Before Daniel Lapin became a rabbi, he was a plumber, electrical engineer and salesman. His versatile career path left him with a laundry list of money mistakes and financial lessons intertwined with Jewish teachings. He wrote “Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money” to help others achieve financial success. He spoke with Easy Money about rebounding from financial hardship and his main money mantra.
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This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
What advice do you have for those looking to refresh their finances heading into Rosh Hashanah?
Let’s confine ourselves to the realm of practical finance. You can certainly make some real-life decisions and commitments in this solemn period, resolutions if you will. And if you make the right ones and find a way to discipline yourself to stick to them rigorously, you’ll certainly be able to change your fourth-quarter 2020 figures for the better.
We must do our best to understand that with all of the economic stress COVID-19 has imposed on countless families, there can also be exciting financial opportunities in good times and also in bad times. Those who were able to accumulate savings are far better off than those who didn’t.
What advice do you have for those struggling financially?
It’s terribly unpleasant to be strapped financially. It’s bad for your state of mind, it’s bad for your health and it’s bad for your marriage. It can feel like being in a straitjacket, almost as if there is simply no way out of your problems.
The first three things you must do are: Survive! Survive! Survive! This isn’t going to last forever. It’s not even going to last that long. Keep your family intact and keep your health intact. Everything else can be rebuilt. Pay essential bills first and if necessary. Waste no money at all. Start plotting and planning your comeback.
What’s the No. 1 mistake you see people make with their finances?
It would be easier for me to list 100 mistakes than it is to list the No. 1 mistake. Some failed to save; some failed to mature, marry and develop stable personalities, while others bounced frantically from one enterprise to another.
Money isn’t like tennis. You can have a terrible tennis game but a beautifully successful life. But you can’t have a terrible money game and still have a great life. That’s not how it works. The five F’s we have to focus on simultaneously are family, friendships, faith, finance and fitness. Most attempts to fix finances while ignoring the other four are doomed.
What’s the worst financial advice you’ve ever received?
“Become an electrical engineer. You enjoy fooling around with electronics and you’re good at physics and mathematics, so become an engineer.” This was advised to me through most of my teenage years. So I did. Terrible advice. I was able to transfer to the sales side, selling the very things I had earlier been designing and [I] enjoyed that greatly. I also earned considerably more money that way. Then, entirely by outside agency, I became a rabbi.
A close second is, “Follow your dream.” [Young] people have some really dumb dreams. Following them can be even dumber. No, the correct career advice is find the work that pays you the most. That is an indicator that you are doing something that people value. Then learn to love it. But few hear this advice in time. I know that I didn’t.
What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?
Without question, the advice from my rabbinic teachers that finance ties closely into four other areas of your life, [the five F’s]. You’ll never really know what money is and how to create it without that awareness.
What’s something you’re financially proud of?
Financially I am grateful not to be in need. I am humbled by how much more I have than I deserve. My children are amazing but my wife and I realize that this cannot be attributed to us never having made any child-rearing mistakes.
We have an amazing company, Lifecodex Publishing and Media, but without the people, some of whom have been with us for over 10 years, we’d be nothing. I am privileged to serve an important organization, The American Alliance of Jews and Christians which has attained some valuable goals but again, nothing for me to be proud of. Just grateful to be part of it all.
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko