October 2017 - Smart Money Seed

10/29/17

Podcast Episode 1: College

10/29/2017



Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Smart Money Seed Podcast!

The SMS guys dive into the world of podcasting to relive our college glory days with topics including our top 5 favorite college activities we miss and general tips and tricks for college success.

We also touch on the Adidas/NCAA Basketball scandal, Dwyane Wade to The Land, and most importantly, whether Christian should have been paid as a college athlete.

Thanks for tuning in-- we hope you enjoy it!

10/26/17

3 Strategies to Swiftly Strike Student Loans

10/26/2017

Let's flash back in time for a moment to May 10, 2015. Happy birthday, Amanda! Oh, and also, happy graduation day to me! I was extremely fortunate to have a great job lined up with Marathon and a low amount of student debt to worry about. My $11k balance meant that I would have to start making payments of about $200 per month in November.

Making this payment was not a huge deal for me, but I understand that not everyone is that fortunate. Some students might graduate with mountains of debt, some might graduate without a job lined up, or worse, both.

According to Forbes, 44.2 million Americans have student loan debt totaling $1.31 trillion, and the average student who graduated in 2016 had $37,172 in student loans. A study from Time states that those same graduates received starting salaries of $50,556. That means the average grad is taking home about $2,800 each month assuming 10% retirement savings and paying about $400 in student loans -- about 15% of take home income -- for ten years!

That doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun to me. So. . . what are you supposed to do about it? Believe it or not, you do have some options.

Option 1: Make sacrifices, cut spending, and pay that shit off as soon as possible!

Many of you probably know by now this is the strategy I used. I lived with my parents (which really wasn't a sacrifice at all although the 45 minute commute wasn't fun) for almost two years after graduating college and kicked my debt to the curb about a year and a half  after graduating and buying a new car and gave myself a $600 monthly raise-- $200 of which was going to student loan payments.

I understand this option isn't feasible for everyone. If you decide to employ this strategy, don't do it half assed. It will only be a life changing strategy if you're all in on ridding your life of debt.

Pros: No monthly payments!
Cons: Paying off $11,000 in student loans wasn't exactly easy. This really takes a huge amount of sacrifice and commitment.

Option 2: Utilize an alternative student loan repayment plan.

Multiple Income-Driven Plans are available to those who quality based on the balance of your loans and your level of income. Most of these plans modify your payments to be around 10% of your income but change your payment term to 20-25 years. Any remaining balance at the end of the term is then forgiven.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on this option, so you'll have to a little digging in the link above to determine whether this is right for you. These plans can be life savers to keep you from drowning in student loan debt, but they do not come without their downsides.

Pros: Monthly payments become more manageable. Balance is forgiven after 20-25 years.
Cons: You will make payments for a looooong time. Not everyone qualifies. You need to update your information each year to verify that you qualify for the program.

Option 3: Steal someone's identity, forget about your loans, and leave the country.

If you're going to go this route, you really need to think outside the box. I clearly didn't put enough effort into my attempt in 2010 at living out my days as a German woman. To be fair, I didn't yet have student loans to serve as a motivating factor.



What are You Doing with Your Loans?

We would love to hear what you're doing especially if you're taking advantage of one of the income-driven plans. Are you utilizing a different strategy than we mentioned?

If you're comfortable sharing with the rest of the squad, leave a comment or send us an email and let us know what you're doing! If something's working for you, chances are someone else could benefit as well!

10/16/17

How To Vacation Like A Baller

10/16/2017

Guest Post by Tyler Henze

What’s up, Smart Money Seed SQUAAAAAD? My name is Tyler Henze and I’ve been a friend of the blog ever since their early college days. As a fellow millennial, I often find myself running into the financial questions that this blog seeks to answer. I know I constantly have the moral dilemma of analyzing how I should be making my money work for me, which markets I should be investing in & how I am putting my degree to good use in the workplace. We can digest all of the great content from Smart Money Seed and influence how we are spending our hard-earned cash-be it investing, groceries or spending that extra $20 saved on a nicer seat to the Buckeyes game! I’m here for one reason, though: teaching all of you how to vacation like ballers.

Admittedly, I’m a travel junkie. I love getting to see new cities across the United States and taking my talents abroad, expanding my horizons and learning more about the world around us. My travels over the past year alone have taken me to London, Jamaica, Punta Cana, Washington D.C. & Los Angeles, among other places. I’ve been fortunate to fly my family to our vacation destinations on my dime or house my friends in a nice hotel as we travel to see our beloved football teams battle it out on the gridiron. The question that naturally follows that statement: how are you paying for this, admitted millennial? This, my friends, is where I introduce you to the glorious world of travel hacking.

Before I dig in-a lot of this content was learned from the great community at 10xTravel.com. If you read this and enjoy the piece, consider reading the free ebook created by the founder of the site to learn even more about the hobby!


Travel Hacking-Not A FBI Covert Operation

When I explain “travel hacking” to my friends & coworkers, I often get confused looks of disbelief and the response, “How is this possible?” The idea of travel hacking itself is really quite simple: utilize the existing deficiencies in the market to monetize your travel portfolio. In layman’s terms, we are going to take advantage of the great sign-up bonuses many credit card companies offer to travel across the world for free.

