Starting Small

I’m not much of a gardener, as much as I’d like to be known for having a green thumb. I greatly admire the work of others and aspire to hone my skills but there’s so much to learn and do that it seems too daunting of a task. Last spring, I decided taking one step was better than nothing and tried to improve a small area of our yard with several overgrown and woody azaleas. I trimmed them way back after they bloomed, then cleared out sticks, leaves and weeds from the groundcover. I did have to leave one section of the azaleas untouched where an angry mama cardinal built her nest (that had been invisible before starting this project!). And then the sad, bare plants sat for months with no immediate payoff to show for that work.

So I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when I noticed a thriving flowering groundcover underneath the azaleas and new green growth and blooms forming on the azaleas. They still need fertilizer and some TLC to get back to full health, and I forgot last summer to finish cutting back the area that mama cardinal had claimed, so they aren’t the prettiest shape. But the effort made last year cleared the way for some visible improvement. The groundcover had space to breathe and flowered for the first time in years. The dead spots within the azaleas no longer took up space that prevented growth from the healthy parts and detracted from the overall appearance. And now I can move on and use some of my limited extra time in another spot, although I probably need some guidance from books or more astute gardeners on what to do next and when.

Gardening reminds me of the work we do with our clients. Everyone starts with some foundation, then we assess its condition, create a vision, and a plan to get there. For gardening, I lack the knowledge of what is needed beyond the basics. I will need outside resources and help to get to the end vision. That’s usually where we come in and provide value to our clients. We work with you to identify where you want to go, how to use what you have now, and what steps to take to achieve your vision.

We often include a list of action items for our clients and ourselves after meetings to keep organized about what needs to be done, when, and by whom. Sometimes the list is short, other times it is long. Some to-dos are quick, and others are more time-consuming. Sometimes it is hard to connect a seemingly menial task to the “why” behind it – especially when the payoff from something doesn’t come for many years, in some cases! There isn’t always immediate fruit from our labor. With so many other things competing for our time and energy, it takes discipline to knock out some of the action items.

Our hope is that by reviewing and updating your financial plan, we are guiding you toward realizing your financial goals and dreams. We create a list of what to do now from our meaningful conversations where we try to understand what is important to you, where you want to go, and what resources are available to you now and later. Clients may not always have a vision for how things might look in 20, 30, 40 years, but a perk of working with an advisor is that we work alongside people in all stages of life and do our best to help you get a vision of what the future could hold.

There can be heavy lifting involved to help simplify and set up your financial life so that it is on a growth trajectory. You may have to clear the way to make space for growth. Like gardening, we assess your current position and determine any actions necessary to set up a strong portfolio. This could mean consolidating accounts for less administrative upkeep and fees and a coordinated investment strategy. This also could be adjusting where you save from only pre-tax savings to a combination of pre-tax, Roth, and taxable accounts. We review your existing investment portfolio to see if there is anything detracting from your overall investment allocation and performance. Sometimes there are tight weeds preventing a quick change. There may be taxes to manage to unwind old investments that might be inefficient or expensive to hold. We help balance the cost of keeping an asset that may be dragging your portfolio down versus the cost of paying capital gains tax to reposition those funds.

As much as I want to get our landscaping in tip top shape within one season and become a proficient vegetable gardener, that work doesn’t happen overnight. Even buying a book on Southeast Vegetable Gardening doesn’t help if the book just sits on my bookshelf for years. Instead, I can use the resources, time, and energy to take one step forward toward having a beautiful and abundant garden. Maybe I try to grow one type of vegetable and do it well, instead of trying ten kinds at once like the last time I planted a vegetable garden.

In our seats as your financial planners, we know that all the things to think about and do may be a bit daunting at times. We want to partner with you, divvy up the work, and help you prioritize and focus energy on what does have a more pressing deadline or greater implication from waiting.

The garden does not always turn out the way we envision or originally hope. It may require more years of work to prep the soil and cultivate growth than hoped. Harsh weather takes its toll and sets you back a few seasons. Likewise, a financial plan’s success is not a set-in-stone target. By continuing to monitor and tweak along the way, we hope to mitigate any unpleasant surprises when you reach big life or financial transitions. Making any necessary adjustments along the way may not impact you as much as you think.

My encouragement today is to just start small. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask us where to start. The seeds planted today may grow into something beautiful.

Ellen Martin
[email protected]

After graduating from UVA (go Hoos!), I moved to Raleigh for the Raleigh Fellows program where I fell in love with the city, its people, and a fellow Fellow who is now my husband, Wesley. I worked for another wealth management firm in Raleigh for seven years before joining the Beacon team in June of 2021. When not at work, you can most likely find Wesley and me walking our dog, Ollie, on the lovely Raleigh Greenways, or enjoying a cup of coffee and a La Farm white chocolate baguette.