Occasionally, I enjoy reading enlightening conversations with respected personal finance experts. But after making numerous interview requests over the past couple of months, it was obvious to me that most of those respected experts still didn’t want to waste their time talking to a two-bit blogger like myself.
Don’t cry for me though. I handle rejection well. I’ve had lots of practice over the years.
Recently, my fortunes finally turned and I was able to snag an exclusive interview with self-proclaimed “personal finance genius”, Rich Livingston.
I caught up with Rich late one afternoon at the downtown Los Angeles headquarters of his employer, one of the largest banks in North America. I expected Rich to look like the traditional banking executive, dressed to the nines in a sharp business suit. But when I met him he was dressed casually, in an all-white ensemble of trousers and collared shirt; his dubious choice to don that color before Memorial Day a seemingly brazen violation of sartorial etiquette.
Me: Rich, thanks for taking time to be with us today.
Rich: You’re very welcome, Len.
Me: In the spirit of full disclosure to my readers, you and I became acquainted after you e-mailed me a while back to offer your services as a writer for this website. What intrigued me was that, as part of your credentials, you immodestly listed yourself as a “personal finance genius.”
Rich: Well, that’s what I am.
Me: Your e-mail stated that you work in the banking industry and are regularly featured on Fox News.
Rich: That’s right, Len.
Me: That’s all very impressive! Would you mind sharing with us your duties at the bank? I assume the bank you work for considers itself very fortunate to employ a personal financial genius such as yourself.
Rich: Uh, Len, I’d really rather not talk about my job at the bank. I’m sure you understand that I deal with a lot of proprietary and confidential stuff and so I have to be careful about revealing potentially sensitive information to the public.
Me: Don’t be so modest, Rich. I’m not asking for you to share proprietary details. Just give my readers a flavor of what you do at the bank. Are you a corporate vice-president?
Me: Regional Director?
Rich: Not quite, and I really –
Me: Local President?
Rich: Something like that.
Me: Can you be more specific, Rich? Can I assume you are a loan officer managing multi-million dollar loans for major corporations?
Rich: Not exactly. I’m an associate.
Me: An associate? You mean like a bank teller?
Rich: I’m in janitorial services. But the job pays $15 per hour plus a lot of fringe benefits.
Me: Heh. I can imagine.
Rich: Are you being sarcastic?
Me: Not me. Besides, Rich, being the financial genius that you are, I know I don’t have to tell you that the amount of money you make has no bearing whatsoever on your ability to achieve financial freedom. I’m sure you are living comfortably, and well within your means. I’ll also bet that you have a lot of financial flexibility right now, despite your slightly lower than average income.
Rich: Well, I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you there, Len. I am fairly deep in debt right now, which is to be expected due to the slave wages I am currently earning. But I expect things to turn around real soon. In fact, I’ve actually started a consulting business on the side that promises to raise my income into six-figure territory.
Me: Congratulations! Is that with or without the zeros after the decimal point?
Rich: Very funny. Laugh all you want, but as soon as that business takes off, I’ll be clearing $100k per year. Once that happens my troubles will be over.
Me: You know, Rich, although it’s nothing to sneeze at, the effects of inflation over time has made it such that a six-figure income really isn’t that impressive anymore. What’s really alarming though, is that you mistakenly believe that a healthy income guarantees financial freedom.
Rich: Your point being?
Me: That you believe all your money troubles will go away once you start earning a significant income.
Rich: And you are concerned because…
Me: Because I think you believe personal debt is directly attributable to household income, when it actually is directly correlated to poor financial discipline and your inability to exercise self control.
Rich: Your point being?
Me: (sigh) Somebody with poor financial discipline displays a predilection for spending more than he earns. Based on what you have revealed about yourself in the past few minutes, I’d say you fit that description to a tee.
Rich: Listen, what do you expect me to do? This has nothing to do with my inability to control my spending. Nobody can live on 30 grand per year!
Me: I really beg to differ with you there, Rich. Countless numbers of disciplined families with less-than-average household incomes manage to maintain financially-stable households everyday. Most of these families do it by running their household like a business, either consciously or unconsciously.
Rich: Dude, the only person who is unconscious right now is you. Do you really believe what you’re saying?
Me: Absolutely! But you know what, Rich — and I hate to say this — I think you have purposely misled me regarding your credentials. You should be ashamed of yourself! I bet you’ve never been featured on Fox News before either, have you?
Rich: I most certainly have, and I take great offense at your characterization of me! Several years ago I was interviewed by a student news team from Marist College in my home town of Poughkeepsie.
Rich: Marist College? Oh, come on! Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of the Marist College Red Foxes? (Sings) Marist Foxes, we’re on the run! Up hill, down hill, so much fun! We lure our every foe, into the Red Fox hole! Rah! Rah! Rah!
Rich: Whatever. You know, I’d love to chat more with you, but I’ve really got to be going.
Me: What’s the hurry? Do you have a hot date?
Rich: As a matter of fact I do. Natasha and I have front row tickets to see the Lakers tonight. She’s a big fan and I wanted to make our first date a memorable one.
Me: I bet those were expensive tickets. I assume you got those from the bank as a courtesy for a job well done?
Rich: I wish! In fact, I paid for them myself — and you ain’t kidding they’re expensive. I paid five grand for the pair.
Me: $5000! That seems like a lot of money for a guy who earns $30,000 per year. How are you paying for that, if you don’t mind me asking?
Rich: No prob. I got my mom to tap her home equity line of credit in 2007 in order to help me build up my rainy day fund. Smart, huh? I know. I think it is wise for everybody to have one. I’m going to pay her back though. With interest. Make sure you put that in the interview.
Me: I will, Rich. You know, I slowly built my rainy day fund up over a long period of time by saving a little from my paycheck each month. I must say though that you chose a rather, um, unconventional strategy for building yours. Especially for someone as, um, knowledgeable about finances as yourself. Besides, what’s your rainy day fund got to do with front-row seats for the Lakers?
Rich: Are you kidding me? Natasha is HOT! How else was I going to pay for those tickets?
Me: You could have saved over $4900 and bought the cheap seats in the rafters and left your rainy day fund alone.
Rich: You’re not too smart when it comes to girls, are you?
Me: Not really.
Rich: It shows.
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