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How to be a Brand Ambassador: A Step-by-Step Guide-UPDATED!

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When I was a young mom with five children ten years old and younger, I launched a side hustle as a Brand Ambassador that eventually helped put all those kids through college debt free, and pay for their weddings. It also helped me gain financial independence, start a non-profit, Heroes at Home, to teach financial education to military families, and start a podcast called The Money Millhouse.

Who would have thought a side hustle could grow to become something so meaningful that could do all that?

That is the beauty of following your passion, developing your profession and living your purpose. You never know where a side hustle can lead.

My work in this space led me to be an advocate for new Brand Ambassadors in yet another new side hustle as a Boutique Brand Ambassador Agency.

We began to work with talent who have the skill set to earn a minimum of $5K per deal. We can afford to be choosy and will only work with Brand Ambassadors who are hard working (they can be trusted to get the deliverables completed on time), have high integrity (they won’t promote products that are bad for consumers or sell their mama for a buck), and they are dream talent for PR agencies and corporations (they exceed expectations).

There is a lot to know about this space, and you may be itching to get into it, which is why I created this comprehensive guide on how to be a Brand Ambassador. It is everything you need to know when breaking into this space.

How I got my start as a Brand Ambassador

When my five youngest kids were ten-years-old and under, they made their television debut in a New York local news segment entitled, “The Back to School Garage Sale Fashion Show.”

They strutted their stuff on camera, with sweet little smiles and childish eagerness as I described each item they wore. Then I shared the cost of these items at a Garage Sale versus retail. The overall savings was over $300.

When it came time for the youngest, three-year-old Joshua, to show us his shoes, he lifted his foot and showed the camera to bottom of his shoe. He was a natural.

We went to Dunkin Donuts to celebrate and life got even more exciting for them as one of the patrons recognized the kids from the segment they just watched on the news. “Hey, weren’t you kids just on television on the news?”

They handled their fame with quiet dignity and grace with Joshua shouting,

“I showed them my shoe” as he held up his foot to demonstrate.

They were celebs—for 15 minutes!

That weekly TV segment was a spot I secured several months earlier went I went on the local news to talk about a coupon seminar I was giving that would benefit a local food pantry. I had $200 worth of groceries on the set for which I paid $7.

After the segment ended, I pitched the idea of a weekly savings spot and the producer agreed.

The time came for my first segment, and I totally bombed. I didn’t realize that I needed to talk in short, sound bites for the 4-minute segment. My story went too long and I didn’t even get to my first tip.

It was horrible.

I dusted off my pride, practiced at home, and came back to nail it the next week.

And I nailed it every week for a year.

Those 50+ segments laid the groundwork for eventually becoming a spokesperson as I developed and grew my brand as “America’s Family Financial Expert” ® and “America’s Military Family Expert.” ™

I started as a young, homeschooling mother of many who began a side hustle of writing books and speaking while moving our herd every 1-2 years. As a military spouse, it was hard work while trying to balance a family and life as a mom with a spouse who was often gone.

But this side hustle surprised us all and grew into a six-figure income (working with 100+ brands).

It helped put all the kids through college (debt free), paid for weddings, and provided money in the bank for our financial independence. But it all started somewhere—it started small.

What is a Brand Ambassador?

Before we talk details, let’s look at the difference between a Spokesperson and a Brand Ambassador or Influencer. These terms are often used interchangeably, but amongst the people who work with brands, there is a difference.

Spokesperson

This was the original term for the person who spoke on behalf of an organization or a brand. It’s been a term that has been around over 30 years. A Spokesperson is the face that represents a corporation promoting a brand or product. Sometimes they are CEOs for a company or for a Foundation.

They are sometimes famous people. But the most common kind of Spokespersons are those who are experts in their field, unlike a celebrity spokesperson, who is usually not an expert. With celebrity spokespersons, the rates are quite high, whereas a non-famous expert is more affordable.

Spokespersons usually possess a wide variety of skill sets with a high level of expertise. They are authors or speakers, and are often adept at television and radio interviews. They are able to handle Satellite Media Tours (see SMTs below). They are well-spoken, polished schmoozers at trade shows, or are just good at “in person,” off-the-cuff desk-side interviews in New York City.

Brand Ambassador

With the emergence of social media, the Brand Ambassador, or Influencer, began to evolve.

Those with medium to large social media followings (usually 20K or more) were approached to mention brands, write blogs, and share on their social platforms. They didn’t necessarily to have all the skill sets of the traditional spokesperson.

If they could host a twitter chat with their 20K followers, then it didn’t matter that they couldn’t put two words together in front of a live audience of 500 people.

They could concentrate on their preferred skills within their comfort zone.

Are most brand ambassadors leaving money on the table by not developing ALL the skills found in the traditional Spokesperson?

Yes, they probably are.

But they can still make a good living as they get compensated for blogs, Facebook mentions, tweets, Instastories and Pinterest pins. They don’t have to be adept at television, radio or podcast interviews.

Brand Ambassadors don’t develop the corporate product or service, they simply promote it.

Brand Ambassador tip:

It can be easy for PR firms and their clients to take advantage of brands because most of the social media stand-outs were not familiar with contracts and rates. Most were not represented by agents. To avoid this, find an Agent to represent your contracts, find hidden fees, and get you the best price for the scope of work.

The Skill Set of A Six Figure Influencer

Here are the 5 components that will lead to a successful career as a Brand Ambassador. These have worked for me and my clients thought the years and have lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Brand Ambassador space. They may be different for you and your brand, but they serve as a good starting point.

Speaking

Learning to become a quality speaker was a component in some of the gigs I got.

For example, I did an event for U-Promise that required me to give a speech in New York City in front of 1,000 students and their families for the Jumpstart Coalition partnership where they unveiled the world’s largest piggy bank.

