Chris Hutchins, avid life hacker, financial optimizer and host of the top ranked podcast, “All the Hacks,” joins the Journey To Launch podcast to discuss how he amassed 14 million credit card points and upgrades his life without spending a fortune.
We also talk about the dangers of optimizing too much, intentionally spending and hacking your personal finances, analysis paralysis, and more.
Before jumping into the content creation world, Chris was the Head of New Product Strategy at Wealthfront, an investor at Google Ventures, co-founded Milk (acquired by Google) and built an organization called LaidOffCamp. He has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and CNBC. In this episode you’ll learn about:
- How selling a business does not always mean making a profit
- Why falling down rabbit holes of information changed Chris’s life
- What being in a job Chris hated taught him about Financial Independence
- Travel hacking, using money to have experiences you can uniquely have now, memory dividends + more
Check out the video to this episode on YouTube below or by clicking here.Episode 357: How To Hack Your Life to Save Money, Optimize Experiences & Amassing 14 Million Credit Card Points w/ Chris Hutchins Click To Tweet
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Chris Hutchins 0:02
I'm still trying to find the deals so that I can get stuff for better. But I'm not doing it at the expense of not going to a restaurant. I'm not doing at the expense of not going on a trip. So I prioritize the things I want find ways, if possible to get a better deal on them. And if not pay full freight because I decided to important.
T-minus 10 seconds. Welcome to the Journey To Launch podcast with your host, Jamila Souffrant. As a money expert who walks her talk, she helps brave Journeyers like you get out of debt, save, invest, and build real wealth. Join her on the journey to launch to financial freedom in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
If you want the episode show notes for this episode, go to journey to launch.com or click the description of wherever you're listening to this episode. In the show notes. You'll get the transcribed version of the conversation, the links that we mentioned and so much more. Also, whether you are an OG journeyer, or brand new to the podcast, I've created a free jumpstart guide to help you on your financial freedom journey. It includes the top episodes, so listen to stages to go through to reach financial freedom, resources and so much more. You can go to journey to launch.com/jumpstart to get your guide right now. Okay, let's hop into the episode.
Jamila Souffrant 1:34
Hey, hey, hey journeyers Welcome to the journey to launch podcast this week we have on Chris Hutchins, he is an avid life hacker. And when I say Avid, he hacks everything financial optimizer and host of the award winning podcast all the hacks where he shares his quest to upgrade his life without having to spend a fortune. These passions have led Chris to collect millions of points. I think I read somewhere you have 12 million current points.
Chris Hutchins 2:01
I think it might be up to like almost 14 right now. It's really is not a stamp of honor. It's a stamp that I need to be traveling more.
Jamila Souffrant 2:09
Or give me some Hello. All right. So what we're getting into this, but you are a founder, you've sold multiple companies, very savvy in business. And so I'm really happy to have you on the show. Welcome to the podcast, Chris.
Chris Hutchins 2:22
Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Jamila Souffrant 2:25
All right, Chris, let's take it back a bit. I obviously want to get to how you have all these points. But I want to go back a bit to your background. Because you are like I said before, you're a founder, you've started a bunch of companies or co founded some companies, you've sold companies. You're not doing your business, your podcast full time. But I want to learn more about kind of like the beginning stages of starting your businesses. And then like why'd you give all that up to run a podcast like is this where the money's at?
Chris Hutchins 2:55
I mean, we'll get there. But I would say you can get typically everyone I know ends up finding money wherever they find their passion. It just sometimes takes a long time. And it's not always easy to make the jump for me. I'm actually giving a talk on Saturday about podcasting. And I was like, I'm not, I wanted to talk about how I was never really a content creator. And then I went back and I was like looking at photos and videos from childhood. And I was like, oh, there's me making like a flyer for a cookie standard. There's me like making a video for a school thing. So maybe I have been a content person without even knowing it. But I think my story, the main arc to it is I never really knew what I wanted to do. Like, I didn't know that I would be hosting a podcast, I didn't know I'd be starting companies I didn't even know I wanted to work in technology. In fact, when I graduated college, I didn't even know you could work at a company that built software like it did. But that thought never crossed my mind. And so my career kind of professionally after college was moving straight to New York to go work at an investment bank. Because people told me that was the best job you can get. And I was like, Well, I don't know what I want to do. So why not do the thing that everyone says is the best job?
Jamila Souffrant 4:03
Right. Well, so with that, right? So you said you didn't really know these career paths existed the kind of out of the box are more creative. I mean, even though this is like technical and you seem to obviously have had the the mathematical mind or at least investment mind to go into investment banking like this. There's usually that side where people usually who do that are not necessarily risk takers, or creative. So for you then when you started to work in your investment banking, then how did you discover or find that entrepreneurship and building businesses was another pathway?
Chris Hutchins 4:34
Yeah, and by the way, I don't consider myself very risk taking. Others might disagree, and maybe I am in a personal life, but definitely not professionally. So I was working in New York, and I heard about this event called Startup Weekend, and there had been one in Boulder, Colorado, and there was another one coming to Boston. And I was like, This is so cool. Like all through college. I was a nerd on the internet. I just never knew that. that could intersect professionally, right? Like, it's as if I loved painting, but I never thought I could be a painter. I love the internet. I just never thought that was a job. And this event was anyone could come, if you're an engineer or a designer or me, someone who didn't have any raw talents that I knew existed, you could come and we would build startups over the weekend. And I went to this event, and I paired up with four or five other people. And we built an app for Windows that would every it was a random thing. But every 30 to 90 minutes, it would pop up and say, Hey, maybe you should take a break. And it would give you an exercise to do. It was called desk copy. It went nowhere, maybe 250 people downloaded it. And like 200 of them were the immediate family and friends of the people that created it. But in a weekend, we built a product, we shipped it, people anywhere in the world could download it and use it. And I was like, Oh my gosh, this is what I want to do with my life. But I wasn't a risk taker. So I went to the company I was working at and said, Could you transfer me to San Francisco, because I knew after that experience on the weekend, that's where people are doing this thing. You know, nowadays, there are startups, you can go create and incubators and venture capitalists in lots of cities. But back in 2008, it seemed like if you wanted to go all in on this tech industry, moving to the Bay Area was what you did. So I moved to the Bay Area. And I thought I will slowly start to get into this industry before I quit my job. Well, about a month later, I got laid off in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. So I got forced into it. It wasn't, you know, I had the, you know, the gumption to take the risk to quit my job and start this new career. No, I got, you know, let go. And I had to do it on my own. And so I was kind of forced into entrepreneurship the first time and at the time, I was disappointed. Now in hindsight, I'm very thankful. Because if I were still in that job, I would have been be miserable.
