July 2017 - Smart Money Seed

7/21/17

Learning is a Lifestlye

7/21/2017
Most people today spend the first 20 or so years of life in some sort of educational setting. Pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, trade school, college, junior college, community college, vocational school... the list goes on and on, and I bet anyone reading this has been to more than one of these schools. Clearly education and learning are a crucial components of our modern society (that or else we are really wasting a lot of our time), but that doesn't mean learning has to stop once school is over. Attending a school is not the only way to learn, and finishing school does not signify the finish line for learning. To be successful in any aspect of your life, personal finance or not, learning is a life-long habit you need to pick up ASAP!




What's in it for me?

The benefits of learning can vary drastically from person to person, certification to certification, and degree to degree, but there are a few benefits that are almost universally true.

Increased Job Opportunities and Career Advancement

The more diplomas, degrees, and certifications you have, the better chances you have at landing a job; plain and simple. I'm not necessarily suggesting that you quadruple major at college, or seek out every certification at vocational school, but the point is if you further your current education in a field of interest, there's a damn good chance you'll qualify for a job you otherwise might have had trouble getting. The same holds true for your current job, too! Taking extra courses and classes shows your employer you want to grow, and it can help qualify you for that promotion you deserve. If you're lucky, some employers will even pay (or help pay) for you to continue your education. If this opportunity is available at your workplace, take advantage of it!

Don't Fall Behind; Stay Trendy

Today more than ever we live in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Regardless of the industry you work in, shit is changing, and it is changing fast. Many schools, colleges, magazines, books, and conferences are on the forefront of these changes, and have experts devoted to preparing people for the future of the working world. Whether you want to pursue a full MBA program, or just want to brush up on your management skills, get out and exposure yourself to the most recent industry trends.

More Than Just Your Job

Sure, learning has a lot of "formal" benefits that are geared towards career growth (and more money), but that's not all. In my opinion, learning has even more informal benefits that make it all the more worthwhile. Here are my top 5 informal benefits of learning:

  • Open your mind - believe it or not, there is more than one school of thought in this world. Learning something may introduce you to a new perspective and enhance your point of view.
  • Deeper conversations - don't get me wrong, I certainly don't mind light conversations about sports and traveling. But deep down, the inner-nerd in me loves talking about deeper, more complex topics, too. Alex and I spend quite a bit of time talking about video games and sports, but as we've continued to learn over the years, we often find ourselves talking about career goals, corporate culture, investing, and whole slew of other boring topics. Continuing to learn about topics of interest will allow you to make deeper connections with those around you.
  • Develop new skills - what's better than learning something new? Learning how to do something new. It's one thing to become more informed about a topic, but it's even better if you can take that information and convert it into action.
  • Live longer - I'm not a medical professional or a scientist, but a quick Google search will show you a handful of articles that connect continued learning with longer life expectancy. In my opinion, an active mind = a young mind. 
Alex and I wanted to claim that reading Smart Money Seed will lead to a higher life expectancy, but our lawyers advised us otherwise.
  • Feel good - at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs is Esteem and Self Actualization. In layman's terms I think this equates to feeling accomplished and achieving one's full potential. What better way to reach these needs than continuing to learn? Whether you're learning advanced calculus or how to change a tire, understanding and mastering a new concept will make you feel good.

Keep It Fun and Easy

All too often learning is associated with a boring classroom and a teacher with a monotone voice. Don't let this stereotypical image stop you from embarking on a journey that could change your life; keep learning fun and exciting. Here are two essential keys to keep learning enjoyable.

1. Find Something You Love

First things first, you need to find something you're passionate about. If you don't, you're going to waste your time. Take some time to reflect on what motivates you and what interests you before you buy a new book or subscribe to a magazine. It's easier said than done, but focusing on your passion will drive you towards success.

2. Learn With Friends

Learning doesn't have to be a solo game; in fact, learning with people you know will probably give you a deeper, more meaningful understanding than learning alone. Convince a friend or co-worker to learn with you and I bet you'll end up having a lot more fun, too.

As simple as it sounds, if you follow these two steps, I doubt you'll have many regrets! Alex and I follow both of these steps almost every day by managing this blog. Yes, we know know we are nerds, but we really do love budgeting, career development, and goal setting; and finding ways to equip our generation with the tools to be the most successful generation ever really does drive us. In my experience, running a blog solo would be unbelievably hard (props to the solo bloggers out there), but being able to lean on Alex has made blogging really fun.