I have another client who gives sponsored speeches at Essence Fest in front of thousands of women and she rocks it every time.

Even today, after more than 2,000 paid speaking events, I still work on becoming a better speaker by receiving post-event debriefs from my Money Millhouse Podcast co-host, Bethany Bayless.

I don’t get my primary feedback from someone not familiar with the space. At this point in my career, I listen to experienced speakers who have my best interests in mind.

Eventually, I worked hard enough to earn the Toastmasters elite Accredited Speaker designation.

Brand Ambassador tip:

Develop your skill set, never stop working on it and remain teachable.

Books/Blogs

I published 15 royalty-based books with major publishers such as Random House, Simon Schuster and Harper Collins subsidiaries. My educational background was business and HR, and I didn’t have certifications such as a CFP, AFC or CPA.

I became an expert by investing 1,000 hours in research and writing each of my 50,000 word books (if you’re doing the math, that’s 15000 hours of research). I keep up-to-date with this blog, and most of the brand ambassador clients I work with have a blog as well.

Blogs can be sponsored by clients who pay them for a product mention. When a blogger makes the jump to books, it becomes a timely media hook that garners the interest of a brand for a potential partnership. A new book creates open doors in television, radio, podcasts, and for other projects.

A quick word about self-publishing and e-books versus royalty based publishers (those who pay YOU to write a book).

A royalty based book has greater weight and is more highly respected in the literary world than a self-published book. Anyone can self-publish if you have the money, but 99% of all book proposals are refused by royalty based publishers.

Brand Ambassador tip:

Make writing part of your platform and don’t exclusively rely on social media or speaking audiences.

Media

As I mentioned above, my time in New York on local media helped me develop a television skill set.

I also began radio interviews when my first book came out, and I learned the value of a hook to make my expertise media worthy and timely. Print media interviews as an SME (Subject Matter Expert) followed, as well as the launch of a very fun (slightly irreverent) financial podcast called The Money Millhouse.

All these components have been used a various deliverables in many of my 100+ contracts.

A great place to develop your media chops is at a conference, FinCon. Money Nerds unite every year at a conference where money and media meet. I have gained vital connections and relationships, as well knowledge and practical tools, at every FinCon I have attended.

The Money Millhouse Podcast with PT, the founder, is a greater introduction to this huge event being held in Washington D.C. this year. Be sure you use this link  if you register and a donation will be made to the non-profit, Heroes at Home.

Brand Ambassador tip:

Develop an informational one-sheet or media kit, listing your areas of expertise. Pitch them to various media outlets and use a service like HARO (Help A Reporter Out) to find potential media outlets.

Repeat Brand Ambassador Work

At least 50% of new contract are referrals or renewals of old contracts.

You will get more spokesperson work if you have already shown viability in the space. If a PR agency or a company likes what you delivered in an existing campaign, they’ll hire you again and again and again.

Brand Ambassador tip:

Become proficient in the various aspects of the Spokesperson skill set to leverage previous work and aim to exceed client expectations. Add “brand ambassador” or “spokesperson” to all your social platform bios as well as your website.

Social Following

I came into the spokesperson arena before social media and was able to get a lot of work even before social platforms became the norm for Brand Ambassadors or Influencers.

However, in the current landscape, building a (legitimate) audience is crucial to your success as a Brand Ambassador.

Increase your following by reading blogs on how to develop your social platforms. Google is your best friend when it comes to finding good, actionable advice out there.

Aim for at least 10K likes or followers on each of your platforms. It’s likely that one platform may exceed involvement than others. Your community may use Facebook more than Twitter or Instagram. You may have a YouTube channel that is very active or Instagram may be your forte.

While you’re building your social following, don’t neglect your email list. If you can build a significant list (aim for 8K for starters), then you’ll be more marketable in this space.

Brand Ambassador tip:

Engage in the kinds of conversations that generate involvement with your community and they will share with others. Don’t over sell on your social platforms or in emails as this will generate community fatigue and even alienation.

The Brand Ambassador Experience from Start to Finish

Step One: Initial PR Ping

The first outreach for a potential Influencer gig is usually a PR firm, who googles experts in the area they are researching (finance, beauty, mommy bloggers, chefs, etc). They then will send an email, fill out a contact message on your website or reach 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.

AND 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 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 messed it up because they didn’t know how to handle spokeswork.

The third time, I turned it over to my publisher’s marketing rep and discovered it is against policy for them to represent this kind of work—it’s a conflict of interest. In some cases, it’s even illegal.

Oops!

Thankfully, there was the fourth time a brand reached out. 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 my first contract with MasterCard.

She also garnered 25% of my earnings—but 75% of something was better for me than 100% of nothing.

20% commission is common for gigs that the agent brings the talent, and 15% is common for gigs that the talent brings the agent.

Eventually, I was catching items on contracts that my agent wasn’t catching. My business background allowed me to become a master at reading, negotiating and executing my own contracts. And I eventually began representing others on their contracts, as well.

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.

Brand Ambassador tip:

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

9 out of 10 initial “Pings” or inquiries from an employee at a PR firm or corporation do not progress past the initial inquiry.

If the Influencer or their agent who 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 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 who would take a deal just for the money. 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), which is not unusual.

Brand Ambassador tip:

Never endorse a product you don’t believe in. Put service first 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 Brand Ambassador, they will 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 (scope of work) in writing. Otherwise, there can be a he said/she said in terms of what the work the Brand Ambassador will be doing during step 4 or step 5.

There’s an art of negotiating a deal.

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.

You want to price yourself at the value you’re 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.

Brand Ambassador tip:

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 tip.

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.

It is this is the step where brands most often take advantage of the Brand Ambassador.

PR firms are in the business of getting the best value for their client–you can’t blame them for that. But it also means 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.