Jamila Souffrant 6:45
So when you say you were forced, so what was that first company and talk a bit about the building of apps? Because I have a question about your experience in, you know, did you need experience in coding? Was it that your partners understood coding, because, you know, I feel like we all have an app or ideas in us. And I'm like, I don't know how to code. But I have an idea for a lot of things. So how did you what skill sets allowed you to then build something or build the things that you started to build?
Chris Hutchins 7:10
Yeah, so the so I didn't have any of those skills. And so when I got laid off, I was like, What do I build? Well, I don't have any of those skill sets. So I need to build something that isn't software. So the first thing I built was a conference called laid off camp. And it was in the wake of 2008. And it was just let's do events around the country for people who've been laid off to learn from other people who had been laid off. And we had older people who'd interviewed 1000s and 1000s of people in their careers teaching young people how to interview we had young people teaching older people how to make LinkedIn profiles, it was great, but like, like I said, no software, nothing in that world. And through a series of conversations in meeting interesting people, I found that the role that I could fulfill was something along the lines of kind of sales and business development. And so I joined the first startup, eventually doing a role a business development, which is effectively like finding customers for a product. But I wasn't able to build the product, I wasn't able to do I hadn't started a company that built software at this point in my career. But in that process, I just dedicated myself to spending as much time as I could with the engineers, the product managers, the designers to understand how it all worked. And I built a muscle that I learned later was called product management, which is understanding how to build a product, you can't actually write the code, you can't actually design the interface, or maybe you can, but it won't look great. But you can understand how to put the pieces together and mainly understand the user need. Once I understood that, I ultimately left to join a few people to start a company where I fulfill that role engineering fulfill the building it designed, fulfill the making it functional, and together that kind of trifecta of some of that understands the customer, someone that could build the software, and some of them could design the software can put all that together and ship a product, but I definitely didn't do it on my own. And the other people necessary, you could argue are much more necessary than I was right?
Jamila Souffrant 9:00
Well, then I mean, I'm sure though, you've met a lot of people who had your roles, business development, or product managers, and they weren't able to, I don't know, like just do those roles. It sounds like though if you're going out you need to find customers, you need to help promote the product, or at least sell the product, the social side of it, right. Like I find you as someone we met at fin con a couple years ago. And you know, you're very outgoing. For the most part. I think when you're speaking to people, you're outgoing, right? And so like that does take an amount of social awareness and ability to speak to people. But then sometimes when I think of these roles, I think of like people who don't know how to communicate or who are awkward don't like being behind, like the phone or the computer. So is that also just something you had as a personality growing up that happened to really mix well with these that helped you to take off?
Chris Hutchins 9:46
Yeah, it's funny. Um, if I look back at childhood, I was always willing to speak up. I was never shy, but it got me in a lot of trouble. Right. I would speak up to teachers because I was like, I think what we're doing is wrong. We should do something different. And I would say I had a healthy disrespect For authority as a child, but so I guess I always was willing to put myself out there and try random things. And I learned that the more you could do that, the more you could elicit a reaction, sometimes negative, sometimes positive, but you never get the positive if you don't try. And so I was constantly trying to do any random thing to put myself out there often to come up with an outcome that, you know, was something I couldn't have otherwise, because as much as I certainly didn't grow up, underprivileged, I ended up going to a private school. And my parents were among the few parents that didn't give their kids like unlimited resources. So it was a boarding school. And at night, people wanted to order pizza and eat pizza, because that's what you did in high school. But I didn't have a credit card to order the pizza. So like, I couldn't order the pizza. And if I did once, it would be like my whole budget for the month. So I started ordering pizza, and I would order one pizza. And then I would just try to go sell slices to kids at night, so that I can make back the money. So the next night, I could order pizza again. And I would eat two and sell six. And like that was my little High School Business was like walking around trying to sell slices of pizza. And it worked out great. So like I just always was willing to put myself out there because I needed to do that to get some outcome that I probably couldn't have achieved otherwise, because I was young, because I didn't have the resources because I didn't know better. And I don't know, I just love putting myself out there. But I will say Not everyone can do it. Instinctively, not everyone has that thing. But I think it's something you can learn. And I did an interview with a woman who you probably know, because I think you shared a stage with Vanessa Van Edwards.
Jamila Souffrant 11:34
Chris Hutchins 11:36
Yeah. So at I met her actually at FinCon. And she is a researcher, I think she's based in Austin, and she did an episode of my podcast, it was episode 46, on charismatic communication. And she did all this research to identify that to be a charismatic communicator, you need the perfect balance of warmth and competence. And so sometimes you might say I'm an introvert, I know all the data, I know all the numbers. If you can just force yourself to be a little warmer, you can find this blend where people are kind of more drawn to you as a conversationalist. You can also just listen more, I feel like in a conversation, you think I should be talking and sharing and sharing to make people like me, at the end of the day, if you just let people talk, and just you react and listen, they will also be engaged. So I think there are a lot of hacks to learn how to kind of when in conversational skills, that episode I did is one where we dove into a lot of them. We even did it on YouTube, because there's like some visual hand cues and that stuff. But I'd say it was definitely by default, I was probably more extroverted. But I don't think it's something you can't learn to do.
Jamila Souffrant 12:43
Right? Right. And it's just also so just for, you know, fellow parents out there who have kids who are rambunctious or who speak a lot are up for themselves, or that healthy level of disrespect. I just think, you know, I always say like, it's a sign of even if you yourself noticed that I was also like that as a child and not afraid of authority. And I will, you know, defend myself if I need to, that comes through in my adult life. And I think there's so many aspects of our personalities, whether we didn't know, back then maybe other people didn't understand it. Maybe we could have put some people off. But whatever it is, that makes you you that may have not been seen as an advantage as you grow like in whether that's in your career, or financial life, these are things that if you learn how to use them are very great assets to whatever journey you're on. And you can hack your way into positions or careers or into money understanding that. I
Chris Hutchins 13:38
I totally agree. But I have to go back and ask, are there parent parents out there who have kids that aren't rambunctious? Because I don't? I am unfamiliar with such a thing. But I'm jealous..
