A Financial Education Event
 

How I Earned A Six Figure Income As a Spokesperson / Brand Ambassador – part 3

On one of my early spokesperson gigs, my co-host was a wiener. He was one-dimensional, wouldn’t speak his lines and always managed to be the center of attention for every one of the 30 media interviews we did via Satellite on the coast-to-coast Satellite Media Tour (SMT). I had to carry the client messaging for each and every morning news television interview, yet this co-star managed to soak up all the limelight and get the closeups, while I did all the heavy lifting. An SMT was brutal work and involves a high-level skill set that can only be successfully accomplished by the top 5% of Spokesperson / Brand Ambassadors. I was 100% on my messaging, no thanks to this high maintenance, hot dogging, co-host. The client was Oscar Meyer.

We’ve covered quite a few aspects of spokesperson work in parts one and two of this series, from the definitions of the work to the skill set required. Now let’s talk about the process of what happens from start to finish during the brand ambassador experience.

 

Step One:  Initial PR Ping

The first outreach for a potential spokesgig is usually a PR firm, who googles experts in the area they are researching (finance, beauty, mommy bloggers, chefs, etc). Then they will send an email, fill out a contact message on your website or reaches out through social media platforms. This began to happen to me after my first book, Shop, Save and Share, came out in print. There was a query from Quaker Oats, then one from Dial soap, then another from Blue Diamond Almonds. The first time, I wrote back a message that quickly made it clear to the PR representative that I was absolutely clueless and didn’t even know what the outreach was about. I didn’t get the gig. I didn’t even know that I didn’t get the gig because I didn’t even know there was a gig to get.

The second query was turned over to a speaking agency that repped me at the time and they buffooned it because they didn’t know how to handle spokeswork. The third time, I turned it over to my publisher’s marketing rep and then discovered that’s it’s against policy for them to represent this kind of work—it’s a conflict of interest. In some cases, it’s even illegal. Oops!

 

Then there was the 4thtime a brand reached out, and I reached out to a group of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association to see if anyone knew a spokesperson representative. I was connected with a reputable agent and she helped me get that first contract that was with MasterCard. She also garnered 25% of my earnings—but 75% of something was better for me than 100% of nothing. Eventually, I was catching items on the spokes contracts that I didn’t want and the agent didn’t always catch them. Since then, I realized that 20% commission is common for gigs that the agent brings the talent and 15% is common for gigs that the talent brings the agent. My business background allowed me to become a master at reading, negotiating and executing my own contracts. But that took years of experience to achieve. At first, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I paid dearly for it before I got an agent.

Action Item: Make it easy for PR people to find you, add the term “brand ambassador” and “Spokesperson” to your social platforms, website and in any groups where you are a member. Set up a contact form on your website set up a dedicated website if you don’t already have one for your brand–a social platform isn’t enough.

 

Step 2: The Initial Conference Call

Today, I know that 9 out of 10 initial “Pings” or inquiries from an employee at a PR firm or from a corporation do not progress past the initial inquiry. If the brand influencer or spokes agent that answers
the inquiry knows how to manage the initial inquiry, then it can progress to an interview or conference call with the potential client.

It’s during this fact-finding conference call that you (or your agent) let them know who you are, how well you do verbally and what your skill sets look like. They also want to hear what ideas you might have for the project. Creativity is a must during this phase.

It’s also during this phase that you decide if you can get behind the brand or product. I made it a point of never endorsing a product I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in and that philosophy helped me keep my integrity intact. In addition, as a spokesperson agent, I won’t work with potential clients of mine that would take a deal just for the money–endorsing something that is bad for the general marketplace. Integrity matters.

This step is where your agent or other team member does the selling. They do the bragging on you and your abilities while you just talk about your projects and passions. You might also be required to sign an NDA (non disclosure agreement) and that’s not unusual.

Action Item:  Never endorse a product you don’t believe in and keep a high level of integrity. Make a point of eliminating “uhs” and “ums” and filler words like “so” and “yeah.” The overuse of these words make you come across to the client as unsure or lacking in confidence. An organization like Toastmasters is a great place to go in order to learn to master the kind of extemporaneous talk that will occur during crucial conference calls.

 

Step 3: The Money Talk

If the PR firm and/or the client they are representing is interested in you and is seriously considering hiring you as their Spokesperson / Brand Ambassador then they ask what you charge. If you have an agent, they handle the money talk while you remain the happy talent.  At this point a smart brand ambassador or a smart agent asks for a SOW in writing (scope of work), otherwise there can be a he said/she said in terms of what the work actually is during step 4 or step 5.

There’s an art of negotiating a deal and I absolutely love this part of the process—whether I’m negotiating my own deal or one on behalf of my clients. You give a price based on the fair market rates for someone with your following and skill set. I usually start a bit high at this point. It’s a delicate balance because you want to price yourself at the value you are worth without pricing yourself out of the market. I figure if they are interested, then they will be willing to come back during step four and negotiate for a deal within their budget. At this point, instead of a one in ten chance (as in step one) you have about a 50% chance that the deal could go to a contract.