Brand Ambassador tip:

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

Step 5:  The Contract

Once you’ve navigated the negotiation, 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. Also understand that someone who may manage a Brand Ambassador may not be familiar with the pitfalls of a Brand Ambassador contract.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

But making sure 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 for one of my existing clients from a company 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!

All Brand Ambassador work should be paid. This is also why it is important to have your rates laid out ahead of time so you can refer back to them.

Brand Ambassador tip:

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

Characteristics of a Top Brand Ambassador

Good Brand Ambassadors do the work. If you want to keep getting hired over and over, make sure you are someone companies want to work with.  You will not go very far if you aren’t.

  • Great work ethic–Deliver on time or early. Period. No excuses. I had a prospective client who couldn’t keep her phone appointment with me three times. I know, why did I give her so many chances? My daughter says I’m too nice sometimes, but I like to believe the best in people. However, if she can’t keep a phone appointment with me, how could I trust her to manage the deliverables on a contract?
  • Great questions– A great Brand Ambassador knows the right questions to ask when working with a client. While I (the agent) ask all the deliverable and money questions (the talent doesn’t need to talk money when they have a representative), the client usually asks things like, “What are your expectations?” and, “How do you measure success?” She wants to know the client’s target so she can hit it every time.
  • Great Performance– Repeat work is a big part of income for a Brand Ambassador and getting a client to want you again and again is a gift. If you want to keep getting work, make it your goal to exceed a client’s expectations. This doesn’t mean doing extra work for free (I don’t let her). B it does mean being open to revising work, being flexible and a giving the client better results than they ever dreamed of getting.

The Upward Spiral for a Spokesperson

If you saw the recent A Star is Born with Bradley Cooper andLady Gaga, you know it is a painfully sad story of someone on top who works their way up and then enters a downward spiral to destitution and despair.

That same story can happen to Brand Ambassadors when they believe their own press, think they are better than others, or they let success go to their head.
But just as there is a downward spiral, I believe that there’s also an upward spiral that incorporates the adage, “success begets success.”

Here’s how that happens:

  • Start – The brand ambassadors start somewhere. Some of the best begin as bloggers, writers, podcasters, YouTubers, Instagram Influencers, media personalities, or speakers.
  • Skills – We already discussed the different skills, but the best of the best Brand Ambassador will move outside their comfort zone and develop additional skills. Some bloggers are afraid of public speaking—but a top 5% brand will go to Toastmasters and get over that fear. A skilled podcaster will learn to become a better writer. An old-school book author will learn about social media. They seek to become the EGOT of their space in the marketplace—achieving excellence in all areas.
  • Success – As they develop their skills, they get gigs and execute all the deliverables in their contracts with excellence—exceeding client expectations.
  • More Success – As they are successful in contracts, this leads to their ability to develop even more skills and confidence, which leads to more success. They remain teachable and realize there’s always room for improvement.
  • A Star is Born – Some of the most remarkable and successful spokespersons are people that will never achieve celebrity like Kendal Jenner, who gets a cool mil for an Instagram post. Nonetheless, these top 5% non-celeb spokespersons are stars, like my client Tiffany Aliche, because they are working it and getting better every day.

Deliverables

In the SOW (Scope of Work) and in your spokesperson contract, there will be an Appendix or a specific outline of what you are to deliver as well as the timeline (due dates) for those deliverables. When working for my brand ambassador clients, if these areas of the SOW or the contract we get from the corporation are not clearly defined, I’ll push back and ask for clarification.

Here are examples of the various kinds of deliverables that are part of a working brand ambassadors rate sheet:

  • Per day or part of general appearance day (national TV, local market media TV, print, radio interviews, trade show appearances, podcasts, press conferences, etc.); per pre-tour development day.
  • Per travel day, if required, prior to or following work days
  • SMT (Satellite TV Media Tour) day – These are one of the most lucrative aspects of a contract because they are VERY difficult and require the highest skill set for a spokesperson. You have to be 100% in your messaging (you deliver at least the primary client message in each and every interview.) You usually arrive in a studio at 4:30 a.m. (EST) for makeup and rehearsal, then you have your first media hit around 6:00 a.m. with a morning news show via Satellite. You continue this for 3-4 hours and anywhere from 10 to 35 TV shows. They key is to be upbeat, perky and consistently deliver messaging the entire time. These SMTs earn 3K for a neophyte up to 30K for a non-celebrity pro.
  • Keynote message (speaking)
  • Workshop/Seminar or Breakout Session
  • Panel (as a panelist or moderator)
  • Media training day – This is usually the day before you kick off a campaign or the day before an SMT or RMT. This rate is usually 2x a social post.
  • RMT (Radio Media Tour) day– This is where you are on 10 to 30 radio shows, back-to-back, delivering key messaging for your client. This are usually done from a landline from your home or office and you can even do these in your pajamas. They make about 10x what one social mention makes for you.
  • Facebook Live – A client will pay you to go live on either their platform or your own platform. To go live on the Influencer’s platform is a premium deliverable and is usually about 6x the cost of one social mention on Facebook. Make sure the contract doesn’t include a “Facebook Live” bundled into all the other social deliverables, because this item should rate more.
  • Email or Newsletter – Believe it or not, some clients still like newsletters or a blast of a promotion to your list. This is never free for the client and the price you get for doing this depends on how big your list is and your open rate (how many people open your email when you send it out).
  • Fully-sponsored podcast appearances – You can go on to a podcast like The Money Millhouse and if a sponsor is covering it, then you get paid to go on the show and mention the product, campaign or idea. Make sure to give disclosure about the partnership, but more about that in the FTC/Compliance section below.
  • Initial use of name and likeness and continued use – You should get paid for the use of your name and likeness. If the client wants to continue to use it on a social platform or a website, then they rent it monthly.
  • Webinar – These are very popular and can be sponsored as long as they don’t seem like a commercial. They need to be organic or your Brand Ambassador presence can quickly turn into that of a commercial huckster. Keeping it informational, educational and non-commercial is the key to see both the brand ambassador and the client succeed in this kind of partnership.
  • Pitching tips (up to 3 tips) – Separate from Interviews. You get paid to create pitches for media and then if the client pitches them and you get a hit, then you also get paid to go on the show (or the media.)
  • Branded Educational Content – helping companies develop education material as a public service is really hot these days. You step in to help develop this and you put a friendly face on a corporation so that this content is more human.
  • 5 Day Course – Pricing varies depending on deliverables, but you are creating the course for the brand and will get compensated accordingly.
  • Branded 1-sheet PDF with client links – this is a product that you create with the input from the client.
  • Video Series – you get paid per video and the length of the video needs to be defined. There’s a world of pricing difference between a 1 hour video and a 3-minute video.

