January 2018 - Smart Money Seed

1/31/18

Grocery Store Hacks: 10 Tips to Help You Save at Check-out!

1/31/2018

Grocery Store Hacks

Start Shopping Like a Pro

Aside from the Goliath monthly expenses like rent and car payments, one of the biggest recurring costs that hits your bank statement each month is grocery shopping. Based on USDA averages, the average monthly grocery bill for a family of two can range between $300 and $700. Whether you think this is too high or too low, the fact of the matter is that grocery shopping is a costly bill relative to your income. For most, it's probably the 2nd or 3rd highest bill of the month.

PSA: If you spend more money eating out than you do at the grocery store, I HIGHLY recommend you go back and read all of the Smart Money Seed articles for tips to get your finances in order.



Regardless if you enjoy grocery shopping or hate it, it's an expensive bill that is tough to avoid. Unlike your rent, however, your grocery bill is variable and you have the power to change how much you spend each month.

At Smart Money Seed, our goal is to equip you with the tools and resources needed to become a financially rocking generation. If you follow these tips below, I'm confident you can save some extra cash to spend on things like:

  • That trip you've been wanting to take
  • Extra investment for your retirement
  • An extra night out with the gang
  • (Insert other awesome idea here)

If you are able to save $50 a month, that equates to $600 on an annual basis! I don't know about you, but if saving on groceries can buy a mini vacation (or a new set of irons), I'm all in! Without further ado, here are our top 10 tips for saving on the monthly grocery bill:

1. Name Brand vs Off-Brand

We've all seen the Private Selection, Great Value, and Psst brands at Walmart and Kroger, but are these cheap off-brands very trustworthy? In many cases, yes! I'm not advocating that you buy the Great Value brand Twist and Shouts (a.k.a. knock-off Oreos - no one can compete with milk's favorite cookie), but for many items, Great Value and Private Selection offer great alternatives to the more expensive name brands without sacrificing much quality. Don't assume that just because it is a name brand means it's automatically better.

You may still need to go name brand for the more signature items like Oreos or Coca-Cola (yes, I'm currently accepting tips for eating healthier), but try using the off-brand for more standard ingredients like flour and sugar. Believe it or not, most of the off-brand products are made in the exact same factory as the name brand products!

Need more proof? Check out this article by NPR (click here) that shows how even doctors and chefs choose off-brand products in their own field of expertise.


2. Go shopping on a full stomach

This one is a no-brainer, but if you've gone grocery shopping while you're hungry, your wallet probably hates you. Eat before you go to make sure you don't get the "gimmees" and grab every item of food that you want to devour.

3. Meal Planning

If you're anything like me, one of the easiest ways to spend too much money eating out is by not having a meal plan for dinner. Take charge and solve this issue by planning your meals out a week in advance to make sure you have the ingredients you need.

Want an added bonus? Plan your meals around the current sales at the grocery store and you'll save even more!

4. Get paid to shop

Many credit cards offer some sweet cash-back perks for money spent on groceries. Take advantage of this and earn some free cash by spending on groceries that you would have bought in the first place. According to Wise Bread, the Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express offers 6% cash back on groceries up to $6,000 annually - that could easily mean at least a few hundred bucks for the average grocery shopper!

Extra tip: You can also use the "Ibotta" app which offers cash-back perks by simply linking your store loyalty card and submitting your receipts. Check out Ibotta for more details (don't worry, we aren't big enough for sponsors yet, we really think this is awesome!).

5. Only shop once a week

The more often you walk into the grocery store, the more likely you are to pick up useless nonsense and put it in your grocery cart. Limit your splurging by limiting your trips to the grocery store to once a week.

6. Look up and down

Jump up and down, and move it all around. Lou Bega may not have been singing about grocery shopping, but we can use his words of wisdom to put some extra cash in our pocket. Grocery stores put the highest margin items at eye level - for the best deals, be sure to check the shelves high and low!

7. Don't count out the drugstore

I'm not going to lie, this tip really surprised me! I always thought stores likes CVS and Walgreens were more expensive, but for some items items like milk and eggs, their prices can actually be lower than the big grocers like Giant Eagle and Kroger. The big grocery stores often mark up the prices of these items because they know consumers are going to buy them! It's not always practical to make a completely separate trip for these items, but keep this mind the next time you go to CVS.

8. Consider your primary shopping spot

I think most of us realize that stores like Aldi and Costco are substantially cheaper than that of Giant Eagle and Kroger. One of the most common excuses for avoiding Aldi and Costco are that they simply don't offer a big enough selection for some products. Try splitting your grocery bill between the locations by buying your main items (i.e. bread, cereal, tissues) at Aldi and deferring only the specialty items for Giant Eagle.

9. Cash budget

If you've tried setting a grocery budget but just can't seem to follow it, try shopping with cash only. Bring a set amount to the store and I bet you'll have a tougher time going over your budget!

10. Make a list

It's another no-brainer, but we all break this rule. Stop the mindless spending and make a list before you go to the store and stick to it.

Find your groove

At the end of day, grocery shopping is just like budgeting, investing, saving, and any other topic we've covered on Smart Money Seed: you need to do what works for you. Not all of these tips apply to everyone, but if you can adopt just 2 or 3, you're bound some save some money.

