Personal Finance Luminaries Series-Joe of Stacking Benjamins

Welcome to  in-depth interviews with the super stars of the on-line personal finance universe. These interviews educate and inform, offering a view into their successes and challenges. Gain insight into the world of successful online money bloggers. Check out the entire series of Personal Finance Luminaries.

Joe Saul-Sehy, founder of the recently re-branded Stacking Benjamins Podcast (formerly 2 Guys and Your Money Podcast) and newly launched Stacking is a web-entrepreneur who sold his profitable financial advising business to spread money information with a big dose of humor.

1. What is your personal finance philosophy?

When you plan a trip you start out by pulling out a map and finding the best route, restaurants, attractions and accommodations. People start their financial plans with products, which is backward. My philosophy is simple: your destination will guide your investment decisions, so start with a plan.

2. What are your 5 most important recommendations for those who want to build wealth?

Hmm…”important”! (Pressure!)

Whatever you think might go wrong probably will, so protect against that before you start building (that doesn’t mean buying insurance….it just means having a plan). Let the return you need guide your investment decisions. You’ll have to learn about fewer financial products that way.

You are what you think about. Surround yourself with people, books, podcasts and websites about building wealth and you’ll rise naturally.

Investing always comes down to a gut decision, but the real pros gather as much data as possible before pulling the trigger. That way, their gut decision is usually more accurate than an amateur who just “likes this stock. Top executives all have advisors. While you should be wary of bad financial advisors, you shouldn’t be afraid to hire good talent to work in your corner.

3. How would you advise your readers to best increase their income?

Ah! My pet peeve. Look for opportunities and go for it! As humans we aren’t made to multitask. I find people spinning their wheels failing at four different income sources rather than picking one and getting traction. Don’t let your side hustle disrupt your main income source. If you can’t find more income from your main employment source, work like a dog to make your side hustle your new employment. You’ll be happier and you can focus.

4. How are your family’s funds invested?

We have a 401k through my wife’s work and IRAs at a discount broker. We also have a non-qualified brokerage account, permanent and term life insurance. The permanent insurance we’re actually in the process of getting rid of. I’m not unhappy with permanent life coverage in the right situation…it just doesn’t fit anymore.

I keep a diverse portfolio. With bonds I will often use mutual funds to reach my goal. With stocks I’ll use ETFs. My portfolio is a mix of large cap, small cap and international investments. I’m fairly aggressive with my picks because I’m on top of my portfolio daily. I wouldn’t be so aggressive if I didn’t have this passion for financial topics.


5. Your Stacking Benjamins weekly Podcasts are educational, informative, and hilarious. What prompted you to start them and what are your goals for the podcasts?

Thanks! We had a lot of help from a pro named Barbara Friedberg!

We started the show because there was no relaxed podcast about finance that I could find, and that’s what I wanted to listen to. I love podcasts like the Nerdist, Filmspotting and The Dice Tower (yes, I’m a geek), but the financial arena is mostly call in shows like Dave Ramsey or heavier interview-only shows. I like Car Talk…a couple of guys laughing about a topic I’m not an expert on. So, Stacking Benjamins is that. It’s a magazine style show (meaning we switch topics about every 10 minutes) that runs about 70 minutes a week. We don’t expect people to listen to the whole thing, but if they do, I want our listeners to enjoy the ride.

Having fun is why we broadcast live from my mom’s basement, have a financial blogger chat every week, talk to people like Jean Chatzky (Money editor at Today), Pat Flynn (Smart Passive Income), Laura Vanderkam (What Successful People Do…. ebook series and USA Today writer), and discuss movies, news, and current events. It’s meant to be light and fun.

6. How will your readers benefit from  your new website Stacking Benjamins?

There are heavier sites. If you’re looking for 5 Ways to Rock Your Portfolio, I wouldn’t visit Stacking Benjamins. It’s more of the tone you get on my podcast, but in a written setting. My launch articles are “I Accidentally Shopped At J Crew,” which discusses customer service, Gap stock, and how not to run a company. Another is called “It’s Okay to Be Neurotic About Your Portfolio (No It Isn’t. Yes It Is. No It Isn’t. Yes It Is.)”  I’m hoping my visitors enjoy stopping by and enjoy some casual money talk. While you’re there you’ll learn a few things, I’m sure.

I love finance, but I can’t just listen to someone shouting tips in my ear all day; but if you tell me about how your trip to a high end retailer sucked (J Crew, I’m looking at you), I might learn at the same time. No real magic….just having fun and bringing you along for the ride.

7. What is your personal finance niche and how do you want to differentiate Stacking Benjamins from all the other personal finance sites?

We’ll always talk about planning as the place to start. You will go nowhere without a place to plan. From there, we tackle the six areas of financial planning and I try to share stories from the “insider” perspective from time to time because I’ve found people are interested in stories about some of the train wrecks that happen in a financial advisor office.

8. What made you decide to leave your former position as an Investment Advisor and become a full time web entrepreneur?

A good friend named Chris left financial advising suddenly a few years earlier. He sent out a note that said pretty much, “I’m not leaving for another job…I just know that there are other things I want to do and I’m still young enough to try and do those, too.” That memo spoke to me! I had kids a year away from high school at the time and I’d spent so much time away from them…. Plus I just wanted to see other things and I could feel the clock ticking. That happens when you help people with planning, you see the future as if it’s tomorrow, and I didn’t like just being a financial advisor and retiring. It wasn’t that I disliked financial planning, I love it. There were just many other things I wanted to try before I got too old. So, at the height of my career (I was on television, the radio, managed about $60M), I left the business and took the money I’d made off the practice sale and savings to do other things.

