By: Kevin Thompson (July 2010)

Contrary to pop-culture belief, Money, power, and respect are NOT the keys to life. As wonderful as it may be to have any or all of the three, the real master key is stewardship. Yes, stewardship or (how we manage life) will ALWAYS determine where we go, who we travel with, and how we get there! But, what does that have to do with your wants and needs when what you need is more money and you want it now!? Simple, success is nothing more than accomplishing a predetermined goal and in order to achieve success, you must first master your control levels.

Financial success in particular have four (4) control levels that are crucial steps towards unlocking that door to a better life; each coming with challenges, lessons, and tools to help take you through the subsequent levels. These 4 levels of control are: 1) Self Control, 2) Damage Control, 3) Internal Control, and 4) External Control. What you will come to realize is that these 4 control levels are the most practical applications of financial success and that they are certainly not new.

So, see if you can identify your current control level and let’s begin.

Level One: Self Control

Usually when we hear self control with think about someone trying to keep a diet or trying not to lose their temper, but, self control goes further than just sticking to a new year’s resolution. When it comes to your finances, self control is the basic level of mastery that you need in order to see full success in all the others. That starts with your spending habit or spending leaks as I like to call it. These are the things that slowly eat away at your liquidity (available cash) and eventually put you in a “tight spot”; such as eating out often, using credit instead of cash, or making spontaneous purchases. It may not seem like much at the time, but as it becomes a consistent habit you will find that money quickly leaves as fast as it came. And for some of you, you may find yourself spending more than you have; creating an even bigger problem. The best way to approach this level is by starting with a “Needs vs. Wants” itemized listing. Here’s what you do: get a piece of paper and fold it in half vertically, now unfold and draw a line down the middle of that crease. At the top of the paper (whichever side you chose to make the top), in the top left column write NEEDS and on the other side write down WANTS. Now, seriously think about this as you make the list. The key here is to leave needs as things you absolutely CAN’T live without. For example I would have food or shelter (rent) because if I don’t have food I’ll die and if I don’t have shelter it can be just as bad. So again, the point of this is to start thinking before you decide. Trust me, at the end of your list, you would realize that your needs are not as much or as costly as your wants.

That brings us to out next level>

Level Two: Damage Control

So you’ve learned to master self control, but for some of you, the damage has already been done. Here’s what you’ll need to know and do in order to take control again. First, you need to know that it’s not too late! Damage Control is very hard because it forces you to take a reality check and sometimes that can often be hard to do. Most people stay at this level because they are afraid of what they have to face and might see in the process. But, this should be looked at as a cleansing process and the step that helps you to patch up the holes in your finances that can no longer be left gaping. To begin tackling this level, I suggest you first write down all the things you know that has gotten out of control; starting with your current bills (soon due), delinquent bills (behind in payments), derogatory bills (collections). Don’t forget to also jot down the due dates for every one of them as well. Next, you want record your monthly income and pay dates. This will help you have an understanding of what you have to work with. Be honest and please look at your NET PAY (after taxes) amount to have a more accurate analysis of where you stand. Now that you have a clear picture of where you stand, it is easier for you to manage or should I say control the damage. First, you want to synch your pay dates with your due dates. So for every scheduled payment you have, contact the company and ask if they can modify your due dates to best suit you. For example, if you get paid on the 15th and 30th of the month, you may want to pay all bills on one of the two days or split them up according to the type of bill. But, for now, I would suggest keeping one pay date or as close as possible so that you will not have to worry about another missed payment. The same will apply for delinquent and derogatory bills as well. The key here is to get into a routine that works for you and not have you scatter-brain about what is or is not due.

Let’s move on to the next level>

Level Three: Internal Control

Have you ever tried kicking a habit or an addiction? [Some of you may understand where I’m going with this]. At times, we are prone and susceptible to certain vices that can ruin and destroy our lives. And for some of you, poor stewardship of your finances is somewhat of a bad habit—an addiction—a disease and a SIN that always finds you right back in the same position, time and time again! Probably the most important of all 4 levels, internal control is your defensive and offensive strategy to ensure that you don’t get in your own way. Establishing an internal system of control or policy and procedure (P&P) for your own life and fiscal management will not only help curb bad spending but also regulate your impulsive nature. Sounds like a presidential reform plan but it is not, it is your money matters! Plainly put, keeping yourself in check; even when you do not have the willpower to do so. There are two ways that you will be able to successfully approach and overcome this level and that is by limiting or eliminating. Limiting is literally setting up barriers that will limit your ability to lose control. For example, you may want to keep saved money in an account not linked to any debt card. Eliminating is just what it says it is, getting rid of everything. For example, you may find that certain people, places, and/or things may open the doors life and your wallet to crisis. Assessing the risk factor or likelihood of that outcome should be determined swiftly with an already established measure to counter the potential of that occurrence. In other words, the cliché sums it up best: Failure to plan is a plan to fail.

Moving on

Level Four: External control

This final step in the process is somewhat of a tricky one because you see; you can only control what you can control. And, since external control means the involvement of others, it may be nearly impossible to have that done. Well, let’s go back and recap first before we move forward with this one. First you needed self control to get your priorities straight. Then you needed damage control to smoothen out the rough edges and bumps you made along the way. After that, came the true mastery of self, internal control. And now finally, the last level of control is something that you CANNOT! (Pause) You’re probably now wondering “how do I master a level that is absolutely impossible? The answer is simple; do not try to control the external just control the other 3 within the fourth and you’ll do just fine. You see, the external is affected by that you have control of. So, making good decisions about your finances will put in a position to prosper a whole lot faster than someone who did not. If you don’t believe it, take a good look at your companions, your environment, and your influences. Now ask yourself this question: Is this the life that I’ve always wanted?

The control levels of financial stewardship are not going to be a walk in the park. As a matter of fact, you may think it’s just dead wrong. But it’s not. Like anything, you must pay the cost in order to see results. Just remember this before you begin the process: life is about learning and it’s also about starting over. Don’t be afraid to start over if you don’t get this right. Just remember the key points, be honest to yourself, be diligent, and stay positive.

God Bless!

This column is a guide to empower you with knowledge and resources to know better and do better when it comes to your personal finances. The contributor for this segment is Kevin Thompson. He is CEO/Founder of Applied Living Personal Consultants, Inc.; a financial literacy firm that specializes in personal finance repair and offers individual and group workshops geared towards educating ordinary consumers about their financial positions.

To learn more about Kevin Thompson or Applied Living Personal Consultants Inc, you can visit the website at or email him at