The Opposite: Financial Wisdom From George Costanza

The Opposite: Financial Wisdom from George CostanzaIf you are a fan of the classic sitcom “Seinfeld, you are very familiar with the travails of George Costanza.

George was Jerry’s best friend and the prototypical underachiever, loser type.

George wanted all the benefits of a great life but was unwilling to pay the price required.

Instead, he would much rather lie and take the easy way to get there.

Only once did George experience some level of success.

In the episode “The Opposite“, George realizes that every instinct he has ever had, has been wrong.

He then decides from that moment to do the opposite of what his instincts tell him in every situation.

Here is the video:

What can we learn from George Costanza?

We could take a cue from George with regard to our financial wisdom.

If you do the opposite of what most people are doing with their money, you will succeed.

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Here are some examples. Statistics come from the 2014 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey conducted by the National Foundation For Credit Counseling):

  • 61% of Americans do not have a working budget to manage their money and keep track of their expenses. If you get on a budget, your money will work harder for you. Trust me, you will feel like you got a raise.
  • Only 29% of Americans are spending less than they make.
  • 34% of Americans do not have any non-retirement savings. This means that when an emergency comes, they have to borrow more money.
  • 32% of Americans do not allocate any money to retirement savings. This means they are relying on the Social Insecurity system to take care of them in their golden years.
  • 34% of Americans carry credit card debt from month to month. This means they pay more and longer for their purchases.
  • Many adults (41%) would give themselves a grade of C, D, or F on their knowledge of personal finance. Lack of knowledge leads to mistakes and lost opportunities.
  • Most Americans (71%) are worried about their financial situation. They lack financial peace.

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Are you in one of those groups above? If so, what will it take for you to change course?

You can get your finances on track, you can learn how to handle money. You can get out of your current situation.

Unlike George Costanza, your success does not have to be temporary. Make a decision today that will really change your life for good.

There is always Help and Hope for Your Finances!!!

“May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.”
Psalm 20:4 (NIV)

The Power of Focus in Personal Finance

Focus

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How do you get things done? I mean, how do you manage to accomplish the myriad of tasks that are in front of you every day? And in the middle of doing that, how are you ensuring you’re staying on track to meet your goals?

This post is a little different from my regular teaching on personal finance, but it does have an important application there as well so stay with me.

The Background

Over the last few months I have been dealing with the questions in the opening paragraph. As you may know, I have a full time day job as a Project/Program Manager for a large IT/Services company. I have been with that company for a little over 20 years now and I have had what I consider a successful career.

But as you also may know, I have been working on launching a personal finance coaching practice for a little over 3 years now. Since I have a full time job, the time I have left to devote to this personal finance coaching practice comes from evenings, early mornings, and the weekends.

So I recently started taking stock of where I am with the coaching practice. As a good project/program manager, I defined a set of key monthly measurements and I have been keeping track of them since January of this year.

After careful analysis of my results, I have determined that time is the limiting factor in taking the coaching practice further in the next couple of years.

Don’t get me wrong, I have learned quite a bit over the last 3 years and I have connected with some great people. I started blogging on a regular basis and I also jumped into the social media fray.

I also can tell you that I am very proud of the new things I have learned to do this year like writing 2 e-books, starting a monthly newsletter, and launching a personal finance Podcast in Spanish. So I have made some progress and I am thankful for that.

The Decision

But I also know that when you are working on something new and you want it to grow and prosper, it needs more of your attention and time. In other words, it needs the power of focus.

When I look at the amount of “free time” I have outside of my day job, it has to be enough to cover everything else in my life. This includes my spiritual and physical well-being, my marriage, my family, and my service to God.

In other words, you and I can’t do everything and I found myself having to make some tough decisions about where to spend my time at this juncture.

In his book “Start”, best-selling author Jon Acuff speaks about the concept of “dropped balls”. These are things in your life that you may have to set aside so you can focus on achieving your dream.

These are not bad things, but you can only do so much in any given day, month, year. It’s like Gandalf told Frodo: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

So after much prayer, I decided to stop serving in 2 ministries that I love because I was spreading myself too thin. I was not putting enough focus on the coaching practice and I did not think I could continue at that pace and still reach my short and long term goals.

As the great Zig Ziglar said: “I’ve got to say no to the good so I can say yes to the best.

The Application to Your Personal Finances

And here is the application for your finances. Regardless of where you are with your money today, the power of focus will be your best weapon going forward.

There is nothing like laser like intensity to help you accomplish what you are trying to do with money. For example:

  • If you are just getting started, your immediate focus should be on gaining control of your money via a monthly budget.
  • If you have no savings, your immediate focus should be on saving a beginner’s emergency fund so you can avoid having to rely on debt when you have an emergency.
  • And if you are trying to get out of debt, focus on that with all your energy and attention. This is no time to worry about retirement or college savings. You will get there, trust me.
  • If you are out of debt and are thinking about buying a home, make sure you focus first on saving an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses and then focus on saving enough for a down payment for your home.

