The former pro basketball player and Ohio State star, now a certified financial planner, says you can unmake old habits. But you have to understand them first.

Lawrence Funderburke keeps two childhood mementos in his pocket when he speaks publicly. The first item is a food stamp. The second is an old receipt for his family's subsidized rent from the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority. He tells people he never wants to be far removed from his impoverished youth, not that he could escape its psychological effects.

“You're always haunted by poverty,” he says. “No matter what, you never leave unscathed.”

Funderburke, a former NBA player and star for Ohio State's basketball team, was the youngest of four children raised by a single mother on welfare in a household he describes as chaotic and dysfunctional. He insists on keeping that experience close at hand so he can remain in touch with those he'd like to help overcome economic distress and self-defeating decisions.

Now a certified financial planner, he wrote a book called “Sociopsychonomics: How Social Classes Think, Act and Behave Financially in the 21st Century” to explore the intersection of upbringing, class and monetary decisions. Weaving Funderburke's personal story into information gleaned from interviews with other financial planners and experts, the book explores the behaviors and motivations of the entrenched poor, the traditional middle class and the generationally affluent, categories he uses to group people together.

The mindset of people in poverty is driven by scarcity of resources, opportunities and role models, he says. That scarcity causes them either to act frugally for fear of losing what little they have or to spend frivolously on enjoying themselves while they can. They look to home-run options like the lottery or lucrative careers in sports and entertainment. “So you're always thinking in terms of some trampoline to bounce you out of a bad situation,” Funderburke says.

He describes the wealthy as being primarily concerned with their networks, their time, their charity and their legacy. Unlike those in poverty, who often suffer harm from payday loans, the affluent use compound interest in their favor. They're more sensitive to the taboos of talking about money—very few extremely affluent people agreed to be interviewed for “Sociopsychonomics”—and that can lead to a lack of discussion about important financial information with their kids.

People in the traditional middle class are in the most trouble, Funderburke says. They can't immunize themselves against financial problems the way the affluent can, and they aren't eligible for government assistance. They, too, are generally hurt rather than helped by compound interest, through student loans and credit card debt. For them, economic safety is paramount—a steady job, home ownership and a secure retirement—but that fixation can make them overly averse to risk. Funderburke and his wife, Monya, teach financial courses, and he says people in the middle class struggle to take calculated risks in hypothetical settings, even when they're given more money.

The good news from his perspective is that people aren't bound to their class' monetary mindset forever. They can change. He advocates for a fundamental solution: incorporating a value system for making financial decisions. For him, everything is driven by faith, family and food. He sees himself as merely a steward of his money on God's behalf. He wants his children to have a better quality of life than he did, and he prioritizes spending more on “real food”—no gluten, GMOs, pork, shellfish or dairy.

Despite increasing class disparity, Funderburke still has faith in the American Dream of upward mobility, as long as people have a plan, knowledge and hope. How could he not be a believer? He seems to be living that dream.


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