Go forth, shop with a purpose, and make sure you're doing everything you can to save on the grocery bill!

1/29/18

#MileageMonday: The Southwest Companion Pass

1/29/2018


Smart Money Squad, welcome back to another edition of #MileageMonday! In last week’s post, we broke down the Chase Ultimate Rewards program & the many ways you can utilize UR points to travel the world for free. The Chase UR program has been very kind to Kayleigh & I, enabling us to take countless trips ranging from the tropical islands to the house of Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney World!

Chase credit card sign-up bonuses are typically considered some of the best in the business because of their fantastic travel partnerships & flexibility in how you use the points. While the Chase-branded cards are highly touted (I have three of them in my wallet today), that’s not what I’m here to discuss today. Today, we’ll talk about how you can earn one of the most coveted possessions in the entire travel galaxy: the Southwest Companion Pass!

What is the Southwest Companion Pass?

When I try to tell my friends & family that I can take them on a Southwest flight for free, they usually ask me what the catch is. “Do you work for Southwest, Ty?” is a phrase I hear at least a few times every month. The truth is I don’t work for Southwest & am merely passionate about their product, all because of this wonderful enabler called the companion pass.

The reason I get so excited about this airline is this fact: the Companion Pass allows you to add a companion on your flight for only the cost of the taxes & fees associated with flying that leg. You heard that right: if I was flying a $500 flight to LAX from Columbus, I could add Kayleigh to the flight for only the taxes and fees (typically $5.60 for a one-way domestic flight). Buy one, get one free…flights?

One more thing-once you earn the Companion Pass, the pass is good for the full calendar year you earn it PLUS THE ENTIRE NEXT YEAR. That’s right-if I earned this pass in January 2018, I’d have the pass all the way through December 2019. Tons of value here to exploit!

Now the question I’m sure you are asking…HOW DO I SIGN UP!?!?

How do I earn the Southwest Companion Pass?

The Southwest Companion Pass is a status earned with Southwest Airlines after accruing 110,000 qualifying points or flying 100 one-leg flights in a calendar year. WHEW! That sounds like an awful lot of flights & certainly a lot of points. To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of spending roughly $18,000 on Southwest Wanna-Get-Away fare flights (their cheapest option) in a calendar year. I don’t know about you, but my 24-year-old budget does not allow for me to spend $18,000 on flights in 10 years, let alone one year.

Here’s the handy-dandy tracker Southwest provides for you to monitor your earnings progress:



Southwest allows you to earn points towards the Companion Pass in a few ways. You can earn Rapid Rewards (Southwest points) through:
  •         Rapid Rewards points earned through the Chase Southwest credit cards
  •         Rapid Rewards dining & travel partners
  •         Special Rapid Rewards offers (think 1-800 Flowers, wine cases, etc. promotions)

Looks like I have a long way to go! Luckily, we don’t need to spend $18,000 or spend half of 2018 in airports trying to earn the Companion Pass. This is where our “travel hacking” mindset comes in-we’ll utilize this technique to get us all the way to 110,000 points, no flights required!

Chase Southwest Credit Cards

Chase offers three separate credit card products for Southwest, all of which are helpful in getting you to the magical 110,000 points required to earn the Companion Pass.  Their sign-up bonuses vary depending on the time you sign up, but typically you can expect two of the three bonuses to at least add up to 100,000 RR points. Keep in mind that all of these cards are subject to Chase’s dreaded 5/24 rule, meaning that you will not be approved if you’ve received 5 credit cards in the last 24 months. 

These cards include:

1.       Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card-You can currently earn 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months from account opening. You’ll also get 3,000 RR points on the anniversary date of your cardmember signup, plus 2 RR points/$1 spent on every Southwest purchase. This card comes with a mandatory $69 annual fee, which will be charged on your first credit card statement. There’s no way around that-you’ll have to bite the bullet knowing you’re getting tons of value once you have the pass.

2.       Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card-This card currently offers the same 50,000 point signup bonus after spending $2,000 in the first three months from account opening.  The anniversary bonus is 6,000 RR points instead of 3,000 & the card has no foreign transaction fees, which can be helpful if you are travelling abroad & don’t wish to be upcharged for spending your hard-earned cash. However, the annual fee on this card is slightly higher at $99 and is charged on your first statement as well.

3.       Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card-The business version of the Premier card offers the highest sign-up bonus of the three cards at 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months from account opening. The benefits are essentially the same as the Premier & the annual fee remains the same ($99). For those of you that don’t have a true business and would feel weird about signing up for a business card, I would ask you this: Do you do ANYTHING outside of your normal job to make money? Mow lawns? Shovel snow? In my case, umpire? Boom-you’ve got a thriving business that you can use for this card. Simply apply as a sole proprietor & you’re well on your way.

As you can see, getting approved for two of the three credit cards above will either fully get you to the 110,000 (Business + Premier/Plus=115,000 points after reaching bonuses) or nearly there (Premier + Plus=104,000 points after reaching bonuses). If you opt for the slightly cheaper 2nd route with the Southwest Premier & Plus cards, you’ll have to make up the 6,000 points another way. 

