Long before the words ‘iPhone’ and ‘tablet’ were a part of my vocabulary (or anyone’s vocabulary, for that matter), I spent my summer days saving for the newest “Now That’s What I Call Music!” CD and a boombox. At the age of five, the occasional penny or quarter I managed to swipe from under couch cushions didn’t make a dent in my piggy bank, so I started a “career” in the art of lemonade-making.
Though my business only lasted a few short months, I learned a number of financial lessons along the way — many of which apply to some of the milestones I’ve faced in my own life and in my work with clients.
No matter how big or small your goals for the future may be — a small lemonade startup or a multigenerational family business — you can’t make progress without a solid, well-defined plan in place. Some of the most fundamental lessons you can learn about planning are rooted in childhood experiences. Take the example of running a lemonade stand. A lemonade entrepreneur must ask herself questions like, “How many cups of lemonade do I project to sell by the end of the summer? Where should I operate the stand to ensure I get the most traffic and exposure possible? How much lemonade should I make, given my target number of customers? What type of lemonade should I sell?” You get the picture.
In the context of your finances, you might start by asking yourself, “Where am I today? What do I want to accomplish over the next five, 10, 20 or even 30 years? What financial resources and strategies do I need to achieve those goals?” Maybe you’re working toward purchasing your first home or funding your children’s college education, both of which require ample, comprehensive planning. In addition to expenses associated with your goals, it’s important to have an emergency fund available to tap in to, in case things don’t go as planned — like if your brick-and-mortar (translation: card table with a colorful sign) lemonade stand gets blown over by a summer storm.
2. Setting Goals and Working Toward Them
Goal-setting is crucial to any successful plan, whether you hope to sell 50 cups of lemonade by the end of the summer or save a certain amount each year for retirement. Setting short- and long-term goals will help you determine what resources you already have, and what resources you need to be successful.
Sure, your childhood lemonade stand may have required minimal costs and expenses (read: taking ingredients from your kitchen). However, if you had to pay for all of the ingredients and resources necessary to create your product, then you understood how much money you needed to earn to fully cover your costs. Budgeting helps you create a plan for how to use your money. It is important to review your overall budget annually (at the least); and for large expenditures, such as a vacation or a home remodel, reviewing your budget throughout the planning process can help you stay on track. There are hundreds of tools and websites available that can help you budget, including Mint.com.
If you ran a lemonade stand, you might remember those long, hot afternoons waiting for customers to stop by. The waiting game might have taken hours or even days — but once business picked up, you probably had your pitcher in-hand, ready to go.
The same mindset applies to investing; it takes perseverance and discipline.
If you’re new to investing, market ups and downs may frustrate you, and you may lose patience waiting for immediate results. That’s why it’s important to focus on the factors you can control. In the context of a lemonade stand, you might choose to incorporate a wide selection of flavors to accommodate different preferences or stay centrally located in areas with the most foot traffic. When it comes to investing, we encourage our clients to employ broad diversification, incorporate tax strategies where necessary and stay focused on the long term.
5. Saving vs. Spending
“Bucketing” is a long-standing term that advisors frequently use when discussing finances. As a child, you probably bucketed your hard-earned allowance or lemonade-stand earnings into “saving” and “spending” categories. As an adult, it’s a good idea to bucket your income into categories like “general spending,” “retirement savings” and “debt payments,” among others. You can also use the bucket approach to pay for specific goals, like college or a family vacation.
6. Giving Back
It’s never too early to introduce the concept of giving back to those in need.
For kids, that might mean donating a portion of their lemonade-stand proceeds to a local charity or nonprofit organization. Later in life, charitable gifting may also present tax-saving opportunities, depending on the amount of the gift(s).
Do you remember the first time someone stopped by your lemonade stand?
Were you shy or outgoing? If you were a bit more introverted, the lemonade stand likely taught you how to interact with others. You may not think that interpersonal communication is important to your personal financial success, but pause for a moment and think about the meetings you have had with your advisor, tax consultant, insurance agent or banker. Many of those conversations were probably highly personal and required you to speak openly about your finances and goals for the future.
It’s important to communicate effectively with your advisory team to help ensure that they fully understand your needs and can provide the best service possible, which is crucial to your future financial success.
Teamwork may be the most important lesson you can learn from running a lemonade stand. To get your enterprise off the ground, you likely had to work with a sibling, friend, babysitter, parent or grandparent, and rely on their contributions to help make it successful. If you have professional advisors, you are working with a team toward a common goal (e.g., your long-term financial success). You and your spouse might be saving for a joint financial goal, such as retirement, and you need to work together to accomplish that, as well. Teamwork multiplies the likelihood of success, makes your job easier, maximizes strengths, reduces weaknesses and makes life more fun!
Whether you’re trying to teach your kids sound money-management habits or simply need to cut through the complexity, think back to the basic fundamentals of finance. And while you’re at it, take some time this summer to review your financial plan and update it to reflect anything that’s changed over the course of the year so far — while sipping a glass of lemonade, of course!