve trip to NYC for Amanda and me. I also knew some months would be less expensive like February when I hibernate besides going to work. I also knew some months would bring in more money because I get paid bi-weekly and some mowing months are busier than others.

The moral of the story is I did make a detailed plan in the sense that I knew how much money each month made the math work, but I did not follow that plan to a t. I tracked my progress each month and made adjustments as I went. Clearly this plan worked for me because of my ridiculously low expenses, but I would expect most people realistically may need to be a little more scientific and disciplined in their tracking than I was.

Step 5: GET STARTED!

I often suffer from analysis paralysis. As I mentioned, I didn't fully commit to a goal of becoming debt free until 6 months in. Luckily I had made up my mind from the start that I wanted to make saving money a priority (not my ONLY priority), so I wasn't starting from scratch at 6 months.

Having a goal you're motivated to work toward is always the most important factor -- not necessarily having a perfect goal. If you've committed to a goal of becoming debt free, GET STARTED! Quit listening to the people telling you about how stupid your decision is and how much better return you could make through investments. 

You've done your homework, and you know exactly why you're doing this. Quit seeking validation and get going. I wanted flexibility to do whatever I want with my income by lowering my fixed costs and effectively giving myself a $600 monthly raise. 

Step 6: Check & Adjust -- But Stay Committed

Like I mentioned earlier, my living situation didn't play out exactly as I expected, and I was able to pay off my debt ahead of schedule. You may change jobs (for better or worse), relocate, or start a family during your debt free journey. We all know the only constant in life is change. 

You need to be adaptable enough to change your plan to accommodate whatever curveballs (good or bad) life throws you. The key is to make sure you're not making excuses or becoming undisciplined and unnecessarily delaying achieving your goal. Stay committed and be honest with yourself.p

Your goal isn't really about the debt itself. Visualize what it is you really want to do with the money you're not throwing away to your debt payments every month. Keep that in mind when you experience temptation to cheat yourself and make a bad decision that would knock you off track.

Step 7: Make That Last Payment & CELEBRATE!

Whether your plan includes chipping off chunks of debt over time or one large lump sum payment like mine, the point is YOU DID IT! Tell your friends and family and go celebrate! I definitely should've had better plans for my first debt free day -- I didn't really do anything special. Make your plan early to help you visualize and stay committed throughout your journey!

Are YOU On A Debt Free Journey?

Paying off debt is really hard. If you're on a debt free journey, let us know so we can help support you! We'd love to answer questions whenever you have them or just offer a pat on the back from time to time. Accountability is key when working toward any goal. 

If you're not comfortable sharing your journey with the rest of the squad, slide in our DMs on Facebook or Twitter (don't tell Amanda, Kayleigh, or Rosie), or email me at Alex@smartmoneyseed.com. We want to help you kick debt's ass!

3/27/18

My Newbie Travel Hacking Journey Part 1

3/27/2018
The BLUF: I'm tired of Ty being the only one bragging about all of these awesome travel perks. I'm joining the travel hacking squad and I'm going to bring you on my journey!

3/27/18

What's up Smart Money Squad!! I'm not sure about you guys, but every time I read one of Ty's #MileageMonday articles I can't figure out why I haven't started taking advantage of these awesome travel tips.

Tons of miles, points, free flights, hotels, airport lounge access, and the list goes on! Trust me, I've told Ty multiple times to his face that this all seems too good to be true. There's gotta be a catch or this must be a scam, right? But every week he comes back with another awesome article showing the legitimacy of travel hacking and why you should be taking advantage of it.

So here it goes... I'm starting my travel hacking journey, and I want to bring you along for every step.

What convinced me to travel hack?

I'm ready to start making travel more accessible. Recently Rosie and I have been looking at honeymoon options, and some locations would require long flights such as somewhere in Europe. 

(p.s. If you have any awesome honeymoon ideas, send them our way!!)