If you have flights planned, you can fly the remaining 6,000 points worth & earn your companion pass. Manufactured spending, a topic we discussed in our original “Vacation Like a Baller” post, is the method I would use to make up the additional $6,000 you would need to spend to reach the Companion Pass status.

Again, you don’t need to take additional steps if you opt for the Southwest Business + either Plus/Premier card route. You’ll pay $168/$198 in annual fees ($99 + $69/$99) but will come out the other end with 113,000 Rapid Rewards flights and a Companion Pass to boot. That companion pass alone has saved Kayleigh and I THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS in flights over the past few years, something I’ll miss dearly as my pass expired at the end of 2017.

How Do I Use The Southwest Companion Pass?

Now that we’ve earned the Companion Pass, you’ll be eager to put that bad boy to use! Before we start, it’s important to note that you have to designate your companion before you start using the pass. You can only change this companion three times a calendar year, so make sure you choose wisely when picking the person you’ll be traveling with most often on Southwest. Once you designate your companion & you decide you want to change, you can call Southwest customer service at 1-800-435-9792 and they’ll be happy to change the companion for you.

The first step to booking your companion on a flight is obviously…booking your own flight! One of the best parts of this pass is that it doesn’t matter what type of flight you book on Southwest. You can use points or pay cash for the flight and select any one of their flight options (Wanna Get Away, Anytime, Business Select)-they all work for the companion. Once you’ve successfully booked, you can go to your main account page. There, you will find this option listed under your trip:


(Photo credit to milecards.com)

Just select the add companion option and go through the booking process for your designated partner-in-crime! You'll be able to get the same ticket you just booked for the price of taxes and fees, typically a measly $5.60. It’s that easy-and it feels amazing saving hundreds/flight with the click of a button.

Final Thoughts

 The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most coveted travel resources out there, and for good reason: it provides some of the best value to savvy travelers on the market. If you can follow our tips and tricks to earn this pass, you will be the envy of all of your friends and family. As you plan that casual weekend trip to Chicago with your significant other or head to Vegas with the buddies, the Southwest Companion Pass becomes your ace in the hole.

While I probably won’t have the pleasure of having this status anytime soon because I won’t be under Chase’s 5/24 rule, I’m happy to pass the savings onto the Smart Money Squad. I hope you enjoyed this week’s #MileageMonday and as always, feel free to ask questions! I’m here to help you meet your travel goals, any way I can.

Cheers,
Ty

1/26/18

1/24/18

The Ultimate Success Guide For Graduates Who Want To Kill It: Part II

1/24/2018
Last week we gave you some awesome advice on how to kill it in your Career and with your Money in Part I. Sometimes, however, even if you're making good decisions regarding your career and money, life seems to have a way of making you feel stuck. In order to increase your happiness and motivation to push yourself to attain otherworldly levels of success, you need to be focusing on your Wellness and your Development.

Let's Get Personal

This post is all about you. In order to handle higher levels of success, you need to personally grow. In order to personally grow, you need to focus on improving your wellness and furthering your development. These aspects of life can be overlooked as you get caught up in life's rat race and feel like you're drowning, but their importance cannot be overstated.

3. Wellness

Many people fantasize college as being the time when you really go out soul searching to find who you really are and who you really want to be. Maybe that does actually happen for some people. But for me, this process has really been taking place over the first few years of my career. I spend a lot of time trying to balance and improve my wellness from a holistic perspective including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness.

Now that you've got some money in your pocket and a regular, less cyclical life schedule, you owe it to yourself to figure out exactly what makes you happy. I'm not exactly just talking about the adrenaline-based type of happiness that comes with doing shots at the bar at 2 A.M. (although there's definitely still room for that). I'm talking about true contentment where you're living a life you're proud of and that brings you joy.

     1. Make Time For You.

If you're spending a traditional 40-50 hours per week at work, you're going to have to get really good at managing your time so this doesn't become overwhelming. By the time you get home, make dinner, and settle in for the night, you're about ready to sleep, rinse, and repeat. You need to design your days such that you don't become a slave to the hourglass.

Don't be afraid to say no to people. You get to choose how you spend your time outside of work. Nobody else should be making those decisions for you. If people are negative influences on your life and your wellness or you just plain feel like staying in and decompressing for the weekend, go for it! Sometimes saying no can be the best thing you can do for yourself.

