Budgeting 101: What Michael Jordan Can Teach Us About Budgeting

What's the Big Idea?


Ever wonder how Michael Jordan came to be the best basketball player that ever lived? Unlike the stories we hear of many world champions who set out for greatness from day one, MJ didn’t even think about professional basketball until deep into his college years at the University of North Carolina. As he explains in his book, he was always a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other kind of guy:

I approach everything step by step... I had always set short-term goals.  As I look back, each one of the steps or successes led to the next one.  When I got cut from the varsity team as a sophomore in high school, I learned something.  I knew I never wanted to feel that bad again... So I set a goal of becoming a starter on the varsity.  That’s what I focused on all summer.  When I worked on my game, that’s what I thought about.  When it happened, I set another goal, a reasonable, manageable goal that I could realistically achieve if I worked hard enough... I approached it with the end in mind.  I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.  As I reached those goals, they built on one another. I gained a little confidence every time I came through.

Consider the example of the German soldier who escaped a Siberian prison camp in the dead of winter during World War II. He had 10 bullets in his pocket, and every 1000 steps he took he transferred a bullet from his pocket to the chamber of his gun.  He found meaning—and thus, strength—in the smallest of victories. After 4,000 miles and 3 long years, he finally walked out of those hellish winters and into the arms of his family. 

So what does any of this have to do with budgeting?      

When we think of budgets, we think of constraints, limitations, and restrictions, all organized nicely in a lattice of Excel spreadsheet prison bars. Budgets are plans, and plans are burdensome--but they don't have to be.  As former President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything”. 

As the wide-eyed young, we all “plan” on getting rich—but we rarely lay out a plan to make it happen.  Any long term goal you may have in life can only be accomplished by setting and completing short term goals first.    Regardless of our different career paths, we all share the goal of achieving financial stability and prosperity in our lives.

So, what do short-term goals look like for the long-term aspiration of such prosperity?  They look a lot like a monthly budget.

Let’s consider the financial situation of Michael Jordan’s wingman, Scottie Pippen.  According to a report by Trey Kerby, a sports reporter for Yahoo:

“If you've read any of the numerous books about the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s then you know that Scottie Pippen is kind of funny about money. Raised in a poor household, Pippen jumped at the chance to sign a long-term contract prior to the 1991-92 season, choosing the security of a long deal over being paid what he was worth. Throughout his career, Pippen would endorse anything and everything, assuring that the money kept flowing in. Following the end of his playing career, Pippen was involved in a number of bad business deals that left him nearly broke.  One of the notable money mistakes that Pippen made was the purchase of a $4 million Gulfstream jet in 2002. Due to a missed inspection, the jet's engine needed $1 million worth of repairs shortly after the purchase.”

Although Scottie earned millions throughout his long career, he managed to lose nearly all of the fruits of his labor because of his inability to properly maintain his budget.

So, creating a budget is important, but what’s the best way to do it?

At Moneythink, we offer our students a seven-step process for budgeting:

  • Choose a Budget Period
  • Collect and organize all relevant financial documents (receipts, invoices, etc.)
  • Record the sources of income (i.e. paychecks)
  • List all your expenses for every month
  • Find out which of those expenses happen repeatedly (fixed vs. variable)
  • Estimate Total Expenses and Income
  • Balance Expenses and Income    
  • What's the Significance?

     It’s important to be realistic with estimated expenses.  Factor in entertainment and incidental expenses every month.  Put a little money away for those “just-in-case” expenses such as unanticipated medical costs and auto repairs.  Set small goals first and start by saving small amounts every month, gradually increasing the amount you save over time. It’s all about building good habits and gaining momentum. 

    Can you become the Michael Jordan of your own finances?  Maybe, but let’s start with skipping the daily latte. Oh and don’t buy any jets while you’re at it.   

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    What's dead may never die, it seems

    The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

    BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

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    As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

    The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

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    An ethical gray matter

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    The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

    Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

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    "This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

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    The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

    "There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

    It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

    Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

    The dilemma is unprecedented.

    Setting new boundaries

    Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

    She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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