One of the first things I would do after discovering a new location was check flight prices. It's not uncommon for round-trip prices overseas to far exceed a few thousand bucks. Once you factor in other items like lodging and food, the overall trip becomes pretty expensive in a hurry, especially when you still have a wedding to pay for!!

Rosie and I both have a desire to travel the world. We realize that as young adults now is one of the best times for big trips, so it really bothered me that travel prices were potentially prohibiting us from seeing the world.

Cue travel hacking.

Why travel hack? I want to spend more time building sandmen on the beach.


What are my travel hacking goals?

I have two initial goals that I'm hoping to achieve:

  • Earn the Southwest Companion Pass
  • Earn airline miles that will help pay for a honeymoon flight
Over the next few years, Rosie and I have plans to take a handful of small trips in the U.S. for vacations with ourselves, family, and friends. Rosie flying for free on those trips? Let's go!! Not to mention getting to use all of the points you rack up when you achieve the Companion Pass. Ty is right, this is a coveted travel perk for a reason.

Second, I want to be able to plan a honeymoon without worrying about the super expensive flights. Our honeymoon is still over a year away though, so I'm not going after points for that trip quite yet.

What cards did I apply for?

To accomplish my first goal I applied for two Chase Southwest Rewards cards. Need a refresher on how this works? Look no further: #MileageMonday Chase Southwest

I personally applied for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card and the Southwest Rapid Premier Business card... and got accepted for both!

I was accepted for the Plus card almost instantly (woohoo!), and I was accepted for the Business card in less than a day. All I had to do was answer a call from a Chase representative and tell them about Smart Money Seed!


How am I feeling?

I'm not going to lie, this has been a mix of emotions for me!

I am pretty pumped to start earning these rewards points. I can't wait to see what sort of travel options may be feasible for us to explore. I'm also excited to see my credit score go up; responsible credit use is a great way to improve your score!

Until it's all said and done, I won't be able to help but to be a little anxious. This is uncharted territory for me, and doing things like opening a new credit card can be scary. I'm a pretty conservative person, so even if Ty holds my hand the entire way, I'm probably going to feel a little uneasy. 

But you know what? Riding a bike without training wheels for the first time is a little uneasy too.

What's next?

First I need to wait and receive the cards in the mail, but then comes the most unfamiliar territory: manufactured spending. To rack up these bonuses I'm going to need to meet the spending thresholds, and to do so I'm going follow Ty's advice in How to Vacation Like a Baller.

Don't worry, once I get to that step I'll let you know what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. I'll be your living proof that this is legit, legal, and not a scam whatsoever!

I can't wait to share the rest of my experience with you. You'll be hearing from me again soon!

3/23/18

Grow Outside of your Comfort Zone

3/23/2018
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Oh hey, Smart Money Squad! For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Kayleigh (aka KB). I’m the lucky girl that’s marrying Ty - and in turn, kinda marrying Alex and Christian because they talk so much and spend so much time formulating ideas for Smart Money Seed.


Anywho, today I’m going to share a story about how I took charge of my career, pursued something different, and how beneficial it was for me as a young professional.

I will start off this article by saying that I am fortunate to work for a great company that encourages exploration of areas outside of our own. I’ve worked for the same retail company since my summer internship before senior year. I’m sure everyone can relate to that exciting moment you accept a job offer after some intense interviews. I’m sure you can also relate to those days you sit in your cube and think…

I worked so hard throughout college for this?

I was comfortable, and as much as I love my comfort zone, I knew I could grow outside of it. Marketing was my major and I really wanted to move toward digital marketing in particular. This article has some of the lessons I learned along the way as I pursued a different job. While my experience was unique because I stayed within my company, there are still lessons that could be applied anywhere!
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved my first job and all of my coworkers. It was an amazing job that taught me so much about the business. However, I found myself beginning to crave a different experience than the store communications role I was in. If you're like me & struggle to break out of your comfort zone, here's a few lessons I learned from my personal experience that proved valuable in the long run.