Jamila Souffrant 13:46
You know, I think and that's interesting, because I have my kids, you know, the nine, seven and five and I think kids, it's funny Mike at school, their rule followers, like they follow the rules, and they're very obedient from what I'm told. But at home and with people they're comfortable with, oh, no, they, you know, they definitely do not follow what I say at least. So I think I think most kids I don't know, I only can speak for like my kids and nieces and nephews that I have. But it's an interesting also being able to turn it on and off where you need to is important. I'm sure that is a something that maybe you and Vanessa or someone else has discovered. It's like you have to know when to use it. And when it when it when it helps you and when it harms you to speak up in certain situations.
Chris Hutchins 14:27
Jamila Souffrant 14:28
So Chris, I do want to fast forward a bit because I know some of the impetus or reasoning behind selling businesses because maybe it's just that was the design of it. Like you know, you're building something to sell or it's just the right time and money. But for you did you know like what you were going to do after the like your final business was sold? What were your next steps or what you thought you do?
Chris Hutchins 14:51
So I would say selling a business has this allure of being a success. But just to be clear, both times we sold the companies that We built, it was because the company did not stand on its own. So the first time we realized about a year in that we'd had this incubator. And the idea was, we're going to try different ideas until one stuck, the first one didn't stick. And as a team of six people, we couldn't figure out what the next thing was. And so we were kind of at this impasse, where we raised some money from investors. And we had the runway and the resources in the team to build something. But we just didn't have a thing that we were all excited to work on. And so what we did have was a really strong group of people, we had the talent. And so when we reached out to Google, and we said, hey, look, we have a really talented team that can solve problems in an area that you guys probably need to solve problems in. Do you want to buy the company for the sole purpose of having this team come work on your problems, they didn't at all care about anything that we built to date, they didn't want our office space, they didn't want anything, they just wanted the team to come work on problems, because we'd hired a really smart team. And they could see in the products we built that we were capable. And so on one hand, it's like, well, that was a success. Google gave us all really nice signing bonuses and jobs at Google and all the perks you get working at Google. But you know, no one made millions of dollars when that deal closed. So that was not the plan. The plan was to build something, grow it to billions of users, and like millions of users and billions of dollars and all this, but we had to call it when we realized it wasn't going to work. Funny enough. The same thing happened. The second time around, we went a lot further, we knew the product, we were all committed to the product, the whole idea was people are stressed out about money, it's the number one cause of stress, the number one cause of divorce in America, people don't know how to have peace of mind. But we found that when anyone worked with a financial planner, and went through like a financial planning process, they felt better. So let's build software to make financial planners efficient. So it was cheaper. Unfortunately, it like, you know, vitamins, financial planning is something that's never an urgent need. It's like, it's very hard to get people to do it. It's not a pain point. And so people wanted it, but they didn't want it right now. And so the amount of money it took to get someone to sign up now, from marketing from reminding them from sales calls, it was just so high relative to the revenue of the business, that the model didn't work, which is unfortunate, because everyone we had wanted financial pain, they just didn't want it. Now. They're like, right now I need to fix this leaky water heater right now my kids are in soccer practice and summer camp and all this stuff, I don't have time for it. And so people weren't willing to prioritize their finances, and I'm not sure if that will ever be solved. Unless AI can maybe just say we're gonna prioritize your finances for you. And you don't have to think about it. So that business also didn't work. But we reached out to a lot of companies and said, Look, we've spent three years tackling this problem, we think the way to solve it, is to attach financial planning to a product that already has a customer relationship that already has knowledge of a customer's finances, so you can more easily give them advice. You don't need to ask them, Hey, can you share all this information? Hey, can you share your goals. And so when I met the founder of Wealthfront, they had already had an investment product, they already had a high yield savings product. And customers had already linked a lot of their accounts and specified their goals. And we had this vision at the company of automating people's financial lives. And we came in and called it self driving money. And it was like, Can we take all the knowledge we have and go build that. And so similarly, they wanted us as a team. Fortunately, they also wanted our lease, which was like a four year lease, which is great, because I was potentially on the hook for that. And so it wasn't again, a pay day, I don't think I got a job and some stock in the company, the company is still private. So today, you know, the the sale to Wealthfront was releasing the obligations I had to a landlord and giving me a salary for a few years. So I think I just wrote a level set that, you know, we're in this world where everyone's scrolling Instagram and seeing all the successes and awesome stuff of their friends. But no one's posting about the debt here. And so I don't want to, you know, make everyone think that a sale always means you made money. You know, a sale means you found a way to provide a job for employees, you found a way for investors to have an option at potentially making back their money. So in this case, our investors got to take the money, we had leftover and invested in Wealthfront, and hopefully get a return one day.
Jamila Souffrant 19:14
Right? I'm glad you clarified about sales on always being a paid error. You know, you're getting millions, but it's also being able to leverage as something is not working out how to make the best of it, how to use the assets you have. So obviously your team or the teams you've been on, were an asset to other people that they wanted to keep or have on and then like you just said even like Office lease. So when you were done with that, besides when you sold or the company was bought the last time what happened next for you. So I used you spent some years working at Wealthfront. And then what?