At first I was going to become a teacher. School was really easy, so I had plenty of free time and went to eLance to start writing articles for other people. Before I knew it, I was making money at a pace that beat a first year teacher and got to wear a tee shirt and shorts every day. How awesome was that??? I didn’t love writing for others, though, as much as I wanted to put my own spin on things, so I became a blogger. Now I’m headed (with the podcast and other in-process ventures) back toward the media end of finance even more heavily. That’s the part I miss the most from my “old days.”

9. What activities are you involved in now to create income? And what are your future income producing goals?

I have another website and two writing clients who help me pay the bills. The sale of my business helped greatly. It was a valuable business.

I’m not as worried now about income as I am about helping people get ahead. Stacking Benjamins will make money, but mostly because I’m a capitalist and earning money is what I like to do. We’ll offer online classes in the future and I have about 60,000 words finished on a financial planning book project. I feel that if I add value to people’s lives, my income will follow.

10. Who are your role models and what have you learned from them?

My friend Chris who I mentioned above (the guy who left planning) is a huge role model. He has now climbed Mt. Everest twice since leaving. I’ve learned that it’s about the journey from him.

I learned a ton about financial planning from a guy named Pat Bommarito. In my early career he was one of the top advisors in the Detroit area and I was lucky enough to house my office inside of his operation and see how a huge planning business works. He taught me that any work is about the systems, not passion or discipline.

In blogging, it’s eerie how much I’ve learned from Len Penzo. I’m lucky he’s on the podcast and that I can ask a guy so experienced and successful questions whenever I need help.

As far as role models that I don’t know….Keith Ferrazzi comes to mind. He’s such a networker and a community-minded guy that he helps someone as introverted as I am pretend to be an extrovert for hours at a time. It’s less exhausting when I think about his book, Never Eat Alone.

My parents are still great role models and friends. My father in law was a huge role model, too. They taught me the golden rule. You treat people the way you’d want to be treated. Karma’s a bitch. Don’t mess with it.

11. What is a typical day like for you?

Lately there’s no such thing! My kids are graduating from high school and I’ve been planning this new site, so it isn’t normal. BUT once that’s done, my model day works like this:

6 – Read about 15 blogs
6:30 – Run (I’ve run over 250 days in a row now, and it helps me think. This is also my podcast-listening time.)
7:30 – Write (I try to write at least 2k words a day, three days a week)
10 – Visit about 30 more blogs
11 – Community – I’m involved in a non-profit and some other projects…I try to get to this before lunch so I don’t lose all my creativity before thinking about them.
12 – Lunch & Play (I need a little play time to stay creative….the podcast and blog need me to be creative)
1 on – Blog work, technical reading (how to stuff), investment research and reading, podcast interviews and tweaks. Correspondence.
5 – Prep dinner for the family (I like doing this because it’s a nice stress reliever)
7 – Back to work for a couple hours, tying up loose ends and creating my final schedule for the following day

I work from a detailed timeline every day, but it changes all the time. However, it follows the parameters above EXCEPT on Tuesday and Thursday. In the morning OG and I record our part of the next week’s show and in the afternoon Cheryl has a half day at work, so we try to catch the first matinee movie.

On Thursday we record our round table with financial bloggers for the podcast and then on many weeks I go play board games with friends for the evening….if not, I spend the evening in the garage or playing games with my kids.

12. What are your most important initiatives and goals for your online business?

Right now, THIS is the most important part. Launching a new project is so important. I can either find readers and listeners retail (one or two at a time via search engine or stumbling through iTunes) or I can get the word out to lots of people at once.

When we changed the podcast from 2 Guys & Your Money and relaunched a few weeks ago to Stacking Benjamins, the launch went so well that our listenership went up 5 times. Last week we were #18 on iTunes business ahead of a guy named Jim Cramer.

Once the launch is done, I need to systematically work on delivering quality to my readers and listeners to make them want to come back and tell their friends to read/listen also.

13. What are your top 3-5 tips for staying organized and focused?

I’m not naturally organized, so I’ve learned to compensate.

  • I created a playlist of music that’s easy to work to because I’ve found that for me, light background music keeps my brain on task.
  • I work from a schedule that covers every minute. I spend more time creating the schedule than I do anything else. If I plan that well, then just follow the tasks, I’ll be successful. If I have to think about “what to do next” I’m screwed.
  • Exercise. My mind wanders a ton and my writing is horrible if I slack off.
  • I try to deal with everything that crosses my desk exactly one time. If I put it in a pile to “do later” it’ll never happen. I love that phrase, “If you can’t do it right the first time, when will you find time to do it again?”

14. If you had a do-over, what would it be?

I would have realized my potential earlier in my school life. I’m not the world’s smartest guy, but I’ve achieved a decent level of success, even though I was mostly a B student until I started paying for college myself. Interestingly, since then, I’ve had a 4.0 GPA. My parents never went to college so I didn’t have any frame of reference to work from when I went to school. I didn’t realize some keys that I’m teaching my kids like networking with professors and taking early morning classes so your day begins quickly and on the right foot. I wish I’d known that. Now I know that it’s so important to start out strong in life and set a good pace.

Stay with people who have similar goals and who strive to accomplish something. Me? I’m a guy who knew nobody and started from deep in left field. Take yourself seriously early on, because before you know it, you’re 45 years old with kids graduating!

Check out the entire series of Personal Finance Luminaries.

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