Do What Works for You

Outside of this blog, I strive to learn on an every day basis. I read other blogs, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, and read books (admittedly infrequently, but I'm working to improve!). In addition these forms of media, I also frequently seek the advice of mentors, family and close friends.

To really optimize your learning, you have to find what works for you. Learning doesn't have to take place in a classroom; it is simply a habit you can start practicing right now. Do what works for you, and make learning a part of your day!










7/14/17

2 Essential Keys To Achieving Your Goals

7/14/2017


None of us are content with not achieving our dreams. Some of us choose to attack those dreams with reckless abandon, and some of us choose to sit around wondering when we might fall ass backwards into success. Regardless of where you're at on that spectrum at any given time, I know that you're not fully satisfied with not achieving your dreams and taking steps every day towards your version of success for your life.

Essential Key #1: Our Goals HAVE To Be Relevant To Us!

Why don't we achieve our dreams? Sometimes our dreams aren't the right dreams for us. Sometimes we set goals for ourselves based on society's perception of our success. We don't actually care about what we're working towards, so we don't work very hard at it. In this instance, we're lying to ourselves about what we should be working towards and how we should be living our lives.

We have to set goals that we care about. If we're not fully bought into our vision of the end result, why would we work hard to get there? We're not dumb, so we're not going to waste our time working towards something we don't care about.

I bought a guitar a couple years ago with a goal in mind that I would teach myself how to play a few songs. I was never fully invested in the idea, but I thought it would be fun, and I didn't have much to do after work. I practiced fairly regularly for a few weeks, but I never fully bought in. I definitely needed some real lessons because I was not making a whole lot of progress on my own. Ultimately, my feeling of indifference towards having an ability to play guitar led me to stopping. I'm not saying I'll never try again, but for now I'm much more motivated to work on projects like Smart Money Seed because I'm much more excited about where this can take me.

Amanda already likes me enough anyway without any musical talent, so it's not like I need to learn how to play love songs to impress her. She'll have to be content with my car band drumming and singing (screaming?) which does admittedly at times put both of us in danger as I get wrapped up in a sick drum solo and don't look at the road or grab the wheel for several seconds.



Essential Key #2: If you want to achieve a goal but think you can't.... CHANGE!


My parents, and especially my dad, have preached change for as long as I can remember. If you want different results, you just might have to change your actions or change yourself altogether. And guess what. . . CHANGE ISN'T EASY! But like the late, great Buckeye football coach Woody Hayes once said, "Anything easy ain't worth a damn."

Change is hard, and because it's so hard, people who figure out how to change in order to achieve their goals are crazy successful! It takes practice and dedication. You will not change without persistence. But if you are persistent, you will change. Every single one of us has the ability to change. 

Like both of my parents, I am a natural introvert. If not for the influence of my mom, who often forces herself to overcome that trait (she is a self-described social introvert), I would probably be much more like my dad who my mom so endearingly refers to as socially challenged. I'm perfectly content sitting in silence, and a lot of the time I want to be alone to focus on the things I want to focus on and do the things I want to do. But I understand that isn't always the best way to make an impact on the world. Sure, at times being alone is beneficial. But the fact of the matter is that people like to connect with other people, and I often have to step outside my comfort zone in order to create those connections.

The 2 people who have been most influential in helping me to become a better (still not great) conversationalist are my mom and my college roommate, Greg. Those 2 people have an uncanny ability to initiate and carry on a conversation with anybody and make the other person feel good.

I used to make fun of Greg when we would walk across Ohio State's campus together because it took us twice as long as it would take me if I were alone since Greg always saw people he knew along the way that he would talk to. In an environment of anonymity among 50,000 students, Greg made everyone feel like a friend. I tend to view conversations as transactions, and if I don't need or want any specific information from you, I'm fine with not initiating a conversation with you. I understand, however, that can come across as being rude although I don't intend it to be. I've never been like a raging, rude ass hole, but I don't exactly have a reputation for small talk or just shooting the shit.