Chris Hutchins 19:50
Yep, yeah, so I love building products. So the job at Wealthfront was amazing. It was let's go figure out how we can solve consumer financial problems and make people's financial lives better. And I didn't know what was Next, I genuinely thought when I joined Wealthfront, that I could work at that job for 20 years, like, it seemed like my job is to talk to customers and come up with product ideas that would make their financial lives better solve this big stress in their lives. And we had a team of 100 engineers and dozens of designers and product managers to bring those ideas to life. And we did that multiple times over and over again. And in many ways, it was the best. And we haven't talked about this much at all, it may be in the intro, but I've just always been a person that loves to go down a rabbit hole to optimize something in my life. And so that could be finding the best insurance policy figuring out the best health diagnostics that you should be doing. You know, learning negotiation tactics, travel, hacking everything, I probably have a spreadsheet for all of these things. Every time I'm, you know, researching a gardener, I'm going to have a spreadsheet, or maybe a notion database these days. But when I got to this point of the pandemic, I was like, I never got to share all the things like I thrived on going to dinner with friends, family colleagues at conferences, and telling everyone Hey, I just went down this crazy rabbit hole. And here's the thing I learned. And now you don't have to go down the rabbit hole to and I remember doing this with auto insurance, I was like, Hey, I just recorded all my policies for everything. And then I would help people and we'd go read quote them, and they'd all save some money, and I feel great. They'd feel great. It was awesome. And during the pandemic, none of that was happening. Because we weren't really going to dinners. We weren't really doing anything. And I was like, how do we keep sharing these ideas, and someone said, oh, you should have a podcast. And when I ran my startup, I had been on a podcast as guests, I felt comfortable behind a microphone. And I was like, Oh, maybe I should try that. Because I tried blogging, I tried posting on social media, all my life hacks, travel hacks, and never did it last more than a month, like I would write two blog posts, and then I just couldn't stick to it. And I thought, Okay, I'm going to commit to this, I'm gonna record eight episodes. And I put it out there. And it really resonated with people, there are a lot of people out there who are like, I would love to know how to optimize something, and not have to do all the research myself. And I've built a relationship with, you know, over a million listeners at this point, who are, you know, trusting me to go dig into everything you need to know about, you know, a smart home, or solar or home energy and anything, and then find the most, you know, well known expert, or do the research myself and share all of that. So they don't have to do all the research themselves. And it just worked. And I just got so far so much fulfillment, because I could spend 30 hours a week finding a cellphone plan, which I just recently did, and actually feel like that time wasn't wasted, because now there are, you know, 1000s, or hundreds of 1000s, or maybe millions of people who are going to get that benefit. And it makes me feel good about going down rabbit holes, and it's found a sustainable way that I can, you know, pay our mortgage, by going down rabbit holes that ultimately might only save me $300 a year. But you know, in the long run when you're when you have a business around it workout. And so it just got to the point that it was taking off so much that I knew I had to do it full time. And everyone around me had told me a year earlier. But to go back to being risk averse, I was like, I don't know this thing. You know, I have a salary at one job. And this other thing, I'm not making as much money now. And they're like, it'll come Don't worry, it'll come. And eventually it did. But for me, I had to kind of wait until I saw it. And I did an episode with Matt Higgins about who wrote this book called burn the boats. And it's such a powerful story that I wish I had read before I did this because I probably would have been convinced to do it sooner. But I wasn't willing to bet on myself full time. For 18 months of the podcast, I should have done it six months in. But it took a while for me to do it. And you know, if someone else had come to me and asked me if they should do it, I would have in a heartbeat said Yeah, quit your job and go all in. But for some reason was really hard for me.
Jamila Souffrant 23:52
Right? Well, so the couple of things there I want to pull out. One is this idea that you spent a lot of time optimizing and going down rabbit holes. And as you were saying, I'm like that is the total opposite of me. Right? Like, which is why your product that is the podcast that helps you to solve that problem works. Because I'm also I'm not the person who wants to spend hours trying to save like $100. You know, like, if it's quick, I'll do it or outsource it. Or it will just take me a long time to build up the energy to make the calls. And like right now I know I should call like I need to go negotiate my insurance, but I'm just like, I don't have the time. So with that, as you're now thinking or you thought about leaving your job. I know you said you had some encouragement. I'm sure you had spreadsheets and a backup plan and numbers, right, like, Well, what did you do financially to prepare for that? Because I know there are a lot of people who have ideas, they may have something on the side. It's not making as much money but how did you know that you were going to make enough doing this full time to walk away from that stability?
Chris Hutchins 24:52
Yeah, so in my case, it was I just ramped up the business to the point that it was making enough that It was matching my salary, I think a better approach would have been save up enough to buy myself a runway, you know, and we'd have the savings, but just allocating it like mentally saying, let's put six months of my after tax income into a high yield savings account, which fortunately, right now is super easy, because rates are really high, and put that money aside and say, for six months, I've got myself covered. And if somebody doesn't work, I'll just find another job. Like, I could have bought myself six months or a year or something. Instead, I took the time to wait and say, well, now this is making as much as my salary. But on one hand, that's a straightforward, easy solution. On the other hand, well, now I had two salaries. And so you know, yes, this was making the same as my salary, but it was also going to cut right now 100% of the podcast income at that point in time was just savings, because I had a salary, it was about to go to a point where I would have no savings. So even for me, I was like, well, now now that I have enough income from my side, hustle, now I'm throwing away all the savings, do I really want to quit? Maybe I should give it six more months, maybe I should just put another little more in the bank. And you can always just continue to ask yourself that question. So at some point, you have to say, this is not a long term decision, right? If I need to get another job I can. So it's a short term thing. And the advice I would give both others and my previous self is if you can set aside enough money that you can get by without your salary, know that it's short term, like you're not talking about, if you make $100,000 a year, you're not talking about not having $100,000 a year for the next 40 years, you might be talking about not having it for six months. And if you make $100,000 for six months, that's 50,000. But you pay taxes on that. And so like the net cost, you might be 30,000. So like, all of a sudden, you took this thing that feels like losing your income for the rest of your life. And you boil it down to a $30,000 problem. And by the way, if it's if you make 50,000 instead of 100. Now it's a $15,000 problem. And $15,000 is a big number, but it's much more manageable to say can I save six months of operating expenses. And by the way, in those six months, you can cut back on a lot of things, you can say, well, we don't need it to be my normal six months of operating expenses, because maybe if it doesn't work out, we'll eat out a little less, or we won't buy you know, we won't order sushi once a week, or whatever it is your advice. And so now you can, we won't take that one extra vacation, maybe you've cut it down to $7,000. And so now you're like, oh, wow, the cost to try this out for six months, will just went down three orders of magnitude in my head. And it feels much more approachable. I wish I'd had that conversation with myself, like 18 months ago. But I don't know if I'm as risk tolerant as I might seem.