Action Point:  The money talk is a very important part of the process, establish a rate card ahead of time and know what the charges are for different deliverables. Make sure your agent (if you have one) or your other team member has also eliminated the filler speech we previously outlined in step 2’s Action Point.

I’m developing a course and we will get into greater detail when it comes to the money part of the contract. If you are interested in being a part of the initial core team for the “How to Earn a Six Figure Income as  Spokesperson,” then send us an email at assistant@elliekay.com or fill out the contact form.

The PR firm will present anywhere from 3 to 5 different spokespersons to a client as either part of an existing contract (that they’ve already negotiated and secured) or a pitch contract (where they are trying to get business with the client.) Obviously, a secured contract will be more likely to end in a contract for the spokesperson than a pitch contract.

 

Step 4: The Negotiation

After the PR folks have taken your name to pitch to the client, the client may ask for a meeting with you (this only happens about 20% of the time) so that they can decide for themselves. Or, they’ve trusted the PR person, reviewed your media kit and believe you are a good fit.

This step is the reason I decided to become a spokesperson agent because this is the step where brands take advantage of the spokesperson. PR firms are in the business of getting the best value for their client and you can’t blame them for that. But it also means that they try to get the brand ambassador to do more work than they proposed in step 3.  Don’t be afraid of a negotiation, but do be prepared so that you can make the most of the deal that is being discussed.

Action Step:  Read up on how to become a better negotiator, so that you can handle this step if you are representing your own contracts.

 

Step 5:  The Contract

Once you’ve navigated the negotiation, then it’s time to go to contract. Hopefully, you’ll be chosen as the brand ambassador to represent the product, company or goods and services. Be sure you have a professional review the contract and understand that someone who may manage a brand ambassador may not be familiar with the pitfalls of a spokesperson / brand ambassador contract. You don’t know what you don’t know. But making sure that there are NO additional deliverables or restrictions that weren’t disclosed in the negotiation is a basic part of handling the contract. Recently, I was sent a contract on one of my existing clients and it was for a company that we had already signed a half dozen contracts with in the past. To my surprise, there were actually $180,000 in additional deliverables or exclusivity stipulations that they tried to sneak by us in the contract!

Action Item:  Hire a professional to read your contract or partner with a spokesperson agency that can guide you through the sticky wickets of the contract.

 

Coming up next week:

 

We will discuss and define specific deliverables as well as legal disclosures that the FTC requires for all brand ambassadors in order to be in compliance.

 

 

Financial Education Month – How to Resolve a Credit Dispute


In our Heroes at Home Financial Event tour, we work with military members to make sure their credit history keeps them flying high! Even pilots can get grounded if they can’t hold a Top Secret security clearance and they can’t hold a clearance if their credit is awry. There are some pilots with one million dollars in training assets invested in them. It would be terrible for them to have to fly their last sortie because of this important issue. But security clearances are something that every military member has to protect. That could be an expensive mistake. Thankfully, some of these issues are able to be resolved with the help of Airman and Family Readiness, but it still had an impact on military readiness.

You may not have a million dollars in national security assets invested in you, but you’re still a valuable person to your family, friends and community. Whether you are a military aviator or a mom who works from home–it’s important to regularly check your credit report from all three providers (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). You can get a free copy at Annual Credit Report where federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report from each of these reporting bureau once every twelve months. The law also allows you to ensure that all the information on your credit reports are accurate and up to date.

One of our financial education speakers is the ever knowledgeable presenter, Rod Griffin, from Experian. We recently discovered something new going on

at Experian regarding  enhancements to its dispute center that make it easier and faster to file a dispute.  Many people do not understand how to correct mistakes on their credit reports – so financial literacy month is a good time to help educate them on the process and take away the fear that it’s a daunting or complicated task.

Here are some of the highlights of the dispute center where consumers can:

  • Use their smart devices as it’s mobile-optimized
  • Upload photos of supporting materials directly from their smartphone
  • Get a free Experian credit report
  • Follow contextual links designed to help them better understand and access various sections of their report
  • Receive timely alerts updating them on the current status of their active disputes
  • Sort and view the accounts listed on their credit report by alphabetical order, date opened or status, and filter by categories such as collections or installment loans.

Be sure you share this with anyone you know who may have a credit report dispute and be sure that you check the credit reports on everyone in your family. Hopefully, you won’t find a credit history on your four year old daughter or 1 year old son, but identity theft is knows no age!

Knowing your options will help you with your credit report spring cleaning–especially if you find anything out of place! Once your work is done, sit back, make yourself a cup of coffee and don’t forget to join me and my co-host, Bethany Bayless in The Money Millhouse podcast for our interview with Rod Griffin, Gerri Detweiller and other credit financial experts.

 

Millennial Moneybags

As a seven-year-old, I launched a business where I made $10 in two weeks through extensive marketing and key product placement to my second-grade class. In 2018 dollars, that’s equal to $712—not bad for a kid entrepreneur! When my dad heard how much I’d made, he pulled my braid and said, “Good job, little moneybags!” That sparked a passion in me to earn more, save more and share more.

