5 Money Lessons Learned from “Project Runway”

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Heidi Klum (left) and Tim Gunn speak on the runway at the 'Project Runway' fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2015 at The Theatre at Lincoln Center on Sept. 5, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week)Reality television. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying it’s here to stay, at least for the rest of the current viewing season. I admit I fall more in line with those who don’t follow (or care to) the antics of the Kardashian “klan,” “real” housewives or “survivors.” But that doesn’t mean I’m completely void of a reality vice.

And that vice is “Project Runway.”

I’m not sure if it’s my secret desire for Tim Gunn to be the brother I never had or my envy of Heidi Klum’s, well, everything. But “Project Runway” holds a special place in my heart.

And after seasons of faithful viewing, I’ve learned far more than how to make couture-looking clothing from plastic tarps and soccer balls from Kini Zamora on Season 13 or bungee cords and construction equipment like Dmitry Sholokhov on “Project Runway All Stars,” Season 4. There are also plenty of real-life lessons about money, budgeting and more buried in the yards of fabric and tears shed by stressed-out designers.

1. You do get a second chance to make a good impression.
Redemption is the name of the All Stars’ game. Designers who were fan favorites and runners up from past seasons get one more chance to take a field trip to Mood with their peers and pursue the grand prize of fame, fortune and the chance to dress the stars. And even the flagship Runway brand gives designers a second chance to revisit the workroom, bringing back a fashion wannabe for one more chance at designing success.

The financial lesson: There’s no reason to throw in the towel if your credit score locks you out of a new credit card, car loan or mortgage. Instead of being chained to that initial bad impression made on a loan officer or underwriter, you can create your own second chance to make a good impression by cleaning up your credit report and pinning down a higher credit score.

2. Opportunity isn’t always convenient.
Just ask Season 8’s Peach Carr, who got the call that she’d been cast on Season 2 of the “Project Runway” spin-off series, “All Stars,” just before her daughter graduated from high school. After attending her daughter’s ceremony, she tossed several skirts she’d designed into a suitcase and hopped a plane to New York. Laura Kathleen Planck had just gotten engaged to exotic car dealer, Danny Baker, when she was cast alongside Carr. So instead of designing her big day, Planck quickly changed course and set her sights on winning “All Stars.” She ultimately finished sixth in the competition.

The financial lesson: The chance to boost your credit score or stick to your budget isn’t always convenient. You may have to forgo a few wants, such as eating lunch out with your co-workers, or scale back on cell phone service. But taking advantage of every opportunity — even inconvenient ones — can pay big dividends, like lower debt and higher credit scores.

3. Time management is crucial.
The designers usually have one or two six- to eight-hour days to complete a challenge. And every season, designers fall into the trap of selecting a design that turns out to be too ambitious given the time constraints. So even if they’re forced to create a design they’re not in love with, the most successful designers learn what they can and can’t accomplish given their allotted time.

The financial lesson: Don’t bite off bigger financial goals than you can chew. Instead of trying to overhaul your entire financial life in a few weeks or following a New Year’s resolution, learn to make the most of your time, and set manageable goals that put you in a place for a win. For instance, don’t try to save for a lavish vacation or the down payment on a new house in just a month or two. Set a goal to first save for one night in the hotel or one aspect of a wedding (such as the flowers) in a reasonable amount of time. Then move on to your next challenge.

4. Perseverance really does pay off.
Whether you’re competing for Klum’s approval or for better financial health, perseverance is one of the most important keys to success. The back stories of many of the designers on the show share how they have toiled for years in near-poverty, pursuing their passion and desire to become an elite fashion designer.

The financial lesson: Just as it’s not enough for the designers to be talented, it’s not enough for you to merely want a high credit score or good financial health. We all have obstacles to overcome, and just like the designers who week after week never give up, it’s important to never give up on your finances. Instead of letting prior credit mistakes and financial mishaps scare you from achieving financial success, use them as motivation to overcome adversity to succeed.

5. Two heads can be better than one.
It’s common for designers to be put into teams of two or more. Sometimes, the designers can choose their teammates, and sometimes their teammates are chosen for them. Working with someone you don’t like or have trouble playing nicely with can cause tension, but it’s also an opportunity to ask for help or learn how to work well with others to win.

The financial lesson: Don’t be afraid to ask for help with arranging a payment plan with a credit card issuer or other creditor. Talking to a financial adviser or a creditor’s representative — even if you didn’t set out to have this entity as a teammate — can open the door to opportunities such as reducing interest rates and preventing a late payment from showing up on your credit report by tacking it on to the end of the loan.

Photo credit: Getty Editorial

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