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Is There Such a Thing as Financial Good Luck?

in Joan's Posts, Money Basics, Pay Off Your Debt

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan here.

In the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about luck – specifically, financial “luck.”

To be honest, I haven’t really been thinking. I’ve been pouting.

  • A friend’s father just won free gas for a year.
  • Another friend took his daughter out of town and ended up getting upgraded to a suite at their hotel – and then getting it for free due to a fairly minor problem.
  • Yet another friend and her family will be debt-free (including their mortgage) as of this Monday, thanks to a combination of a lot of hard work – and an unexpected windfall that allowed them to finish ahead of schedule.

And here I sit, farther behind than I was on my own financial goals thanks to my water heater and new tires.

And I start to ask myself…

Is there such a thing as luck?

I’m often guilty of saying that if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.

But the fact is, I don’t really believe in “luck.”

I look at the good things that come to me as unexpected blessings, and I look at the bad things that happen to me as just that – bad things that happen. Not a “random draw” in which Joan gets selected in the great cosmic water-heater lottery, not God pointing the finger at me and striking, but simply as an obstacle to be overcome.

Or, at least, I think those things when I’m being rational.

Then there are days like today, when I get kind of irrational. I get jealous. “Where’s MY luck?” I grumble. “Nothing good like that ever happens to me.”

I’m sure I’m not alone in my pouty grouchiness. (At least – I hope not.) But as I write this, I realize how much “luck” is beside the point.

Don’t confuse luck with probability

In the case of my friend’s dad winning free gas, that’s a matter of probability. I buy gas at the same convenience-store chain occasionally – but not very often.

If he shops there more often – of course he’s more “likely” than I am to win.

Yet I saved $10 on my gas today by using my “discount points” at our grocery store’s gas station. And I do this regularly – every month, I am guaranteed to save on my gas cost by choosing to buy it at the grocery store.

I’m taking the sure thing – the savings – over the smaller probability of winning free gas.

Don’t confuse luck with the normal course of events

My friend whose hotel room ended up free would probably have preferred a working shower, especially after walking around sight-seeing on an 80-degree day.

While they could make do by washing from the sink, the fact is, a hotel room is supposed to have a functional shower. And when it doesn’t work, the right thing to do is to make the stay complimentary.

That’s not really “good luck” on my friend’s part – it’s what should happen in the normal course of events.

I received a check in the mail this week for $25 – I’d accidentally overpaid on a copay for my daughter, and I didn’t know it.

That’s what should happen. I overpaid, and I was reimbursed. Yes, it was unexpected, but it wasn’t luck. It was the normal course of events.

That said, it matters what I do with the $25, and that brings me to the last point.

Don’t confuse luck with good decision-making

I think this is the most important example.

In the case of my friends whose unexpected windfall allowed them to pay off their mortgage (their last debt) early – that’s a matter of making good choices.

I’ve known plenty of people who came into money through an inheritance, a stock dividend, a lottery win or other means – and then blew it. They never came out looking “lucky” – because they quickly had nothing to show for their supposed good fortune.

My friends had already been working hard to pay off their debt. And when money became available, they made a choice to use it to finish the payoff.

In the case of my $25, I could, I don’t know, buy a lottery ticket. I could go to Rutter’s and get some junk food. I could browse Amazon.

Instead, I choose to use it to help rebuild my checking-account cushion. You know – the cushion I deflated with my unexpected expenses?

If I do that with $25 EVERY week, in about eight or nine months, I’ll have my $1,000 cushion back.

Some people say you make your own luck. I say you make your own choices, and I choose to meet my current financial goal with any unexpected money that comes my way.

Choose to change your perspective

I can’t say good things didn’t happen to me this week.

I saved $10 on my tank of gas today. I got the unexpected rebate of the $25 copay.

These aren’t “huge” things, maybe. But they help underscore for me the value of not confusing luck with other factors.

Probability isn’t luck. Things that should happen in the normal course of events aren’t luck. And making good choices isn’t luck.

Do I wish that I might someday win something like free gas for a year? Well, sure.

But I’m going to keep a good thought in mind and not get too jealous. After all, I’m pretty “lucky” – like I said, I prefer to think blessed – that I’ve had some great times with family and friends in the past couple of weeks that go beyond any kind of value calculation.

And when I start feeling the green-eyed monster, that’s the part I’m going to try harder to remember. I am blessed.