Important Note on the Federal Trade Commission

I’m not an attorney, but I know how to read a brand ambassador contract. I’ve been known to catch more nonsense than our attorneys who are not working in this space full time. I read, push back and sign every contract that has my name on it for myself or my Brand Ambassador clients.

A big part of every contract is FTC disclosures.

In short, you have to disclose any material connection between you and the corporate client you are working alongside. You have to let your public know you are being compensated in some way, whether financially or materially. If you are in doubt about what this kind of disclosure looks like, then look at a recent letter written to influencers from a key official at the FTC and make sure you are in compliance.

The corporate contract will outline, specifically, how you are to disclose in the different forms of media. Follow that part of the contract as if your life depends on it—because your life as an Influencer does depend on following those rules.

Remember Your Why

As you navigate new territories in this space, remember why you are doing what you are doing.

If it’s all about the money with and that’s all you care about, then please don’t call me. I’m not interested in working with you. I want to work with people care about something more than money.

I entered into these waters as a side hustle from home, to supplement our family income and my own income as an author/speaker. I started as a mompreneur who saw that she was leaving money on the table.

I didn’t like that.

My goals were pretty simple: to send my kids through college (debt free) and to pay for their weddings. Along the way, I not only met those goals, but I was also able to reach financial independence and start a non-profit Heroes at Home, which provides free financial education to service members, veterans and their families.

Why do you want to do this?

Brand Ambassador tip:

Comparison is the thief of joy. You’re going to find amazing people doing amazing things in this space but remember that YOU are amazing, too! So have fun and run your own race.

Join the Movement

We are currently interviewing and selecting a core group of 20 current or potential influencers for the initial launch of a online and interactive course, “How to Earn A Six Figure Income As a Spokesperson / Brand Ambassador.”

This course will include one-on-one time with me as I help you evaluate where you are and where you want to go in this space. If you are interested in being considered for this core group at 50% off the retail price of the course, then please reach out on our contact form  or sent your resume directly to assistant@elliekay.com.

We will be in touch with an interview should you be a good fit for our core group.

It’s Academy Time! (#USAFA, #USNA, #USMA) – Part 3

The Resume and Essay

In the first two parts of this blog series, we talked about the steps you need to take to help your student maximize their opportunity to get into a service academy. In the third and final part of this blog series, as promised, we are sharing some additional examples of a resume and an essay that helped to successfully secure multiple nominations to multiple academies.

 

The Resume:

Once in high school, the resume fodder begins. Keep in mind that these schools are looking for the “whole person” approach and the resume will need to show accomplishments in academics, athletics, community involvement and leadership. Here is a sample of one of our son’s winning resume that garnered one million dollars in college scholarships from USNA ($425,000), USAFA ($425,000) and UCLA ROTC ($180,000).

Experience:

Lancaster City Youth Commission Chairman (this is legitimate, sworn-in commissioners for Lancaster City. It was after and application process, an interview, and a popular vote to get to chairman out of at least 50 top youth in the region)

Assistant Manager and tutor for Math Magicians in Quartz Hill  (July 2010-present)

Blockbuster Video (August 2009- August 2010)

Intern at the Honorable Buck McKeon’s office in Palmdale, (Summer of 2009)

Captain for DCHS Varsity Volleyball team for 2 years

Captain for DCHS Varsity Mathletes

Current Class Rank: 2 of 107

Cumulative, Unweighted GPA: 3.97, Weighted: 4.2

Over 1250 hours of volunteering since 9th grade

Summer of 2010

–  Attended the United States Air Force Academy Summer Seminar

–  Attended the United States Naval Academy Summer Seminar

2009-2010: Junior, Desert Christian High School

–  ASB, Activities Representative (Coordinator)

–  Vice President of CSF (California Scholarship Federation)(VP of 80+ members)(Is a position for a 12th grader, achieved in 11th grade)

–  Member of NHS (National Honor Society)

–  Varsity Cross Country (Runner, and Manager)

–  Varsity Soccer

–  Varsity Volleyball (Team Captain as Junior)

–  Varsity Mathletes (Starter)(year round)

–  Worship Team, Leader (In charge of 13 musicians), at Desert Christian High School, at The Highlands Christian Fellowship, and at Central Christian Church (playing Guitar, and Bass Guitar)

– Approved Tutor: Chemistry, Biology, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Physical Science, Math A, English 9, English 10, English 11, Spanish I, Spanish II, Spanish III

– Attended RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards)(Recommendation from School Administration, then accepted through application process)

Awards for Junior Year:

–  United States Achievement Academy: National History and Government Award in AP United States History

–  United States Achievement Academy: National Leadership Merit Award in Leadership

–  United States Achievement Academy: National Leadership and Service Award for being an All American Scholar

– ACSI Distinguished High School Student for outstanding Achievement in both Academics and for Leadership

(Note: All of these awards are based of raw data [grades, service hours, activities, demonstrated leadership] as well as multiple teacher recommendations. During this awards night, I was one of 3 people, of 400, to receive the last two awards)