Fast forward a lotta years and I’m teaching my five millennials the basic skills to master in their 20s to become financially savvy and stable.

Spend Plan

It’s important to develop a budget and stick to it. Make sure it is realistic and accounts for all your spending—including entertainment, gifts and other splurges. If there’s more than one person doing the spending on the same plan, then mint has a good app you can use to track where those dollars are going. The three main parts of a good spend plan include the ability to: save diligently, share generously and spend wisely.

Squash Debt

It’s pretty basic: saving=good and debt=bad. Don’t add to debt buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like. Instead, put all “bonus” money toward debt such as income tax returns, bonuses from work and even a happy birthday check from your Grandma. This can also help you whittle down that average student loan debt of 35K+ and the average credit card debt of 8K. By paying off this debt early in your life, you’ll avoid thousands of dollars in interest and create margin in your life. In our 20’s my husband and I made the move to one car to get ahead on debt repayment and we don’t regret doing without for a little while to be debt free forever!

Spend Not and Want Not

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Most millennials live paycheck to paycheck with a lot of financial stress hanging over their heads. You can break this cycle, even if you came by it honestly (from your parents’ example.) Readjust your mind set to look at extra money left over at the end of the month as either savings or debt repayment—not fun money to spend. As you are trying to spend less to get on track financially, you may get an extra roommate to reduce your rent payments or carpool to save on commuting. Go to happy hour for free food and be the designated driver, drinking water. Use Retail Me Not every time you buy anything (online or in a store) to get codes and other savings. Be creative in the ways you can spend less than you make each month.

Save for a Rainy Day and Beyond

Any smart millennial will have a few months savings in a rainy-day account to pay for that unexpected bill or an emergency. A super smart saver will also start tucking away money for retirement and take advantage of the miracle of compounding interest. In our Heroes at Home show, we share this slide that shows you how to invest in yourself.

 

Super Skilled Cooking Star


My twentysomething year olds love the food network and Pinterest. They especially like watching a client of mine, Amy Pottinger, a military spouse, compete on that network. But what’s the use of watching cooking shows if you never cook? According to the USDA Cost of Food at Home, you can save thousands of dollars each year by making your own food instead of eating out. In fact, by using apps to save money in the grocery store and getting coupons and tips from sites like The Coupon Mom, you can save even more. I added up all the money I saved over 20 years with sales, coupons, and eating in (instead of eating out) and the amazing total was $161,000, that’s enough to help put some millennials through college debt free!

Strategic Splurges

 

Sometimes, there’s a misconception that becoming financially fit means you deprive yourself of everything fun and there’s no room for a splurge. Not true. You are just careful about what you will splurge on. That $20 glass of wine in a restaurant can go four times as far at Trader Joe’s when you splurge on a $20 bottle of wine (instead of the two buck Chuck.) Buying clothes that fall apart after one or two washes isn’t as smart as buying quality (on sale) that will last longer. An energy efficient appliance that saves you money in the long run is a better option than the cheaper version with a higher utility bill. Read up on products before you waste your money and realize that a strategic splurge here and there can save you significant change in the long run.

 

So, So, Happy

 

One of the reasons our family could go from being 40k in consumer debt to where we could pay cash for everything (including cars and college) is because we chose to be content. The more you choose to be happy where you are (knowing that’s not where you will always be), the better off you will be financially. You don’t have to drive a new car, live in the coolest place or take a mega trip once a month. I always said, “you can have it all—but not all at once.”  It’s a choice, you can drive a better car and have more roommates. You can splurge on clothes and drive an old clunker. It’s all about choices and the biggest and best choice of all is to simply choose to be content where you are right now.

 

How many of these habits do you currently practice?

Rent-To-Own: Is It Ever A Good Idea?

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You’ve moved into a new place, started a new job and you’re beginning another phase of your life. The only problem is that you don’t have enough furniture for the new place and you realize you’ll also need a washer/dryer.  Then, miraculously, an ad pops up on social media for a place where you can go get name brand appliances and choose from dozens of options on exactly the kind of furniture you need—all for only $21.99 a month! YEA!!!  You’re saved! After all, you have a good job, the monthly payments aren’t going to break you and you deserve to make your new place comfortable, right?

Wait a minute, not so fast.

Is rent-to-own the best option? The answer is:  it depends.

How Does Rent-to-Own Work?

Usually, you’re renting from a well known store, but, in most cases, you’ll have to sign a third party contract. I remember one time when we bought a refrigerator and my husband thought, “Let’s use someone else’s money at 0% interest.”  The only problem was the third party contract indicated that those 0% payments were only for a fixed introductory period, then there were three options. We could buy the item, continue making payments (at 200% APR interest) or return the item to end our lease. We bought it out early, so that we were in the clear and vowed to never buy into this kind of a contract without understanding the fine print first.