Lesson #1: Be open and intentional about your career goals with your boss

Would you think I was crazy If I told you that I went into a weekly meeting with my boss and my agenda looked like this:

1.     I found this cool job description online. I want to do this job. Oh, and, it’s not what I’m doing right now.

In hindsight, maybe a totally different job description put in front of your boss isn’t the best way to go.  However,  having an open conversation about your interests, what you see yourself doing and WHY you’re interested in an opportunity is a great start. It could feel awkward at first. Ok… it is awkward. Once you get past the awkwardness, they may help you find different projects or opportunities at work in your area of interest.

Lesson #2: Find people that do something that interests you…and meet with them

Have you ever sat in a meeting with someone and thought, “wow, what they’re talking about is really cool”? This is the perfect opportunity to build a professional relationship with someone and learn about what they do! There’s nothing wrong with following up after a meeting and asking if they could meet for 15 minutes to talk about their role. Most people love helping younger people, and like to talk about themselves (or their job if you're asking!)

Interested in an industry outside of the one you’re currently in? LinkedIn is your best friend for connecting with other professionals! Make sure your profile is updated with not only your job descriptions, but your overall career goals so that your connections know where you see your career going.

I ended up meeting with the hiring manager of that job description I mentioned before, just to get a feel for what being on that side of the business entailed. I had specific questions about the role, the team and the industry to gain a better understanding of the work.

Informational interviews can be just as important to prepare for, and all the same rules as a formal job interview apply. You never know when that new connection you made will come in handy! Below are some questions you could consider…


  •        How long have you been in the industry?
  •        What trends are you seeing that could impact how this work gets done?
  •       What traits or experiences would make someone successful in your area?

And yes, thank you notes are still strongly encouraged for informational interviews!

Lesson #3: Stay patient

It’s really easy for us as young professionals to decide we want something and want to make it happen right away.  In the months after my meeting with the hiring manager for the digital marketing role I was interested in, I continued to express interest to my manager and asked for opportunities to gain exposure to that area wherever possible.

It wasn’t until about 8 months later that a position came open on that exact same team, and I was lucky enough to interview and get the job! In today’s day and age, 8 months seems like a lifetime but as cheesy as it sounds, anything worth having is worth the wait. 

Recap

It’s easy to stay comfortable in your current job and run through the motions, but when you get that itch to do something different, follow your gut and do it! I have learned so much and been provided so many cool experiences after taking that step outside of my comfort zone. And, most importantly, I have a totally refreshed view of putting in those 40 hours a week.

Hopefully this article has given you confidence and advice!  (or just something to think about the next time you're second guessing yourself in your cubicle)

Until next time,

Kayleigh



3/17/18

How Long Would It Take To Buy Really Cool Shit?

3/17/2018
Forbes recently released their latest billionaire list which included 2,208 billionaires with a collective net worth of $9.1 TRILLION! Let's all take a moment and say a prayer for Bill Gates who was leapfrogged for the top spot by Jeff Bezos who nonchalantly added about $30 billion in net worth in the past year.

Another day, another 82 million dollars -- am I right?

Since Smart Money Seed is still a few years away from amassing a billion dollar valuation, we decided to have a little fun and dream about what a massive amount of wealth could possibly bring. But we're not interested in the desires of peasants. We're talking about really cool shit.

Let's Make Some Assumptions

First, we have to set a starting point. Let's assume we make $50k a year and will average 3% raises in perpetuity. We'll also assume we can live and work forever because I'm sure at some point we'll have enough money to bargain with God for our immortality.

Let's also assume we'll continue to live off of $50k per year forever and will invest the rest of our money in the stock market earning 10% annual returns. We won't have many recurring expenses once we already own all the shit we use.