2008-2009:, Sophomore, Desert Christian High School

– Varsity Volleyball

– Junior Varsity Mathletes, (Team Captain)

– Worship Team

– Honors English 10, Algebra II, Chemistry (All advanced courses, the only ones offered)

– World History, Spanish II

– California Scholarship Federation, Cabinet, Sophomore Class Representative (3.5 GPA and above)

– National Honor Society (3.2 GPA and above)

– National Honor Roll Award

– Chemistry, Biology, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Physical Science, Math A, English 9, English 10, English 11, Spanish I, Spanish II

2007-2008:, Freshman, Desert Christian High School

– JV Volleyball

– JV Mathletes

– National Honor Roll Award: Academics, Honor Roll

– Honors English 9, Geometry, Biology, Advanced String Ensemble-Cello (All advanced courses, the only ones offered)

– Spanish I, Freshman Studies (Speech and Health)

– California Scholarship Federation

– Worship Team Member

Education:

– Graduate, Desert Christian Middle School, 4.0 GPA (All A’s, no weighted classes offered)

-Student, Desert Christian High School. Expected graduation: June 2011

Special Awards/Recognition:

– National Honor Roll Award: Academics, Honor Roll

– International Foreign Language Award: Spanish

– Presidential Award for Academic Excellence

– Mathletes, Team Captain, 2007-2008, 2008-2009

– Student of the Month: Leadership (Freshman and Sophomore Year)

– Student of the Month: Genuineness (Junior Year)

– Desert Christian High School Letters:

-Varsity Cross Country, Soccer, Volleyball (2 years)

-Fine Arts (Advanced Strings Ensemble)

-Academics (3.5 or higher) (6 of 6 possible Semesters)

-CSF

-NHS

-Clubs

-Principle’s List: Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years

The Essay:

It’s never too early to begin to think about what you would like to write in your admissions application essay. These are very important and should be well thought out before submitting. Be sure to have you liaison officer review it before you submit it or ask an academy graduate to help. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a faculty member from your school review it as well. More eyes on the project can mean a broader perspective, but it still needs to be your own voice, so you will have the final word on the essay.

The following is an essay that garnered another one of our son’s appointments to both USNA ($425,000) and USMA ($425,000) .

The Essay – Following in a Father’s Footsteps

In the military lifestyle, heroes beget heroes. There are so many families that have a history of military service, and oftentimes, military “brats” will grow into adults who have the desire to serve, as well. Here’s is Philip’s essay:

Growing up in a military home, I saw very little of my father at times. As an officer, he was often gone taking care of his troops, performing his duties, and faithfully serving his country. I never truly understood why he did what he did until his dream became mine. When I walked on the campus of the Naval Academy this past summer during the Summer Leadership Seminar, I saw greatness. I saw an institution that taught men and women to be leaders, thinkers, and people of character. But most important, I saw my cadet commanders as men of high leadership with a servant’s heart. They put our comfort ahead of their own, as my father did with his men.

All my life I have dreamed of one day leading hundreds or possibly thousands of men and women. I have sacrificed much in the process of becoming a competitive candidate for the academy. It was not Summer Leadership School that made me want to be in the military, it was my father’s integrity and service. However, it was the midshipmen that I met that made me determined to attend Annapolis. It was my goal to become an officer; now it is my goal to become a warrior and a gentleman, in the finest sense of the word. To learn “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.” I desire to carry on the legacy of the service academies and to achieve a sense of accomplishment that no other college or career can offer.

Many nights I would stay up late, wondering if my father would come home or be deployed. I wondered if he was okay, or if it was his life that had been taken in one of the plane accidents that occurred in his various Air Force squadrons. However, these experiences did not make me turn against the military—it was quite the opposite. I began to see my father as someone very different from my friends’ fathers. I saw him as a warrior and a true hero. So many times I read about or see the actions of evil men. These are men who would not hesitate to strike down those whom I have come to love and cherish. I knew there was only one thing standing between me and those men—it was my dad. It was men like my father and those with whom he served that rose to stand up to people who seek to destroy everything we hold dear. I knew that I was called to be one of those men who took a stand, and I know it is the service academies that will teach me to stand, and to stand strong and proud.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s Academy Time! (#USAFA, #USNA, #USMA) – Part 1

This is the Academy time of the year—no I don’t mean the heat of summer, although this time of year is lovely in Southern California. But I mean it’s the time of the year when students begin to fill out applications to compete to get a little piece of paper in the mail worth more than $425,000. This would be an appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, the Naval Academy in Annapolis, West Point in New York or the Merchant Marine Academy and the Coast Guard Academy.

As both an ALO (Admission Liaison Officer for the Air Force Academy) and a mom of three sons who went to academies, I’m here to say that this is a VERY exciting time for applicants to work toward their appointment! I remember when my sons received theirs, we ate on “Happy Plates” (a Kay family tradition when we celebrate a family member achievement). If someone in your world is interested in pursuing this kind of a dream, then share the following insiders tips with them to maximize their opportunities to succeed.

 

Service Academies and Military Funded Education

A couple of our sons garnered one million dollars in scholarship offers, and in both cases two of those offers were from federal service academies.  These are highly competitive and look at the whole person. So it’s not enough to be a brainiac, they are also looking for students who are exceptional in the area of athletics, community involvement and leadership.  In return for this amazing education valued at $425,000, your student will be required to serve in the military for their “commitment” period. The commitment is a minimum of 5 years of service and can be longer, depending on a number of factors in regards to additional training after graduation. For example, our Air Force Academy grad owes 10 years of service because he went to pilot training to fly the F15E Strike Eagle.  If you have a “hero at home” who wants to go to a service academy, there are several things to keep in mind.

