1. Don’t destroy your finances for family
A lot of misery may have been avoided if Joe Exotic’s mother, Shirley Schreibvogel, hadn't used her money to pay for her son’s mistakes.
Restraint is a foreign concept on Tiger King. Schreibvogel, who died in 2019, was far from the worst offender but did indulge her son to the point of financial ruin. She used up her life savings and even sold her home to help him keep the lights on at the GW Zoo and fight his numerous legal battles with his arch-nemesis, Carole Baskin.
The lesson you can learn from their relationship is that it’s important to establish firm financial boundaries, even with family. Only lend money if you’re OK never seeing it again. And don’t be quick to co-sign a loan for a relative; if your family member defaults, you’ll be responsible for the payment.
That’s a recipe for resentment, and you’ll see your relationship go up in smoke faster than Joe Exotic’s recording studio.
2. Moderate your financial risk
Anyone who walks with a cane and cuddles fully grown tigers has way too much tolerance for risk.
Joe Exotic treated his finances as delicately as he did his health and safety. At one point, he had a total of 187 big cats on his property, to say nothing of the other animals.
Even if he did get his annual expenses down to $3,000 per cat by feeding them roadkill and expired meats from Walmart, that’s a lot of overhead.
If you’ve watched Tiger King, you know things can go from bad to worse in an instant. Always have a back-up plan.
Choose safe and slow investments, maintain a solid cache of emergency savings and buy insurance to protect yourself and those you love.
3. Understand your long-term financial plan
Even though Joe Exotic is thought to have had a net worth of up to $15 million in his prime, most of it evaporated.
Joe spent tons of money that didn’t end up serving his long-term goals:
- He fought a yearslong legal battle that ended in a $1 million judgment against him.
- He spent nearly $100,00 on a third-party presidential campaign — despite apparently not knowing what a Libertarian is.
- He built an intricate recording studio on the zoo compound, even though it has since come to light that Exotic never wrote his own lyrics or even sang any of those songs. (Which is a shame, because “Here Kitty Kitty” is a banger.)
Don’t spend like Joe. When you buy something, whether it’s a car or some shares in the stock market, make sure it serves your long-term goals.
A financial adviser can show you how to use your income wisely. By sorting out your savings and investments, you can ensure you’re ready for retirement and whatever else comes your way in the years ahead.
4. Don’t let hobbies become expensive distractions
We’ve all heard about the hobbyists who spend every spare dollar on limited-edition sneakers, collector cars or fancy wines.
Joe made a business out of his hobby of collecting big cats. But he later found a new interest — politics — that would pull his money and attention away from his zoo. He ran for president in 2016 and for Oklahoma governor in 2018. (Uh no, he didn’t win.)
If you’ve got a hobby that you love, don’t let it get out of hand. Always stick within your budget and avoid the temptation to splurge on a shiny object that catches your eye.
When you feel a spending urge coming on that’s in conflict with your financial goals, find something more worthwhile to buy, like life insurance if you don’t already have it. It’s affordable and easy to purchase online.
5. Do your homework before doing business with anyone
Can you trust the contractor you hired for your home improvement project? How about your financial adviser? The guy who manages your mutual fund?
Tiger King is a bottomless pit of cautionary tales, but one of the most important lessons is to do your homework before shaking hands with someone.
Do they have a long list of satisfied clients? Are they licensed and insured? Is that actually their mansion?
In the case of a financial adviser, find out if they’re a fiduciary — meaning they’re bound by law to put your interests above all others.
6. Be passionate about what you do
It’s incredible that Joe Exotic managed to keep anyone on his staff.
The pay and working conditions at the GW Zoo were deplorable. Rick Kirkham, Exotic’s personal documentarian for 10 years, claimed that Joe would fire people without warning for the smallest perceived slight.
And when a tiger tears off a worker’s arm, Joe is heard bemoaning that he would never “financially recover” from the gruesome workplace accident.
It’s clear the zoo’s employees cared deeply about their work. If you don’t have any passion for your job, even if it does provide more than $150 per week, it may be time to build up some savings and move on to something better.
7. Stay focused
Having a game plan is key if you want to achieve a financial goal, whether it’s maintaining a successful tiger park or just saving up for a big purchase, like a car or a house.
Joe obviously got a bit sidetracked along the way — the music career, the political campaign, his obsession with Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin. OK, maybe “a bit sidetracked” is an understatement.
