“Houston We Have a Problem”: 3 Financial Lessons from Apollo 13

Gene Kranz Apollo 13 SMRemember that famous line from the 1995 film Apollo 13: “Houston, we have problem.“? I have been feeling like that at work recently. Things have been a little busier than usual with my project and it seems that at every turn, there is a new major problem to solve.

So the movie has been on my mind a lot. If you recall, the Apollo 13 mission was supposed to get another crew to the moon. On the way there, a problem surfaced with the space vehicle and the issue was no longer getting the men to the moon, but getting the men safely home.

My favorite character in that movie is NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz played superbly by Ed Harris. Gene was the one person who kept everyone on an even keel and focused on the problem at hand even in the midst of the crisis. I think his leadership had a lot to do with the successful resolution of the situation.

When you think about your finances, do they resemble the Apollo 13 mission? Too much month left at the end of the money, mounting credit card debt, high car payments, no savings, no plan for the future. If this is you, I know how you feel because I have been there.

So let me share with you 3 Financial Lessons that we can learn from Apollo 13 based on my favorite Gene Kranz’s lines:

1. “Let’s look at this thing from a… um, from a standpoint of status. What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”

In the movie, when the crisis surfaced everyone in Mission Control went into a panic. It was Gene who brought everyone to a point where they could focus on the issues. When you face the problem with your finances, you have to start where you are.

For example, Don’t panic about what seems to be an insurmountable debt or the fact that you don’t have much saved for retirement. Think about what’s working. Do you have a job, an income? Good. Can you and your spouse discuss money openly? Great. Are the cars running? Excellent! You can get back and forth to where you need to go. Are the utilities paid? Can you put food on the table? Fantastic. You can live to fight another day.

Focus first on the priorities of life and then on establishing control one step at a time. Get on a budget. Build a beginner’s emergency fund. Focus on paying off your smallest debt. With these building blocks you can get control of your financial situation.

2. “We’ve never lost an American in space, we’re sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option.”

Gene did not let his team lose hope. They could not think about failure because he did not allow for that option. You need to make it clear to your family that winning with your finances is your only option. They will take their lead from you so you need to lead with hope.

Your attitude should be that you will do whatever it takes to achieve victory. You will sacrifice, you will work extra hours or take a second job. You will take your lunch to work. You will sell some assets to build your savings or to pay debt. Don’t give yourself the option of failure because if you do, you will fail and so will your household.

3. “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

Finally, when Gene’s superiors were thinking about impact of the possible disaster on NASA, he reaffirmed his belief in his team and the fact that they would rise to the present challenge.

It does not matter where you are with money today. It does not have to stay that way. You and your family can have a fantastic tomorrow and you can change the direction of your family for generations to come.

We all have made mistakes with money. The question is, what are you going to learn from them and what will you do to make your tomorrow your finest hour?

What change will you make with your finances to start the journey towards a better tomorrow for your family?

This post is also available in: Spanish

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