5/18/18

Entrepreneurship Conversation 3: 10xTravel's Bryce Conway

5/18/2018

Thanks to Bryce for an excellent interview!




Let’s harken back to the time where we all were in college, eagerly anticipating our spring midterms to be complete while we plan one of the biggest tips of our lives thus far. That’s right, I’m talking about spring break. We’ve all gone through that inner monologue. Planning your big spring break trip with your friends is a college tradition-but one that often comes with a significant dollar cost up front.

For Bryce Conway, a then-college undergrad at The Ohio State University, this was no different. Bryce had many of his friends planning a college spring break trip to Florida but was staring a hard truth in the eyes: he had only $30 in his bank account. Most financial experts would say that’s not enough to finance a backyard cookout, let alone a week crushing Natty Lights on the beach & taking down bar tabs every night.

Bryce immediately thought of every scenario that could get him to Florida on the cheap. He had heard of people taking last-minute packages cross-country in an effort to have somebody else finance your transportation, but quickly found this option to be non-existent. What’s a college student to do? Bryce was prepared to throw in the towel, inform his roommates that he was not going on spring break & head to his childhood home, tail tucked between his legs.

However, Bryce’s luck was about to change. After Bryce’s search for a financier went awry, his internet pop-ups began to flag airline travel cards as the main advertisements in his internet searches. Bryce saw a Southwest credit card offering 2 free flights with a credit card sign-up and figured, why not? After meeting the minimum spend by paying for normal college expenses (textbooks), Bryce received his flights and took the trip of his college dreams: Columbus-Florida for half of spring break, then Florida-Las Vegas & back home for the second half.

Needless to say, Bryce was hooked on the idea of travelling on the cheap using these credit cards. What was one an unattainable spring break trip became the beginning of a business now called 10xTravel- a journey we’re excited to share with you in our latest entrepreneurial conversation.

A Traveler At Heart

From a young age, Bryce always was interested in the world of travel and specifically, aviation. Bryce’s family would frequently take trips travelling around the country, much to the delight of young Bryce. He was fascinated with the idea of flying over different terrains. While most of us would dread that layover in Phoenix on our flight to Los Angeles, Bryce reveled in it. A self-described “av-geek”, Bryce specifically enjoyed getting on airplanes and seeing the world from above. Bryce truly revels in the sights you take in from that window seat, something that ultimately shaped his interest in the travel sector today.

So how do you go from a kid that loves flying on an airplane to a successful entrepreneur in the travel business? After Bryce’s college spring break success, he doubled down on the idea of opening credit cards to travel the world. A few internet dives into the world of travel credit cards introduced him to the world of travel hacking, where you sign up for credit cards with the intent of accumulating rewards points to travel the world.

Bryce began to sign up for many credit cards and consequently took more trips as a result. Going to California was no longer a struggle but a simple weekend trip in Bryce’s world. However, as the free trips accumulated, so did the questions from friends and family. “Are you going into credit card debt?” and “Is what you’re doing illegal?” were common questions Bryce (and I!) heard throughout his initial travels. However, the question he probably heard most was…”How are you doing this? Can you teach me?”

From College Student To Author

Tired of explaining the same story to people that would approach him at every social gathering, Bryce decided to write-up an explanation of his travel hacking in 2012 that would ultimately become his first e-book on travel. When thinking about what to name it, he could think of no better name then what everybody was asking. Get Free Flights was born, an e-book that explained how Bryce was travelling the world by using credit card bonuses as his financing. Bryce had big plans for the book and ultimately saw it as an easy way to make money. Since all these people had so much interest in Bryce’s travels when they spoke to him, they’d definitely be interested in buying the e-book, right?

Wrong. The book started off selling very poorly & read more like a textbook than a conversation between two friends. Bryce sent the book to some of his trusted friends and immediately received critical feedback. They didn’t understand the content in the book and became bored with it, something no author wants to hear. Bryce took their advice to heart & rewrote the book from scratch, utilizing the conversational tone this time. He made a sales page with big, bold text with the claim “Airlines Hate Me!”. He even offered a guarantee that he’d buy a FREE FLIGHT for any person that couldn’t get a free flight using his book.

In Bryce’s mind, what person wouldn’t buy a book for $19 that came with a guaranteed flight, backed by the author himself? Bryce had dollar signs in his eyes already. He finished up the process by making a YouTube video explaining why you should buy the book, complete with lighting derived from the packaging of a Honeybaked Ham. You can’t make that up…and with that, Bryce’s e-book was off and running.

National Exposure

Luckily for Bryce, right before the e-book launched, he was approached by ABC News about interest in doing a story on travel hacking. ABC News had stumbled upon one of Bryce’s posts outlining a trip to Paris he took for free and thus, Bryce had the attention of the national media. He made the rounds of the ABC shows, appearing on Good Morning America, Nightline News with Barbara Walters & Nightline. This culminated in 8 million views of Bryce booking a trip to Florida for free using frequent flyer miles, an audience that had Bryce thinking of big-time e-book sales.

Bryce was so confident, in fact, that he had booked a trip to Vegas for that weekend to bask in the newfound fame/increased revenue he would soon be receiving. Once the book launched, though, Bryce’s mood had shifted. The opening weekend sold only 39 units, and while the website was getting thousands of page views/day, the conversion was bleak.

This resulted in Bryce awkwardly having to explain to his friends how the book wasn’t the massive success he had expected from the national attention. While the book wasn’t necessarily driving sales, the attention was there. What’s a business owner to do when faced with internal crisis?

Shifting Profit Streams Into Affiliate Marketing

 Luckily, the national attention from the ABC News pieces had attracted some banks & credit card companies offering Bryce promotional deals through affiliate marketing. Essentially, Bryce would advertise select credit cards of these companies and would be paid directly by them, all without passing the cost on to his readers. Ultimately, this provided the base revenue stream for which 10xTravel sits on today, all generated from the attention gained from the ABC News piece.

Without appearing on the show, he never would have made this connection and thus, 10xTravel probably would not exist today. It goes to show for business owners that what you believe your revenue stream is may not be your final product-every business has a different path to financial success. It seemed like Bryce & his business partner had a solid plan in place.

Changing Business Models

Bryce would be the first person to tell you that he would change everything 10xTravel did in its infancy. With some slight tweaks to the business model, 10xTravel began to take off.

The first step was reevaluating the distribution of the ebook. Instead of offering the book at a $19 cost, 10xTravel decided to give the book away for free. Free doesn’t sound like a way to make money in my book; however, it is a great way to build your email signup list and get people to begin utilizing your credit card affiliate links. Since the book was not very professional-looking, allowing the free download provided the reader with the assurance that they weren’t wasting money on a “crappy product’. This allowed the readership of GetFreeFlights to grow and ultimately saw a period of rapid growth in the business.

Bryce & his business partner also invested in some business development courses (6 months’ worth of revenue!) that allowed 10xTravel to reevaluate how they connect with the customer. Bryce credits Ramit Sethi’s Zero to Launch as a driving factor behind changing how they approach the business with minor tweaks. While seeming mundane at first, they actually deliver results.

One of Bryce’s great stories from the course was the renaming of his business. Bryce’s original name for the site, GetFreeFlights.com, was actually one of the examples given in the course of what you SHOULD NOT name your business. As Bryce sat dumfounded watching the module, his business unknown to Ramit, he decided to crowdsource the new name of the business.
Bryce had originally thought something crafty like The Opposite of Frugal would win the poll; however, the overwhelming winner was 10xTravel, which Bryce had ranked dead last. The moral of the story is this: find what people are looking for, don’t create something you think they are looking for. It’s excellent advice by Bryce & something every entrepreneur should take to heart.

Social Media Strategy: Creating a Cult

10xTravel utilizes a very different social media strategy than many of the businesses you’ll see posting across all channels. While many blogs (us included) drive their traffic through Twitter & Instagram and posting articles to Facebook, 10xTravel has a different approach. Bryce & his team are all about “creating a cult mentality” when it comes to their business, driven by their private 10xTravel insiders Facebook group. While the word “cult” may rub potential readers the wrong way, they simply mean having an exclusive feel where the consumer is feeling more connected than the outside world.

There is no cost to join the 10xTravel Insiders Group and they do fun things like trip giveaways, 10xT Happy Hours with live-stream Facebooks feeds to answer questions, etc. Since 10xTravel doesn’t do a ton of social media posting, they rely on invites from friends to grow the group & word of mouth.

While this definitely works, one standout strategy was hosting the 10xTravel meetup in Las Vegas, where the 10xTravel team paid for a party in the penthouse of the Venetian for their readers. This was complete with free food/alcohol, a photo booth & 75 avid travel hackers, all in the name of living it up for the insider community. 10xTravel also paid for two readers to fly to Vegas, gave them money to gamble with & paid for their stay, driving an influx of traffic to the group.