My natural challenges with networking and simply conversing with people started to cause slight problems for me early on in my career. I work in supply chain, so a big part of my job involves negotiation. I would view negotiations as transactional interactions where I would present some numbers and fight for the bigger piece of the pie. When I asked for a cheaper price and someone told me no, I didn't have much more to say. A couple months ago, I took a  negotiation class with Watershed Associates in which the instructor described negotiations as being relational rather than transactional. The more relational you can make a negotiation, the more trust you can build with that person, and the more likely you are to having successful negotiations.

I decided to give this a shot, but it was not going to be easy. I had been living my life a certain way for almost 24 years, and now I'm supposed to change that? How in the hell will I pull that off?

Well, I decided to essentially create a character in my mind that I sort of jump in and out of during my work day. This might qualify me as a sociopath, but I don't think we have any clinical psychologists who read SMS yet who are qualified to diagnose me. When I'm analyzing numbers or reading a new contract, I'm the same old quiet, analytical Alex. But when I'm talking to coworkers, updating my boss, or negotiating with suppliers, I try to become somebody else entirely like an actor.

This character's persona is largely based on the things I've picked up on while watching my mom and Greg build relationships with others over the years. I ask questions that I don't necessarily care about the answers to but that I know the other person will enjoy talking about. I'm complimentary even when I think the other person is stupid and wrong, and I add fluff to the information I present in order to make it seem "nice" rather than bluntly presenting numbers.

Sure enough, my negotiation performance is improving, my boss seems to be more satisfied with my work, and I think people might actually enjoy talking to me a little more in meetings. Slowly but surely, this character is becoming less of an act and more embedded into my own personality. It's still not easy, but creating relationships and being a good conversationalist is becoming more and more natural as I practice it every single day.

Make Your Change!


My point in sharing all of this is that if change seems to be impossible, figure out a way to make it happen. Find a tactic or make something up that you can practice consistently until it becomes a part of who you are. Nobody ever explicitly told me to make up a character to encourage myself to change, but making up a character is an outstanding way to become somebody who you might not be today. Most of us watch movies and television shows every single day where people are amazingly talented at taking on the role of somebody who is completely different from the person they truly are. 

Change is never impossible. Okay, maybe sometimes. We can't change to have wings and fly. But if you want something and are discouraged because your current personality traits don't jive well with success in achieving that goal, then change! Maybe you need to focus more, maybe you need to be more outgoing, maybe you need to be more organized (same, same, and same). Whatever success in achieving your goal might demand from you, go do it! As long as the goal is something you're passionate about, I promise that the great amount of effort change takes will be worth it in the long run.

What goals are you passionate about achieving? What might you have to change in order to achieve those? Don't wait any longer. Pick one goal today, make your changes you need to make, and relish the rewards of your success for years to come!

We Want To Hear From You!

What is the single most important goal you're currently fired up about achieving? What challenges are you facing, and what changes are you currently working on making or going to have to make in order to achieve your version of success? Leave us a comment or reach out on Twitter or Facebook and let us know! 


7/6/17

Unconventional Ways to Save Money

7/06/2017
If you haven't noticed yet, Alex and I think saving money is pretty important. We love spending our money and having fun, but we always strive to live within our means and save as much as we can. But becoming a money saver is not just a choice you make from time to time. Saving doesn't mean that you once talked yourself out of a purchase at the store. Saving is a lifestyle. Saving is the constant, recurring decision to live frugally. Saving means that not all of your wants are going to be satisfied.

Like with anything else, practice makes perfect. You can't just wake up one day and decide, "I'm going to start saving money." In fact, a plan like that is almost certain for failure. Saving is a tricky bastard to handle, and if you want to succeed in this game, you're going to need a sharply executed plan.

Before you commit, you might want to know...

Before you begin devising your saving gameplan, there are two things you need to know:
  • Saving is hard and sometimes you will fail
  • There is no "one size fits all" saving technique that will work for you
Those are a little harsh, I know, but they are also very true. Saving isn't a game that has a 100% success rate; sometimes even the best savers are going to spend money on things they don't need. The good news is that's okay. Like Grandma Bloom said, "Save what you can, but don't be a tight wad." In other words, don't be afraid to go on that vacation or go to the bars every now and then. The important thing is to keep your spending splurges and failures in check. When in doubt, take Alex's advice to Think, Analyze, and Act.

Unfortunately becoming a good saver does not come with a secret formula. What works for Alex probably won't work for me, and what works for me might not work for you. A smart ass would tell you the best way to save is to spend less, put more money in your saving account, blah blah blah. Thanks for the wonderful advice, but that's like telling a golfer the best way to get a lower score is to hit the ball straight. Easier said than done.

Unconventional Options

Although you're going to need to execute a carefully thought out saving gameplan, your method doesn't have to be fancy or complex. All too often the word saving is associated with formal options like 401k's, Roth IRA's, and Saving's Bonds; while these options are all great,  there are many other unconventional saving techniques that can help you stash cash away in a hurry.

Change how your paycheck is deposited

This is probably the easiest method to increase your savings, and it worked for me. Most paychecks these days come in the form of direct deposit, and many companies will let you split up this deposit among multiple bank accounts. I used to have 100% of my paycheck deposited into my checking account, and from time to time I would manually move money over to my savings account. This turned out to be pretty dangerous because each month my entire paycheck was at my fingertips with the swipe of a debit card. To help combat the urge to swipe my card on all the cool gadgets in Field & Stream or Dick's Sporting Goods (that store combo is seriously dangerous for someone who loves fishing and golf),  I now have 15-25% of my paycheck automatically deposited into my savings account, and it's almost like that money "doesn't exist". Even though I could easily transfer that money back over to my checking account, I'm pretty lazy and that additional step is a great roadblock.

Give yourself a cash allowance

Back to the debit card thing - sometimes swiping a card is really easy; maybe too easy. For some reason, swiping a card for a $50 purchase feels way better than forking over $50 cash. If you're trying to save more, let this play into your favor. Take a second to think about your weekly expenses, and trying giving yourself a cash budget for the week. Not only will this help you think twice about that extra purchase at the store, but you might even discover that you don't need some of your bad habit purchases such as coffee or soda.



Establish a swear jar

This wouldn't work for Alex and me because we never swear (Cindy and Beth raised us better than that), but start a swear jar with your roommates or friends. Every time someone curses, he or she must deposit a certain amount of money into the jar. This technique probably isn't going to catapult you into early retirement (unless you live with a bunch of sailors), but I bet over the course of a few months you'll be able to buy a few cases of beer or some pizzas. Plus you'll end up having some interesting debates over if a word is considered a curse word or not. Some friends of mine did this in college, and it is probably the most fun method to save up a few extra bucks.



Set a Goal and Talk About It

Just like Alex said, start with something small and don't be afraid to talk about it. First, think about your weekly spending habits and set a small goal that will allow you save a few extra bucks. For example, maybe you're going to forego eating out and you will take the money you normally would have spent and instead stash that money away in your savings. Smaller, short-term goals like this are great ways to save some cash, but don't forget about a crucial step; tell someone about it. The second you tell someone about your goal, you're going to be motivated to keep your word. This accountability booster is key, and it might be the extra edge you need to fight off that Chipotle craving.

Honorable Mention

There are as many unconventional saving methods as there are number of times that I've beaten Alex in video games (a lot); these are just a few of my favorites. To round out my list, here are a few other honorable mention methods that might work for you:
  • Adhere to a weekly saving routine
    • One method I saw recently was a simple plan to save over $1,300 in a year by saving $1 in week one, $2 in week two, and so on for the remainder of the year. I'll let you devise your own rules, but following a plan similar to this might help you save up the money you need to take that trip you've been wanting to go on or buy that gadget you can't live without.
  • Pick a certain bill (i.e. $5 or $10) and save that bill every time you get one
    • I have to confess - I've tried this method before and failed, but that doesn't mean it won't work for you. This is a great way to trick yourself into saving, and if you don't use cash very often, you probably won't even notice it. I ended up failing due to two primary reasons:
      • I admittedly go in debt with my friends (usually baseball tickets and beer)
      • Cash is my primary vehicle to pay those friends back
    • I typically don't recommend going in debt, but if you must, I definitely recommend friend debt - their interest rates are pretty low
  • Fill a container up with coins
    • A 2-liter container of dimes is roughly $550-700, and a gallon of quarters could get you close to $1,000. As simple as this old piggy bank method may seem, it's a surefire way to convert your spare change into real money.

Saving (Saving) is a Habit 

Saving, is a lifestyle, but it doesn't have to been a hard one. There are endless gameplans that will help transform you into a saver; the important thing is to pick a plan that works for you. Find what you're good at and stick to it. Remember, Bartolo Colon was a pitcher, not a hitter.

Are there other saving methods that work for you? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!