If I told you I was 24 years old and had 20+ credit cards, would you consider me insane? I can hear the shouts of skepticism already. “Your credit score must be AWFUL!” “You’ll never get out of credit card debt!” While I may be insane, I’ve racked up over $100k in available credit card lines, my credit card debt is ZERO & my credit score has risen over 100 points in the two-plus years I’ve been actively travel hacking. Yes, that’s right. Not only have I been able to travel on credit card companies’ dime for the past two years, I’ve vastly improved my credit in that time. Who wouldn’t say yes to that deal?

Step One: Identify a Travel Goal

The first step with any form of travel hacking is to identify a travel goal & decide what points system you would need to get you there. For this example, let’s say I wanted to travel to Chicago for a long weekend with my college friends. As I live in Columbus, the cheapest flight from Columbus-Chicago for me will probably be Southwest. You can often find Southwest flights from 7-10k Southwest miles roundtrip, which is a relatively cheap flight in today’s market. I’d probably stay at some form of a Airbnb or a hotel in downtown Chicago, depending on the price. Let’s assume for this example that I am staying in a hotel downtown.

Step Two: Find The Credit Card That Works For You

Once we’ve picked our destination, now we need to figure out how to pay for it. That’s where the credit card game comes into play. My initial recommendation for anybody fresh on the travel hacking platform is to sign-up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The sign-up bonus is 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 90 days after initial sign-up.  There is a $95 annual fee on the card that is waived for the first year as a cardholder.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Use my referral link to get the above deal and help me earn extra Chase UR points on the side:

For some people, spending $4,000 in three months is doable through normal expenses. However, this is where I tend to lose a lot of people when explaining travel hacking. I’m fresh out of college, only been working a few years-how am I spending thousands of dollars across multiple cards monthly to meet these bonus requirements?  Smart Money Seed squad, meet manufactured spending.

Step Three: Manufactured Spending 

Manufactured spending sounds like something I’d do in a factory but I can assure you, you don’t have to leave your local town! This technique involves buying a Vanilla Visa gift card with your new credit card & liquidating this card into cash to pay your credit card back. The only thing this hobby will cost you is a little time of your Wednesday afternoon.

First, head to your local CVS Pharmacy and purchase 4 Visa OneVanilla gift cards (these are the variable gift cards your uncle bought for you as a 12-year old when you wanted to feel cool with a credit card!) Do not make the mistake of buying a different brand than this card-I have included a picture of the card in question. These cards can be loaded up to $500, which we will take full advantage of. Each card also has a $4.95 activation fee, which we will “eat” as a cost of manufactured spending (the value of what we get in return with these points is far more than the activation fee of each card).

Since we need to meet $4,000 in spending, we would need to buy 8 total gift cards to meet that $4,000 spending goal. You do not need to use this method to meet all of the spending on the card-if you’d like to use it to bridge the gap between your normal spending pattern and the $4,000 total spending goal, FEEL FREE to do that. You can only buy $2,000 of Visa gift cards at a CVS Pharmacy every 24 hours, so this would take two trips to the CVS to get 8 total Visa OneVanilla gift cards.

Step Four:  Liquidate the Gift Cards

Everything up to this point is relatively easy. Apply for a credit card, receive said credit card, buy gift cards. This is the tricky part-how do we get the funds on the gift cards into usable cash to pay our credit card bill? There are many different ways to do this, but I’ll highlight two:

1) Utilizing a Bill-Pay Service like Tio.com (sponsored by PayPal)-more costly but less risky

2) Purchasing Money Orders (I like the Post Office) & depositing into bank-less costly, slight risk

If we go route one, tio.com is our lifesaver in this hobby. You can sign-up for an account and pay virtually any company in the world that is billing you, including these credit card companies that we have racked up the bill on. Simply sign up, select the company that is billing you (in our example, this would be J.P. Morgan Chase) & use your Visa gift cards to pay back your credit card. The only catch? Liquidating each credit card comes with a $12.99 fee that is dropped to $8.60/$500 card once you verify your information (cannot do this for your first time). So all in all, you would be spending ($13+$4.95) x 8 cards= $143.60 to earn 50,000 Chase UR points, which at bare minimum are worth $500 cash. I wouldn’t recommend using them for straight cash as there is better value in transferring for airline/hotel points, but you see where I am going.

Route two, and the option I normally take, would involve us taking two trips to the post office and purchasing two money orders for $998.60 each, as the fee per $1000 of money order is $1.40. We’d then split our transaction across 4 cards, using each of our Vanilla Visa cards to liquidate the money on our gift cards. If you are uncomfortable buying that many MO’s at one time, you can simply buy $1000 at a time-this just requires more trips to the post office and ultimately, more of your valuable time outside of that study hall/cubicle. You would then endorse these money orders and deposit them into your checking account. Paying your credit card would then complete the cycle, meaning we’d have spent ($4.95 x 8 cards) + ($1.60 * 4 Money Orders) = $46.00 to earn 50,000 UR points.


