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I’m excited to introduce you to another phenomenal person with an inspiring story. I met Lou virtually in the ChooseFI Facebook group. Are you sensing a theme here? I met Rosemary, the first interviewee in this series, there too. I think you can figure out where I hang. 😉
Lou had the most beautifully articulate comment to me in a Facebook thread which you can see in a recent article. In the comment, he described that he was a professor of music. That coupled with his elegant use the English language caused me to want to hear more of his story. I offered him my platform and fortunately, Lou graciously accepted.
I’m calling this series, “people are basically…” so that I can throw in whatever adjective is apropos to the interviewee. If you have an amazing story and would like to be featured here, please email me your pitch.
Please enjoy this phenomenal post by Lou about 7 Money Lessons he has learned throughout his life.
Money Lessons I Learned
My name is Lou. I am a 44-year old husband and father of two lovely young ladies. As a professor, I teach music and worldview. My purpose is to live with true freedom in all things and to encourage others to do the same.
I grew up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with the most loving parents any boy (any child, really) could’ve asked for. Never rolling in dough, smart principles for wealth building were not part of mom and dad’s legacy.
Still, they taught all nine of their children the correlation between love, community, and money. That is, in the love-community-money equation, satisfaction comes when hard work, unflinching integrity, and courageous generosity meet at the center. Because of my parents, I go through life eager to learn lessons at every turn.
Money Lesson # 1: Having my own money affords me the opportunity to spot and meet a legitimate need in my community.
I am unsure of why but something happened when I turned 9 years old that told my family I had a different financial bent.
A visiting relative gave each of us kids $25; back in the mid-’80s, that was a lot of money. My siblings spent their money right away on sundry items they needed. As for me, I saved a good chunk of mine in my piggy bank. For the rest, I remember going to the kitchen and noticed how bare our pantry shelves were at the time. So without telling them what I was doing, I walked to the nearest store and bought ingredients to cook a special meal for my family. That earned me the nickname “Pa Lou”—Father Lou. My siblings still call me by that name from time to time.
Money Lesson # 2: Saved money becomes the capital for business ventures leading to future gains.
From the time I got my start in the kitchen as a 9-year old, I haven’t stopped cooking. I found I enjoyed baking as well. One morning, as a 13-year old, I made muffins for my family and they were devoured instantly. An idea soon came to mind: What if I made muffins and sold them at school?
I gave it a try.
The following week, I bought ingredients that cost me only $4 and made 36 muffins. Leaving a dozen at home for my family, I took 24 muffins and sold each one for a quarter at recess. I was ecstatic when I returned home from school with $6 in my pocket. Furthermore, I quickly realized not only did I recoup my initial investment, but I also fed my family AND made a 50% profit.
I was hooked.
I kept that business venture going for a while until school officials stopped it because of complaints from other vendors as I didn’t have a permit to sell at the school. Oh well, by then I had already made $50 (twice the amount I was originally given by the visiting relative).
Money Lesson # 3: The fireproof strategy for building wealth is having multiple streams of income.
Though selling muffins was no longer an option, I still had money coming in. I baked pastries for neighborhood parties. I taught piano lessons on Saturdays. Since there were no government-sponsored waste disposal services in Haiti, I offered to take trash to the landfill and got paid. Also, at age 16, I became a backup recording artist in a music studio. Nothing I earned during my adolescence was a lot of money. Put together, however, my side gigs helped me cash flow not only my own expenses but also my family’s many times over.
Money Lesson # 4: Always count the financial costs associated with moving and starting over.
I was no rich man in Haiti but I always had some money. My big dream, however, was to become a university professor and so that meant I needed a top-notch education, one that wasn’t available in my field in Haiti. I immigrated to the United States at age 20 to study both classical piano and singing.
In the process, I traded in most of my life savings for a training that has helped me become the professional I am today. In fact, I only had $500 to my name when I landed in LA to enter the conservatory. There were times I only had 5 meals a week but in the end, it was all worth it. I was able to get both my undergraduate and master’s degrees without incurring any debt.
