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Cooking And Your Financial Plan

Author: Joe Marques

We recently participated in a fun team-building activity, the details of which were kept secret up until the event began. Speculation ran rampant. Would we be hiking? White water rafting? Skydiving?

All those guesses were wrong. Upon arriving at our destination, we learned that we were going to have a cooking lesson, followed by an “Iron Chef”-style competition. We were greeted by our professional instructors, assembled into teams, and given our instructions:

  • Each team had a basket with ingredients for a specific recipe to prepare and cook. Team 1 prepared a spinach salad with goat cheese croutons as the appetizer, Team 2 prepared a sausage and chicken paella for our main dish, and Team 3 made a pomegranate almond tart for the dessert course.
  • We had 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete the entire cooking process including clean-up.
  • Each recipe was to be paired with a wine, and we had to present each course complete with a story that explained how we’d acquired the wine which was paired.
  • Here’s the kicker - The recipes were not complete and the baskets didn’t have all our required ingredients.

We all had a great time and learned a lot about preparing and cooking delicious meals from scratch.  Interestingly, we found that a lot of the lessons we learned from our culinary outing apply directly to our day jobs.  Here’s some of our lessons learned:

1 - Team-work is important

Each team had to work together during our cooking lesson, dividing up the responsibilities and then checking in and communicating with their teammates.  At Woodward, we use a team structure to serve our clients: each client has a multi-person advisory team, which provides for continuity and redundancy as well as varied skill sets.  Team members communicate on an on-ongoing basis, whether it’s preparing for a meeting, following up on action items or responding to client inquiries.

2 - A variety of skills are needed

Being great at prep doesn’t mean you can open your own restaurant if you can’t cook. Sometimes, you have to find a great chef and work with them to make the meal complete.  As financial planners, part of our job is to work with our clients’ CPAs and estate planning attorneys to deliver a great client experience.  Maybe it’s an in-depth technical analysis that we worked on with a CPA or maybe it was kicking around some potential tax savings strategies with an estate planning attorney.  Whatever the case may be, working with our clients’ other trusted advisors is a great way to ensure that our clients are getting fully integrated financial planning guidance.

3 - Organization is important, but so is flexibility

The teams needed to be organized and divvy up tasks in an efficient manner, and most of the teams did this.  But things happen.  Remember the incomplete recipes and ingredient boxes? We needed to plan on the fly and adapt to changed circumstances, which clearly happens in real life too.  We need a financial plan, but we need to be ready when life changes on us unexpectedly. Equal measures of planning and flexibility make for a tasty recipe.

4 - We can’t always wait for all the answers before moving forward

We didn’t begin with everything we needed during our cook-off, and things weren’t perfectly laid out for us. But it was a timed competition, and we didn’t get to choose to start the clock only after we’d figured everything out.  Financial planning is rife with uncertainty about markets, tax codes, health status…you name it. Sure, we’d all like things to be more predictable and certain. But that’s probably not going to happen, and we have to make peace with that and plot our path ahead in spite of the uncertainty.

5 - It’s important to try and enjoy the process

Because of the time pressure that was involved in our cooking lesson, everyone was focused on their own task.  It was difficult to step back and enjoy the process of putting something together and working with friends to accomplish a goal.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in unrelenting focus on earning and saving for retirement, or to overly focus on singular data points and events like “the number”, the retirement date, and the optimally safe withdrawal amount or percentage. Sometimes we forget to slow down and enjoy the ride.

6 - The backstory is important

As mentioned previously, part of the scoring included our story of how we acquired the fictitious bottle of wine to be paired with our dishes.  The stories were great and involved the use of locally sourced ingredients, private jets, long-lost relatives, trips to France, and passionate romances. My takeaway from this exercise was that stories matter.  Our stories matter, both the financial and the non-financial.  They add context, they clarify, and they add meaning.

I’m already looking forward to our next team event, but first I’ve got paella to cook.