I'll walk you through some examples of how I've been working on my time management to support my goal of improved wellness.
  • Physical - My alarm goes off at 5:15 A.M. (although I sometimes don't roll out of bed until 5:30) so I can go spend an hour in the gym. I've lost about 10 pounds since I really started getting serious about my physical wellness, and working out first thing in the morning gives me energy and mental clarity for the rest of my day. This doubles as a mental wellness boost. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can even reduce the effects of depression and anxiety.
  • Mental - I've been making a conscious effort to spend more time unplugged. I resist the urge to scroll Twitter between sets at the gym, I go for short walks throughout my workday to give myself time to think, and I'm trying really hard to stop mindlessly scrolling social media. I write a short paragraph in a journal at the end of every day to reflect on how that day went and how I want the next day to go. I'm a Christian, so I'm also making a conscious effort to pray more which helps with my spiritual wellness as well (this multiple benefits per effort thing seems to be a theme).
  • Spiritual - The first thing I do when I get home from work is read 2 chapters of my Bible. I then try to take 5-10 minutes to reflect on what I read and sometimes send a quick message to Amanda about my reflection. I'm also working on meditating regularly just for about 10 minutes every night which again helps with both spiritual and mental wellness. The issue with meditation for me is that I keep falling asleep!
  • Emotional - This is by far the area where I need the most improvement. This doesn't really have anything to do with time, but I'm focusing right now on just establishing and maintaining deeper relationships with people. I don't want to talk to you about the snowstorm coming or when it might get warm again. I want to talk to you about what makes you tick, what you're really passionate about, and how we can help each other improve our lives. Smart Money Seed has actually been a good way to open that door because personal finance is such a personal (duh) subject. It's obviously helped improve my relationships with Ty and Christian, but it's also given me a subject where people are starting to trust me and open up to me and allowing me to reach into other people's lives and allow them to reach into mine.

     2. Have A Way To Decompress After A Stressful Day.

This was a tough transition for me once I moved out of my parents' house. I used to have a 45 minute drive to process and reflect upon the day's events and would come home to a nice meal from Mom. Nothing takes life's stress away quite like Mom's cooking and spending time with loved ones.

When I moved to Findlay, I knew I needed to find a substitute for this decompression routine, but I didn't quite know what to do. I started out by doing the Insanity workouts, but I found it added stress to my work day because I would try to get home early so I wasn't taking the living room from Jordan all night. Then I started going to the gym after work, but it was always so crowded and took up basically my entire evening.

Blogging + Friends + Beer = Happiness
This is about the time that Christian and I decided to re-launch Smart Money Seed. This blog is currently a hobby for me that I'm actively working every day to turn into a business. I enjoy the artistic aspect to writing, the problem solving aspect of growing our brand, and the connection that it provides for me with other people. It is occasionally stressful when I can't think of anything to write about or I write a post that flops, but overall working on this blog is a great decompression strategy for me.

Whether you care about working out, a particular hobby, watching your favorite show or sports team (which I do plenty of), or have any other passion, use it to help you decompress and improve your overall wellness. Don't forget to have a little fun.

Also, cut out extra stressors you don't need in your life. According to an article from the Huffington Post, 55% of Americans are stressed about their home organization. I'm making a commitment to limiting my stress and introducing hygge into my life. It's a work in progress as I sit here slightly stressed about how I need to finish my laundry today and clean my dishes. And yes, I did just link to a Wikipedia article, thank you for asking. Take that, librarians and teachers!

Finally, always remember to have fun. Whether you're able to do something quick on a weeknight or spend a weekend shooting the shit with your best friends, social interaction is so important to our overall well-being. That can mean going to a sporting event, grabbing coffee, or just sitting around and doing absolutely nothing. Remember to surround yourself with good company who will make you feel happy.

     3. Don't Lose Sight Of Your Spiritual Side.

We all know a coworker who puts in the minimum 8 hours, goes home, probably orders a pizza, watches TV all night, and does it all again the next day year after year until they retire. They're stuck in auto pilot with no real passion driving them, and they've lost touch with their spirit.

When we're kids, we are so in tune with our spiritual side. I'm not just talking about the Holy Spirit or Jesus although that's definitely a factor if that's something you're in to. We have great dreams and aspirations and whether you dream about being a dentist like I did or an astronaut or even a garbage man, you're adamant that you're going to be the best damn garbage man who ever lived. You're excited about your dreams and you talk about them to anybody who will give you the time of day.

That's your spiritual side. That's what unfortunately far too many people lose touch with in life. And I truly believe that's a huge factor in our happiness equation. If you're super unhappy with your life, change it and start doing something you can do with passion and allow your spirit to drive you. Even if that's not exactly the case in your work life, make sure that's the case in your personal life.

4. Development

Do you think your 16 years of education have taught you everything you could possibly need to know and you get a free pass to coast for the rest of your life? Since you're reading this, I would venture to guess that's not the case.

Take a look around you at the more *ahem* experienced people in your life. By now I would hope you've gained some perspective that your parents and grandparents weren't complete dumb asses and they knew a thing or two about life. Take a second to thank them and give them a hug if you haven't done so already. Hug your grandparents for an extra second even if your mom gets jealous.

You have a lot more to learn over the course of the rest of your life. And the best part is that people aren't really telling you what you have to learn anymore, with a few exceptions sprinkled in just for good measure. The best part is that most of your development from now on is going to come from the school of life through trial & error and observation which is worth way more than any degree or certificate could ever be.

     1. Make A Commit To Continuous Learning.

Whether you care about learning more about your field through advanced degrees, licenses, or certificates or you want to learn a new trade and new skills, make a commitment to learning for the rest of your life. Like I mentioned previously, since nobody is telling you what you have to learn anymore for the most part, you get to choose what you want to learn about.

If you choose to learn about the things you're passionate about, then learning will actually become a fun task believe it or not. I spend a lot of time learning about personal finance and how to effectively manage and build a blog, and I absolutely love it. I've started reading which is something I haven't done regularly on my own time since before middle school. 