One of the first places to visit is your service academy’s admissions site:

USAFA – The United States Air Force Academy

USNA – The United States Naval Academy

USMA — The United States Military Academy

USMMA (Merchant Marine)

Coast Guard Academy (does not require a congressional nomination)

From Prospect to Appointee:  

  • Prospect:  A student who has filled out the initial response form showing interest. This means they are essentially on an admissions mailing list. You can fill this out as early as middle school by going to the academy’s website.
  • Applicant: The individual has filled out a pre-candidate questionnaire and provided initial info on PSAT/SAT/ACT scores, grades and extra-curricular activities. This is usually done NO LATER than the spring of their junior year. This is also the time to contact your congressman and senator in regards to a nomination. In addition, if the student’s parent is qualified for a Presidential nomination, (see nominations and appointments below) then the student can contact the academy directly to pursue this nomination as well.
  • Candidate: To move from applicant to candidate indicates that you have cleared your first competitive hurdle. This step is decided by the Academies admissions staff in the early summer of a student’s Senior year. Not all students will get to this point, but this is when they will be interviewed by the Academy Liaison Officer (or the equivalent). It is from this list that appointments will be offered as early as the fall. For example, one of our sons was offered an USNA appointment by October.
  • Appointee – This means that the candidate has been offered an appointment into the Academy. They can choose to accept it or turn it down, but it means they have not only received an official nomination, but they have also been approved by the Academy’s admissions board and offered an actual appointment.

Basic Requirements

It’s important to check the specific military academy website for updated information on your desired academy, but in general, here are the basics that you will need before you even consider applying:

  • A United States citizen
  • Unmarried with no dependants
  • Of good moral character
  • At least 17, but not past your 23rd birthday by July 1 of the year entering.

Recommendations

Because it is so incredibly competitive to gain entry into a service academy, the following high school courses will help make the applicant more competitive:

  • Four years of English
  • Four year of college-prep math
  • Four years of lab science
  • Three years of social studies
  • Two years of a foreign language
  • One year of computer study

Character

One of the academies defines character as “One’s moral compass, the sum of those qualities of moral excellence which compel a person to do the right thing despite pressure or temptations to the contrary.” (USAFA) They also define leadership as “The process of influencing people and being responsible for the care of followers while accomplishing a common mission.”  These academies are looking for future leaders with the highest moral character possible.

Diversity

Academies are looking for people from a wide variety of life experiences and the word “diversity” at these institutions no longer applies exclusively to race or cultural background. USAFA defines diversity as: “a composite of individual characteristics that includes personal life experiences (including having overcome adversity by personal efforts), geographic background (e.g., region, rural, suburban, urban), socioeconomic background, cultural knowledge, educational background (including academic excellence, and whether an individual would be a first generation college student), work background (including prior enlisted service), language abilities (with particular emphasis on languages of strategic importance to the Air Force), physical abilities (including athletic prowess), philosophical/spiritual perspectives, age, race, ethnicity and gender.

Join us again for part two of this blog series when we will cover nominations and appointments, The Liaison Officer, and Summer Leadership Programs. Please share this blog with someone you know would love to attend a service academy and who has the potential to be among the best and brightest in our nation who will be offered appointments.

Mother’s Day and Working Mom’s – What Is Your Time Worth?

When I married my husband we had five babies in seven years and moved eleven times in thirteen years. I also had two stepdaughters for a total of 7 children to support. I left a nice job as a broker to have a more rewarding career as a SAHM (stay at home mom). One of the questions that I frequently heard was: “Do you work?”

“What do you mean do I work?” I would think even though I politely answered, “Yes, I work very hard as a stay at home mom.” Sometimes, an unsuspecting troglodyte would go on to say something totally thoughtless such as “Well, I meant do you really work. Do you have a job?”

I would bite my tongue until it bled….

What I wanted to say was, “What do you mean do I really work? I work a heck of a lot harder that you do, mister! I’m an accountant, a contract administrator, a chauffeur, a teacher, a nurse, a soccer mom, a stylist, a wife, and a chef! Plus ten other job specialties! I do all these things as a mom—I’M A CEO MOM, MISTER!”

They usually didn’t ask the same question twice.

These days, as a financial writer & speaker, the Founder of Heroes at Home, podcast co-host at The Money Millhouse, a Admissions Liaison Officer, —and a mom, I’ve talked with scores of spouses who work outside the home because of the status of our economy and by necessity–not choice.

Each year, Salary.com issues a report on what a mom’s time is really worth. According to this site, “Based on a survey of more than 40,000 mothers, Salary.com determined that the time mothers spend performing 10 typical job functions would equate to an annual salary of $112,962 for a stay-at-home mom.  That’s a lot of worth associated with this great job of motherhood!

What is your time worth? You can log into a calculator that tells you what you would be paid on the economy for all the work you do as a SAHM or as a mom who also works outside the home and inside the home!

How effective is the mom’s work outside the home? Does it pay to work in today’s economy with rising prices and a modest hourly wage? Many spouses who move frequently do not often have the luxury of annual pay raises at the same company. For example, let’s look at Jennifer.

Jennifer was an administrative assistant who needed to work outside the home to make ends meet. She made an average wage of $9.50 per hour and felt she contributed greatly to the family’s finances. She only had one child in day care, traveled a short distance to work, and paid no state income taxes. Then Jennifer attended one of my Living Rich for Less seminars and was challenged with the idea of “crunching the numbers.” She completed the “Working Mom’s Compensation Chart” and was shocked.

The amazing fact Jennifer discovered was, by working full time–she was making $3 per week! She didn’t realize how those extra pizza nights (because she was too tired to cook), and the trips to the beauty salon (to maintain a professional hairstyle), and all those lunches (away from home) added up! She realized she needed to make some dramatic adjustments. She decided there was a better use of her energy and quit her job outside the home.

But Jennifer didn’t stop there. She implemented some money savings strategies found on this blog and is making ends meet at home. She has less stress in her life and the freedom to contribute to her family’s financial needs through saving money and by launching her own homebased writing business. In her case, a penny saved was more than a penny earned.

For more info on how to  plan for  a new baby,

listen to The Money Millhouse  episode with Tonya Rapley  

Once you come up with a figure, ask the big question. Is my time, energy and effort worth ______ dollars a week? It may be worth it and that’s great for you if it’s your choice.

Whether you are a SAHM or a mom who works outside the home—you’re work is priceless in terms of all you do for your family and for others. You deserve a Happy Mother’s Day! Thanks for your hard work, you’re leaving a legacy through your children that will last for decades to come.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

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.

 

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thankful Traditions

The Kay family photo for Woman’s Day magazine.

Not every “savings” can be measured in dollars and cents. One of the things we emphasized in our family is the saving of memories. Our Thankful Tree was featured in a Woman’s Day magazine one year. It took two photographers 8 rolls of film and four hours to get one 3 x 5 photo in the magazine. Joshua was missing for one roll of film and we didn’t notice until we saw him making faces from behindthe photographers and we asked, “What are you doing back there?”

The tip we gave is how we’ve stayed in touch with family and friends during this holiday. On November 1st, we made a Thankful Tree on poster board and put it on our wall or front door. The tree was bare because the leaves that we made out of construction paper have not yet been gathered. The leaves have the person’s name on them and say, “Papa is thankful for _________.” But we left the tree bare at the beginning of the season to teach the children how barren our lives are without the giving of thanks.

We made and sent the leaves to friends and family around the world along with a self-addressed envelope. When these envelopes came back, the children got excited as they took turns opening them. At dinner that night, we read the leaf and give thanks along with those who are thankful and put the leaf on our tree. By Thanksgiving Day, we had a tree full of thanks. We carefully saved the leaves in an envelope marked by the year and kept all in our Thanksgiving decoration box. Each year, we read the leaves from past years.

We never know when this year’s leaf might be someone’s last, or which family might have a new leaf on next year’s tree. So we give thanks.  These days, we gather “thankful comments” from facebook, email and twitter, but the point is we are connecting with friends and family in a meaningful way.

This holiday, what are YOU thankful for?  Besides our health and our family, we are thankful for two weddings this year, healthy grandchildren, and the chance to be together during the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ellie Kay

 

8 Ways to Thank a Veteran Today and Every Day

 

As far a military families go, I’m brat, a grandbrat, a wifebrat and a mombrat. Yes, military service runs deep in the Kay family. My Grampa died as an aircrew member in WWII; my dad retired as a Chief Master SGT in the US Air Force; my hubby flew fighter aircraft in the Air Force for 30 years; one of my sons graduated from the Naval Academy and is an active duty Marine; another son graduated this year from the United States Air Force Academy and is at pilot training; and my youngest son is a junior at WestPoint. So when it comes to thanking our troops for their service, I really appreciate those of you who take the time to say thanks.  Here are some more easy ways to express your appreciation:

1.       Say “Thanks” – The fact that you are reading this blog, indicates that you probably already thank those in uniform when you see them. When people say “Thank you for your service” to my Marine son, he responds with, “Proud to serve.”  Be sure to also thank family members, including parents of service members, for the way they serve by supporting their military members. You can also say thanks by donating to Heroes at Home, which provides financial readiness for military readiness. In our Heroes at Home events I explain that when people say thanks to them, it’s their way of being patriotic.

2.      Say “Welcome Home” – As we all know, the Vietnam War was not a popular conflict, and those who served were greeted with jeers, taunts or just plain apathy. There are also those who returned from the Korean War who were never properly welcomed back. So when you see an older vet, ask them what war they served in and if it’s one of those two, then ask one more question, “Were you ever welcomed home?” If they say, “no” then simply say, “Well you have been now, welcome home soldier, thank you for your service.” I’ve done this many times and all were deeply thankful for the sentiments, and some were so deeply moved, they even had tears in their eyes. In our Heroes at Home Events, I encourage our young service members to welcome home these Veterans and just how much it means for someone currently serving to thank those who have served.

3.      Pick Up Dinner – Every year, restaurants give free meals and discounts for Veterans and those who are serving now and at The Military Wallet, you can get this year’s update. But why not keep it going year round? Once a year, or more, depending on your budget, pay for a military member’s meal. You may see a service member with his or her family or a group of military dudes and dudettes in a small group at a restaurant. Don’t go up to the soldier, sailor or airman to ask if you can pay for their meal. Instead, go to the manager or the waitress and ask for their bill, then pay it as you leave and tell the waitress to give them a simple message: “Thank you for your service.”

4.       Operation Gratitude – During Veterans day week, our USAFA parents club volunteered to help put together care packages for the troops. Lots of volunteers put together over 7,000 care packages in one day! Each time I went through the assembly line with my boxes, it took all my self control not to slip that package of Rocky Mountain Factory fudge into my pocket. You can also donate DVDs, Girl Scout cookies, trial-sized toiletries, candy, scarves, gloves, small stuffed animals, books and more to the effort.

5.      Mow A Yard – Or rake leaves, or plant rosebushes, or paint an outhouse, or… you get the idea, for the military family of a deployed service member in your neighborhood, church or community.  When Bob was gone and I was left home alone with a house full of kids, I really appreciated that help. The best help comes from people you know, where that military family is comfortable knowing you are not a creeper!

6.      Donate Your Old Cell – If you are like most of the Kay family members, you get a new phone about once every 18 months or so (it seems to be an inalienable right in our clan). Instead of trading in when you trade up, give it to Cell Phones for Soldiers.

7.      Calling All Coupon Queens – I started out in the financial area as a Coupon Queen and eventually evolved to “America’s Family Financial Expert” ®. Along the way, I’ve encouraged families to donate their expired coupons to military units overseas. They can use your castoffs for up to six months past the expiration date. For more information, email us at assistant@elliekay.com and put “Expired Coupons” in the subject line.