 Finally, our favorite assumption is that taxes don't exist. I'm not nearly smart enough to try and factor in taxes to our calculations, but our accountant is plenty smart and just shady enough to setup some sweet tax evasion strategies for us!

To recap:
  • $50k starting salary
  • 3% annual raises
  • $50k annual expenses
  • All money beyond $50k is invested
  • Investments earn 10% returns
  • Immortality. No biggie
  • NO TAXES!

What Really Cool Shit Should We Buy??

If I were ultra-rich, I'd want the following luxuries available to me:
  • Unlimited travel
  • Unlimited communication
  • A badass place to live
  • Unlimited awesome entertainment
  • Food. Lots of food
  • Beer. Lots of beer
  • Menial things to keep myself entertained during my travel
I think that would pretty much cover my basic needs. If I forgot something, let me know and I'll update the article!

How Much Money Will We Have?

Calculations made using The Calculator Site









Milestone recap:
  • Year 37 brings us into the top 1% off the world's wealthiest people according to Investopedia.
  • Congratulations everyone -- we're millionaires in year 40! Most people would be tempted to retire after 40 years, but not us. we've got really cool shit to buy.
  • Year 59 brings us into the USA's top 1% at over $7 million again according to Investopedia.
  • $113 billion in year 108 makes us the world's richest person (assuming they don't get any richer). Suck it, Bezos!
  • Although the world has never seen a trillionaire, we're the second in history to hit a quadrillion bucks thanks to Paypal.

How Much Money Will We Need?

Let's take a look at exactly what we want to buy and what that might set us back.
  • Unlimited Travel 
Of course we're going to need a plane, and we're not going to stop at anything short of the greatest luxury available. That's right, folks we're buying Air Force One for a cool $660 million. But everyone knows we can't have just one Air Force One or else people will know our whereabouts at all times. Two Air Force One's will set us back $1.32 billion. That's conceivable in this lifetime at 112 years, but we better get crackin on those immortality negotiations with The Big Man.

We'll stop short of buying the most expensive car ever sold, but we're definitely going to need this $14 million McLaren. And of course we're going to need some fuel for all that travel. I know the perfect $33 billion oil company we can buy. Looks like all my coworkers at Marathon work for me now!

Travel Cost: $34.334 billion
Total Cost: $34.334 billion
  • Unlimited Communication
We won't have the freedom to do everything we want without owning the two most powerful communication companies I can think of, Verizon and Apple. Verizon comes cheap at only $200 billion. Apple is going to necessitate a conversation with our financial advisor as that $900 billion check might set us back a bit.

Communication Cost: $1.1 trillion
Total Cost: $1.134 trillion
  • A Badass Place To Live
We're really not going to want people bothering us with all this wealth. A wise man once said, "No new friends." But we really don't want to move, so we're staying right here in the good old US of A. Sorry, but everyone else is getting their asses kicked out. I hear Canada is really nice this time of year.

I'll admit my reference here is a bit sketchy, but Carter Moore helped us out via Quora. The price tag of the United States? Just $46 trillion. Psh -- we'll have that and more well before our 250th birthday. We'll also need a replica of the world's most expensive home, clocking in at $300 million. That doesn't even hardly become a factor in our calculation.

Living Cost: $46 trillion
Total Cost: $47.134 trillion
  • Unlimited Entertainment
There's just no debate here. We're going to have to buy the Disney parks. Josh Arnold from Seeking Alpha estimated Disney's parks segment to be valued at $38 billion. Chump change.

Entertainment Cost: $38 billion
Total Cost: $47.172 trillion
  • Food & Beer
Quite possibly the first purchase I'd make on this entire journey is Chipotle for $9 billion. Another $218 billion nets us Anheuser-Busch InBev -- another easy decision.

Food & Beer Cost: $227 billion
Total Cost: $47.399 trillion
  • Menial Things
I'll take one of everything on Amazon, please. Again we're relying on Quora, and this time it's Kynan Eng to the rescue. $12.86 billion dollars is an absolute steal!