I really enjoy the process of researching the important things to learn, putting in the time and effort to learn a new skill or strategy, and putting that to use. Recently one of the things I've been learning is how to utilize and manage media like pictures and videos. I think my output speaks for itself here:


. . . Okay, maybe I have a little bit left to learn. But the important thing is that I'm trying!

Learning about the areas in your life you want to improve the most will have a major positive impact on your overall happiness and success. Social media can be a really great place to start in this. For example, if you want to improve your finances, like a bunch of personal finance pages and join a bunch of groups on Facebook. If you want to improve your fitness, follow fitness gurus you can relate to or at least idolize on Instagram. This is a great, easy way to incorporate learning into your everyday life.

     2. Find A Hobby You're Passionate About And Own It.

Whatever you really enjoy spending your time doing, whether it's playing sports, knitting, bird calling, or blogging, make a commitment to owning your space. You don't need to put pressure on yourself, but you'll get a good amount of satisfaction out of creating outputs for the rest of the world to enjoy. Make a commitment to bettering yourself every day until those outputs are the best in your space.

Watching TV or scrolling through social media is okay from time to time, but you'll feel much more fulfilled in your life if you find a hobby you're passionate about that allows you to make a positive impact on the world and, most importantly, on your own life in some way. If you're passionate enough about your hobby and work hard enough at it, you could even make it your full time job one day.

     3. Solicit Mentorship From Someone You Trust And Look Up To.

Mentorship is so important in expediting our ability to learn those tough life lessons. The more trusted mentors you have, the faster you will be able to make substantial progress toward achieving your life goals. Unfortunately, although mentors are generally honored and more than happy to act as a mentor, they don't exactly go around offering their services to just anybody. It's on you to solicit mentorship if that's something you really want.

If you have someone in mind you'd like to have act as a mentor for you, Forbes has some awesome tips for you. My advice? Buy them coffee. Everyone likes coffee, and a cup of coffee can go a long way in getting people to do things for you. The value of their mentorship will much more than offset that $2.50 you spend per meeting.

A popular tactic among successful entrepreneurs is joining mastermind groups. Mastermind groups are groups of people with common experiences and common goals who help each other to learn and achieve bigger and better things. It's a circle of trust where people who have experienced varying levels of success help each other to all become wildly successful. Joining a mastermind group is going to be an important step for Ty, Christian, and me as we continue to work to grow Smart Money Seed and to create more and more value for our squad.

Get Out There And Kill It!

This is such a fun time in our lives. We're most likely never going to work as hard or play as hard as we are right now, so live it up. Always remember to make time to have fun, spend time with the people you love and who love you back, and work hard. Work hard to manage your MoneyCareer, Wellness, and Development, don't forget to smile and laugh along the way, and do your best to make others smile and laugh along with you.

Oh, and please tell us what you're doing! We love hearing from you, and we can't wait to talk about all the successes we're all having in life or even the struggles we're facing. We'll make it through this together, squad!

1/22/18

#MileageMonday: Chase Ultimate Rewards

1/22/2018


Welcome to the inaugural #MileageMonday! This will be a recurring series of blog posts where I will go deep into the world of credit card, airline & hotel rewards programs. For those of you that don’t know already, I am a huge proponent of the “travel hacking” world. This involves signing up for credit cards with the intention of earning the bonuses associated with the account. 

Often times, 1-2 credit card bonuses can easily pay for an entire vacation’s worth of travel & lodging, shaving hundreds to thousands of dollars off of my total bill. If you need a refresher on the methods I use to earn these credit card bonuses, check out the “Vacation Like a Baller” blog from a few months ago. You'll have a great base to build on as we gradually build #MileageMonday into a travel hacking machine!

Chase Ultimate Rewards: An Introduction

When I was deciding what to write about for our first Mileage Monday post, I could think of no better place to start than the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. This is the points system that Chase uses for all of their own Chase-branded cards, which include:
  •          Chase Sapphire Reserve
  •          Chase Sapphire Preferred
  •          Chase Freedom
  •          Chase Freedom Unlimited
  •          Chase Ink Plus (Business)
  •          Chase Ink Cash (Business)
In later Mileage Monday posts, we’ll do comparisons on each of the three pairs of these cards and whether the card makes sense for you when considering an application. Keep in mind that when contemplating applying for multiple cards on the list above, Chase has a hard 5/24 rule, meaning that your application will automatically be denied if you have been approved for 5 credit cards within the past 24 months.

 This is why it is important in the “travel hacking” world to document when you applied/were approved for credit cards, keeping track of when you will be under the 5/24 stipulation that Chase sets.  Since the Chase-branded cards tend to be the most sought-after cards in the market, it is vital that we develop the habit of documenting our application & approval/denial process.

