Why I’m choosing not to aggressively pay down my student loan

Well – I suppose it’s time to get a little personal. There’s no real way I can meet my goal of writing a couple of articles a week without delving into my life, so we might as well get started now.

I’m an MBA student (on top of a full time job, and two kids under 2 years old – life is, um, interesting right now). I’ll be done with classes in October, so I’m about a year and a half in. And I have the loans to go along with that. Fortunately, I’m not going to top-tier B School, so I’m not six figures in the hole for this education, but it’s also not insignificant. Until this month, I’ve been hustling to pay the loans down as quickly as possible.

So, why did that change? Well, since the birth of my daughter, I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals and the processes to get there. I’ve done quite a bit of reading, and spent a good amount of time thinking about what I am REALLY looking for when I set goals. As it turns out, paying off my student loan in 2014 is just a function of a deeper desire – a desire for security for my family.

Now, I need to qualify what I’m about to say, because it doesn’t work for everyone. I am, by any measure, fortunate. My wife and I have stable jobs that we love. We have a wonderful support system, and we’ve been pretty disciplined with our budget and avoided any significant amount of debt (other than our mortgage, and my student loan). These factors are key, because that means that this particular monthly payment isn’t really a stress point for us.

As I was making this month’s payment (pre-payment actually, I’m not scheduled to start repayment for a year) – I realized that it wasn’t really making me feel better about what I really want. So, instead, I made some adjustments to my pretty extensive personal finance spreadsheet, and figured out that I’m better off taking the amount I’d aggressively pay in to the loan, and simply saving it.

Why? Well, for the amount I owe, the interest over the 2-year horizon I now have to pay it off is minimal. Especially when you consider that interest is tax deductible. Also, the safety net fund in my Betterment account is pacing towards beating the interest rate on the money I owe. Essentially, I break even.

HOWEVER – what I have at the end of this year is now a decent pile of cash to fix a car, pay a medical bill (because with kids you get one of those about every 3 weeks), cover a month of daycare, or keep this whole ship afloat in case of a real disaster. I get peace of mind.

Just to recap, this works IN MY SITUATION. It’s not for everyone, and in fact, for most people, getting 100% out of debt quickly is the way to go. I’ve gone that route before, and it works. But, in this case, I can achieve the same thing on my family’s balance sheet – but with extra security in the short term and (hopefully) the magic of compounding interest in the long term.

What we learn from a list of trusted brands

I ran across this piece today on the top 120 most trusted brands, brought to you by Entrepreneur Magazine.

I glanced over it, nodding my head – when a little spark fired up in my brain, and I noticed something. All of these brands (for the most part) have some things in common:

1) Many can be considered “luxury”, or “non-discount” at the very least.
2) Many present an opportunity for a “look-at-me” moment (elevating social status vs. peers)
3) Many sell a product that can be used as “therapy” – food, booze, escapism, excessive shopping
4) Brands that don’t fit #1,#2, or #3 are known for on-site, in-person service
5) There a couple outliers – Subway and Verizon

These led me to question – do people create an affinity for a brand through some sort of dopamine response? I’m sure someone has done a study on this, and I’ll do a little digging and see if I can find one. One thing is for sure though – if your brand can make people feel better about themselves (even if it’s just in the short term), it’s much easier to make them love you.

Something else I found fascinating – respondents to this survey didn’t “trust” the people who handled their money, insure their homes, or produce the automobiles their children ride in. So, how can these companies achieve a place of note in the psyche of their target customers?

That’s something I’ll have to explore further. For now, I just want to share the observation and the questions it raised.

Feed the Eagles…

Wasted Time.

Few things will kill morale more quickly. Either in endless meetings where nothing meaningful happens, or at the end of a day spent putting out meaningless fires – sometimes you look up and realize that an entire day of your productivity has drifted off into the ether. It can be disheartening.

Or, how about dealing with that person that just wants gossip for 15 minutes, or wants to pull a team together to hash out details of a project she could (and should) simply decide alone. Come one, you’re thinking of someone right now – because this happens in every workplace.

You’re a high performer. You care deeply about your work – and you’re good at it. How do you spend the vast majority of your time working on things that make an impact? Challenge and decline meeting invitations. Empower people to make decisions without your input (and back them up). Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask if this is worth the time being spent on it. Take a stand.

I like to call this “working at scale” – focusing the bulk of your energy on tasks and ideas that move the dial. I read a great article that summed it up even better – “Feed the eagles, starve the turkeys.”