 

Rent-to-own also means that if you fall behind on the payments, the leasing company can repossess your leased item and you don’t get any money back. There may be cheaper ways to pay because even if you have bad credit the options of  layaway, sub-prime credit cards or  bad-credit personal loans, which run 36% APR are better than the 200% APR of many rent-to-own programs.

 

When Is Rent-to-Own A Good Idea?

 

Despite the typical APR rates north of 200% for this kind of contract, there may be some anomalies when this option is not a bad thing for your bottom line. In fact, there are some instances, when using a rent-to-own option make sense:

 

  • If the interest rate stays relatively low (less than 3%) during the entire leasing term, and the term is 24 months or less, then you aren’t losing much. But read the fine print.
  • If you believe you’ll have the money to buy the item outright at the end of the low, fixed rate introductory period, then it could be a good way to keep some money in a rainy day account while you save up for the buy out.
  • If you need to diversify your loans to improve your credit score, and you qualify for low interest, then this kind of financial contract could help your credit score. But since diversification of loans only represents 10% of your credit score, it’s not worth paying higher interest rates to diversify.
  • If you are only in a location for a short amount of time (our sons have military training at bases for anywhere from 3 months to 10 months), and your interest rate is low, you could rent and turn the item back in when you move. But make sure the contract allows you to do so. If you must move yourself and your company doesn’t pay for a move, then renting a truck and moving that furniture cross country could cost more than it’s worth.
  • If you have the good credit score amongst your roommates and you all need to get furniture for the main living areas, then you could work a deal where they use your credit (your contribution) and they pay their part of the monthly payments (their contribution). But make sure the interest rates are low for the entire contract and that you trust your roommates enough to make the payments to you (on time) so that you can make the payment. At the end of the lease, you keep the furniture. This option may be more of a hassle than it’s worth. But if you are cash strapped, it might be just what you need.

 

Before You Sign

Let’s say that you’ve decided that Rent-to-own is the route that will work best for your budget and lifestyle. Here is your checklist before you ink that contract, if any of these are not clear are it’s revealed that they are not to your advantage, then think twice about this option. Here’s the list:

  • What are the monthly payments (including all fees)?
  • When are the payments due?
  • What is the total cost to own this item (all payments, interest and fees)?
  • Who insures damaged or theft?
  • If you miss a payment, will it be automatically repossessed?
  • Is the item new or used?

After You Sign

 

Let’s say you already signed a contract before you read this blog. Or, you’ve followed all the advice shared and decide that the contract will be a good option for you. Take these steps to protect yourself:

 

  • Follow the money. Make sure you are keeping your payment records because some rental companies have had problems with giving their customers credit for payments made.
  • Pay on time. Since 35% of your credit score is your credit history, it’s crucial that you make your payments on time or even before they are due. If possible, set up the payments to transfer from your bank account so that you never miss a payment.
  • There’s a chance your debt might be sold to a debt collector Know your rights in this situation as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires debt collectors from harassing customers, calling them excessively and using abusive or deceptive practices to collect on the debt. 

In the Kay family, we like to live a debt free life and will usually save up to buy furniture or appliances before we would go into debt. This isn’t always possible for American consumers, in which case it’s good to know the nuances of Rent-to-Own for you or those you care about.

What has been YOUR experience with Rent-to-Own?

Smart Money Habits for Millennials (and Their Mamas)

The Kay Family had five babies in seven years. That roughly adds up to 3 kids in diapers at once, 10 years of not sleeping through the night, 4 teenage drivers at the same time, 3 kids in college at once and today, we have 5 millennials in their 20’s simultaneously.

Fun .

But the good news is that they eventually slept, pottied, drove, graduated and even mastered money habits in the journey. Here are the habits we helped teach our millennials to make sure they didn’t have to move home, they could remain financially independent, have a great start for their families, and still buy their mama nice birthday gifts.

Habit #1 – Create and Live By a Spending Plan

Many millennials have heard of the value of creating a budget and even have apps that help. But it’s of little use if they don’t know how to stick to it. Here are my favorite apps to help:

  • Mint Budgeting App – I met the founder of Mint, Aaron Patzer, in a green room, years ago, when we were both going to be on ABC News in NYC. At the time, he was building his success with Mint. I just remember him being (as he says in the video) “full of myself.” Ha! But his budgeting app is probably the best out there because it makes it easy to create a budget. You connect the Mint app to your bank and the app uses your details to help create a personalized budget.
  • PocketGuard Budget App – This app also connects to your bank accounts and shows you what you currently have in your pocket. It tracks your money to show what you are spending and automates where you’re going off budget and where you need to cut back.
  • You Need a Budget – This app’s claim to fame is that it creates a budget you can stick to based on the info provided in your bank accounts and spending habits. It even teaches you what to do if you overspend and how to live on last month’s income. This is the only app that cost money in my list and it’s $50 for the year, but there are hoards of devotees that say this app helped them to finally live on a budget.
  • GoodBudget – Back when dinosaurs roamed the financial space, there was an “envelope system” where you put the money you needed in each envelope labeled with expenses such as gas, food and entertainment. It helped Bob and I get out of 40K in consumer debt in only 2.5 years when we were first married. This app is the digital version of that system, making sure that everyone knows how much is left in the “envelope.”