Value Of Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

The important thing to note is that no matter what card you choose from that above list, they all earn the same currency: Chase Ultimate Reward points. These points are earned through everyday purchases on your credit card, akin to “cash back” cards you typically see in the market today. Depending on the type of purchase (think dining, travel, etc.) & the corresponding card you are using, you can earn anywhere from 1x-5x UR points/$1 spent. There are multiple ways you can redeem the points you earn through these cards, listed below:

1)      Straight cash, homie:  At bare minimum, you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for cash back at a rate of 1%. Therefore, if I had 10,000 Chase UR points, I could redeem these for a $100 statement credit. While I’ll go into why this is not the best use of Chase UR points, there is certainly value in getting quick cash when you are in a pinch.
2)      Gift Cards: Chase Ultimate Rewards can also be redeemed for a wide variety of gift cards at most mainstream retailers. This includes Nike, Amazon, The Home Depot, Best Buy & pretty much any retailer you can think of. The redemption rate is typically the same as cash (1%); however, Chase often runs deals where you can get 10% off gift cards from select stores. Here’s the discounted selection I have to choose from:



3)      Transfer to Travel Partners: This is where we start to find value in redeeming our Chase Ultimate Rewards. Chase has a wide array of travel partners that you can transfer points to at a 1:1 rate, meaning that my 10,000 Chase UR points work as 10,000 miles/points for the corresponding travel partner. I’ve included a full list of Chase’s travel partners below:

Airlines
Hotel Programs
Southwest
IHG
United
Hyatt
British Airways
Marriott
Korean Air
Ritz-Carlton
Flying Blue
Singapore Airlines
Virgin Atlantic
Aer Lingus
Iberia

Keep in mind that ALL POINTS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL! For example, transferring 10,000 points to the Marriott hotel program might not cover half a night at the property you are looking to stay at. However, those same 10,000 points could be transferred to Southwest to book a roundtrip flight from Columbus-Atlanta, depending on your dates & flexibility. Needless to say, there is a TON of value in using your hard-earned Chase UR points on their growing list of travel partners.

Chase points can also only be transferred to travel partners if you have one of the Chase Sapphire cards (Reserve/Preferred) or the Chase Ink Business Preferred. You can still earn points with your Chase Freedom/Freedom Unlimited & then combine point balances with your other UR-earning cards; you’ll just have to select that “premium” card when trying to transfer points.



4)      Book Travel Through The Chase Portal: If you are the proud cardholder of a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, you also have the option of booking travel through the Chase travel portal for a discount. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a 6:5 ratio on your Chase UR points, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a 3:2 ratio (effectively 20% & 33% off your travel, respectively).  This does not limit you to the travel partners listed in the previous point & also extends beyond flights & hotels. Rental cars, excursions and much more are available through the travel portal!

The process to use your points in the travel portal is quite simple. Once you’ve selected the card you want to use, click “Explore and Book Travel” in the “Use Points” dropdown menu.


Let’s make our own example-say I want to take a flight from Columbus-Los Angeles for a long weekend in April.  After punching in my dates & traveler information, this is the screen I’m greeted with:


As you can see, I have multiple options for my airline (there’s many more than just these) & I can immediately see my savings in the flight by booking with Chase. In the Delta option, I’d save $80 by using my Chase UR points for travel rather than booking with the airline directly. Easy savings-what’s not to like?

You also do not need to use all of your miles to book that flight. There is a points + cash option, meaning I could simply use 10,000 of my UR points at the discounted rate & then pay the remainder in cash. This is especially helpful when you don't have enough points to cover the entire purchase but still wish to take advantage of the better exchange rate.

Finding the Right Redemption

Now that we’ve described how to use these points in the most effective manner, it’s time to evaluate when a redemption makes sense. When looking at travel, we need to keep in mind that many airline & hotel programs offer reward nights at figures lower than the discounted travel through the Chase portal would give you.

Let’s take a United flight as an example. In the Chase UR portal, a one-way flight from Columbus-Chicago may cost 12,000 miles ($120) after taking the discount. However, United offers 10,000 saver award flights for flights less than 700 miles originating & ending in mainland USA (aka those quick 1-1.5 hour flights).  A simple award search on United’s website could find you that cheap saver award availability and save you 2,000 UR miles by transferring the points to United.

This may seem like a lot of work to book a short flight to Chicago…but what if we were flying to Italy? Flights to Europe routinely cost $1,000+ & still would be expensive through the Chase portal. However, did you know that United has 30,000 saver award space for flights to Europe? Most people don’t-and this is where the value of our points goes a long way. I could book that $1,000 flight for only 30,000 Chase UR miles, getting much more value out of the 30,000 points as MILES vs. redeeming them for cash or a gift card.

It’s the little things like this that pay off when planning any trip. If you can make your rewards program work for you, you’ll be saving hundreds of dollars on your next trip. With that money we saved, you could pay for those bleacher seats at Wrigley Field or take a nice excursion at your tropical destination.  Ultimately, saving money is the name of the game!

Final Thoughts

Everybody is going to have different goals when deciding what they want to do with their Chase UR points. I’ve used every method I described above (even the gift cards before I got into travel hacking!) & found all of them to be incredibly straightforward.  Chase Ultimate Rewards have gotten Kayleigh & I all-inclusive vacations in Jamaica, countless flights across the United States & two Disney extravaganzas, all at least partially paid through this simple rewards program.

As we wrap up the first-ever #MileageMonday, I’d love to hear from you guys about what mileage or loyalty programs you’d like to know more about. I plan to cover all of the major credit card companies, airlines & hotels but I only really care about what YOU want to know. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section or through Smart Money Seed’s social media platforms.