Go forth – feed the eagles!

Bias for Action

What’s the one thing I think is holding talented marketing teams from being elite? What’s keeping brilliant marketing craftsmen from making huge impacts on their organization?

A Bias For Inaction.

It’s a symptom I’ve seen far too often in my work with clients and as cog in the corporate machine. Talented teams will spend days agonizing over minute creative details as opposed to being focused on making things happen.

In the world of online marketing, it’s almost always better to get your creative done faster, launch your campaigns earlier, or fire up your website more quickly.

Why? Well, assuming you have your messaging mostly correct, and you’ve cleared all the internal compliance hurdles (if there are any), and done a good job of proofreading – the risk of not being 100% perfect is WAY less than the risk of letting that email campaign sit on a shelf for another day.

It’s Pareto’s principle at its finest – 80% of the time spent agonizing over a font selection or shade of blue in your header yields 20% of your performance (actually, it’s a lot less than that). Given the low cost of running multiple iterations of a campaign piece – it’s madness to shelve your PPC ads for another day waiting to get them just right.

It’s even more important when you realize that when you’re deciding which color submit button will drive the most conversions – you don’t REALLY know. You’re just arguing opinions. Hopefully, you have enough data and have done enough research to have a good idea (it’s orange), and are using that as a baseline…..then the only sane move is to test, analyze, and base your decision on that.

In summary – if you want to make your marketing team the best it can be, simply remove the fear of failure, insist upon swift and agile campaign launches, and base creative decisions on data and testing. If you do that, you can leverage the true power of online marketing, which is combining huge reach with deep targeting, and easy testing and optimization.

Sub Topic: Changing for change’s sake.
For the love of all things holy, if your designer starts significantly switching up email creatives, banners, or your website design and doesn’t have data to back up that decision – put a stop to it. When we’re neck deep in campaigns every day, things get boring…however, your end user isn’t seeing the same creative over and over, they are seeing it only a few times. The only time you should be making fundamental creative changes is for testing and optimization, or if your data is saying your campaign performance is starting to slip.

Kansas City Area Tornadoes

While preparing a delicious and healthy grilled dinner for my family, I noticed storm clouds brewing on the horizon. By the time all the cooking was done, the wind had picked up and I barely got the pork chops in before the rain started. It was nothing too exceptional for early May in Kansas.

Once the dishes were done and we were winding down for a relaxing Sunday evening, my wife glanced out the back door and said “Honey, you might want to come look at this…” at the precise moment tornado sirens started to wail.

What was waiting for me outside?

That folks, is the first funnel cloud I’ve ever seen in person. At this time, it was a couple miles away, and the storm spotters had already determined our house was likely outside of the path of any real damage. That did nothing to alleviate our fear – and we hustled our dog and ourselves down to the basement.

Ultimately, nothing of any consequence occurred. We waited in the basement, then made our way back upstairs after the danger passed and had a few chuckles with our family over getting to see it.

You may find yourself asking, “Why is this important then?” Well, it’s one of the first times I was able to confront the fear of something bad happening to my wife and my soon-to-be son. I’m sure there will be thousands of times in the next 50+ years where I have to face the reality that the things I love the most are being threatened by the outside world. This was the first time though, so I thought it warranted documenting.

Also, I have to say, for a phone pic, this turned out pretty cool.

The obligatory first post.

I’ve been blogging on and off for nearly 10 years now. One thing I know for 100% fact – and that’s the first post always goes in every category.

Why? Well, you have to get those categories out on your site so you can see what it looks like.

So, I’ve functioned happily without a working blog for a while now – and since this is a junk post for the most part anyway, I figure I’ll pontificate a bit on why I feel compelled to start this one anew.

For one, I’m going to be a dad in a few months…..with this, comes all the fear and excitement one would expect when becoming a parent for the first time. I think there’s a need to share some of that.

For two, I’ve become much more experienced in the world of online marketing and business in general in the last few years, and I want a forum to share some thoughts and ideas that have come through new experiences.

Lastly – there’s a state representative in Florida who shares my name that has taken over Google SERP’s – leading to some interesting conversations on social media by folks who thought I was him. He’s kind of kooky – so I want a place to send people where I can say “SEE! I’M NOT THAT SCOTT RANDOLPH.”

I’ve mellowed out quite a bit, and gained a lot of perspective since I last wrote a (non company or client paid for) blog post…here’s hoping you enjoy a few of them.