Frank Varano

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Frank Varano is the son of poor yet prudent post-war Italian immigrants who arrived in the suburbs of New York City as hundredaires. He was born into an imported culture of thrift at a time when, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Italian households had the highest savings rate on the planet. Multigenerational habits of saving in the old world offset the lack of material wealth in the new one. Successful frugality meant living below the legal threshold of poverty and not realizing it. For this reason, he didn’t just write Not for Millionaires; he lived it. His life story is a plan for financial hope through personal awareness and action. He grew up wearing fourth generation hand-me-downs, and was perhaps the only senior in Villanova University (made possible by earning a Navy ROTC scholarship) that wore rubber bands to keep up socks that were bought during the Carter administration. He was a commissioned officer in the United States Navy with a cum laude degree in engineering in 1993 before owning his first brand new bicycle. Recalling his humble beginnings during and after college, he volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in five states, only to discover the families being helped often had more possessions than his family ever did. Yet they were in worse financial condition. He began to understand that personal behaviors compound the socioeconomic factors that impact a family’s economic well-being. Good planning could help break the cycle. Professionally, he served as a naval engineering officer managing millions of square feet of military facilities in several countries and helped implement money-saving public works energy programs. Budgeting and planning skills learned at home were now applied to entire installations. After leaving active duty, his economic skill sets led to a job offer as a financial advisor, but his love of travel and technical challenges led him to pursue a position as a healthcare engineer working for the U.S. Army designing, building, equipping and maintaining hospitals in three countries. He became a Certified Healthcare Facility Manager (CHFM) through the American Hospital Association. The CHFM exam focused heavily on the math behind finances and budgeting, and is as relevant to planning a family budget as it is to running a billion-dollar medical center. When resource managers in an organization are told to save money, they frequently turn to engineers. One of his challenges as a hospital engineer was reducing energy usage in eleven medical buildings. Creating the program involved improving building system maintenance and staff behaviors. He knew from experience that nothing can be improved until: (1) it is monitored (2) people are made aware of the measured costs (3) data on improved performance are shared, and (4) the process is repeated over and over. His programs have saved hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars over two decades, requiring nearly no investment. He has contributed to value engineering studies performed on hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of projects aimed at improving facility designs by removing cost elements that add no usefulness to buildings. He has also participated in commissioning studies on billions of dollars’ worth of projects, ensuring new facilities operate efficiently as planned, enhancing cost savings through energy reduction and simplified maintenance. Saving money at home uses the same set of proven, data-driven behaviors used in complex organizations. Learning to speak six languages along the way, he became fascinated by culture-specific observations of how people behave with money. Varano has visited 35 countries to date, and has lived and owned houses in five. Following every new assignment, Varano, his wife and two children have moved fifteen times. This created the need to regularly develop new budgets from the ground up, sometimes in different currencies, as soon as the boxes were unpacked. The costs of gas, utility, and housing changed; the need to control them was constant. His family’s financial discipline and goals always stayed the same; only the circumstances to fulfill them changed. He returned to live in Europe three times, where the cost of living was significantly higher than in the U.S. Despite the expense, he noticed that his host-nation neighbors enjoyed first-rate lifestyles because they lived in the same waste-spurning mindset he experienced as a child of immigrants with similar behaviors. For example, gasoline in Italy costs three times more than in the U.S. But because of local efficiency, lifestyle choices and better trip planning, Americans end up paying about the same when comparing the cost per mile driven instead of the cost per gallon. There is no better illustration of how other cultures disdain debt more than what he discovered during his time living and working in Bavaria: Germans use the same word (Schuld) to describe both debt and guilt! At his twentieth high school reunion, the author was shocked to find out many of his classmates raised in affluent homes were in financial trouble. The Great Recession was ongoing and by all accounts few had had the fiscal discipline to save anything during the good years. The habits the author inherited were palpably more valuable than the wealthy environments that others had been raised in. This is the moment when the idea of Not for Millionaires originated, but due to family, frequent travel, and moving three more times for his career, it would take years before he completed it. His successes do not mean he never made financial mistakes, which undid years of prudent habits in the process. Now, his lessons learned complement good savings habits. Beyond teaching them to his children, he is ready to share them with the world. Frank now lives in the suburbs of Washington, DC with his wife and two children.
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