A Fun Interview with Stacking Benjamins' Host, Joe Saul-Sehy

I recently met with Joe Saul-Sehy to talk about his new money podcast, Stacking Benjamins, which debuts this week. We had just finished recording his final Two Guys and Your Money show, and I figured it would be clever to conduct the interview via Skype instant messaging — that way I could reduce my workload by cutting and pasting our conversation directly onto my blog. Bad idea. Unfortunately for Joe, I have really poor typing skills. Thankfully, he’s a patient guy. — Len

Len Penzo: How ya been, Joe?

Joe Saul-Sehy: Fantastic, Len! How you been? This is weird sitting here talking with each other and typing stuff back and forth at the same time.

LP: Say … How did you type that so fast?

JS: I took a typing class in high school. Sixty words a minute, baby. Eat it, Mr. Morris! (Mr. Morris was my typing teacher.)

LP: That’s great, Joe. You know, I learned how to type from two boobs named Hunt and Peck.

JS: I can see that. Don’t give away all your trade secrets, dude….

LP: Right. So we had another fun Two Guys and Your Money podcast today. You’re going to spend a lot of time editing my, um, contributions this week.

JS: I’m a little sad it was our last one! At least we’ll have a competent new contributor to save our sorry butts on the new show; Kathryn from Makin’ Sense Babe agreed to join. I’m really not sure why. When someone says “Sure, I’ll join!” I don’t ask too many questions.

LP: I think everybody wants to be a part of your show. As you mentioned, you’re putting the kibosh on Two Guys. It’s being replaced by a brand new podcast that debuts later this week called Stacking Benjamins. Care to tell all six of my loyal readers about it?

JS: You’re too funny. The Stacking Benjamins podcast is a magazine-style show. That means that although it runs about 60-70 minutes long, every segment is only about 10-15 minutes, so the time flies. This isn’t a hard-hitting financial show. Think more along the lines “Car Talk”; if you don’t really like cars but like to laugh, you listen to the hosts, Click and Klack. In the same manner, if you like finance but would rather be entertained as we discuss trends, interesting financial stats and interview fun guests, I think our show is for you.

LP: Unlike me, you’re not some two-bit hack masquerading as a personal finance expert. You’ve got real credentials.

JS: I’m not sure about the “two-bit hack” thing. You’re more savvy than most pros I worked with over my career! I was a financial advisor for 16 years working with about 150 families to reach their goals. I helped people manage about $60 million dollars in-house and then another $120 million-ish that were in 401k plans and elsewhere. I know that makes me sound like some kind of money savant, but I was a lot like our listeners. I knew very little about money before I entered the field. I had huge credit card debt and solved it. I spent one year without much income at all — my family of four lived on about $8000. So, I know the strain people feel who are just starting out and need good firm advice.

LP: What do you think sets your podacst apart from other personal finance shows?

JS: We’re the only show that broadcasts from my mom’s basement! I love comedy podcasts, and while we aren’t comedians, I think that influenced me to keep it light. We have quick segments; during the hour, if you don’t like one segment, you might like the next. Each episode starts with an interesting statistic. (On our second Stacking Benjamins episode we discuss a Bank of America stat that says 91% of people aren’t worried about the stock market this summer, and think there isn’t a risk of interest rates going up quickly). Then we talk to a cool guest. In the past we’ve chatted with Pat Flynn, Jean Chatzky, Adam Baker and Luke Landes, just to name a few.

LP: So far so good. Of course, there’s more.

JS: It only gets better from there! Yes, PK from DQYDJ and Kathryn (Makin’ Sense Babe) both have segments, and finally our roundtable of finance bloggers, including you, Dominique Brown from Your Finances Simplified, and different guest bloggers each week discuss a topic, like “Is All Debt Bad?”

LP: Well, I’m glad to see you saved the best for last! But seriously, your podcast format is extremely easy to digest and I think the pace of the show is terrific.

JS: Thanks! The longer we talk the more conceited I sound! Seriously, though, it’s a blast. More than anything we want a listenable podcast. I want to make a show I’d listen to. Although there’s definitely an audience for hard-hitting financial shows, that’s just not me.

LP: Do you have an old Two Guys podcast you’re particularly fond of?

JS: I thought we all did our best work on the Pat Flynn episode.

LP: Interesting. Of course, I wasn’t on that show, Joe. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence. Ahem. You know, one thing I really like about your podcast is that you’ve got a real gift for money talk. You make complex topics easy to understand.