There are exactly 61 days left in 2013 after today. This might be a good time to take a moment and see if it is time for you to turn on the power of focus in your life.

It could be in any dimension: spiritual, professional, relationships, finances, health, etc. But spending some time deciding where your focus should be, will enable you to finish strong in 2013 and start 2014 on the right foot.

Question: Which area in your life could benefit the most from the power of focus?

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What if I lose My Job?

Job Loss Subscribe to future posts from Figueroa Financial by e-mail

Have you asked yourself that question recently? This question became relevant to me very recently as some colleagues at my company experienced the dreaded layoffs.

As I spoke to them about their situation and their next steps, I began thinking about what I would do if I found myself in their shoes. Regardless of your financial situation, losing a job is definitely a crisis, an emergency situation.

I have been blessed and I have never experienced a job loss before. So this is primarily theoretical question but an important one. Consider it an emergency drill. This is how I think I would handle the loss of my job:

Acknowledge and Accept the Loss

  • You may be a very good performer with great skills and a terrific service record for your company. It is still possible that you will get caught in the numbers game. In that sense, a job loss would not be your fault and you need to understand and remember that. In my case I would need to remember that I do have a lot to offer to prospective employers and clients.
  • Losing a job is extremely personal. Most likely, one of the comments I would hear from management is something along the lines “it’s not personal, it’s business decision”. The only problem with that is sentiment is that losing a job affects your entire life so it is indeed very, very personal. I would probably spend some time dealing with a sense of loss and grief. But I don’t think I would dwell on it too long.

I would need to be able to fairly quickly acknowledge and accept the situation. Once that step is completed I would be ready to deal with what comes next.

Assess Financial Situation

  • I would need to do a quick assessment to understand the following:
    • What are our monthly obligations? Our monthly budget should be able to answer this question.
    • What are our assets and liabilities?
    • How much money do we have in the emergency fund?
    • Am I getting a severance package and if so, how much?
  • Quickly prioritize the 4 walls of food, shelter/utilities, transportation and clothing for spending in our monthly budget.
  • Determine which spending categories can be reduced or eliminated completely while we are dealing with the crisis.
  • Determine how to cover medical expenses.

Because my wife and I have a much better handle on our money than when we first got married, this second step would be very manageable. I could easily map out how long we can manage our obligations while I look for that next job.

Having your finances under control today will enable you to deal with a crisis tomorrow.

Assume Responsibility for Next Steps

  • Reach out to friends and family. In my case, I would let them know what happened, how we are doing, and I would ask for prayers for God’s wisdom, peace, and provision.
  • Review and update my résumé as necessary. Thankfully, I have kept my résumé up to date since I first experienced an employment crisis back in the early 90s (I did not lose my job but my division got sold. Big wake-up call and lesson for a 26 year old). I also have a very up to date LinkedIn profile that I review on a regular basis.
  • Reach out to former colleagues and/or clients. They can help identify potential employment leads. These people know me well and could speak on my behalf and keep an eye open for opportunities.
  • Read/review materials on strategies for job hunting and interviewing. Over the past few years I have read some great resources such as “48 Days to the Work You Love”, “No More Mondays”, and “Quitter”. It would be time to review key lessons learned and to get my hands on similar material.
  • Remain active. Not having something to do every day would be new to me and there is the danger that I could fall into too much relaxation. To fight that off:
    • I would need to continue to exercise on a regular basis.
    • Find more opportunities to serve others.
    • Devote most of my time to the task of finding another job.

Even though losing a job represents an emergency, crisis situation it could lead to something better. But I would have to assume ownership and responsibility for what happens next.

What about you? What would you do in the case of a job loss?

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My Summer Reading List

Summer Reading List

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I am looking forward to the Summer for many reasons. One of them is that I expect to have a little more time to catch-up on my reading.

Reading and learning is essential for personal growth. Here are the books that I have on my list. What’s on your summer reading list?

  • Twelve Unlikely Heroes” by John MacArthur. How God commissioned unexpected people in the Bible and what He wants to do with you.
  • 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. This book covers seven biographies of men who experienced the struggles and challenges to be strong in the face of forces and circumstances that would have destroyed the resolve of lesser men. Each of the seven men profiled- George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles Colson- call the reader to a more elevated walk and lifestyle, one that embodies the gospel in the world around us.
  • Debt-Free U” by Zac Bissonnette. In this book the author describes how he paid for an outstanding college education without loans, scholarships, or mooching of his parents.
  • Start” by Jon Acuff. Punch fear in the face and move from average to awesome.
  • No More Mondays” by Dan Miller. Fire yourself and other revolutionary ways to discover your true calling at work.
  • EntreLeadership” by Dave Ramsey. 20 Years of practical business wisdom from the Trenches.
  • One Perfect Life” by John MacArthur. Jesus’ perfect life is the culmination of history and the theme of all Scripture. It’s not surprising that John MacArthur has spent more than half his pulpit ministry preaching through the four books dedicated to that life. You know them as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In One Perfect Life, John weaves the life of Christ into a seamless, compelling, chronologically organized story.

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“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?