Redeeming Your Rewards

Now that we’ve spent the necessary money to earn the points, your points should hit once your credit card statement posts. In this example, we could utilize the Chase Travel Portal to transfer 10,000 points to Southwest to book our Southwest RT flight to Chicago, while using the portal to also book the hotel that works for you that weekend. Maybe that’s a Holiday Inn, maybe that’s a Hilton. Regardless-you can do all of this through the travel portal and we’ve accomplished it for PENNIES ON THE DOLLAR.



TLDR; How I Travel For Virtually Nothing

I know that was a lot to take in but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. Here is a breakdown of what we did to ultimately earn 50,000 UR points (and pay for two nights of a hotel & our flight to Chicago):

1) Identify Your Travel Goal
2) Find the Rewards System that gets you there
3) Apply for Credit Card that earns those points (Chase Sapphire is best card on the market for its versatility in reward programs)
4) Supplement normal spending patterns with Manufactured Spending to meet spending requirements
5) If using Manufactured Spending, liquidate gift cards through tio.com or money orders
6) Book travel with newly acquired points & enjoy your trip!


What’s Next…

That’s it for me today. I hope to be back to help all of you meet your vacationing dreams & aid in any way you need it. If there are questions, which I’m SURE there will be, please comment on the post and I will regularly be checking to post responses. My next travels will be taking my fiancée and me to Orlando, where we will be staying at the Ritz-Carlton and visiting Disney World with $450 in gift cards. Our grand total: $150.

It’s possible to vacation like a baller even if you are that millennial in college or fresh out of school-you just need to make the big corporations work for you.

10/5/17

5 Qualities of Every Great Leader

10/05/2017

What is a leader?


By definition, a leader is the person who leads or commands a group or organization. For many people this means someone who has been appointed, elected, or promoted into a position of power and authority. Managers, politicians, and team captains are all pretty common examples of leaders, but that doesn't mean they are the only examples. In fact, I'd argue that most leaders are not in a position of power or authority at all.

In my opinion, leaders are simply the people that can rally a team of individuals together to accomplish a common goal. Leaders are the people that others looks up to and seek advice from, and most importantly, leaders are people that put the team ahead of themselves. Leaders come in all different shapes, sizes, and varieties, but there are a handful of qualities that are common denominators among most great leaders.

All the great ones have it...


1. Passion
If you aren't personally passionate about the goal you're trying to accomplish, how do you expect to get a group of people to be passionate? To find success in almost anything, you need to find something you care about; the same is true is true for leadership. Passion is contagious, and if you want to be a great leader, you need to look for opportunities where you can share that passion with others.

2. Positivity
A leader needs to be the lantern in a dark cave. Even when your back is against the wall, leaders have to exude positive energy and hope. If teams see that their leader is okay in times of chaos and conflict, they too will rise above the challenge and work through adversity.

3. Decisiveness
Leaders need to be able to make decisions, including decisions that impact the whole group. Decisions often create the biggest bottle necks for teams when there isn't a clear answer; leaders must be able to make swift and fair choices to keep the team focussed on what matters most.

4. Accountability
This goes hand in hand with decisiveness. A leader must hold themselves accountable for their actions, including the decisions they've made. The best leaders always put the team before themselves and would never point blame in the event of a mistake.

5. Open-mindedness
Have you noticed I haven't mentioned anything about intelligence or IQ? Leaders don't need to be the smartest person in the room, but they need to be able to listen to the smartest person in the room. Sometimes the best ideas are unplanned or even seem to go against the grain; leaders have to be receptive of these ideas. This can be challenging, especially when the idea is different than your own train of thought.

Leadership Boot Camp

Just because you aren't a leader today doesn't mean you can't work on being one for tomorrow. Just because you are a leader doesn't mean you can't become better. Like with most things, practice makes perfect for leadership. Here are some of the easiest ways to improve your leadership skills:

  • Utilize your strengths - all too often we concentrate too heavily on our weaknesses. We're not analytical enough, we don't have a great attention for detail, or we aren't great public speakers. While it's important to be cognizant of our weaknesses, sometimes it is more important to focus on our strengths. Not all leaders have the same amount of passion or positivity; focus on your biggest strengths and let those qualities make you the best leader you can be.
  • Seek educational opportunities - whether it is a class, a book, or a mentor, continue to find opportunities to learn more about the different forms of leaderships. Most great leaders are great because they choose to be. Keep your hunger for leadership opportunities alive by continuing to learn each and every day.
  • Live within your values - this ultimately comes back to passion. If you can't find a cause that falls within your personal values or morals, it will be nearly impossible for you to inspire others. If you want to become a better leader, try to find something that has a deeper meaning to you.

"A leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." - John C. Maxwell
Leaders are at the core of every great success story, and not all leaders are in positions of power and control. Think about the position you're in today. Do you influence others? Do you bring groups of people together to accomplish problems? Do you know how to bring out the best in others? Chances are, you may be a leader and not even know it. Continue to inspire those around you and help build the next generation of leaders. Go out and show the way to those groups you support.