If you’re saving up for something important, have a strategy. Set aside a regular amount each month and park it in a high-yield savings account. That way it’ll accumulate interest and you’ll meet your goal even faster.
8. Keep legal documents up to date
Carole is now married to her third husband, Howard Baskin, but theories continue to spin over what happened to her second husband, Don Lewis.
The show features a lot of speculation, but here’s what we know for certain: Don left only one copy of his will, and that's led to all kinds of confusion and suspicion, especially since his executor was Carole.
Some of the controversy could have been avoided if he had kept his will up to date and had made multiple copies.
Every time there’s a major change in your life — like having kids, moving or getting married — you should review your beneficiaries, update your will and insurance policies, and give new copies to your executor for safekeeping. You can even have more than one executor.
9. Never stop marketing yourself
Say what you will about Joe Exotic’s fashion sense — and professional ethics, and general way of life — but you can’t deny the man knew how to market himself.
Joe and his arch-nemesis Carole both maintained a daily presence online that allowed them to promote their respective brands, interact directly with their fans and take shots at each other.
They used different strategies, sure. Carole had her classic opening, “Hey, all you cool cats and kittens,” while Joe took a more strident tone.
But if you’re trying to promote a small business — or even just a blog — consistency is key. You need to put out regularly scheduled content that fits your brand and gives people a reason to keep coming back to see what you’ll do next.
10. Build multiple income streams
Joe was able to keep his zoo afloat through all the legal battles by adapting the business and starting numerous side ventures — including the breeding and selling of tiger cubs.
The only problem with Joe’s strategy? Almost all of his plans relied on his primary source of income: the zoo.
Diversification isn’t just for investments. Taking on a side hustle will help boost your income and act as a cushion if something happens with your day job.
11. Don’t be afraid to start small
The man we know as Joe Exotic was not always the Tiger King.
Once upon a time, Joseph Schreibvogel developed his skills with animals as a regular employee at a Texas pet store. He later bought and ran the place, along with his brother Garold.
When his brother died in a trucking accident, Joe used the $150,000 settlement plus a $250,000 trust fund from his grandfather to build the GW Zoo.
Going from a pet store employee to king of the tigers sounds like a Disney plot, but many great stories have humble beginnings. To grow your skills, you have to start with the basics.
If you’re just investing for the first time, feel free to start small while learning everything you can. The important thing is to get started.
12. Be safe at work — even when working from home
Let’s be honest: Joe Exotic did not maintain a safe working environment.
Not only is an employee’s arm torn off in the course of the docuseries, but Joe himself nearly loses a foot as a big big cat drags him around by his shoe. Adding hazard on top of hazard, Joe fires off a gun to scare away that cat and others.
Employers are supposed to follow government safety standards to protect workers from injuries, including potentially fatal ones. If you spot dangerous conditions where you work, report them.
And if you’re working from home because of the coronavirus, maintain a safe workspace. Tape down power cords you’re likely to trip over, and keep liquids away from your computer and other electronics.
If you’re accident-prone at home, consider buying disability insurance that would pay your bills if a mishap leaves you unable to work.
13. Don’t mix work and personal relationships
Things can get messy when you don’t keep personal relationships separate from work.
Just ask Joe Exotic, who was in a three-way marriage to two men who were working for him. He had to keep jealousies from developing — in the midst of juggling all the other drama swirling around him.
In work situations, it’s best not to get too friendly with co-workers and especially not with the boss, because it all can become very complicated when things go badly.
If you work with your spouse or significant other, it’s important to draw boundaries between “home” and “work” and for each of you to maintain your own individuality and identity.
If your partner is now your at-home officemate thanks to the coronavirus, keep your workspaces separate and be respectful of one another.
14. Trying to get even can be costly
When you feel that a member or your family or someone at work has done you wrong, avoid the temptation to get revenge. You’re likely to do something you’ll end up regretting.
Joe Exotic became consumed with trying to get even with Carole Baskin after she won an expensive judgment against him in a copyright case. He’s now serving a 22-year prison sentence, partly stemming from an alleged plot to kill his adversary.
Next time you get furious with a relative, a business rival or a co-worker, take a deep breath and try to channel your rage into something productive, like getting in a rigorous workout at the gym.
It's better for your health — and less expensive than having to pay for a new paint job after you key someone's car.