Menial Things Cost: $12.86 billion
Total Cost: $47.412 trillion

We didn't even need to be quadrillionaires to buy everything we wanted! You can't buy happiness, but at 216 years old, we'll have $50 trillion at our disposal to buy everything we could possibly want. Give us a few years to enjoy the things we've worked so hard for, and maybe around 500 years old or so we'll talk to God about getting out of the immortality contract.

I know what you're thinking right now. Wow, what an incredible waste of time. Alex must live such a sad life. Sure, maybe I should find better ways to spend my time on a Saturday. But if I made you smile at least once, I'll consider this article a success. And if you smiled, I'm sure someone else would appreciate you sharing this with them and making them smile too!

3/12/18

Entrepreneurship Conversation 2: The Tattoo Factory's Brenton Potter

3/12/2018
Huge thanks to Brenton Potter for an awesome interview!



Take a moment and remember your first couple years after high school. Maybe you were just starting out with your first real world job, maybe you were furthering your education through college or trade school, or maybe you spent some time searching for a way to both pursue your passion and put food on your table.

In any case, those first few years can be spent with much soul searching, and the pressure both internally and externally to figure out what you want to do and how you want to live can be stressful.

Brenton Potter's timeline looked like this:
  • 2008 November - Started tattooing
  • 2009 May - Graduated high school
  • 2009 July - Finished apprenticeship
  • 2010 June - Purchased The Tattoo Factory
For those of you keeping score at home, that's only 19 MONTHS from tattooing his 1st client to owning a tattoo shop. What an absolute whirlwind!

From Art On Cars To Art On People

Brenton, squeamish as a child, spent much of his youth "turned off by the idea of the [tattooing] process." Becoming a tattoo artist wasn't exactly at the top of the list of his hopes and dreams his entire life. "I don't actually ever remember making the conscious decision to become a tattoo artist."

But the creative side of life always had a special appeal to Brenton, starting with pinstripers and sign painters.

"My dad's a big old school car guy, and he drug me around to a lot of car shows and stuff when I was younger. And I was always fascinated by the guys with the big handlebar mustache and the top hat, and. . . they'd have paint all over the front of their jeans and their overalls. I just liked the idea of how like rockabilly and kind of punk rock that was that these guys were just walking around with a hand full of cash and a wagon full of paint. So I kind of at that point thought it would be really cool to do something like that. . . So that's when I started taking art a little more seriously"

So how exactly does an affinity for art on cars become a passion for art on skin. . . permanently. . . using needles. . . for a squeamish kid?

"Around the time I started tattooing, tattooing was becoming a little bit more popular. . . I remember kids coming to school [who would] go out and get their own tattoos, and I remember seeing them and thinking 'Man, it'd be really cool to have one.' So I decided to get one. And when I went into the tattoo shop and got one, it was like this was what I was missing. The feeling, the smells, once again the punk rock-ness of just like not having a real solid structure. It was just a cool environment."

Brenton Potter: Tattoo Artist

As Brenton was reaching that oh so joyous (read: dreaded and stressful) time of deciding what to do with his life after school, tattooing began to have a growing appeal to him.

"My dad would always ask me throughout my teenage years 'Where do you want to go to school? What do you want to do?' And I never really had an an answer for him. So one day it just sparked. I thought 'man, maybe this was really a route I could take.' I always considered myself to be creative, so I thought I could apply that to maybe this avenue of work."

So Brenton took action. He started taking steps to pursue his relatively new dream of becoming a tattoo artist. "I was still in high school, I had just turned 18, and honestly I thought that [tattooing] was going to. . . make me cool. . . You know, something out of the ordinary that would make me stand out in the crowd a little bit."

But of course Brenton's journey was not exactly all sunshine and rainbows. 