Until next time, happy saving!

Ty





1/18/18

1/17/18

The Ultimate Success Guide For Graduates Who Want To Kill It: Part I

1/17/2018
You were right. In case you haven't figured this out by now, I'm giving you permission to pat yourself on the back. All those times you sat in class thinking to yourself why the hell am I learning calculus when I'll never use this again or I can't wait until the day someone hands me a million bucks just because I can name the periodic table by heart were not completely misguided. I can truthfully tell you that I somehow find a way to succeed in my job by negotiating contracts and service rates without the use of those tools.

Our education system, while doing a fairly decent job of teaching us how to think and problem solve, doesn't do enough to address the real world situations we'll find ourselves in after school. Even those of us who get a degree use a small fraction of our education in our day to day lives.

I'm not here to bash the education system. Educating people from all walks of life collectively on the real world issues they might face would be an impossible task. What I am here to do is to do my best to fill the void as best I know how in four main areas of life: Money, Career, Wellness, and Development.

We'll talk about money & career today and finish up next Wednesday with some discussion on wellness & development. The point of this is not to fill every gap we see (that's kind of our whole purpose for the blog which we hope to continue for quite some time) but to provide quick, easy things you should keep in mind and focus on from day 1.

Christian, Ty, and I aren't some crazy Forbes 30 Under 30 types who are just killing the game and leaving you all in the dust. But we are living our lives with success in these four areas as a prominent goal we work toward every day.

The post grad life is pretty damn sweet in part because you still get to do all the things you loved to do in school but now you (hopefully) have a little money to crank things up a notch. Just make sure you're substituting your Ramen with burgers and not steak too often and you're not substituting your Natty Light with $200 bottles of wine every week.

1. Money

Obviously if I thought I could fit all my money tips into a couple paragraphs, I wouldn't have this blog. Yes, personal finance can be a complex topic full of stressful decisions. But if you really don't know much about money and don't ever care to know much, I have two tips that will go a long way in helping you achieve long-term financial success.

     1. Save at least $1 per work hour to become a millionaire.

A normal 40 hour work week translates to 2,080 hours worked per year. If you're able to squeeze out $1 of your hourly wage and invest that toward retirement, that translates to $173.34 per month (I'm banking on you finding an extra penny every month for the roundup -- keep your head down when you walk). 

Even if you don't get an employer match on a 401(k) or any additional retirement benefits at all, you can retire a millionaire. If you're investing this money in a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k), 100% of the money will be yours. The best part? You didn't even contribute $100k of your own money to get there. 

Year Annual Return Hourly Payment Retirement Amount Total Contributions Total Returns
2018 10% $1 $2,178.12 $2,080 $98.12
2019 10% $1 $4,584.31 $4,160 $424.31
2020 10% $1 $7,242.46 $6,240 $1,002.46
2021 10% $1 $10,178.96 $8,320 $1,858.96
2022 10% $1 $13,422.94 $10,400 $3,022.94
2023 10% $1 $17,006.62 $12,480 $4,526.62
2053 10% $1 $729,199.99 $74,880 $654,319.99
2054 10% $1 $807,734.88 $76,960 $730,774.88
2055 10% $1 $894,493.39 $79,040 $815,453.39
2056 10% $1 $990,336.65 $81,120 $909,216.65
2057 10% $1 $1,096,215.95 $83,200 $1,013,015.95

If that's not enough to prove my point, maybe my graph will be more of a jaw dropper.


The moral of the story is that compound interest is your friend. I'm not saying $1M is your magic number -- it might be more, it might be less. What I am saying is you need to be saving for retirement, and $1 an hour isn't a bad goal to start with considering it'll net you a cool million.

     2. Keep your fixed costs as low as possible for as long as possible.

Lifestyle creep can be a major issue in our working lives, but where we put our stake in the ground is even more indicative of our future financial success. Going from making low wages during college and spending it all at the bars to making money at your first real job can cause temptation to drastically upgrade your lifestyle.

Maybe you want to rent a place at that fancy brand new apartment complex downtown and buy a brand new BMW so you can keep up with the Joneses in the garage. If you've got a great job, you've done the math, you know you can afford those things, and you don't have other financial goals you really care about achieving anytime soon, then by all means, live it up!

For the majority of us, that's not exactly the case. If you care about achieving your financial goals, then you need to keep your fixed costs down. Fixed costs include all the payments you make to live on a monthly basis including any loans you might have (student loans, car loan, credit card debt), your rent (or mortgage), utilities, cable, internet, and even your minor monthly expenses you've made a commitment to such as a gym membership.

When I graduated college, I moved back in with my parents. This worked out for me because I have a wonderful relationship with my parents, but it's not exactly every college grad's dream. I could've easily gotten a nice apartment in Findlay or even bought a house after a short while, but I chose to stay at home, thus lowering my fixed costs.

I saved that money I would've been paying toward rent and paid off all my debt which consisted of my car and student loans. This meant the only real fixed costs I had to worry about were my car insurance, my gym membership, and my phone. Just about $200 a month to live wasn't so bad!

