Rev. Dr. Burt Howe recently shared the story of ‘Wrong Way Riegals.’ Many of you may be familiar with the play that made Ron Riegels infamous for being directionally challenged. Even the College Football Hall of Fame and CBS Sports chose Riegels’ “Wrong way run in the Rose Bowl” one of six “Most Memorable Moments of the Last Century.”
The setting was the 1929 college football Rose Bowl with Georgia Tech playing the University of California Berkley. According to Wikipedia.org, midway through the second quarter, Riegels, who played center for UC/Berkley, picked up a fumble by Tech’s Jack “Stumpy” Thomason. Just 30 yards away from Georgia Tech’s end zone, Riegels was hit by a tackler, got turned around losing his sense of direction and ran 69 yards … towards his own end zone.
Georgia Tech head coach Bill Alexander was yelling: “He’s running the wrong way. Let’s see how far he can go!” While radio announcer Broadcaster called out “What am I seeing? What’s wrong with me? Am I crazy? Am I crazy? Am I crazy?”
Teammate and quarterback Benny Lom chased Riegels, screaming at him to stop. Known for his speed, Lom finally caught up with Riegels at California’s 3-yard line and tried to turn him around, but he was immediately hit by a wave of Tech players and tackled back to the 1-yard line. The Bears chose to punt rather than risk a play so close to their own end zone, but Tech’s Vance Maree blocked Lom’s punt for a safety, giving Georgia Tech a 2-0 lead and ultimately the deciding margin of victory as UC Berkley couldn’t overcome the mishap losing 8-7.
Nationwide mockery ensued and Riegels lived with the blunder the rest of his life stating, “For many years I’ve had to go along and laugh whenever my wrong-way run was brought up, even though I’ve grown tired listening and reading about it.”
Interestingly, Riegels was not only a great football player earning All-American honors the following year but was brilliant on and off the field. In fact his coach Nib Price stated that Ron Reigels was the smartest player that he had ever coached. Riegels went on to have a career in the U.S. Army Air Forces and then became a CEO of his own chemical company.
But is doesn’t matter how talented or brilliant someone is if he or she is running in the wrong direction. I was recently asked by the University of New England Alumni Association to speak to some of their students while kicking off their financial literacy series. I asked the kids what they felt were the cornerstones of reaching financial security. The answers are often the same whether asking students or adults. We all often state the obvious which include a solid formal education, a good job, good income, and a solid network of contacts. The problem is that while those things could help … if you were running in the right direction … the truth is that many of us have been spun around and are running towards the wrong end zone and in the process creating our own life long blunders.
Studies show that there is in fact little correlation between a good education and financial success. In fact, for each additional level of education, savings has been found to decrease by approximately $1,500 per year so to go from a high school education, to an associates degree, to a bachelors, to a masters, etc. results in thousands less saved every year. Apparently, people with more education are more status oriented and more interested in positional consumption and upscale spending than making wise financial decisions.
Recently I have had customers come to see me with incomes of $80,000, $98,000, $187,000, $262,000, and lastly $512,000. What first comes to mind is this – all these people have good educations, all have good jobs with great income, all are very intelligent, and all have a good network of contacts. But… all of these real life examples have marginal credit, very limited savings, large mortgages, and all had credit card debt over $40,000 with three of these families having over $100,000 in credit card debt and one family owing $170,000 in revolving debt. And all five were illiquid meaning they had more debt than they had assets possibly qualifying them for bankruptcy.
The Wall Street Journal reports that 27% of those surveyed who made more than $100,000 a year stated that they didn’t make enough money to buy the things that they really need while 20% of them stated that they spend all of their money on the bare necessities of life – it makes you wonder what they feel are the bare necessities. The truth is that few of us have money problems – most of us have thinking problems.
So if it’s not having a great education, great job, great income, etc. that provides financial security what is it that allows us to head in the right direction and make the most of what we are blessed with?
As I asked the question to the students, Joe Valenza, one of the UNE alumni, spoke up and provided the answer which is time tested wisdom. Joe shared, “The key is simply to spend less than you make.” Spend less than we make? It is the right answer but it’s not nearly as simple as it sounds – unless we have a plan to assure that it happens. The problem is there is this universal law called “Parkinson’s Law,” which states that as income rises, we have an overwhelming tendency to allow expenses to rise to match income. It is human nature isn’t it? We often have our raises, bonuses, gifts, etc. spent long before we actually receive them with little thought that maybe we should save at least a portion of the increase.
I have heard it said the quickest way to success is to watch what everyone else does and do the opposite because normal means broke. Dave Ramsey states, “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” Well, what most everyone does is live life without a plan – spending first with a hope of saving and giving what is left. The problem is that there is never anything left.
That’s all it takes to reduce, and possibly eliminate, financial stress … to simply have a cash flow plan in place to assure that you spend less than you make and in the process break this universal pattern of expenses always being allowed to rise to meet income.
And that plan is simply to pay yourself first, give the amount you feel is appropriate to others second, and to build your lifestyle with what is left. If you do this you will never have a house payment or a car payment that weighs on you like an anchor and you will avoid the financial stress that plagues our society and negatively impacts our relationships, careers, health, intellectual growth, and our emotional vitality. Taking these powerful steps will have you enjoying the game as you race toward a championship.