No One Can Predict the Future

Corenna Roozeboom Life with Money

“Our approach to investing flows from a single, bedrock principle: the future is unpredictable and uncertain. Indeed – and this is actually quite interesting – even having knowledge of the future doesn’t provide actionable insight as to how markets will behave given that future.”
No one can predict the future
So begins our book, Thinking About Investing: Two Decades of Reflective Commentary on Markets and Money.

Each of the book’s ten chapters represents a core investing principle and features a selection of commentary previously shared through our newsletters since the firm’s founding in October 2003.

The opening selection, written in February 2014 by our late cofounder Victor Levinson, supports our bedrock principle. It is as relevant today as it was then:

• • •

The financial media and most professional investment organizations (advisory firms, brokerage firms, mutual funds) spend a great deal of time and effort providing their views of the future, either related to the general economy, the prospects of specific companies, or the movement of market prices.

And many in the investing public want to believe that someone out there knows what is going to happen. Unfortunately, the markets prove over and over that they cannot be predicted in advance, frustrating professionals and amateurs alike.

Over the years we have discussed this viewpoint many times. But most people remain skeptical, continually asking the same basic question, even though the terminology of the questions is ever-changing.

The question they want answered is: What is the market likely to do over the next “fill-in-the-blank” time period?

And when we answer that we simply do not know – and what is more, that no one knows, and to think that anyone knows can be a real disservice to a person’s financial well-being – there is always lingering doubt on the part of the questioner.

However, we think we are only stating the obvious: that no one can predict the future and that future stock prices, bond prices, interest rates, or economic growth rates are all subject to unpredictable future events.

Financial media and financial organizations wanting you to believe that someone knows the future is of course in their interest, so you will buy their reports, or research, or investment products, but unfortunately these efforts are all, in our view, an exercise in futility.

Buddy Rosenbaum: Psychologist, Entrepreneur & Motorcycle Adventurer

Corenna Roozeboom Life with Money

Since we recently expressed gratitude for the generations of advisors and clients at Park Piedmont, we wanted to highlight one family we’ve been working with for decades.

Bernard (Buddy) Rosenbaum is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist with a doctorate degree from Columbia University. Buddy began working with Park Piedmont co-founder Vic Levinson before Park Piedmont existed. Though the firm wasn’t founded until 2003, Vic was already advising clients with the same investment philosophy that guides Park Piedmont today.

Buddy Rosenbaum and Vic shared a love for Central Park. “That was our office,” Buddy said recently. “We had a bench in Central Park, and that’s where we would have our meetings.”

Over the years, three generations of Rosenbaums – Buddy and his wife Linda, their three adult children and partners, and now several of their grandchildren – have worked with three generations of Levinsons, making the relationship a special one.

We caught up with Buddy Rosenbaum the week of his 87th birthday, and he charmed us with stories of his life with money – and his remarkable life on a motorcycle.

What is your earliest money-related memory?

My earliest memory of money is getting a wooden vegetable box from Mr. Horowitz, the local vegetable store man, and taking the vegetable box and 30 or 40 old comic books to the local underground subway station.

I set up my stand – the wooden vegetable box – right at the top of the steps where people were coming out of the subway. For new, the comic books would have cost 10 cents, but I was very entrepreneurial. I must have been about nine or 10, and I was selling them for four and five cents.

The following week, another fellow from the neighborhood – Brucey was his name – came with comic books that were in somewhat better shape than mine. He was selling them for the retail price of 10 cents, and he couldn’t understand why mine just flew off the vegetable box and his didn’t. So that’s my earliest money memory.

What is one purchase you’ve made that felt especially weighty – or filled with possibility?

I had a consulting firm, and I brought some partners into the firm. I made a decision at that point that I would treat myself to a luxury item that I had wanted all my life, and I bought a motorcycle.

I was 41 or 42, and it was one of the greatest decisions because my wife accompanied me on many, many tours. We were adventure travelers from that point on. We toured a good part of the world – most of Europe, Nepal, parts of India, Patagonia, South America – all on motorcycle.

A motorcycle opens the world to you, and it opens people to you too. You’re very approachable on a motorcycle. In a car, you’re protected – you have to roll down a window if you want to talk to somebody. But you’re very accessible on a motorcycle, so you get to meet people that normally you would never interact with. And that’s true in the most remote places as well.

Wow, that’s amazing. Was your wife immediately on board?

I wouldn’t say she was immediately on board, but she wasn’t negative about it. We did some local touring – we went up to Nova Scotia, and that was a big distance at the time.

But then I saw an ad – the one and only motorcycle ad probably ever run in New Yorker Magazine. This tiny ad said, “Ride your motorcycle in the Alps.” And I said, “Oh my god. Can you imagine that, Linda? Riding a motorcycle in the Alps?”

So we signed up, and it was a European touring company located in Austria. When we arrived at the airport, Werna was waiting for us, and I said, “Werna, how did the other tours go so far?” He said, “We’ve had no problems.” Great! I later found out we were the first ones he ever did this with.