Even now after I've moved to Findlay, I split a 2 bedroom apartment with my friend Jordan and pay a monthly grand total of $400-$450 depending on our electric bill. I purchased my gym membership up front, so I don't even consider that a fixed monthly cost anymore. This lifestyle design has allowed me to run substantial cash surpluses month after month allowing me to pay off $30k in loans and setting myself up for flexibility and the ability to achieve the next goals on my list in the very near future.

My lifestyle design consisting of low fixed costs has allowed me to live with a great deal of freedom to do pretty much exactly what I want to do. That's worth way more than any car, house, or other material object could ever offer.

2. Career

This is quite possibly the toughest transition you're going to make during this time in your life. You may expect to be prepared after 16 years of school give or take, but you're most likely going to get blindsided.

Several factors contribute to this lack of preparation. One factor is that you're used to a pre-determined schedule and an opportunity to study (cram) before a big exam. At work it's more like you have multiple quizzes every day many of which come with no warning. Although most of the quizzes are open note, this may cause you to start worrying about what's coming next.

In your career and most anything that you really care about succeeding in, you're most likely going to struggle with bouts of self-doubt. You may wonder whether you deserve to be there and whether you have what it takes to succeed.

Let me be very clear with you that you absolutely deserve to be there and you have everything it takes to succeed. Companies are very savvy with their recruiting practices and don't like to take huge risks. You wouldn't be there if you weren't more than qualified to be doing an exceptional job in what you're doing. Now it's up to you to put in the hard work and conduct yourself in a manner necessary for your own personal success and the success of your organization.

     1. Bide your time.

Regardless of how well you think you may be prepared for this job, you have a lot to learn. Don't walk around like you're hot shit and know everything there is to know. At least for your first couple months or so, you need to shut your mouth and take it all in. 

Your ability to make an impact is largely predicated on your ability to build trust with your coworkers, your bosses, and your customers (the people benefiting from your work outputs). You need to spend your first several months really focusing on shutting your mouth, putting your head down, and working hard so you can build that trust.

Nobody is outstanding at their job the first day they show up. Organizations understand that there's a learning curve every new employee experiences, and it's on you to understand that as well. I had an Organizational Behavior class in college where my professor taught me one of the most important life lessons I even learned in all my years of education.

Basically nobody is a truly high performer at their job right away. Companies hire college grads because they like their potential, and also because they have a high likability factor. If your boss likes you, it's difficult to make a decision to fire you, even if you never actually become a truly high performer. Since you're not outstanding at your job right away, you need to be focused on building your trust and likability factor within your organization.


     2. Ask Questions

Once you've put in a good amount of time taking everything in through training and daily observations, it's time to ask questions. If you don't ask questions early, then you'll most likely going to feel too embarrassed to ask what seems like basic questions later on. Generally speaking, people want to help you succeed, so they're happy to answer questions for a new employee. Asking questions shows you're eager to learn and you care about developing yourself into a high performer.

The important thing to keep in mind is to actually find an effective way to remember the answers. Asking a question once is perfectly acceptable. Twice is okay but a little annoying. Three or more times is definitely in the annoying territory, and you do not want that label. 

Also, make sure you take a second to utilize your resources and tools available to you before asking a question. You don't want to get into a habit of asking questions just because you're being helpless and using your coworkers or boss as crutches. Again, that becomes annoying real quick.

     3. Find Ways To Do More Than Your Job Description Requires.

Chances are you don't want to stay in your entry level job with your entry level salary very long. But checking boxes in an entry level job is not going to get you the promotions and raises you desire. You need to create more boxes and provide an extraordinary level of value to your organization. An entry level job is essentially an audition that will go a long way in determining just how high you might be able to climb in your organization and how quickly you'll do so.

Once you've spent your first few months biding your time, learning, and asking questions, not it's time to get strategic and offer a fresh perspective. The only way to establish a true competitive advantage is to do different things than your competitors or to do the same things differently. You can't just rely on doing the same things better than everyone else for 40 years. You need to apply this philosophy to the way you conduct yourself in your own position and to the proposals you make for changes within your organization.

Once I had finished my formal training and spent a few months applying what I had learned to my job, I noticed my training hadn't really done a great job of setting me up for success in my position. I had put in a good deal of effort building trust with my coworkers and bosses, so I decided to cash in by creating a whole presentation of how the training was inadequate and how it needed to be improved. This could've easily come across as cocky or brash, but I was very careful about the timing and manner with which I presented this to management.

I thought my presentation had been forgotten about, but then almost a year later I was asked to participate on a team that would be evaluating our training needs and would be responsible for proposing a change. I spent several months on that team with other new hires in the past couple of years, and we made a proposal that was ultimately accepted by management and is currently being implemented. I can't take 100% of the credit for the change, but I do believe I sparked some thought and kicked the change into hyper-drive.

Next Up. . .

Next week we'll dive into how we should be focusing on ourselves through focused efforts toward our Wellness & Development. In the meantime, we want to hear from you!

What are you doing with your Money & your Career that has worked for you? What questions do you have or future strategies are you taking that the rest of the Smart Money Squad might benefit from? Let us know in the comments!