"I actually got a lot of ridicule from classmates, colleagues, family, and people that now support me and take me seriously. But at the time, it was kind of a joke. But, I fell in love with it. So I got into it for seemingly the wrong reasons. And then very shortly I felt like it was . . . something I could dedicate a lot of my time and energy towards."

Learning The Tricks Of The Trade

Brenton's journey toward becoming a tattoo artist did not begin in a classroom with a formal application process or a certified trainer. Brenton explained, "Tattooing is really weird because it's one of the last remaining career paths that has a true apprenticeship. And it's. . . like a secret society almost or like a club."

Brenton understands that although he has worked incredibly hard to build what he's built, there was certainly a stroke of luck contributing to beginning his journey. "I honestly probably shouldn't have been given the opportunity. At the time I didn't know a lot about tattooing, the history of tattooing. I probably couldn't even name 5 famous tattoo artists. But the guys that took me in were looking for someone, and I just happened to be there in the right place at the right time. . . So I feel very blessed that I got in when I got in."

This apprenticeship process can be extremely stressful for someone not only learning a new skill but having to find a way to put food on the table. "I spent a year doing an apprenticeship which is 40 hours a week that you don't get paid for. Luckily at the time I lived with my mom. . . I did work 2 other jobs during my apprenticeship and went to school for the first half of the year." 

Talk about work ethic and dedication!

Brenton's not necessarily certain his path would've played out exactly how it did in today's environment, so he's offered some advice for aspiring tattoo artists. "Typically how you would get into something like this is being a well-rounded artist. . . having a portfolio of paintings, drawings, digital media. . . and then presenting that to a place that's either looking for an apprentice or a place that you're interested in the people who work there and apprenticing under."

The beginning period of Brenton's apprenticeship was spent learning all the menial tasks that an aspiring tattoo artist isn't exactly dreaming of doing, including learning "how to clean up, setup, tear down for the artist that you're apprenticing under. You would learn how to interact with customers, all of the work that nobody wants to do -- answer emails, answer messages, mop floors, stay late."

Finally, this arduous and seemingly endless process of learning about the equipment mixed with grunt work leads to actually beginning to practice as a tattoo artist. "Once you get to a point where you're comfortable with your machines and your devices that you would use to tattoo, and you're well-rounded enough in the art that you do, that's when you start doing small tattoos."

Being the canvas for a new tattoo artist's first tattoo seems like a scary thought I would think most people would want to avoid. But Brenton is grateful for his friend group's confidence in him which allowed him to hit the ground running.

"Luckily for me, I had a lot of friends that were very confident in me -- probably a little more confident than they should've been in the beginning. . . Usually during an apprenticeship, every tattoo you do is overseen by your mentor. . . The ultimate goal is never to have somebody leave with a bad tattoo, obviously."

11 Months From Tattoo Artist To Business Owner

Brenton's apprenticeship ended in July of 2009, and he purchased The Tattoo Factory in June of
2010. Let's take a moment to reflect on what an amazing accomplishment that was especially considering that Brenton had just worked 40 hours a week unpaid for a full year!

Although Brenton explains that the industry is moving toward collective groups of tattoo artists gathering under one roof to provide a well-rounded set of styles and services for prospective customers, he did have aspirations of owning his own shop from the beginning.

"At the time, I would've said that [owning my own shop] was something that I wanted to do, but I think it happened a little bit sooner than I probably would've liked it to. I'm glad it did -- it worked out for me. But ideally that wasn't the way I would've liked it to go. . . But it's worked out. . . It's been a great 8 years."

Brenton's business acquisition and subsequent work as a business owner did not come with a handbook or any sort of formal business training. "I acquired the business in a really roundabout way. Some things happened between the old ownership that allowed me to come in and take over where they left off. . . Once I took it over, I vividly remember. . . coming in and hanging things up on the wall. . . and I remember looking at my mom and telling her 'I have no idea what I'm doing.' And she owned a business at the time, so that was a nice help. . . But she had never had any formal business training, and I hadn't either. So it was kind of the blind leading the blind."

Although that process must've been incredibly difficult and frustrating at times, Brenton speaks of it with a sense of calm perspective. "I think you just kind of grow and you learn as you go. Sometimes you have to fall flat on your face to stand back up and make something out of it. It was a very rough time. There were plenty of days where I was very discouraged, my pockets were empty, and I didn't know what my next move was gonna be."

How did Brenton overcome this turbulent period in his journey? Plain and simple: hard work. "The good thing about tattooing is it knows no boundaries. If you have to tattoo at 2 in the morning to make money, or if you have to tattoo at 9 in the morning to make money, it's normally there for you to do that. So it's all based on your own personal work ethic. I busted my ass. I still am probably now more than ever. But at the time, I did everything I did to keep things going."

Of course Brenton is extremely appreciative and complimentary of Tori Robinson, the only other artist on staff at the time who remains on Brenton's team to this day. "With the help of Tori. . . she was a huge help, we made it happen in some way, shape, or form."

Managing & Growing The Tattoo Factory

The Tattoo Factory pays homage to
 its Bucyrus roots
Brenton utilized some networking collaboration opportunities with a shop in Mansfield to help build
his out of town clientele which he estimates makes up about 60% of his business. He also utilized the power of social media. "Social networking has been huge for tattooing. . . Instagram and Facebook were really big. . . And that was huge because you could market to people who maybe didn't know we were here. . . So I spent a lot of my time on social media trying to market to the particular kind of clientele that I wanted to gain. And I did rely a lot on the repeat customers that we had."

As Brenton has worked to find that perfect formula to lead his business to success, his focus has shifted from learning how to manage and market a business to learning how to become a more well-rounded artist and provide an exceptional quality of work.

"I got tattooed by a tattooer that I've idolized for quite some time, and I talked to him about some things. And I realized that trying to gain followers on social media and trying to create this image for yourself on social media in order to get the people to walk in the door is not the way to go for tattooing. That may work for some other form of business, but with tattooing if you just. . . put the time and effort that you need into painting and drawing and producing good art and good tattoos, the money will come. . . So once I realized that just producing the best possible work that I could produce and not focusing so much on being online and creating this certain persona for myself wasn't the answer, that's when things started to get better for me."

The Tattoo Factory has really begin to pickup steam and gain some positive momentum, which Brenton estimates started to break through around 2 years ago. "I still sometimes look back and wonder, 'How did these these things happen? How did I get to this point, or how did something that I sat and drew in my bedroom become so popular?' It's still very surreal sometimes -- it's a very surreal feeling to know that people are coming in sometimes from as far away as Canada to get tattooed and to wear something that you created out of your brain and off your hands. It's sometimes unfathomable."

Brenton is still blown away by the level of outreach and recognition The Tattoo Factory has been able to achieve. "I was in Pittsburgh one time. . . and there was a guy at the bar that recognized me from Instagram, and it was like 'Man, this is insane.' You don't really realize how many people see the things that you put out there and appreciate them even from afar. So things like that are crazy sometimes."

The most frustrating part of Brenton's journey as a business owner? "I hate being a boss. That's really hard for me just because I like to treat people the way I would like to be treated. As tattooers, we all have this we're our own boss sort of complex. Not in an arrogant way, but in a we kind of stay in our own lane and do our own thing kind of way. . . So it's always been hard for me to say 'Hey, I need you guys to mop the floor. . . Do this. . . Don't do that.'"

Despite plenty of opportunities to make money doing something against Brenton's value system, he has remained focused on doing his due diligence and staying true to himself.