Jamila Souffrant 27:44
When it comes to your finances, your personal finances so you know you did the traditional thing went to school got you know, the job career, then you start to build businesses, how are you with your finances, I mean, I'm assuming you are if you're optimizing for everything else, you were very good at optimizing and controlling your finances. So talk a little bit about your personal finance journey.
Chris Hutchins 28:04
I had this belief was investment banking is not a fun career. I mean, some people might love it, but for me, I did not. And so my first few jobs, I was not what I would call fulfilled, which basically gave me this financial independence attitude. Before I knew that that was a thing. I'd never heard of the fire movement at the time. But my attitude was, this job is not fun. If I have to do this for the rest of my life, I'll be miserable. So I need to save as much money as possible so that I have the freedom to not do this job. But like I like traveling, I like having nice food. So I didn't want to just, you know, move to the middle of nowhere eat beans and rice. So it was kind of like a little bit aggressive savings, but with a little bit of hacking the system to try to say, well, I want to take a vacation. So I'll do travel hacks, I want to, you know, live in a nice place. So I'll do house acts like finding all of the ways to get that experience without having to spend the amount. But I was aggressively savings. And I think my attitude was always every dollar I made was savings. So any dollar I spent was borrowing from my savings. And I'm not saying that's a healthy mindset. I think I think some people's mindset is I save 300 bucks a month. And if there's anything left, I can just spend it. You know, it's like the 29th of the month and they're like, Well, my checking account still has an extra 500 bucks, so I might as well spend it. For me. I was like, do I want to dip into my savings to go out to dinner tonight? Do I want to dip into like that savings could be worth, you know, 30 times more? If I wait till I'm 65. Like, do I really want to spend you know, if you do that math, it's kind of crazy, right? Like don't want to buy a $500 couch. Well that $500 could be $5,000 If I wait till I retire so it's really a $5,000 couch. So maybe we'll stick with that IKEA thing from college. Like, I don't think that's necessarily healthy. But that was the approach I took because I so much didn't want to have to do a job I hated for the rest of my life. And as far as what I did with money, it was like, Okay, let's take all of our money and put it in index funds. Like I was not Trying to beat the market, I was not trying to do anything fancy. I was like, let's put all the money, we save into index funds, max out any matching max out 401k, all that kind of stuff, and then not think about it. So I have a very unsexy investment portfolio. So like a couple individual stocks, some that because I worked at a company, and the vast majority is just index funds and focus on other aspects of my life to try to make more money.
Jamila Souffrant 30:24
Yeah, I mean, that's, that's basically how we are too. I mean, I think The Simple Path to Wealth as JL Collins said, who's also been on the podcast, it's just you know, you don't have to beat the market or do more, that actually is just a waste of energy, in terms of like the return you get. So I love the idea of thinking about it as 100% savings, I think that's like you said, it's not necessarily healthy, if you then have issues like then spending and enjoying your money, which is like part of the reason we have money after we reach security. And we get like some stability with our finances. But I do like this idea of especially for me, so I talked about this in my book, Your journey to financial freedom that, you know, there are stages within the financial independence journey. And the starter stages, or the starter levels that you have to go through require a bit more effort, and sacrifice and not necessarily in a bad way. But in order to get you through to like a more stable and enjoyable path. And all parts of the journey can be enjoyable. But I like this idea of when you are in the earlier stages, to look at it as hey, you know, I may be, you know, spending like this, which then makes me not have this money in the future or allows me to stay in debt longer, because I could have paid off that thing. The other thing I'd say is that you think, you know, for most people like yourself, like, are you still that way now, like with your money have you loosened up? Because that's what I don't like about like when I heard the term optimizing, which I also use, I'm very careful to understand that some things can't be optimized, like the emotions and the relationships you have. And even though going out to dinner for X amount, you want to be careful, but it's like the community and the feeling you get when you're around others, right? Like that is something that always can't be optimized. So are you different now? Or have you changed and then let's talk about is there optimizing too much.
Chris Hutchins 32:16
There's definitely optimizing too much. I've definitely changed. I sometimes kind of bite my tongue and say, No, I shouldn't waste my time and energy here. It's like, let's let's focus on optimizing the bigger problems in life, not not the smaller thing. So I think I moved up that ladder. But I still get caught up my wife and I still have the same problem. It's like, we're going to the grocery store. And it's like, I know, it doesn't matter that strawberries are like, seem like they're twice as expensive this week than last week. But like it still irks me, maybe we'll get blueberries instead. Like, we shouldn't be optimizing for $3 problems, but we still are. But when it comes to relationships, it's funny. My version of optimizing is, I know that's important. And so when we're going out to dinner with friends, we're going to do with it like that's a meal that we just don't try to save money on. Because we know relationships are important. And we thought about it. Because we've taken the time to say where in our lives, we want to optimize for certain things. We think relationships are important. So we're going to spend time and energy and money on travel to see friends or family and to do things that's important to us. That doesn't mean there's no way to optimize it, right? There's this app that recently, I don't want to get too people too excited because the deal is gone. But there was this app called inkind, where you could effectively stack a bunch of savings offers between Chase deals and their promo. And I spent $100. And I now have like $350 of dining credit, right. So it's like, I still want to go out to a nice restaurant. And I'm not going to think about the bill. But 250 of the dollars I spent at this restaurant were covered by some combo of a company's promotion and chases promotion. So I'm still trying to find the deals so that I can get stuff for better, but I'm not doing it at the expense of not going to a restaurant, I'm not doing at the expense of not going on a trip. So I prioritize the things I want find ways if possible to get a better deal on them. And if not pay full freight because I decided they're important.
Jamila Souffrant 34:04
Right and then Lucky for you you also find a way to create a business that shares more of the process behind it. That's very helpful. Like I have a friend that always I laugh at her and but she she actually I guess enjoys it she would drive to different grocery stores depending on like what they're offering. I still think she's optimizing well because I'm just like you have to pay for the gas though you're not accounting for that. So even though you saved money by not buying the strawberries there you just drove down you know, but I think like with her and you there's a joy she gets joy out of which is also something you can optimize so for me pointless I'll pay the extra $2 for a convenience for me not having to drive anywhere else. But there is something that she gets like that satisfaction from games she thinks she's winning or the gaming the system and for her work. So I think how you feel about something two matters a lot more than maybe whatever dollar amount you are saving, even if that involves saving money.