You might need a money buddy to stay on track, too. Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista, talks about her journey on our fun podcast The Money Millhouse and how she went from broke to anything-but-broke through techniques that kept her on track.

Habit #2 – Cook Creatively and Consistently

Money evaporates when you order out for lunch or dinner more than one or two meals a week. Bob took leftover dinners (the

re’s a microwave and fridge at work) for our entire marriage and we calculate that he’s saved $20,000 by doing this! Make Pintrist your pal or watch The Food Network to learn easy ways to create nutritious and tasty meals. Ask for an Instant Pot for your next birthday and make more than you need for dinner so you’ll have leftovers for either lunch or dinner later in the week. Or freeze the leftovers. My daughter lived with roommates for a few years and they would assign different nights for each of them to cook to simplify the work. Cook more and your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Habit #3 – Care About Your Retirement

When we take our Heroes At Home Financial Event on the road, we teach young service members the miracle of compounding interest with the mantra: start early, start small and stay committed. Be sure to start with funding a Roth IRA and take advantage of your company’s matching portion of your 401(k). Lacey Langford, an Accredited Financial Counselor gave some great tips on a segment called “I Aint Afraid of No Money.”  She discussed retirement planning from her experience in working with the military (but many tips apply to civilians as well.) If you’re military, be sure to go into your Family Readiness Center to discuss the Blended Retirement System and what your options are for your situation. It’s free and a benefit you can use early and often.

Habit #4 – Count the Cost of Debt

The average millennial college grad owes 37K in student loan debt and the average household owes $8500 in credit card debt. Work on minimizing the debt you accrue and pay off the debt you have so that you’ll have the flexibility to move or wait on the right job. One of my sons worked for JC Penney, and they eliminated his entire department. Most employees were freaking out because they had student loan debt, consumer debt and car debt—but not our son. He made a practice of living on less so he wouldn’t accrue debt and he was able to have less worry in the process of finding a new job.

Be sure you also pay attention to your credit score. Rod Griffin, from Experian, came over for a discussion on coffee and credit. He works with us on our tours and he teaches that if you have bad credit, you’ll pay an average of 360K more (over your lifetime) for the use of basic credit, than the person who has a good score. Improve your score by paying on time, paying more than the minimum balance due and make sure you never use more than 30% of your available credit.

Habit #5 – Choose Contentment

This is a tricky habit because it’s a mindset that you choose. There will always be something to spend money on to make you go off budget or get into financial trouble. There’s the new phone, tablet, car, vacay, boyfriend/girlfriend, baby, or a plethora of other reasons to want to spend more and have more. This is where your friends, family and even faith come into play. Coveting what others have or do is a lesson in futility and discontentment. Your friends either contribute to this mindset or they keep you focused on what matters most. If keeping up with their lifestyle is an important platform in your friendship, then you may want to find new friends. Remember that this financial journey is a marathon not a sprint. I’ve always said, “you can have it all—just not at the same time.”

What is one habit you are good at? What is one habit you want to improve upon? Share it with us, a friend or even a money buddy, so that you can be fiscally healthy in 2018 and for a lifetime.

 

The Money Millhouse – Podcast Extraordinaire

Live, from Ellie’s kitchen table… it’s The Money Millhouse!

WELCOME TO THE FINANCIAL SHOW ANYONE CAN LISTEN TO!

The conversation gets lively and somewhat ridiculous when Ellie and Bethany share a cup of coffee (or four) over Ellie’s kitchen table. They not only have fun at The Money Millhouse, their conversations about saving money, couples communication, spend plans, super heroes and more make you feel like you are drinking coffee right along with them. Coffee, friends, money, sometimes random singing… what could be better?

Each week on this little-over-20-minute podcast, a special guest joins Ellie and Bethany at the table to discuss relevant money-related issues. From saving for retirement and credit chats, to home-based business tips and maybe a thing or two about what Star Wars has to do with coffee, there is always something to talk about.

The Money Millhouse will teach you while entertaining you with offbeat humor, geek-speak and money tips you never knew existed. If you can put up with Ellie’s annoying dogs announcing the next guest to come to Ellie’s door for a cup of Joe and a light hearted but important conversation, then you’ll get the maximum return on your time investment.

Come on in to The Money Millhouse, where we brew up money saving tips and tricks for anyone’s lifestyle. You might even learn a few secrets in the Millhouse closet.

The Money Millhouse is a production of Heroes at Home, a non-profit organization that gives financial education to military families around the world. To find out more about Heroes at Home, visit heroesathome.org.

The Money Millhouse Crew:

Ellie Kay is the wife of the “World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot”, mother of 5 children, 3 fur-babies, and best-selling author of fifteen books and a popular media guest on Fox and ABC News, among others. Ellie is the founder of the non-profit “Heroes at Home” and has taken this financial literacy tour around the country and the world for the last decade. Ellie loves roller coasters, ziplining and all kinds of adventure and once took a ride in an F-15 E Strike Eagle, which she said it was less scary than walking into her youngest son’s dorm room. Find Ellie’s personal blog at EllieKay.com.

