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.
Recently, my run of tough luck ended, as 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 him to look like your traditional banking executive, dressed to the nines in a sharp business suit. But when I met him in late April he was dressed casually, in an all-white ensemble of trousers and collared shirt, clearly unconcerned about any violations of sartorial etiquette for donning that color before Memorial Day in today’s hyper-sensitive world.
Len Penzo: Rich, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today.
Rich Livingston: You’re very welcome, Len.
LP: In the spirit of full disclosure to my readers, we became acquainted after you contacted 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.”
RL: Well, that’s what I am.
LP: Your message stated that you work in the banking industry and are regularly featured on CNN.
RL: That’s right.
LP: Very impressive! Would you mind sharing your duties? I assume the bank you work for considers itself very fortunate to employ a personal financial genius such as yourself.
RL: Well … I’d 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.
LP: But I’m not asking you to share proprietary info. Just tell us in general terms what you do for the bank. Are you a corporate vice-president?
LP: Regional Director?
RL: Not quite, and I really …
LP: Local President?
RL: Something like that.
LP: Can you be more specific? Can I assume you’re a loan officer managing multi-million dollar loans for major corporations?
RL: Not exactly; I’m an associate.
LP: An associate? You mean like a bank teller?
RL: I’m in janitorial services. But the job pays $20 per hour, plus fringe benefits.
LP: I can imagine.
RL: Are you being sarcastic?
LP: Not me. Besides, Rich, being the financial genius that you are, I know I don’t have to tell you that your income has very little bearing on your ability to achieve financial freedom. For example, I’m sure you’re living comfortably and well within your means. I’ll also bet that you have a lot of financial flexibility right now, despite your income.
RL: Well, I 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’m currently earning. But I expect things to turn around soon; I’ve started a consulting side-business that promises to raise my income into six-figure territory.
LP: Congratulations! Is that with or without the zeros after the decimal point?
RL: Laugh all you want, but as soon as my side hustle takes off, I’ll be clearing $100k per year. Then my troubles will be over.
LP: You know, Rich, although it’s nothing to sneeze at, over time inflation has made it such that a six-figure income really isn’t that impressive anymore. Frankly, I’m surprised that you actually believe a healthy income guarantees financial freedom.
RL: Your point being?
LP: That’s not how I’d expect a “financial genius” to think.
RL: And you’re surprised because…
LP: … because I think you believe personal debt is directly attributable to household income, when it’s actually correlated to poor financial discipline.
RL: Your point being?
LP: (sigh) The point I’m trying to make is that those with poor financial discipline have a predilection for spending more than they earn. Based on what you’ve revealed about yourself in the past few minutes, I’d say you fit that description to a tee.
RL: Listen, what do you expect me to do? This has nothing to do with my inability to control my spending. Nobody can live on $40,000 per year!
LP: I beg to differ with you there, Rich. Countless 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.
RL: The only person who is unconscious right now is you. Do you really believe what you’re saying?
LP: Absolutely! But you know what, Rich — and I hate to say this — I think you’ve purposely misled me regarding your credentials. I bet you’ve never been on TV either.
RL: Whatever. I’d love to chat more with you, but I’ve got to be going.
LP: What’s the hurry? Do you have a hot date?
RL: As a matter of fact I do. Natalie and I have front row tickets to see the Dodgers tonight; we’ll be behind home plate. She’s a big fan and I wanted to make our first date a memorable one.
LP: I bet those were expensive tickets. I assume you got them from the bank as a courtesy for a job well done?
RL: I wish! In fact, I paid three grand for the pair.
LP: $3000! That seems like a lot of cash for a guy who earns $40,000 per year. How are you paying for that, if you don’t mind me asking?
RL: No prob. I got my mom to tap her home equity line of credit in 2019 so I could have a rainy day fund. I’m going to pay her back though; with interest! Make sure you put that in the interview.
LP: You know, most people gradually build their rainy day funds over many months by consistently saving a little bit from every paycheck. By the way, what’s your rainy day fund got to do with front-row seats for the Dodgers?
RL: Are you kidding me? Natalie is HOT! How else was I going to pay for those tickets?
LP: You could have bought two seats in right field for $50 and left the rainy day fund alone.
RL: You’re not very smart when it comes to girls, are you?
LP: Not really.
RL: It shows.
Photo Credit: Jesse Michelson