So what do you think?

Do you believe in financial “luck” – or that you make your own luck?

And more importantly, what do you do when you get jealous of others’ good fortune? How do you turn that thinking around?

I want to know!

{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

Danigirl June 21, 2012 at 9:57 AM

Hi Joan, I think we all have a natural instinct in us to become coveteous at times. I have had to study the bible specifically for this issue because it was starting to consume me. God says that this behavior is a sin and I tell you that put me in my place and I asked God to help me with that and he has. I like Paul am learning to be content with where God has placed me in this life. Who knows your friends may be looking at you thinking they want something you already have. It is a green-eyed monster (devil in disguise) but when I have these feelings (and I still do from time to time) I just go back to the word of God. I am thankful on where we are in my becoming debt free, and we realize that it is going to just take time to get there but you can’t loose FOCUS!! Hard work pays off..I love your post as a matter of fact I wait anxiously for your next one, still waiting on the spreadsheet lesson.

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 10:15 AM

Dani, that’s still coming! I promise :)

I agree very much – I am learning to be very content and grateful for the place I’m at, but it’s hard – and I love knowing that when I’m struggling, and working hard to change my perspective, that I’m not alone! :) Thanks for the encouragement!

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Jen June 21, 2012 at 10:06 AM

I definitely believe in good luck (financial or otherwise), but I find that it seems to happen when I’m already putting in a lot of effort towards something, or when I do a good deed. It might just be a matter of selective memories, but it’s proven true in my experience.

For example, a few years ago I was dying to get a smart phone. Everytime I wanted to know something but wasn’t near a computer, I’d say “Gee it would be nice to have a smartphone right now”. But I was being frugal and couldn’t really justify the additional monthly expenses. My phone plan was $15/mo added on to my parents’ plan, and getting my own data plan would have cost $70+/mo.

Imagine my surprise when one day, I was walking home and found a Blackberry lying in the middle of a parking garage driveway! I was excited but sad, because I knew I wouldn’t be keeping it. I called the last person they had called, and it turns out the phone’s owner was with them at that moment. They came to pick it up a couple hours later, and this is where the “good” part of the luck comes in.

He came to pick up his phone, and gave me the $20 he had in his wallet at the time – along with his business card. It turns out the owner of the phone was a PR person for the Harlem Globetrotters – and he gave us four free tickets for the show!

Fast forward a few months, and someone at work was leaving the company. My boss was awesome and gave me their company phone, so now I have a Blackberry paid for by my company!

Good luck happens if you are patient, hardworking, and do good deeds.

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 10:20 AM

Jen, I think the concept of “pay it forward” and doing that right thing are incredibly important, too! I just don’t know if I believe in them leading to “luck.”

Honestly, though, most of that is semantics – a lot of people would say that’s 100% what luck is. To me, I see “reaping the rewards of BEING patient, hardworking and kind” as more in line with the second point, things happening in the natural order (and your choices).

Yes, BAD things can still happen if you work hard, but to me, I see your phone as a great example of someone who works hard, engenders the support of your superiors, and receives a reward (a company phone – definitely a good thing!) not by chance, but by the choices you have made in your career.

Does that make sense? I think we’re looking at the same thing – I just can’t bring myself to call it luck. That sounds so random – especially for something that came about because you’ve almost certainly put your time and effort into your work and your attitude!

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Erica June 21, 2012 at 10:10 AM

Hi Joan,

Have you ever read “Money, and the Law of Attraction” by Esther and Jerry Hicks? If not, I’d recommend it.

You wrote: “I’m often guilty of saying that if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.” and “Where’s MY luck?” I grumble. “Nothing good like that ever happens to me.”

Your negative self-talk has a lot to do with how much “luck” you will have. If you don’t believe you will have any luck–if you believe that nothing good will happen to you–then it won’t.

You can write this line of thinking off as foo-foo garbage. I know I did–but I also didn’t make my first million dollars until I turned my negative thoughts around. The more I focus on both the positive in my life as it stands right now, and the future of amazing positive things that is about to happen to me–the better my life gets.

I started from 0, too. (Less than 0, if you count credit card debt, anxiety, and severe depression.) And I certainly didn’t *just* think positive thoughts–I also took massive action, and got massive results. But it started with redoing what I was thinking internally.

-Erica

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 10:24 AM

Erica, I definitely believe that what you think about, you bring about! That was actually the not-so-secret point of today’s post – when I’m thinking normally and rationally, I’m aware of how VERY blessed I am!

But this week, I got hit with a “negativity bug,” and am actively changing my thinking on this topic – and writing about that, being conscious of it and realizing I could help in a small way to change others’ mindsets, was a big part of it!

Have you ever read the book “29 Gifts” by Cami Walker? It is a little bit of a different take on “Money, and the Law of Attraction” – which I read quickly a couple months ago but didn’t really take the time to dive into fully – but much of the same mindset. I think you’d like it – I count it as one of my top 5 influencing books of all time, and it really does revolve around the idea that you get what you put out into the world!

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Mary Ann June 22, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Joan, can you tell us what your top five influencing books are? Everyone needs a little inspiration now and again, and right now you and Baker are my inspirations, thanks!

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Joan June 23, 2012 at 12:07 AM

Mary Ann, that’s a great idea! Give me a couple days to think about it – but you might see that as a post as soon as next week!

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Mike June 21, 2012 at 10:28 AM

I’m not sure if I believe in luck or not, but such is the case when I read about this person who’s already well to do, won the lottery, and got millions of dollars more. There’s no hard work involved in that. All he did was buy a ticket and lucky enough, he won.

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Mike, maybe it’s the math major in me, but I definitely don’t look at cases like that as “luck.” (I actually don’t look at any part of the lottery as luck – everyone has the same chance of winning based on the amount they choose to “pay to play.”)

IF you make a choice to buy a ticket, you have the same odds of winning as anyone else – no matter your income. I guess if I believed in luck, I’d more say someone was “lucky” if their lottery ticket saved them from the brink of bankruptcy – but again, that person has the same odds of winning per ticket purchased as anyone else!

That said, I totally see where you’re coming from – when I read stories like that, I definitely have a gut reaction of “Why couldn’t that happen to me?” Until my practical side kicks in and I realize, uh, it couldn’t happen to me because I don’t play the lottery except for the occasional scratch-off ticket!

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Dana Leavy June 21, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Joan, I love this particular point – “Don’t confuse luck with good decision making.” When we get that feeling like we’re missing out on some financial or business secret that everyone else seems to be in on, it’s time to turn inward and look at the motivation and strategy with which we’re making our decisions and setting goals. The example with saving the $25 as a cushion versus buying a lottery ticket is a great example. Erica above also made a really great point about the negative self talk, and how that ties into what we perceive to be luck-driven, and not based on conscious decision making. Great article.

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 11:45 AM

Dana, thanks so much! I agree wholeheartedly – having the mindset that drives good conscious decisions and a positive attitude is probably what I would attribute as the Number One factor in any “luck” I have!

You’re absolutely right – I think our internal motivation is a big key!

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Sarah Goldthorpe June 21, 2012 at 10:51 AM

I loved this post because I relate to it! I, too, am a jealous person and I know that it separates me from others. I can focus on two things: gratitude and acceptance. I make a list of things and people and situations in my life for which I am grateful. Jobs, houses, friends all count – I’ve learned that nothing and nobody is a ‘given.’ Then, I accept that where I am is right where I’m supposed to be. I’m not missing out on anything. I have just what I need. Then, I can be happy for others and make room for more good in my life!

This is NOT easy. Sometimes the monster looms large, and I want to feel sorry for myself. It will pass, I know. I don’t want to miss the next cool thing that happens in my life! Thanks, Joan

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 11:55 AM

Sarah, thanks for sharing that!! I appreciate so much knowing that I’m not alone. I am more and more trying to CHOOSE gratitude as my lifestyle, and even when it’s hard, I am just glad to hear that I’m not the only one who feels like it’s worth doing!

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Nicole/MadlabPost June 21, 2012 at 10:59 AM

Yes, I believe that people make their own luck. I think it’s interchangeable with what you said about people making their own choices and whatever comes from that is a result of the choices. I get angry at myself every single time I think about when I made a poor decision in the past such as purchasing products (mostly toiletries and/or clothes) that I could have done without.

I like your perspective regarding all three of those things that you were “jealous” of and also acknowledging the areas where you did pretty well for yourself during that same week. It reminded me of when I went grocery shopping earlier this week and then later looked at my receipt where I noticed that I was charged for an item of muffins that I did not buy. Knowing that it would take me another full hour to return to the store, explain the situation, demand a refund and then go home, I decided to just view the overcharge as an unfortunate event that was relatively minor ($3.00) in the grand scheme of things.

I also decided to practice gratitude in me being able to get the food items that I needed, in the first place. Yes, I should be due $3….but when looking at the bigger picture, it’s not worth being upset about, especially when getting the refund would cost me more time and aggravation.

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 11:46 AM

Nicole, that’s exactly what I’m talking about! Some people would say, “Oh, I have such bad luck,” but you chose – and I try to make a similar choice – to view it from a lens of gratitude, of “I have ENOUGH in my world so that this doesn’t have to be a big deal!” That is a great mindset to have – and I appreciate you sharing such a concrete example!

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JoeTaxpayer June 21, 2012 at 11:41 AM

By coincidence, the couple that cleans our house (every 2 weeks, we both work, and this is good for our marriage) just told us they won $10,000 on a scratch ticket.
I’m the opposite of jealous. In fact, given the choice between winning and having them win, I’d pick them. Legal citizens who immigrated long ago, they are putting their 4th child through college. They own their own home and a rental, and work multiple jobs. If ever there were a success story of hard working folk who put their kid’s education ahead of their own spending, this is it. Luck? Obviously, but they made their own good fortune years ago from their right decisions and hard work.

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 3:17 PM

Joe, what an awesome story! I agree – I’d pick them too :)

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Daryl June 21, 2012 at 11:55 AM

A little over 25 years ago, and just before jumping into full time consulting, my business partner was in a precarious position in his full time job. The layoffs were coming, and everyone knew it.

For the previous several years, we had been moonlighting and developing a small engineering consulting business. By that time, we were both ripe for the jump anyway. One of his colleagues commented, “You’re lucky — you have something else you can dol.” To which he replied, “Luck has nothing to do with it. I’ve worked long and hard to get into this position. If the ax falls today, my shingle will be out tomorrow.”

As it turned out, I jumped first — the day the market crashed in 1987. Bad luck? No, we had laid enough plans and lined up enough clients to survive that fiasco (but emotionally, the first day in business was probably the worst day in business.) In fact, business was so good (and so much more fun) that within a couple of months we were both in full time practice.

The lessons learned — planning and flexibility are much more important than “luck”. And twenty five years later we’re still at it. Not bragging — just offering some encouragement. You can create your own luck!

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 3:18 PM

You can create your own good life – for sure!! I might not choose to call it luck, but I agree wholeheartedly – you worked hard to set yourself up to be able to take that leap, and it paid off. And that’s awesome! I wish more people viewed things that way! :)

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Deane June 21, 2012 at 1:03 PM

Sometimes the world is just flat out unfair. I have known people who attract money they didn’t earn like crazy. My son has a friend whose parents got divorced and neither of them wanted the house or cars (bad memories) so they gave him a million dollar house and two very nice cars. OK, so this 20-something kid inherited a lot of stuff from his rich parents before they died. A little unusual for sure. But then he bought a lottery ticket and wins $800,000! This amount of money could have been life changing for almost every other person who bought a ticket. For him, it was just more money in the bank.
I guess you could say he made his own luck by choosing wealthy parents and buying a winning lottery ticket! :)

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 3:21 PM

Deane, that’s definitely a jaw-dropping story!! I’m not saying good things only happen to people who work for them – would that it were true! But I think the reverse is also true – you can create a life LIKE that for yourself through your choices, although it might be more work! (I’m sure that somewhere along the line, the family money came from someone’s efforts, for sure!)

I just hope your son’s friend is making good choices with his money – I know some people in frighteningly similar circumstances who basically “blew” what would have been a life-changing amount.

If he’s making good choices – then good for him!! :) And, yeah, I’m a more than a little jealous. :)

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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager June 21, 2012 at 1:31 PM

I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe in trust. Which is definitely been a test of mine in this whole buying a house, remodeling and getting roommates. I’m doing the best to be responsible with the money I’ve been blessed with and I’m trusting that God will provide.

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 3:26 PM

Jenna, you (and Dave below you) have hit on a key issue for me. My faith is probably a key reason why I don’t believe in luck as most people define it – though I certainly know plenty of people who have different spiritual beliefs who also don’t believe in luck!

But, like you say, I do believe in trusting and provision. Would I love for God to provide me the money to go on vacation? Well, yeah. But instead I’m grateful, because I believe it’s a “God thing” that I’ve got a job that provides for our family’s needs – and then some – and that I’ve been surrounded by the wisdom of a lot of people who are helping me get out of debt.

Because you know what? When I can take that money I was formerly paying on my credit cards and pay cash for a fun vacation or a home remodeling project – how much BETTER does that feel, and how much more grateful and appreciative will I be of it, than if I just went out and did it today? (At least, I hope that’s how I feel!)

Good for you – on your house and on your goal of being a good steward! :)

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David Neff June 21, 2012 at 2:25 PM

Great post as always Joan!
I am not a big religious person, but I do have my beliefs. I am a firm believer that God only gives us what we can handle and that may be good or bad. I guess we would all like to be “lucky” and win the lottery, but I kind of feel like I already have when I see my wife and son :-) But, I totally understand the jealous feelings you get, cause I get them too. We always want what we don’t have. I think once we are more appreciative to what we do have, then we will begin to be happier. This is tough because we live in such a materialistic society.
I had to laugh when I saw the “If it were not for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all” saying cause my Mom would say that to me a lot growing up and you know what…if you hear it enough you start to believe it !!! That is why I have removed this type of thinking from life. The Law of Attraction can be a powerful thing and if you believe positive things will happen, then they probably will. The Universe only provides us with what we ask of it.
Anyhow, great post…you really got me think about my own life a bit today.

P.S. Today is your luck day….I just happen to have the recipe for the homemade Chicken Croquettes from when I worked at the PA Dutch restaurant….check the Man vs. Debt Facebook page….enjoy!!!

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Hi David! The funny thing is, that quote about “bad luck” really resonated with a lot of people – and while I do say it when I get grumpy, it’s actually really rare – and I don’t even believe it when I say it, because as I say, I’m not much into “luck!”

I’m glad I made you think – and hopefully increased your commitment to putting positive energy out there!

I’ll go check for the croquette recipe now – YUM.

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Lily June 21, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Hi Joan,
I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s very easy to be jealous and yet it so debilitating!
I believe that in life making good choices is most important! And when you make a bad choice then it’s time to think about it and learn from it! Well, well done to you for your great post!!!!

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 3:22 PM

Lily, thank you so much! I’m so glad to hear I’m not alone – and I appreciate your kind words more than I can say. Hope you have a GREAT rest of your day as well!

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Mary Ann June 21, 2012 at 4:27 PM

Joan, another great post! Thank you so much for sharing, made me think, I need to be more positive and thankful everyday!

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Joan June 21, 2012 at 9:02 PM

Mary Ann, I’m so glad! I appreciate your kind words and your feedback so much – and I already think you’re a more positive person than so many people – just because you leave such kind comments :)

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Andi-Roo June 21, 2012 at 10:12 PM

It’s definitely all perspective & semantics. I used to have a firm belief that God liked to regularly kick me in the shin. Now I know when bad things happen, it’s usually either because (a) I brought it on myself, or else (b) life just happened right then. It used to be more than I brought it on myself due to negativity & the resulting poor decision making. More often than not, now, though, it’s usually the second of the two: Shit happens. Like you said, it’s all in what we choose to do in the aftermath — regardless of whether it’s money or something else entirely. Own your own life, & move on.

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Joan June 23, 2012 at 12:08 AM

Andi, exactly! It’s what you CHOOSE TO DO that makes the biggest difference. That’s true for so many things!

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Jonathan Welford June 22, 2012 at 1:25 AM

Joan

I read your post with interest, in the 90s I was not very happy, I worked in banking and I put store in possessions, always setting the goal posts the next level higher ‘I’ll be happy when I have the new tv/car/house/holiday’ needless to say the moment of getting the item I was happy for that brief period, however the day after or even an hour later I’d be back to square one! Looking for the next thing to buy to make me happy, seeing someone else with something which could be purchased to make me happy.

Ultimately buying stuff didn’t make me happy, and my finances were suffering (not in the red, but when I tallied up what I’d spent in a year on stuff I didn’t want/need) I had a wardrobe of expensive clothes which I didn’t wear, a jet ski in storage (which I’d been on twice and realised I didn’t want it) and two cars in the garage which I didn’t drive because I had a fully expensed company car.

I had a high paid job, nice house, nice car and a relatively luxury lifestyle but it wasn’t doing it for me. So I ditched the job and had an adventure, very much what Baker did, I tried different jobs, and did different things, and varied my life up a bit. My finances are okay, I am in the black and don’t have any debt. However it does take a lot of time to be an overnight success. I think that’s really where my comments lay, you’ve achieved so much in such a short time, you are goal orientated, have a loving and comfortable home life, food in the fridge, a family that love you and ultimately and end date to the financial hole. You are a financial success. You are discovering resources in yourself that had been overlooked, and you are making up your own plan rather than following others. Many people look up to you and what you are doing, so you are an achiever and luck has nothing to do with it, it’s foresight, determination and well ambition.

Jonathan

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Joan June 23, 2012 at 12:19 AM

Jonathan, it blows me away to hear that. Seriously. I feel like I’m just starting on the “right” path – and often beat myself up a little bit for not making some changes sooner – but I am quickly realizing that some people NEVER make changes, NEVER realize life can be more, so I guess I’m as close to ahead of the game as I can be, with that in mind!

You made my day, reading this. Thank you beyond words!

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Sheyi | Ivblogger.com June 22, 2012 at 7:25 AM

Ma’am, there are somethings that happens naturally either we expect it or not but it just does not happen like that – something would have triggered the occurence before it came to pass. Some people were blessed with wealth from kid just because their parents were wealthy. Financial goodluck? I beleive in spiritual goodluck been a Christian.

Sheyi

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Joan June 23, 2012 at 12:09 AM

Sheyi, that’s exactly what I’m saying – some people are maybe more “blessed” financially, but I, like you, believe in a God who is bigger than luck! :)

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Lucille June 23, 2012 at 3:48 PM

I do believe that there is a link between good decision making and the luck it brings. Two people make the same decision (ie. to get married) it works out for one but not the other….what do you call that? I believe in destiny and not all of us can be healthy, wealthy or wise….some of us have to make alot of mistakes before we progress…others make fewer.

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Joan June 25, 2012 at 12:11 AM

Lucille, I definitely think it’s true that some of us learn faster!! I wish I was in that camp – but so far, about some things I’m not :) Some I am, though, which I’m grateful for.

I guess I don’t look at two people deciding to get married as “the same” decision. WHO you marry, WHEN you marry… and most importantly who you are going into the marriage, that, to me, is what influences the outcome. And that works for both people in a marriage – that, especially, is one case where someone else’s decisions and attitudes can of course very drastically affect you – which is why finding the RIGHT person is so important!

(Says the woman who has kissed her share of frogs – I didn’t learn that lesson quite fast enough, some would say – with 2 broken engagements before falling in love with my husband! … but that’s a story for another day!)

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Eric June 23, 2012 at 6:40 PM

Hey Joan

Always enjoy your posts. I completely agree with other commenters here that “luck” boils down to 2 things: how prepared you are for it, and your attitude. If you get up in the morning in a bad mood and let it overpower you, everything that happens that day will feel like bad luck. If you have a positive attitude, most bad things will roll off your back and you’ll just mutter “that’s life” and move on. People will gravitate towards you because of your attitude (I’m lucky to work with such great people, you’ll think). But preparation is a big one. Is it bad luck that your car is in the shop getting a new radiator? Or was it bad preparation that you never refilled the coolant reservoir when it got low? Was it good luck that you just landed a huge contract at work? Or was it because you’ve been busting your butt for years and keeping your clients happy whether they were currently buying something from you or not?

I’ve always had a hard time with jealously and still battle with it. But when presented with it, I try to change my mindset. I grew up with cars, a few miles away from a racetrack. Friends and neighbors had Porsches, BMWs and real race cars. So of course, when I grew up, I was going to have one of those cars. But as I’ve re-aligned my life and taken a more frugal path, I’ve realized that owning a Porsche is no longer a priority for me. I would rather travel or play music. So when I see someone (perhaps younger than me!) with a new Porsche, I think to myself, man, I’m so happy I don’t have that monthly payment! If many years from now, I’m in a comfortable enough spot financially to buy a Porsche, it will probably be a older one that needs to be restored. So it becomes a more active process and hobby versus a mindless purchase.