"Doing your research is a big thing because people will ask for certain symbolization that you may not know the meaning behind. Whether it's gang related or sacrilegious or whatever the case may be, it's important to know what those things are so that you can deny them accordingly or accept them accordingly. . . We try to keep an eye on those sort of things, and we try to be a moral compass for younger people that are maybe making some bad decisions. . . For whatever reason having crappy face tattoos has become a trend recently. . . But we try to be a moral compass for those people and try to talk them out of it. At the end of the day, if they want it tattooed, somebody will tattoo it on them. But I can go to sleep at night knowing that I didn't take their money and do a morally wrong tattoo on them."

If I walked into The Tattoo Factory drunk on a Friday night for a face tattoo, Brenton might not exactly take me to Tim Horton's for a coffee, but he will deny me a tattoo and send me on back to Baker's or Dillinger's for another drink.

The Future Of The Tattoo Factory & Brenton Potter

Although The Tattoo Factory has been gaining momentum, Brenton stays humble and true to his roots. Brenton speaks often of his humble beginnings which have led to his somewhat conservative nature. Candidly, I'm not certain Brenton fully realizes the level of success he's been able to attain and what doors that success may open to him in the future.

"This right now is the most I've ever had, and I know what it took to get here. So I'm constantly working to maintain that. . . This isn't something that I feel like I'm ever going to be rich from. I don't think tattooing will make me a millionaire. But it makes me happy. And I can make a comfortable enough living to run a business, have employees, and maintain a good life for me and my family. And I don't know really what can get better than that."

In 5 years, Brenton wants to focus on travel and outreach. "I work with a group called The Ink Fusion Empire. . . That opens a lot of opportunities to meet people. Last year, I worked 2 Ohio shows and a Florida show. This year, I'm going to work Cincinnati, the Florida show again, and then a Boston show. It's cool because each year you tattoo a handful of people there, and they maybe tell their friends about you. So you build a mini clientele in each city that you go to where you're either tattooing the same people or friends of theirs. . . And I can bring my family too, and they can kind of enjoy it."

Brenton's commitment when discussing future plans never wavers from his strong values. "If you just produce good things and you're good to your people, the money will come, and the money will grow. . . My eye is not always on the money. It's more on the experience for the person and the experience for myself. The money is just a bonus."

As Brenton contemplates his long-term future, again the themes of strong values and personal interaction remain prevalent. "I like to be alongside my people. I know a lot of business owners especially in tattooing come in, and they collect their money, and they bounce. They've got 10 guys working for them, and they work on a 50% cut. I've never been that kind of person. I kind of like to be the captain that's on the ship, driving the ship, right next to the people rowing the oars."

Advice & Reflection


Brenton encourages young people looking to pursue tattooing to work to understand the challenges that come with tattooing rather than just the positives. "Your whole life becomes tattooing. It's hard especially in a small town to go to the grocery store or to go to Baker's and have a drink without someone basically stripping down taking their shirt off and saying 'Hey man, what can you do with this?' I've actually had friends tell me they don't like going out with me because I get stopped constantly."

"It is a very fun thing for me now, and I enjoy it very much. But it took a long time to get that comfortable. There's a lot of hard work involved in getting to that point."

If given the opportunity to go back and change something or give a younger version of himself some advice, he would focus more on learning how to save money. "I've become more or less a money hoarder in order to make sure that everything is taken care of."

The single thing that Brenton attributes most to his success to this point? "I think just being a good, morally driven, well-accommodating person in general. . . I think just like being a part of the community, staying grounded here even when there's temptation to go maybe to a bigger city or to maybe have a full, yer-round travel schedule. I think people can appreciate that you're born and raised here, you grew your business here, and you're staying local and giving back to people."

Keep Up With Brenton & The Tattoo Factory!

If you want to keep in touch with Brenton and follow his journey, you can find him on Instagram where he has over 7k followers! You can also keep up with The Tattoo Factory on Facebook where they have over 3k followers.

We would appreciate it so much if you could let us all know what you thought of this interview! Have more questions for Brenton? I'm sure he'd be more than happy to answer them. If you enjoyed Brenton's story, give him a shout out and share this story with a friend!