The Candler Oak

My parents moved to Savannah, Georgia, last March. My brother had moved there a few months prior and they had become taken by the city and, I’d like to think, wanted to be a bit closer to me, Emily, and the kids (mostly the kids). If you haven’t been, as I hadn’t prior to our first visit a year-and-a-half ago, Savannah’s charm is intoxicating.

When you visit, one of the things you notice right away is the trees. While there are many beautiful trees in Savannah–magnolias, palmettos, crepe myrtles, sycamores–it’s the live oak that takes your breath away. It just so happens that one of the most prominent–the Candler Oak Tree–resides a few blocks from my parents’ house. It’s hard to find a picture that fully captures its majesty, so this will have to do:

The Candler Oak is over 300 years old and at one point in its life provided shade to captured Union officers. It stands 54 feet tall, has a trunk that’s 17 feet around and is 63 inches in diameter. It’s “average crown spread” is 110 feet,  and while I don’t know precisely what that means even after reading the definition, I imagine it means it’s a lot bigger than most trees.

The first time I saw it, I couldn’t help but imagine the life it has lived, the conversations it has overheard, the sunshine it’s enjoyed and the storms it’s endured. How it started out as a seedling then grew into a sapling before developing into a mature tree. How hundreds (maybe thousands) of other oaks have come and gone during its life. How boys and girls, young and old, probably climbed on its still growing limbs. Maybe a father put up a swing for his kids.

I also wondered what lies below the surface. The root structure of a tree this size needs to be massive. In the beginning, some little acorn sent a taproot straight down into the soil in search of reliable moisture. Over time, it went deeper and deeper, allowing the Candler Oak to grow. Then, its roots started growing outward, extending four-to-seven times the length of the crown. That means the roots of this tree could reach as many as 700 feet in any direction. We may oooo-and-ahhh over what’s above ground, but none of it is possible without what’s below ground.

The Candler Oak is ripe with parallels to our financial lives.

Most of us start as financial acorns. With time, discipline, and effort, we develop from a seedling into a sapling and hopefully into a mature tree. If we’re really lucky, we might create a legacy that lasts for generations.

We all want to grow a tree with thick, strong branches and lush, green leaves. There’s nothing wrong with these things: a nice house, a reliable car, trips to enjoy with family. But it’s important to remember it starts with a thriving root structure.

It’s easy to reduce the roots of your financial tree to things like an emergency fund, knowing where your money is going, and protecting your human capital–all of which are very important–but don’t dismiss the importance of your values. Your values feed the trunk, grow the branches, develop the leaves, ensure the overall health of your financial tree, and allow you to weather the storms that invariably will come. They ensure your tree has balance. In my mind, the Candler Oak is the physical manifestation of the financial life of a family with an unwavering commitment to using their money on things they value. Without understanding your values, you might end up with a tree like this:

In closing, it’s important to mention there was a time when the Candler Oak was dying, and probably would have died had it not gotten some help. In the early 1980’s, a group of concerned individuals formed the Savannah Tree Foundation, and one of their first actions was to save the Candler Oak. Pavement that had been put down over the roots was ripped up, support wires were installed to keep branches from collapsing under their own weight, and a plan was created to nurse it back to health. Revitalizing the tree was hard work, it needed a lot of help, but it paid off: It’s life expectancy is now expected to stretch into the 21st century.

We hope you are growing a beautiful tree. One that is healthy, strong, and the perfect depiction of your values. If you find yourself needing help along the way, consider us your financial arborists.


*Information about the history of the Candler Oak was taken from here and here

The content above is for informational and educational purposes only. The links and graphs are being provided as a convenience; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Beacon Wealthcare, nor does Beacon guarantee the accuracy of the information.

Ryan Smith
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Born and raised on the North Shore of Massachusetts, I moved to Raleigh in 2011 to marry my wife, Emily. We have two kids, Jack and Gwen, a golden retriever named Olly, and are members of Church of the Apostles. I have been a Financial Advisor since 2005 and earned a Master’s of Science in Financial Planning from Bentley University in 2007. I became a CFP® professional in 2009, a Retirement Income Certified Professional® in 2015, and a Certified Tax Specialist™ in 2023.