Chris Hutchins 35:01
I've been thinking about this a lot when it comes to like, do you need to go down the rabbit hole some tapping into your intuition sometimes can really help. So I did this whole cell phone plan project, I was like, I need to save money. Verizon is too expensive, and a little bit of research, and I was like, I already know the answer. So I don't need to keep going. The challenge is what I've learned when it comes to decision making, especially when you're trying to find better outcomes is that the decision doesn't usually come from the data, the decision is an emotional thing. And so until you step away from the analysis, it's very hard to decide. And it's very hard to go down and out, like analysis, paralysis is maybe a little bit of a misnomer in my mind, because you can never stop analyzing until until you step away. So sometimes I'm like, Can I step away earlier, I was like, I stepped away really early in the cell phone process. And I was like, yeah, we're just gonna switch to T Mobile, like, it's a very low stakes decision. It we can reverse it, if it doesn't work. The it's not the most important. It's not like having a child where it's like, not very reversible. It's the, we're gonna change cellphone plans, there's no contracts easy. That said, I then got so obsessed with understanding all the cellphone plans, even after we switched, I went through the process of going really deep, because I just love it. But it was no, which was cool. I separated the decision. And now I was just doing the research for the love of it. Some people like to read books, I like to research cellphone plans, or insurance policies, and many people listening are probably thinking that sounds like the worst way to spend your time. Totally agree. I think reading a book is not as enjoyable, you might love it. But now the fact that I've been able to say, Wow, this thing I love, other people get a lot of value out of it. Let's turn that into a business. Let's turn that into what I do. I don't think about saving the same at all. I don't even know if we saved money the last six months, mostly because my wife quit her job. And she's working on all the hacks also. And I'm like, I don't think we're saving money. But we're not losing money. We're not tapping into our savings, but we're not adding to our savings. But we really enjoy what we're doing. And we see that we could do it forever. And now I care much less about needing to save as much as possible to pad our financial future. Because we've done that from our previous jobs. Now we can focus on actually spending the money we make. And I don't know if you've had Bill Perkins on the show
Jamila Souffrant 37:24
Chris Hutchins 37:24
But I did an episode with Bill Perkins about dy with zero. And it's just like, it's kind of changed our whole attitude of like, what's the money for? Why do we Why do we try to sock it all away and savings accounts and investment accounts? At some point that money should be spent to do things that you can uniquely do now. And you have young kids, we have young kids? Like what are the things that we can only do with them now that if we wait until we're retired, and they're living off on their own, we can't do and let's make sure we prioritize those.
Jamila Souffrant 37:53
Yeah, actually, um, so I took my kids to Disney World for the first time over the summer and did a podcast episode about I broke down the cost and thinking it came up to like just under 8000. So rounded it up to 8000, for a family of five. And I thought that was you know, I thought it was actually going to be more before I started the process. And, you know, did the calculation on how much that could have went into investments and grown over time. And I got, I forgot the number. And I said this on the podcast, I was like, but it's not, for me, it wasn't about like, I don't care what it grows to over time, the experience that we had, and it was an optimal time for our kids to go at, like the ages they are and they were so engaged. And now I'm just like, so it's things like that, where you get caught up when especially if you're money focused or financially focused, especially on this journey to financial independence, it can be easy to start optimizing to a point where you forget about life, like living outside of the spreadsheet. And like similar in a way to you. I mean, I wasn't as optimizing if that's a word or frugal as maybe some things. But in the beginning, I thought I could be just so I can reach my financial goal. And realize quickly, like, that is not what I want my life to be. And so I think it's something that some people when they start the journey, like they think one thing and then as they start living life and you know, realizing they can't predict or optimize for everything, and it's not worth it, they start to do things differently.
Chris Hutchins 39:14
Yeah, I mean, I think one thing that it's so easy to know how much your financial accounts grew, right? You see the you know, what you put in and you'll see it more. And there was like dividends, literally from it from individual stocks, they're paying dividend income, you know, it's also capital gains, and we don't have to go down that path. But this concept of memory dividends is super interesting. You could probably think back to that trip about Disney, you could probably talk about it with your family and get a lot of joy just remembering how much fun you had, like that is valuable. And when you have a shared experience with someone later in life, whether it's a month later a year later, a decade later, and you're talking about it, you're remembering it you're looking at pictures of it, that's joy, and that joy is is very valuable, like happiness is really important. And so we forget Get that if you spend the money to go to Disney now, you're gonna relive those moments in conversation in photos and reflection for decades to come. If you wait 40 years and go on that trip to Disney, you know, when you're retired you when you can't keep up with your kids and their kids, it's just gonna be a different trip, and you're not going to have decades to remember it. And so, you know, yes, that money could have grown. But also, by doing it earlier, you benefit from having those memories for the neck for the rest of your life. And so I think people forget that experiences grow over time as well.
Jamila Souffrant 40:35
Right, right. Well, one thing I do want to make sure we touch upon is your points, your millions and millions of points and to give us tips on getting started. So you know, I always like to say and to make sure I say upfront that travel hacking and credit card hacking is for a certain type of person. If you are in the beginning journey or stages in debt, you're not paying off that credit card every month. This is more an advanced strategy. This is not like a technique like you know this, like, it's almost like you playing a video game. And like you don't get that tool yet. Until you get out of that stage, you go to the next level, and then you can use that tool all you want. But you got to get out first. But now that we said that I do want to share some tips, and some insight on how you have been able to amass as many points as you have and then just tips for us, beginners, because I also do that. But that's not the extent that you have I don't have as many points.
Chris Hutchins 41:29
Well, I'll just add, I think a better metric would be how many points you've earned in your lifetime than how many you have. Because, again, like having the points just means I'm not using them. And over the years, airlines and hotel groups all devalue their points by having higher costs. So it's actually not advantageous to hang on to them, I should be using them. But a combo of two kids under four and a pandemic have made using points last few years hard. I assure you that once our youngest is able to kind of sit on a long plane ride sustainably, the points will be depleting quickly. But the whole thing started with I was trying to cut all the expenses I could so that we could save more. So I didn't have to have a job I hated. But I didn't want to sacrifice the joy of life. Because like what's it all for? If you're just sitting at home, never going out, never meeting up with people eating beans and rice. Like maybe that's a life for some people. But it wasn't what I wanted. And the biggest variable expense that seemed obvious to cut but brought so much sadness to think about cutting was travel. So I was like, how do we travel for free. And I'd gone on one trip in college, where I'd use I'd signed up for an American Airlines credit card, I think and I had some points. And I was able to go with some friends to Mexico and I didn't pay for it. I was like, Oh my gosh, I didn't have the money. Like I didn't have the money to go on this trip. But I went on it. Because I had opened this credit card and gotten these points. I was like this is really cool. And so that was a adventure that just kept on kept on going my whole life. And I would say the most simplistic way to break this down is banks really want your business and they're willing to give you lots and lots of points to open up a card. And that's that's one path is just Anytime you open up a card you can earn if you're picking the right cards, you know, let's say a good signup bonus is like 80 to 100,000 points. So if over the course of you know, a few years, you opened up 10 cards, you should be close to a million points. There are people that are really aggressive. And I've seen posts where people have opened with a spouse, I think like 25 cards in 18 months. And the craziest thing is their credit scores both went up throughout that process. So it's a little bit of a medicine misnomer that if you open up too many credit cards, you're going to ruin your credit in this case, like both credit scores went up. Because they yes, they had a few inquiries about having opened up cards. Yes, the length of their history on average went up or went down because there were so many recent ones. But the total amount of credit they had available to them relative to how much they were using, made them look much less risky. You have 20 cards each with 1000 $10,000 limit, and you don't increase how much you spend. Well, now banks are like, wow, this person isn't that risky, because if they were risky, they would spend 20 $200,000 and not pay it off. But they're not doing that. And so those welcome bonuses are really the way my listeners have accumulated. You know, I have people that have never started the points game and within a year built up a million points. And welcome bonuses are a big one. And then the other one is just making sure that every time you spend money, you're just getting the highest return you can. So if you're spending money on groceries, optimized for a card that's going to get you the best rewards for groceries. And if you're spending a lot of money on travel, the same goes there. So that one's pretty easy. You could just look at how you spend your money and look at the cards out there and figure out which one's the best. I will caution everyone that when you go search like what's the best grocery card there's like a million websites out there that have that title. But there are a lot of cards out there that the ranking of the cards on those articles matches how much they get paid, not which one is actually the best. And so I would say do a little bit of your own homework. In the grocery example, the capital Capital One saver and saver one cards are really great. And the AMEX Gold Card is really great. And then the blue cash everyday, maybe it's like 6%, back on groceries, like those are great grocery cards. Other people might list other ones, I'm not as big of a fan City Premier, I think is also really good on groceries. So that's one and then the other is finding creative ways to spend money on your credit cards. That is not money that you're that when you're not increasing your own spending. So a big part of the points I've amassed have been every single time I've been a part of a group trip, a family trip, anything, I've raised my hand and volunteered to plan the whole thing. And the only thing I ask is, let me put 15 flights on my credit card, let me put 15 hotel rooms or seven hotel rooms on my credit card, let me put the house we're renting for the vacation on my credit card. And so I'm not in a financial situation to take $100,000 of vacations a year. But I've definitely had years where I've helped plan $100,000 of vacations in a year. And that is a big help. When you find a card that earns five points on flights, and you're buying 15 plane tickets for a trip that can really accelerate your your points earning without having to pay for it assuming you trust that your friends will pay you back.
Jamila Souffrant 46:31
That's how I was gonna say I was like you have obviously family and friends that you trust and it will pay you back. I know a lot of people listening are like, I'm not doing that. Because I know my person is not going to like pay me back.
Chris Hutchins 46:42
prepay say the trip is going to be 1000 bucks, everybody send me money and then I'll go by the floods. Sometimes you have to do that. But that is another big one is just finding things that you can spend money on that, that don't require you to increase your spending. Because it's never, it's never a good outcome to say, oh, I want a lot of points. So I'm gonna go buy stuff I don't need. If you do one of those welcome bonuses. And it's like, well, I need to spend three grand and four months to get 100,000 points. There are ways to spend that money earlier. So like you spent a lot of money on Amazon Go by 500 bucks amazon gift cards, you spent a lot of money at Whole Foods, go buy a whole foods gift card, take your purchases from four or five months from now and pull them forward. But don't spend money you don't need don't go say Oh, I'm gonna go, you know, buy the go out to dinner 10 times this month that you're not going to get back. But if you know gift cards is one where you can kind of front load the money. A lot of utility companies will let you like prepay your utilities or pre pay your phone bill. So I'm saying if you if you're not gonna hit the bonus, it's definitely worth finding a way to do it. But don't do it by spending frivolously do it by prepaying things for a few months from now.
Jamila Souffrant 47:50
Right. How do you balance the annual fee that some cards have versus like the points? And if you should keep it, keep the card open? Or close it if the annual fee is coming up? Yeah.