Bethany Bayless is the wife of Travis, mother of London (goldendoodle puppy), and Director of Communications for Heroes at Home. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL, and has been a social media coordinator for several organizations including two international groups. She is a self-professed geek, aspiring home-cook, and globe-trotter (not the basketball kind). In her spare time, Bethany draws and handletters, throws tennis balls for her puppy, London, and quotes movie lines with her family near and far. Find her blog at wanderlust4less.com.

Holiday Travel Hacks by Bethany Bayless

Ah, the Holidays—it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Also the most expensive—especially when you don’t live near your loved ones. Holiday travel can be awesome or awful. Here are a few tips that can help when it comes to booking your travel.

  1. Avoid Peak Days: Don’t travel on peak days. Guess what—Everyone is flying those days! They are by far the most expensive days to fly. For Christmas, those days are December 22, 23, and 24. For New Year, it is December 29 and January 2. Look at your schedule to see if you are able to tweak your travel days just a little to get the best price on flights.
  2. Travel Early or Late in the Day: Another thing to keep in mind is that the cheapest flights are generally the first and last flights of the day. Don’t be afraid to adjust your sleeping schedule just a bit by flying super early or super late. These are going to be the cheaper flights.
  3. Do your research: Use apps like Hopper to find the cheapest days to fly. They will even keep you alerted to when it comes time to buy at the cheapest rate. With Holiday travel, buying sooner rather than later is always advised.
  4. Shop Around: When it comes to flying, use those dates you got from Hopper and plug them into a site like skyscanner.com, or go directly to airlines sites. Southwest only posts on their website—so make sure you check Southwest for the prices they have on flights. Keep in mind, also, that though Southwest is not always the cheapest fare, your bags will always fly for free. That can make all the difference!
  5. Send Presents Ahead: If you can get away with it, don’t check a bag. We know the holidays mean lots of presents. Think ahead—use Amazon Prime to ship directly to the people receiving them or the house you will be staying in, or send them ahead of time. It will save you headaches when it comes to sweating your connections or losing your bags. It will save you time, and sometimes it can even save you money!

What are some of your favorite tips and ways to save money when it comes to Holiday Travel?

Bethany Bayless is a popular speaker, blogger and emcee. She worked in Europe for a non-profit organization before becoming the Director of Communications for the non-profit, Heroes at Home. Her work can be found at WanderlustforLess

Credit Card Choices — Big Benefits With Right Choices

Southwest Airlines is running a credit card offer for qualifying applicants where they will get a companion pass for the rest of this year and all of 2018, plus 40,000 points. My daughter uses credit cards sparingly and her score is in the 800s (on a FICO scale up to 850). She decided to get the card and is thrilled to add her husband a companion to her recent round

trip purchase from Burbank to San Francisco for only $59. Pretty good deal for her. Since I already have a companion pass on a #SWA card, it wouldn’t be a good deal for me.

But not all deals are that good. How do you know which choice is best for your needs?

On my recent trip to #USAA, I learned a lot about the latest offerings in credit cards.

In fact, Yasmin Ghahremani, a writer with USAA, contributes the following information on how to navigate your first rewards card in three easy steps.

Credit cards that offer rewards like airline miles or a percent of cash back on everyday purchases can be a pretty great deal. But with so many different rewards credit cards available, choosing one that’s right for your lifestyle can feel overwhelming. Not only that, are you sure a rewards credit card is a smart financial move?

First off:  rewards credit cards aren’t for everyone. If you’ve never owned a credit card before or have a not-so-great credit score, you may not even qualify for a rewards card in the first place. And because interest rates for rewards cards tend to be higher than most credit cards, if you are the type to miss payments, make minimum payments only, or carry a hefty balance, your best bet is to look for a credit card with a low interest rate.

Once your cash flow and spending habits are more favorable, you can give rewards cards another look–otherwise, the interest you’ll pay on a carried balance will easily outstrip the value of any rewards you’ll receive. “Rewards cards are really best for transactors: those who pay off their balance every month,” says Mikel Van Cleve, Advice Director and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ with USAA

That said, if your credit card hygiene is superb and you make a habit of paying off the balance in full each month, then you’re probably ready for your first rewards card!

1. First, consider the kind of rewards you’d like to earn. If you’re a jet-setter and love to take frequent vacations, travel rewards cards that can earn airline miles, waive luggage fees, grant access to posh airline lounges and more might be right up your alley.

Not the globe-trotting type? Then a cash-back rewards card might be more your style. These essentially give you a small percentage discount (anywhere from 1–5%) on the stuff you’re already buying with your credit card, like groceries, gas, online purchases and more.

Once you’ve identified the type of rewards you’d like to earn…

2. Match your spending habits to your overall rewards card management. Take a look at how much you actually spend in certain categories on an annual basis to pinpoint where you could earn the most rewards. If you’re single and eat out a lot, a card that offers extra cash back for grocery spending might not be the best fit.

Plus, not all rewards cards work the same way: some offer more complex variations, like extra cash-back percentage points for spending in certain categories, such as 3% at supermarkets and 1% on all other kinds of purchases.

Other kinds of rewards cards offer additional percentage points on a rotating calendar for certain types of purchases, with bonus categories changing every quarter. For example: you might earn 5% on groceries one quarter, 5% on gas the next quarter, 5% at restaurants for another quarter, etc.

Complex earning structures may ultimately earn you more, but only if you’re really familiar with your own spending habits and the amount of time you care to spend tracking expenses and managing rewards redemption. Depending on the card you choose, you’ll need to keep up with rotating categories that may require an opt-in action (like visiting a website or filling out a form) every quarter, or you miss out on the perks.

If you don’t want to hassle with that, consider choosing a card with a flat base earning rate. Many credit cards now offer 1.5% or even 2% on every purchase you make. For instance, if the card offers 1% cash back for every dollar you spend on the card and you’ve spent a total of $2,500, you can earn $25 cash back. Even better, you often have a choice on how to spend those rewards, usually via a check, a credit to your statement, or points good towards purchases with other retailers. (Beware the latter as it may encourage you to spend needlessly!) 

3. Examine the fine print of any offers you see. Does the card charge an annual fee that costs as much or more than you will likely earn back via rewards? If you feel pressured to spend more just to get enough rewards to justify the annual fee, that card might be causing you to spend more than you normally might.

Does the card place limits, or “cap” how many rewards you can earn in bonus categories? Some cards allow you to earn 3% on only the first $3,000 a year you spend on groceries, and after that rewards may diminish or disappear entirely. You’ll want to factor those considerations into your decision.

“Make sure you know how the cards you’re considering work, and figure out which one works best for your habits,” advises Van Cleve. “If you do that the rewards can really help you save some money and work toward other goals that you have.”

Holiday Travel Planning Guide – Hint: Buy Early

BGadmin

 

One of my favorite things to do when I have my adult children home is to go to church. We always went as a family when they were growing up and having them join in when they are home brings back great memories. The last time they came home, I stood in our row with Jonathan and Joshua sitting next to me and fought back tears of gratitude. At the end of the service, the music swelled loudly, our cue to leave the sanctuary and make room for the next service in our large church.

Bob and I got separated from the boys in the exiting crowd and when I looked back to see where they were, I was stunned to see the two boys wrestling in the aisles. Jonathan had Joshua in a headlock and Joshua was trying to punch him in the kidneys to break the lock.

Oy vey. Some things never change. “We were just having some fun!” they declared as I grabbed them by the ears and they straightened up.

Family times are the best times.

They Kay family loves to get together for the holidays, but travel can be expensive. Knowing when to buy those airline tickets can mean the difference between paying cash for your holiday travel or going into further credit card debt.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are still weeks away, but October is the month you should look to book flights for both holidays.

In fact, travel app Hopper recently released its Holiday Travel Index which includes data on when to fly and buy for both holidays. Here’s a few findings I found from the study:

  • Although Thanksgiving travel is expensive (even more so this year than last — domestic flight prices are currently averaging about $325 round-trip compared to $288 last year), prices won’t vary much during the month of October. You can put it off for a bit, but make sure you book your Thanksgiving flights before Halloween.
  • If you wait to book your flight until after Halloween, it will cost you about $1 per day, every day that you wait. Prices will then begin spiking closer to $10 per day during the final two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
  • Unlike Thanksgiving prices, holiday flight prices tend to rise more steadily as Christmas approaches, and then spike heavily in the last two weeks.
  • The best time to book Christmas flights this year is the first weeks of October. If you have to wait to buy, make sure you watch prices closely, as they will fluctuate and then start spiking moderately 15-25 days prior to departure. They will spike dramatically (about $7 per day) in the final two weeksleading up to Christmas.
  • If your plans are flexible, you can save the most money by leaving on Tuesday, December 19 and returning Thursday, January 4

Keep in mind that it’s important to budget for holiday travel in conjunction with all the other expenses accrued during the holidays.

In our family, we value experiences over things. This means we will spend money to get kids home and spend less on their gifts once they get here. After all, it would be boring if we didn’t have Jonathan and Joshua fighting in the church aisles during the holidays.

Before You Say “I Do” – Premarital Financial Counseling

BGadmin

“Bye, bye!”  I smiled and waved from the front porch, Bob by my side, “Nice to meet you!”

Speaking like a ventriloquist, I continued to wave at my son and his girlfriend,

“I give It less than one week” I told my husband, “two weeks tops.”

Bob smiled, giving his very poor ventriloquist rendition, “I don’t know, she was, ah, very conversational.”

“Yeah,” we turned to walk back in, “and her favorite topic was herself!”

We had just entertained one of our sons and a girl he brought home to meet us. In our family, we are predisposed to like the significant others that our children bring home because our kids have very good judgement. Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t sitting on “no” when it comes to these friendships that could blossom into something more.