Money Lesson # 5: Flee debt as much and as far as possible.
By the time I finished my master’s, I was already married and my wife and I had our first daughter. We were making good enough money as freelancers and so I contemplated not pursuing my original goal of becoming a university professor. That’s when she dropped a bomb on me:
She wanted to become a full-time stay-at-home mom.
For that desire to materialize, we just knew I’d have to pursue a terminal degree before I would ever be considered for a professorship with a stable income to support our family. So, I applied to many music programs but in the end, I was accepted and given a Teaching Assistantship by the prestigious Eastman School of Music. There, I studied classical voice performance and literature with some of the best artists and coaches the world of opera had to offer.
Despite the amazing scholarships I had, we depleted our emergency fund to cover the move to upstate NY, to pay for coachings and lessons ($400 a pop), and to live there for a whole year. The idea of applying for an educational loan was definitely not something I wanted to consider. I applied for all kinds of jobs (retail, food industry, offices, banks, etc.) but the response I kept receiving was one and the same—I was overqualified. And so, in order to fund my ultra expensive education, I resorted to saddling myself with a hefty loan for the remaining three years to the tune of $80,000.
Money Lesson # 6: A lost decade doesn’t have to define the rest of my life.
From the perspective of financial independence, I see 2007-2017 as a lost decade. Even though positive things happened (the birth of our second daughter, an earned doctorate, and a move to Oklahoma for a professorship at a great university), life’s hardships caused me to lose focus.
Two car accidents, the Haiti earthquake, work stress, two devastating tornadoes, a friend’s betrayal, dad’s unexpected death, my brother’s assassination, four cancer-related deaths (mom, sister, and two friends), the embezzlement of royalties done by my first publisher, the aftermath of unwise financial decisions on my part and so many more trials led me down a dark path of depression.
I lived in a fog and honestly didn’t pay close attention to what I was doing financially during those years. Additionally, I got in more debt and caused serious strain to my marriage. I am truly grateful both my marriage and I survived the mess I was in.
Then, one July day in 2017, I woke up. I can’t explain what happened but I just felt alive and my mind started thinking clearly about money. I was familiar with the name of Dave Ramsey having seen his billboard ads. Through the library and online videos, I absorbed his materials and within 6 months was rid of my credit card debt. Now I am feverishly working to crush my student loan debt.
Money Lesson # 7: I don’t work for money; I hire my hard-earned dollars to work for me.
We acquire new money skills every day. Additionally, we give, save, invest, and spend with a specific plan in mind. Furthermore, we now know it’s not about how much we earn but it is about the gap between our earning and spending.
We give away 15% of our gross income to charities that mean a whole lot to us. We also apportion 56% of our 80k income toward improving our net worth (debt repayment, retirement, and savings). The rest of our money takes care of our scaled down expenses.
The difference in our lives since that fateful July day is remarkable—going from a negative net worth to a positive 6-figure in 18 months. I know life is full of ups and downs and I cannot fully predict the future. Yet I am grateful to have a more solid financial foundation that will help us withstand the storms that are sure to come.
Lou nailed it with his 7 money lessons. He has it all in here – from the opportunities that come from having our own money to fleeing the shackles of debt.
Sometimes we have to make hard choices that will potentially advance our future. While Lou refers to the 10 years of taking out loans and studying for his doctorate as a lost decade in terms of financial independence, he also acknowledged that positive things came out of it. Moreover, Lou expressed that a lost decade does not have to define his future. This is a perfect example of the choice we have in the story we tell ourselves.
Lou ended with hiring his money to work for him. This is exactly what happens when we invest our hard earned dollars. Finally, Lou touched on giving away 15% of his families income to local charities. Giving has and will continue to play a huge role in my life. Interesting that both Rosemary and Lou have talked about their generosity playing a big part in their financial strategies…before getting out of debt.
If you want to learn more about Lou you can reach him on his website and/or contact him via Facebook as Louima Lilite.
Alright, I’d love to now hear from you and any money lessons you’ve learned and live by…