8.     
Care for Critters – If you are like my hubby, you are a critter person. He sits in his easy chair each evening and instantly—voila!—three mini schnauzers appear in his lap. They were his constant pet therapy when he broke his back a couple years ago, thereby ending his career as a fighter pilot. If you love critters, then you can offer to provide foster care by taking in a dog or cat of a wounded or deployed military member while he or she is receiving medical treatment or on duty.  For more on this, go to Guardian Angels for Soldiers.

Thank you to all our Veterans and their families, and a special thanks to my husband, LTC Bob Kay, the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot for his 30 years of service, to my Marine, Airman and Soldier. I’m so proud of all of you!

Ellie Kay

www.elliekay.com

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.”

Characteristics of a Hero at Home

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Are you a Hero at Home? There are all kinds of heroes and I remember when my Marine came home from Afghanistan. We waited for hours in anticipation 100 degree weather in dusty 29 Palms, listening for the announcement their company was on its way. What a thrill it was to see his platoon marching up the road after 7 months of praying, worrying, emailing, skyping, waiting, and hoping he and his men came back unscathed. As we sat there amongst various, mostly young families, I couldn’t help but notice the strong heroes around me. There were women who held down the fort while their husbands were away, there were babies who had not met their fathers yet, and there were Moms, like me, who were waiting for the hero they raised to return home. All of these people are heroes at home–those who fight behind the scenes to keep our heroes in uniform safe on the field.

Characteristics of a Hero at Home

I’ve heard it said that if you follow your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well, my passion is military families because we are one! I’ve given over 500 presentations of my “Heroes at Home” Financial Event in six countries and dozens of states including Hawaii (what a hardship tour that was!). In each and every venue I get to meet military members, spouses, kids and parents who love America and know what it means to serve.

I’ve been asked to please post the Top Ten Characteristics of a Hero at Home as a written version of what I speak about in these military venues. So today’s blog is dedicated to you, the hero at home. You may have your servicemember with you, they may be deployed, or they may be due back home any day.

The Top Ten Qualities of a Hidden Hero

1. Sense of Humor: An ability to laugh at oneself and with each other.

2. Flexibility: What it’s called when you create an elaborate candlelight dinner and farm out the kids for the night, and your husband calls to say he’s not coming home because they have an inspection coming up.

3. Courageous: The ability to wave good-bye for the two-hundredth time, fight back the tears, smile, and say, “I love you, I’m proud of you, and I’ll be all right.”

4. Extraordinary: An ability to move fifteen thousand pounds of household goods in twenty-four hours.

5. Strong: Nerves of steel (for all those close calls and near misses).

6. Patriotic: Unashamed to shed a tear during the presentation of the colors or the singing of the national anthem.

7. Faith-Full: Brimming over with faith in God and true to your country.

8. Independent: Confident during solo parenting gigs, but ready to move to interdependence when the spouse comes back home.

9. Acronym Reader: The ability to decode three-letter acronyms (TDY, PCS, UOD, MRE, OIC, SOF, BDU, SOL, etc.).

10. Superhero: The capability to conquer new lands, stay in touch with old friends, keep the home fires burning, jump buildings in a single bound, and stay out of the funny farm.

Which characteristic is your favorite and which one do you need to work on today?

Summer Jobs For Kids

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Nifty Ways for Kids to Earn Money This Summer

The first job my sons Daniel and Philip ever had was a paper route. It gave them something to do during the summer, helped them start managing their finances and was even a little fun (at first). While we said they could only do it if they committed to it for a year, they occasionally passed duties on to their younger brothers, Jonathan (age 7 at the time) and Joshua (age 6).

While mama (age undisclosed) did the driving, the little boys did the delivering. On Joshua’s very first house, he grabbed the paper in his tight fist, barreled up the sidewalk, got his arm into an admirable wind-up and pitched the paper on top of the house! Rooftop-bound periodicals aside, allowing your kids to earn money can be a fun and prosperous adventure, as long as you’re willing to supervise them. Simply set boundaries that are appropriate and let them go to work.

Here are some great ideas to help your kids raise their own cash this summer while enjoying the benefits of earning, saving and sharing:

  • Rent-A-Kid – If you, a church or neighbor (someone you know) needs any odd jobs done, this is a great idea. When advertising the service, it’s important to plan early and be specific, polite and careful. You can even help your child make a small business card on the computer!
  • Washing cars and/or windows – This can be advertised similar to the Rent-A-Kid idea and only requires suds, soap and elbow grease. Focus on safe neighborhoods and quality work. Always accompany your child until you know the employer better.
  • Babysitting – A popular choice for young guys and girls, safety is key for this job. Encourage your child to take a babysitting/CPR course and babysitting people you know. Also, if they keep the house tidy and the kids happy, it can lead to repeat business.
  • Caring for pets – Since summer is a popular time for vacations, people are usually looking for affordable ways to care for their pets. For kids who like animals, this is perfect. Recommend they pass out flyers and visit the animal before they take the job.
  • Mowing lawns – For older kids, this is a go-to summer job and an excellent source of income. It can be dangerous, so it’s important to exercise caution and safety. Make sure they have the proper supply and safety gear and encourage a job well done (the best form of advertising).
  • Making and selling candy or drinks – Everyone loves candy, cool drinks and cookies/cakes, so this is a great option for the future chef. With permission, you can sell at sporting events, church bazaars, carnivals, festivals or farmer’s markets.

Before your kids take on a job this summer, be sure to think about safety, age-appropriate work, training, quality and following through. And after they’re finished, praise them for a job well done! Be sure they are working for family members or trusted friends and feel free to supervise their work by tagging along as long as they are young enough to need you!

What kind of summer job did you do as a kid?

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

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