One week later, we got a call from our son letting us know that he and the girl were not going to work out.

“Yeah,” our son reported, “I realized that the only thing we had in common was that we both thought she was pretty.”

The Kay whammy had struck again.

“What is the Kay whammy?” you ask.  It’s pretty simple, when our kids bring a special person home to meet our family, they either stay together for life and get married. Or, they break up within two weeks.

We are an intense family and we tend to drive away the faint of heart. But we are also a loving, loud and loquacious family and that attracts the brave hearts.

When it comes to a spouse, our kids look for certain qualities and when they get serious, we ask for a credit report.

I’m kidding.

Not really.

Knowing your future mate’s money habits is a significant part of deciding if they are a “forever” friend or not. Since “money matters” is cited as the #1 reason for divorce in America, it’s important to be on the same page regarding this topic. So far, all of our kids have opted for premarital counseling before the big day and this counseling should include the topic of money management.

Here’s a quick list of the financial topics that should be covered before you say I do.

8 Topics to Cover in Financial Premarital Counseling

Your Family of Origin’s Financial Situation

How did your parents manage money? What did they teach you about money? Chances are good you may manage your finances the way that your family did and this may be different from your significant other’s point of view. Did your parents save, believe in tithing, pay cash for everything or did they live paycheck to paycheck? Hashing out the differences, finding the similarities and developing a new plan for you and your spouse will be topics you cover under this heading.

Your Spend Plan

Do you currently have a budget? Go over both of your current budgets. If you don’t have one, then that is also a discussion point. Decide on what a new budget will look like for you as a couple when you are married. There’s a great app I use called Mint that can be accessed and updated by both parties at any time. This is especially good for military families who are apart but want to keep track of mutual spending.

 Holidays, Birthdays and Vacations

How do you spend money on vacations and holidays? Some families spend so much on Christmas, that it takes until the following May to pay off that debt. Others never take a family vacation. Our family had a low-key Christmas where each child got three modest gifts so the emphasis could stay on the Christ child. Then we went all out on their birthdays where the child was so celebrated that it became a highlight of the year for them. All these different approaches will impact your budget and your relationship.

 Born Spender or Saver?

What is your money personality? You could take the Money Harmony Quiz to see whether you are a born hoarder, spender, money monk, avoider or amasser.  Bob was a born spender, I was a born saver and we made it work nonetheless. But it took a lot of discussion and an action plan to learn to live in harmony with an opposite type of money personality.

 One Checkbook or Two?

Are you each going to keep your own checking account or are you going to combine them? Who will pay for which bill? What about savings accounts and credit cards? Will those be combined or remain separate? Now is a good time to download my free Sixty Minute Money Workout to help you learn how to discuss this topic and others within a time frame that minimizes conflict and maximizes the work you are doing in this area.

 Your Credit History or Debt

You and your significant other need to bring your credit reports to a premarital financial counseling session. Depending on what is there, it may be a wee bit uncomfortable. I married into 40K of consumer debt I didn’t know about and it had a huge impact on our lives together. Your mate may not count student loan debt as debt and you may find out there is an 80K loan that will impact your marriage. You can get a copy of your credit report, once a year, for free at Annual Credit Report and get one for each of the three reporting bureaus at this site. You can also get a copy of your credit score (different from a report) at Credit.com where they will also tell you ways to improve your score. Be prepared to enter your social security number to get this information. Talk about these debts and discuss a repayment plan.

Long Term Financial Priorities

My adult daughter says that life is about investing in experiences, not things. Her priority is travel over a newer car or designer clothes. Her husband’s priorities are slightly different because he’s a born saver. They learned how to discuss these diverse perspectives by doing a Sixty Minute Money Workout so they can get on the same page.  Your mate may want to buy a house as soon as possible and would forgo vacations to make that happen. You may not care that much about home ownership but really want to go home for the holidays. It’s important to discuss topics like housing, retirement, vacation and other long term goals before you get married. I like to say that you can have it all, but not at the same time. Bob and I chose to put our kids in private schools rather than drive new cars. Today, our kids are done with school and we drive the newer cars. We just have to choose the timing on our purchases.

 

Who Does the Math?

Someone is going to need to balance the checkbook, pay the bills and set up the budget. Yes, you should set up your spend plan together, you can even pay the bills together, but that’s usually the exception rather than the norm. One of you may be predisposed to balancing the books better than the other. One of you may actually enjoy paying the bills. In our family, I’m the financial expert and my husband flies jets, so you would think I balance the checkbook. But I also know that my husband needs to be aware of the bottom line because he’s the born spender, so he keeps the books and I review the statements. There needs to be a check and balance. One person should not have absolute control over the couple’s money. Sometimes, he who controls the money controls the house. So it’s important that both partners have access so that there’s no abuse of power.

Which of these topics have you already discussed with your significant other? Which topics still need to be explored? Set a day, time and topic to talk about money with your mate and don’t forget to get the free Sixty Minute Money Workout download.

 

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