Finally, don’t mistake luck with talent and practice. American Idol and the bunch re-emphasize the myth of the overnight success. Musicians, actors, comedians, inventors, designers, business owners, etc, will work for decades at their craft before becoming an overnight success. Same in personal finance, keep at it everyday and don’t waver. You will get lucky.

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Joan June 25, 2012 at 12:13 AM

Eric, THAT is a good one – Don’t mistake luck for talent and practice. Heavens, yes. I hate when I hear people say that someone is an “overnight success” at, say, music. I’ve practiced the piano for more than 2 decades to get “pretty OK” at it, so when I hear people who are REALLY good – even if they’re naturally gifted, I know they’re working very hard at it!!

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Chase Miller June 23, 2012 at 11:26 PM

I think it has more to do with what we are looking for and less with what happens. I think it is easy to look around and become jealous of what other people are receiving. But we have remember what we have and the times in life when we were generously blessed.

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Joan June 25, 2012 at 12:13 AM

Chase, that’s exactly it – it’s mindset, perspective, outlook, whatever you want to call it!

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Tammy June 24, 2012 at 10:42 AM

If someone bought a house at the peak of the housing bubbles that is not worth half of what they pay for. How can that be bad decision making? Nobody expected the market to collapse. Buying a house was the “smart” or “good”decision to take. Of course looking back one can say that that was foolish but back then there really wasn’t any way to tell.

If you bough stocks of a major bank a mere weeks before it went belly up. How can that be bad decision making? It is pure bad luck. Banks were supposed to be a safe and sound, reliable investment. Buying a solide stock that was paying a good dividend was the “smart” and “good” decision to take. No one could tell back then that major banks would go bankrupt.

Yes it sucks but there is something as financial bad luck. The key point is to be able to pull yourself by your shoestring and keep moving. It is hard as hell however.

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Joan June 25, 2012 at 12:18 AM

Tammy, I can see what you mean in those examples – and you’re right, those situations are INCREDIBLY hard!

The thing is, sometimes decision-making is about realizing the risk. There is NO non-risky investment. There just isn’t.

Our house is now worth about $50,000 less than we owe on it – and while we didn’t “expect” the market to go down, we certainly knew it could. We made a decision – we accepted the risk – and so, yeah, is it kind of “bad luck” that we’re underwater? Well, maybe, but it’s also a case where we played the odds and lost.

I don’t prefer to invest in the stock market – because I know that it carries risk. For a lot of people, they know that and take the risk – sometimes to really great reward. That’s not my personal choice – so I’m never going to have a “lucky” buy that doubles my money – but I’m also making a choice that keeps what money I have firmly in hand, rather than in a market that really only works because of fluctuations!

So I think you’re right in that there are some people who make what they think are good choices – investments being part of that – and it ends poorly, but in my way of thinking, they’re “choosing the risk.”

Doesn’t make it hurt any less when I look at my mortgage balance, but I do remind myself of that!

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Jenny June 25, 2012 at 2:36 AM

Frankly Joan I’m right there with you.
Why did THAT person land a job, EASY, with THAT salary? When they had THAT GPA?
Why didn’t they experience salary negotiation, fighting for health benefits, or uncovered visa runs? Fighting with the Dept of Education to remain licensed? How are they different from me?
And then you look around and realize some things: despite where I am now, I currently benefit and will continue to benefit from my race financially; and that single factor will mean I have far greater income capacity than my counterparts with more skills; simply because of the racism inherent to things. I’m talking about SE Asia here.
Not only that, I have to keep reminding myself I would likely not have set off on this adventure at all had things gone the way I had originally ‘planned’ them to, and I would be far poorer in character and depth of stories for it.
It’s often hard for me to convey to those back home that I’m not on an Ambassador’s wife’s kind of living standard (and there are those who are shocked to learn I don’t live in grass huts); but nor am I among those sleeping under the steps up to the BTS, or living in the slums. Who by the way, are often some of the kindest people in the worst circumstance.
I think, regardless of the money; it’s important to remember the happiness factor. And even as I work to reign things in monetarily, more importantly seek that. That said I really know far less about finding happiness than my awareness of the matter. Which is probably a large part of why I’ve gone looking for it half way around the world, for starters.

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Joan June 25, 2012 at 4:48 PM

What, no grass hut? We can’t be friends any more ;-) KIDDING!