Chris Hutchins 48:00
So I would say there's three things one, a lot of annual fees seems scary until you dig and really make sure you're not getting all the value easily. So there are some cards where it's like, wow, this is a $500 annual fee. But the first $300 I spend on travel is reimbursed. Okay, well, it's not $500 As long as you're spending 300 on travel, but Amex Platinum Card gives you $50 Every six months to go to Saks Fifth Avenue. If you're not going to spend money on Saks Fifth Avenue already, then that should be worth zero to. Now, maybe you could go buy some stuff every six months and go sell it on eBay. But now what's your time worth? For us? I'm like, I really love ASAP soap. I'm not gonna buy $30 soap for the bathrooms in our house, but I probably buy like $10 soap. So if if $100 a year gets me $3 of soap, I'm getting about 30 or three soap things, I get $30 of value, not 100. So I try to normalize what the credits are actually worth to me. We do order out once a month, and we usually use Uber Eats. So the AMEX UberEATS credits, those are like I count them at face value. But I don't have the equinox credit at face value because I don't use Equinox. And if I went open up an equinox membership, I would be spending more money than the credit and I would actually lose, you know, I'd be down. So I think you have to look at it on a card by card basis. However, if that annual fee is not worth the value, then I would call the call the card after one year when the annual fee post and say hey, I'm just not getting the value. And you've got two options. I guess you have three one, they might give you a retention offer. And they might say hey, if you can spend two grand on this card, we'll give you 20,000 points and you're like oh well now if I factor those 20,000 points in now the annual fee is worth it, or I've had them just waive the annual fee. Okay, well then the annual fee is worth it because they waived it. If they won't, then you can often downgrade the card to a card with the lower or no annual fee. So the Chase Sapphire collection is notorious because you could downgrade them to the Chase Freedom line. no annual fee cards. Great options. Worst case, if you can't downgrade it, and it's not worth it and you can't get an offer, you can always close it. You know, it's not the end of the world to close a card. The only situation where that's a bummer is if it's like the oldest card you've had for 20 years, but I'm imagining in almost everyone's case, the card they opened first that they've had for 20 years is probably not the card with the $500 annual fee. So if you do have one of those old cards, I would just try to make sure you put one expense on it a year, put a cheap recurring bill have a tradition, I have a tradition where every around the holidays, we go by all these like little small things. And it's like our chance to go out and use the four or five cards that we never actually use to go like spent $5. So in the holidays, I put $5 on all the cards we have just so we never, they still remain active. But yeah, so I would say if you have a card, that's not worth it, get a retention offer downgrade it. And if none of those work, cancel it, but wait until after 365 days, because a lot of cards have this rule where if you cancel a card within 365 days, they kind of flag you as someone that probably opened it for the bonus. But if you cancel it at 366 days, I guess maybe 367 If it's a leap year, then you're in a different bucket, and you're in a lot better space.
Jamila Souffrant 51:12
Last question on the credit cards, how do you keep track of all this? Obviously, I know you have a spreadsheet, but like for some average person? How do you know like, what the bonuses are? Is it like when you open the car, you need to like track everything. It just seems like a lot of work.
Chris Hutchins 51:27
Yeah, I mean, if you're if you're doing this one that one at a time. So like, it seems like a lot of work. If you're like, Well, you have 15 cards, and I just released an interview today with someone who I think has 40 cards. And and they definitely need a spreadsheet, what I would say is tracking the bonuses, like just work on one at a time. And it's really easy to track. You know, if you have one card that you need to spend three grand in four months, you can keep track of one. Now once you get to a point the you might have 10 cards open and you're like what are the annual fees do what's going on what all this stuff, you can put in a spreadsheet, there are two apps I like both have free versions. One is called travel freely, and one is called card pointers. And travel freely is more just like track all the cards you have when the annual fees are due. And all that kind of stuff, card pointers goes a little bit above and beyond that. And you can add all your cards to it, it'll remind you of all the credits that you have to spend. It'll even tell you what the best card is for a category. But they do have a pro version that you have to pay for. But all these offers that these cards have. And some people don't know about this. But if you log into Chase, there are all these offers, you can add. And Amex has them in city and Capital One have them. And there are things that you might already spend money on. There have been times where I log in to AmEx and it's like, Hey, if you spend more than $10 on a wireless bill, we're going to give you $5 back every month, it's like great if you add that offer, you get $5 back, if you don't add that offer, you get nothing. And the card pointers Pro, if you have the browser extension installed, every time you log into your bank, your Amex or chase, whatever, they automatically just enroll you in all the offers. And I've had multiple times where I was looking at my credit card statement. And I just got a credit for a purchase that I didn't even know there was an offer for and that credit has now more than paid for card pointers. And so that is one where I can kind of manage all the cards I have how long I've had them, and just kind of when the fees are due and that kind of stuff.
Jamila Souffrant 53:17
Chris Hutchins 53:18
Not a spreadsheet,
Jamila Souffrant 53:19
Not a spreadsheet! Yeah, well, surprising. Well, you've, you're able to optimize it and make it digital or find a digital solution. But more of this is about financial independence. Are you financially independent? What's your motivation now for working? Is it really because your brain is wired this way that you need to do this? Or is your goal still to reach early financial independence or early retirement?
Chris Hutchins 53:42
So yes, I'm financially independent, I think with an asterisk that if I wanted to never work again, do we have enough money saved that we could never work? Again? If we lived somewhere? That's not unreasonable? Yes. Right. Now we choose to live in like the Bay Area, which is super expensive. So I would say like if we're willing to move, yes, if we stay TBD depends on how the market does. But the motivation to work, it doesn't really feel like work, right? Like, I want to go down the rabbit hole of looking at every cell phone plan, I just now found a way to turn that into a job. And so yes, there are weeks where I'm like, Ah, I have to get an episode out. And I just, you know, it's been a long week. So there are days when it feels like work. But on the whole 95% of what I'm doing is like what I would do anyways. And it just happens that I found a way to make it make it become, you know, a career or at least a profession and get paid for it. But just for anyone listening, I didn't know that going into it. I didn't start you know, one, by the way, should start a podcast with the intent of making money because very few podcasts end up working and making money. And almost every podcast that has worked out and made money was started by someone that would have done that podcast without making money. There are probably some celebrity, you know, exceptions to that. But you have to want to do it. You have to want to do it for a long time. If you look at the number of videos that the average YouTube channel with a million million subscribers has made, it's like over 1000 Like podcasting, the average, like people have to produce a lot of content. So you can't expect to just start a podcast and have it make money. You know, I'm on episode 100. Plus, you're on episode. Oh, no more than that. And it takes a while. So I didn't come into this with the expectation of making money, but it worked out. I think that many people, if you try hard enough at things you love, there will be some financial revenue opportunity. But it might not be obvious, and it might not come right away.
Jamila Souffrant 55:36
Yeah. Well, Chris, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing more of your journey, some tips for hacking all the things, please help you one where we can find out more about you.
Chris Hutchins 55:49
Yeah, you can go to all the hacks.com you're listening to a podcast, you could just search all the hacks. There aren't a lot of all the hacks out there. So I would say start with the podcast, find an episode that looks exciting. And let me know what you think.
Jamila Souffrant 56:00
All right. Thanks, Chris.
Chris Hutchins 56:01
Thanks for having me.
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