JS: Don’t you hate talking head jargon? I do. I don’t want to talk about “large caps and QE2″ ever! Let’s just stick with big company stocks and how interest rates work. I’m not a car fix-it guy. My mechanic is awesome because he can tell me in my terms how it all works without boring me to tears. I want a money podcast that talks the same way.

LP: I know. When listening to the show, your past experience working in broadcast media is readily apparent too.

JS: For nine years I was on television as the Detroit WXYZ “Money Man,” appearing twice weekly on the news. (Note from Len: Here’s a thrilling clip of Joe from back in the day.)

LP: And you’re no stranger to print media either.

JS: I hate doing the laundry list of “Joe’s media resume.”

LP: I know you do, Joe, but just play along with me. There’s a method to my madness.

JS: OK. My advice has appeared in magazines like Bride, Child, and Best Life, in newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun-Times, and Baltimore Sun. I’ve been on WSJ.com too. So, I’m used to working with the media on financial topics.

LP: Ah, yes, the Los Angeles Times. I started blogging because I got tired of the LA Times continually rejecting my op-ed submittals. Hey, do you ever worry about one of your podcasts being a real train wreck?

JS: I’m neurotic about it. Here’s the way it works: Every week as we’re putting together the next week’s podcast I think it’s just a horrible pile of trash. That’s confirmed when I edit the show and send it to iTunes and Stitcher. There’s a huge knot in my gut. I think I should just throw it away instead of sending it out. Then the reviews pour in and they’re generally really good. I think that’s confirmed by the numbers because our audience has grown quickly. The following week? I think that last week’s show is a brilliant piece of art that we’ll never, ever achieve again…. so you learn to ignore your feelings and just put it out there.

LP: Speaking of neurotic, let me just say that I consider myself fortunate to be a part of your show. But you’ve got to level with me: Do you ever get tired of having to heavily edit my contributions to your podcast?

JS: I thought it was awesome that you agreed to be on our show! I’ll ignore your question and tell everyone the story of “How We Suckered Len To Be On The Podcast.” I’d asked a mutual friend of ours, Dr. Dean Burke (now Georgia State Senator Burke — we both rub elbows with influential people) — and he replied, “Did you ask Penzo if he’d be on?” I thought, “Why the hell would Len ‘effing’ Penzo want to be on my little podcast?” Then Dr. Dean said, “Tell Len that I said that he can’t be on the podcast if I’m on it. He’ll get the humor and agree to come on.” So I wrote you an email that said, “I have this podcast and Dr. Dean said that he would only appear if you promised NOT to be on it.” And you immediately fired back this reply: “Well then, I’m on it!” The rest is history. It’s been a fun ride through 53 episodes so far.

LP: That’s funny.

JS: That is a funny story.

LP: No, not the story, Joe. I’m talking about the fact that you typed that big ol’ paragraph in just 26 seconds. Amazing. Anyway, so does this mean you’re still going to let me take part in your live Stacking Benjamins podcast at FINCON13 in St. Louis this October?

JS: Won’t that be awesome? I’m very happy that Philip Taylor (PT from PT Money, who is the conference organizer) is allowing me to help organize the entire podcast area. We’ll have live broadcasts during the conference breaks so everyone can hear shows in progress. So it’ll be you, Dom, OG & me onstage, along with appearances by Makin’ Sense Babe and PK. That could get ugly.

LP: Ugly? I see you’re a glass-half-full kind of guy — I think you’re being way too kind. So if there isn’t really a big change in the format, why change the podcast name to Stacking Benjamins?

JS: Three reasons. First: Two Guys & Your Money is a decent name but doesn’t speak to the fact that we’re SO laid back. PT said that if he’d known how fun it was going to be, he’d have had two beers before coming on the show! So, Stacking Benjamins is a much more relaxed name that better fits the show. Second, we never had a real “launch,” and although we get wonderful reviews from our listeners, this will give us the chance to reach the iTunes “New and Notable” section. Finally, we keep lying to ourselves, saying that we have all the kinks worked out and the show is finally ready for prime time.

LP: That’s easy for you to type.

Stacking Benjamins debuts this week with three shows! Shannon Ryan from The Heavy Purse will be on the first show, PK from DQYDJ and Makin’ Sense Babe debuts on May 22nd, and the roundtable panel (including yours truly) makes its curtain call May 24th. You can subscribe to Stacking Benjamins on iTunes now and it should be available on the Stitcher, Blackberry and Windows Phone apps in the next few days.

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