I get what you mean – and I really enjoy your perspective. It’s a fine line to walk, wanting to be content where you are and wanting to make any changes needed to improve your life for the better. I like to think I can balance those concerns – well, most days, anyway – but it’s certainly a process! :)

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jared akers June 25, 2012 at 3:48 PM

Great post, so many things all of us can relate to.

I had a friend growing up who just seemed to always be lucky. I mean everything just seemed to go his way. I recall one afternoon we were out hunting rabbit and he bet me he could throw up a quarter in the air and shoot it with his 22 rifle. I thought that sounded impossible. He shot it not once, but three times in the row.

We can accomplish a lot of things simply by believing we can. And as you say, it’s about perspective. If we miss the mark, then it’s just not our turn and we’re meant to learn something and grow from it. (of course that’s easy to tell ourselves but hard to put into practice when we see others around us who seem to fall into luck all the time). Or is it?

I’ve found that by learning to love and accept myself, I need less externally, therefore I’m more more able to give freely expecting less in return. So anything I receive is a bonus.

I’m also a firm believer in the harder you work the luckier you are, but also plays into your point about probability.

As I focus more on learning than winning, the less I need luck and the more I accept I’m getting exactly what I need at any given time.

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Joan June 25, 2012 at 4:51 PM

Jared, I think that’s exactly it! When you realize how little you really NEED – you’re so much more free!

Very good point – and I also like your philosophy about self-acceptance; I think my “jealous streaks” have dwindled greatly the more I come to legitimately like myself for who I am. When you don’t like who you are, everyone’s life looks better – a “grass is greener” kind of thing.

When you DO like yourself, I think that you’re more able to see the reality – which is usually that it’s no more or less green, it’s just different grass. :)

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Kris June 26, 2012 at 11:16 PM

Sure, most of what happens to us has a logical explanation. But that doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as luck. Just ask anyone who has won the lottery – you can talk numbers all you want, but if you can’t control or explain the outcome, that’s luck. Here’s hoping I get lucky someday!

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Joan July 2, 2012 at 12:59 PM

Kris, I’m sure you’re not the only one who hopes that! :)

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Kevin Jones June 27, 2012 at 11:04 AM

I enjoyed this post. It really put perspective on what separates luck from things that are unexpected but should happen.

What I have found most interesting over my financial redirection is a point that Dave Ramsey makes but I never believed. He constantly says that if you start doing the right things, especially giving to others, you won’t believe what comes back to you in return. I have seen this time and time again since 2006. Maybe it’s because I’m more concious of it or that what he says is actually true. However the case, as soon as my wife and I started gaining control of our financial situation, good things started to happen more and more frequently.

Keep going like you are and you will start to see them too.

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Joan July 2, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Kevin, thanks! I very much agree with that point as well – and have certainly seen it in my own life. There’s a book I’m going to be mentioning in an upcoming post called “29 Gifts” by a woman named Cami Walker that talks about the same concept – and I think you are on to something; the key is being CONSCIOUS of those good things coming back to you! :)

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Matt John Canty July 1, 2012 at 9:02 AM

I believe there is such thing as luck. BUT we make our own luck. The best things will eventually happen to people that are in the game and doing the hard work (is it luck if one of your investment houses increases 20% in a year? well maybe but you got the luck because you have the investment in the first place). If someone with no financial sense get some “good luck” ultimately this luck will make no difference. Think of all the people that have won the lottery only to loose it all. Why?! because they have no financial sense! so you should stop worrying about peoples others luck… because if they have no financial sense they need all the luck they can get.

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Joan July 2, 2012 at 1:01 PM

Ha, exactly the mindset I’m trying to cultivate! I’m trying very hard to worry just about myself – and to look at things from a perspective that makes “luck” almost irrelevant, no matter what you believe about it!

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TRI October 25, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Luck exists wither you want to believe it or not, some good and some bad, the fact of the matter is that luck is an external factor affecting you in a benevolent or beligerent way. Think about a personal talent one has: if five people were photographers and each sumbitted a portfolio (of equivilant time and effort involved) to a company but four of them had poor camera work while the other distributed excellent camera work effortlessly then it was luck that he possessed a rare talent. Were the other four guilty of making poor decisions on how they composed the work? No, it’s just the fact that the talented person “happened” to be able to execute the assignment perfectly. Luck is a reminder to us to help understand that not everything is under our control and that it’s immature for us to feel that it always can be, some abilites we have are things we didn’t get because we willed it to happen

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