Although 10xTravel’s marketing strategy may be different than most, it’s certainly effective and driving growth in the business. By promoting exclusivity with their readers, they have developed brand loyalty-the goal of any start-up business.

Growing 10xTravel Today

10xTravel’s commitment to growing this insider group while producing great content has resulted in explosive growth of their business. They’ve been able to educate the community to answer each other’s questions in the group while hiring additional writers for the site, allowing for additional content to be produced.

The hiring process at 10xTravel is also unique. Instead of going through a formal job interview, the 10xTravel team merely asks their email list to email Bryce “Why should we hire you?”. When they initially did this for their first openings, they expected 4-6 applicants. The demand was much more-they received 50 applicants in the first day, ranging from people sending potential articles they had written for the site to multiple pages explaining why they were best for the job.

Bryce & his team narrowed down the pool & then had each remaining applicant write a sample article for the site. The 10xT team then did a blind read of each article & took the best-graded applicant from that pool. This process has been repeated with every batch of new writers, with the 10xTeam continuing to expand their writing team.

Most businesses would at least look at a resume when hiring a new employee. 10xTravel doesn’t care about that-they care about hiring knowledgeable, strong writers that will stay loyal to the brand. By building that “vicious loyalty”, as Bryce describes it, 10xTravel has built a strong-knit team that can handle the growth they’ve experienced over the last few years.

What’s Next for 10xTravel?

While the current iteration of 10xTravel has become extremely successful, they are always looking to the next way to grow the business. This growth, in their eyes, will come from the concept of curating travel experiences.

Many of Bryce’s readers will obviously come to the site to get free travel for their vacation or other travelling needs. Naturally, the next question is “What do we do when we get there?” By being able to provide a unique experience where you are truly living like the locals, 10xTravel hopes to capitalize on their connections and deliver an A+ vacation for those that want it.

Bryce & I have similar travelling styles in that we don’t like to bounce from city to city on a vacation, trying to see as many of the sights as possible. Instead, we try to take in the city & culture as much as possible, getting the ultimate city experience. This is what 10xTravel is trying to bring their consumer-a tall task I look forward to watching come to fruition.

Much of what shapes today’s travel goals comes from social media, specifically trying to show off for Instagram. People will message 10xTravel saying they want to take a trip to Bora Bora (#ForTheGram) and when Bryce offers a similar experience in South Thailand for 1/3 of the price, it’s hard to say no.

Speaking of Thailand-Bryce has an excellent post where he took a $28,000 trip to Thailand for only $326. It’s one of 10xTravel’s most popular posts to date and one well-worth checking out.

Bryce’s Advice For Entrepreneurs

  •  Drive Faster & Harder: This is a topic that seems second nature to most business owners. When you look at a bodybuilder that is jacked & ask them what they’d do differently, they’d say they would have pushed harder at the beginning of their fitness journey. Why should a business be any different? Challenge yourself to commit to your business and give everything you have-you’ll see the results you want if you give the effort.

  • Reinvest In Yourself: Bryce cannot stress enough the importance of investing in yourself and the business through educational tools. Taking business courses, copywriting, Facebook advertising modules…all of these are valuable levers you can add to your portfolio. They all are there waiting for the taking-you just need to take the initiative to better yourself and your business will benefit.

Stay Connected with Bryce & 10xTravel

Thanks to Bryce for an amazing interview-we really appreciated having him on. If you want to keep up with 10xTravel and Bryce, the best place is following their Insiders page on Facebook, where they have 15k followers. You can also visit their website 10xTravel.com & follow them on Instagram and Twitter but again, the Insider group is the one you want to follow.

We’d love to hear from you guys on what you thought of this interview! If you have questions for Bryce, reach out to 10xTravel or Smart Money Seed & we’ll be happy to answer them. Last but not least, if you enjoyed this story, please share with your friends & family!

5/14/18

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Refinancing Student Loans

5/14/2018
This post is from Tom at FIREd Up Millennial – a blog about his relentless pursuit of Financial Independence so he can Retire Early. You can stay updated with his latest articles and random thoughts by following him on Twitter.


Student loan debt is a huge issue in the United States. Right now, it is a $1.5 trillion crisis and that number probably won’t get smaller with so many careers college degrees nowadays.

Unfortunately, many students graduate with loads of debt along with their degrees, then can’t find well-paying jobs, leaving them unable to save up for many of life’s major milestones. These things include purchasing cars and homes, getting married, and even saving for retirement.

The student debt becomes too overwhelming because the payments are too high.

Many times, what happens is graduates request forbearance or deferment because their financial situations coming straight out of college isn’t conducive to being able to afford the minimum payment. If a student has private student loans, the chances of getting help with the payments are slim.

Even when a student can have the loans placed in forbearance or deferment, this simply lengthens the amount of time that the debt exists. The interest also accrues on the loans if they are unsubsidized loans. The exception is when a Subsidized Stafford Loan is deferred because the federal government will pay the interest until the loan is out of deferment.

Although the federal government paying interest on a loan during a deferment period sounds nice, not everyone is able to enjoy this benefit. There’s also the fact that a student loan weighs on your debt-to-income ratio even if it is not having to be paid at the time. This can still make buying a house or car difficult.

I once struggled with my student loan debt but have since taken steps to pay a large portion of it down and save some money along the way. What’s the best move I made regarding my student loans, you ask? Well…

I Refinanced My Student Loans Saving Me Thousands in Interest

To get rid of the debt as soon as possible, you will want to look at student loan refinancing. Both private and federal loans can be refinanced, but only with a private lender or bank. Though federal student loans can be refinanced, these borrowers will lose some of the benefits that come along with federal loans, like access to income-based repayment plans and student loan forgiveness.

When deciding on a company to refinance with, you will need to compare the interest rates, repayment terms, and amount of the monthly payments. In addition, you’ll find that there are eligibility requirements that can often be quite strict. These requirements are the biggest obstacle for some applicants.

If your credit isn’t in tip-top condition, a co-signer will be needed. Many student loan refinancing companies allow you to obtain a preapproval on their websites, so you can compare rates between companies. The idea behind refinancing is to reduce the overall loan amount that you owe by paying a lower interest rate. However, the eligibility requirements that must be met aside from credit rating include:
  • Minimum Income 
  • Citizenship
  • Loan Amount
Other companies might require an existing bank account with the financial institution that backs them. If an account doesn’t currently exist, one will have to be opened. This is common when a credit union backs the private lender.


Alex here. . . Ty and I both paid off our loans relatively quickly, so we were much more focused on squeezing extra cash out of our budgets to get rid of the loans rather than the interest rates. However, if early payoff isn't realistic for you or it's not your goal, we highly recommend looking into refinancing!

My Experience with Refinancing My Student Loan Debt

In the past year, I refinanced around $30,000 of private and federal student loan debt. I went through the process of obtaining preapprovals from multiple lenders to see what kind of estimated rate I would be offered from each.

I ended up settling on SoFi because the company offered me the lowest fixed interest rate. Yes, I could have received a lower rate if I had opted for the variable rate, but I didn’t want to risk having to pay a higher interest rate in the future. I wanted a fixed rate because I don’t want any surprises.

Though I don’t remember the exact average interest rate on my student loans before refinancing, I think it was around 6.5 percent between my federal and private loans. When I refinanced, my new interest was around 3.5 percent – a pretty considerable difference!

I also liked SoFi’s benefits. There are no origination or prepayment fees, there’s unemployment protection in case I lose my job, they’ll help me in my job search and give me career support, and I have access to wealth advisors so that I can make sense of my financial situation.

All I had to do to get started was complete the online preapproval to see my expected rate. Because I liked what I saw, I compared plans and selected a loan, and I electronically signed my documents to seal the deal.

I estimate that refinancing my student loans through SoFi will save me around $10,000 at the end of the day.

How to Decide if You Should Refi

If saving money sounds good to you, make sure you consider the loss of forbearance and deferment protections, income-driven repayment plans, student loan forgiveness, and the other benefits you receive with federal student loans before you refinance.

If you know that you won’t need any of the aforementioned protections or the repayment plans and you have a good credit score, you may be able to save thousands through refinancing.

To get started, all you have to do is review the amount you owe on your loans, obtain preapprovals from student loan refinancing companies so you can compare them, and then choose a company. Many make it easy to apply if you meet the requirements. If you do, then you are on the road to saving a lot of money on your student loans.

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 1:1 with Delta, equating to 50k 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 1:1 with Delta, equating to 50k 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