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Ask Dr. Elia: Four keys to financial success

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One of the most important areas in life is that of financial security. We all strive for it with some basic knowledge of what works and what doesn't.

Great counsel is given every year from our spiritual leaders and other so called experts. Defining the "financial expectations" early on in a relationship is key to the overall success of that relationship! Clearly the financial principles that I'm about to share with you are applicable to all of us…married, single, divorced or widowed.

The best counsel I ever received took place while I was single and about to get married. Here I was in graduate school, deeply in debt because of school loans and about to start an eternal union. Luckily for me, my soon-to-be wife had graduated from college (BYU) and was working on the production side at a movie studio in Hollywood. She was extremely responsible fiscally, having been taught well by her parents.

Interestingly, the counsel that I received did not come from her by but from a good friend in the singles ward. He had been working in the financial sector and doing quite well, by the looks of things. One day we started to talk about life, and out of the blue, he stated that finances are easy. That's right, he said they were EASY! I replied, "That's easy for you to say, you have a good job and a nice car and a very nice condo. I live in an apartment, drive an OK car and I'm in debt because of grad school ... do you want to trade?"

He laughed and said, predictably "No, I don't think so!" He did, however, go on to say that if I did four things every month, finances would be easy for me, too. Well, given my circumstances and respect for him, I was intrigued, so I said, "Let's hear it."

He said the first thing you do every month is pay the Lord, meaning tithing, a generous fast offering and any other contribution that would have a meaningful impact in the lives of others. Honestly, I was not too surprised by his comment. Putting the Lord first made total sense to me.

The second principle was to pay myself! Now I was a little taken aback by the simplicity of his comment. He went on to say that paying yourself should always come after the Lord, because it implies that you matter. If in graduate school, it might mean $5 a month (at the time, the price of a movie ticket). In time that could be $50 or even $500 depending on your circumstances. Learn the importance of savings, right after tithing.

The third key to financial freedom and success was to pay your bills and pay them on time. He asked me an interesting question, "Do you know who owns most of the high-rise buildings in most major cities?" I thought for a minute and answered, "Banks and insurances?" He said "exactly," and did I know how they're able to afford to build them? The logical answer was of course that awful word we all dread: INTEREST. So it is, he continued, when we pay interest we're the "slaves." When we pay our bills, credit cards, etc. on time we're the "masters." "Which one do you want to be?" Well, at the time I definitely fell in the first category but eventually and with some discipline and help from my wife, it got considerably better.

The fourth principle was the one that took me the most by surprise. He said if you do the first three every month and there's some money left over, "Well, go out and spend it and have fun with your family!" I loved it!

I'm clearly not a financial expert, as a matter of fact, I really struggled at UCLA with the only economics class that I took (psychology was a lot easier). However, I can tell you that I have followed his wise counsel for almost two decades, and it has blessed my life and that of my family's. Pay the Lord, pay yourself, pay your bills on time (no interest) and then go out and enjoy! I've shared his counsel with many others over the years and although it seems simple, it actually works!

Dr. Elia Gourgouris is a nationally known speaker, relationship expert and author of "The Multi-Platinum Marriage: Going from Surviving to Thriving." He is a UCLA graduate and holds a Ph.D. in psychology. He's also president of LDS Coaching. He was born in Athens, Greece, and now resides in Boulder, Colo., with his wife and children. He can be contacted through his Web sites, www.LDSCoaching.com or www.AskDrElia.com, or at 303-523-6396.