Linda was involved on a part-time basis at a local travel agency. And it was her idea to represent this motorcycle company in America, so motorcycle touring became her specialty at the travel agency. They’re the world’s biggest in motorcycle touring now – it’s a company called Edelweiss Bike Travel – and she helped to establish them in America. So that was her involvement. She knew more about motorcycles than I did at the end.

Linda and Buddy Rosenbaum

Linda and Buddy Rosenbaum at Khardung La Pass, one of the world’s highest motorable roads, located in Ladakh, India.

Do you have a favorite destination?

Nothing is better than the Alps for riding. We’ve done that many times. But if you expand it to not just the riding challenge but the touring interest, everywhere. We’ve done most of Europe. The longest was with a friend for six weeks. We rented motorcycles and started in Heidelberg, then went up to the northerly most point in Europe, Nordkapp in Norway. We came down through Finland and into Russia, then back through Lithuania and Estonia and so on. But I can’t pick a favorite. We did Patagonia, Nepal, Bhutan…

What do you wish you could tell your 20-year-old self about life with money?

At 20, I knew what I wanted to do with money. It wasn’t the pursuit of money unto itself, but I wanted the freedom that some degree of financial security would provide. The freedom to make choices – not necessarily the choices for survival but for the choices of enrichment.

And I did have a foundational need for security. I got married at a very early age, and we had kids at a very early age. So economic security was very important to me. And all this avocational activity – like the motorcycling – came at around age 40. But up to that point, I was kind of obsessively involved with building my consulting firm. And by the nature of that activity, there was a lot of travel. I was away two to three nights a week for most of that time. And that’s when I brought partners into the business.

Was there ever a decision you made, or a step you took, that made your life with money less stressful?

I think making the decision to bring my partners into the business, which I made pretty early on – somewhere around age 40. It sounds odd: the business wouldn’t necessarily grow in exactly the way I wanted it to, though close enough, but I would also have, early on, some degree of economic security to diversify some of the things I would be doing. I was itching to do some discretionary travel.

What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

Well, I’m thinking about where I am right now [in East Hampton] … A few years ago, my oldest son bought me the world’s greatest beach chair. It had a little umbrella, it had a place for your drink, it had all kinds of different seating positions. Great beach chair! It made going to the beach so much more comfortable. I could strap it onto my back and bicycle to the beach. Terrific gift!

Is there anything else you want to share about life with money?

Meeting and working with Vic allowed me to focus far more on the satisfying and gratifying things in life, rather than checking the New York Times finance section every day. Vic’s investment philosophy squelched the question, “Is the market up or down today?” It was so gratifying, and even liberating, to not have to think about that. So in that sense, there was a liberating dimension of life that came from working with Vic, and now Park Piedmont.

A PBS documentary featured Buddy Rosenbaum, at age 72, and a friend as they rode motorcycles from San Francisco to New York City via the Lincoln Highway. A party welcomed the two when they arrived in Times Square.

Generations

Nick Levinson Life with Money

As Park Piedmont moves into its third decade serving our clients, I wanted to share a few personal reflections on our family firm.

First, we’ve been very fortunate to see the firm grow significantly over the years. Initially, in 2003, Vic and I worked just with Lynette, who many of you will remember as our longtime, beloved Client Service guru. Tom joined in 2014 and has been a key firm leader while also bringing an important focus on life planning to the more technical work of money management. The advisory team expanded further with the addition of Samantha in 2021 and my son Nate in 2022.

To complement this additional capacity on the advisory side, we’ve added staff to provide outstanding client service. Ana now leads the Client Service team, which includes Leslie, Kathryn, and, most recently, Heather. We have Amanda focusing on operations, and Corenna on education and marketing. We also continue to work closely with our three CPAs/advisors, Richard, George, and Stu.

Even as we’ve grown, we’ve worked hard to retain the feeling and values of a small family firm. The entire team is committed to providing thoughtful, unbiased, comprehensive financial advice to all of you.

Second, we continually strive to honor Vic’s legacy. He was a great advisor and teacher, and demonstrated a total commitment to helping clients achieve their goals throughout their various stages of life and wealth. He set an example for us, both professionally and of course personally, and we know he would be thrilled to see that a third generation of our family is now part of the Park Piedmont team.

Speaking of Nate, we were overjoyed to celebrate his wedding last month! We spent a great week with family and friends in Minneapolis, where his wife Nuria grew up, culminating in a really fun ceremony and party. Nate and Nuria have been together since sophomore year of college, and are moving to Cincinnati, where Nuria has an internship as part of her clinical psychology training.

Finally, as Park Piedmont started and has continued as a family firm, we also celebrate the opportunity to provide advice and peace of mind to multiple generations of many client families. We spend a lot of time making sure that the transitions among generations of Park Piedmont advisors and clients go as smoothly as possible and continue to serve your needs. We are especially excited, for example, to see Sam and Nate beginning to advise third-generation clients.

This family continuity was a primary goal of ours when we founded the firm, and we’re honored that so many of you, of all generations, continue to place your trust in us.

Park Piedmont Named RIA of the Year Award Finalist

Corenna Roozeboom Life with Money

We’re thrilled to share that Park Piedmont has been named a finalist for RIA of the Year in the “Under $1 Billion in Assets Under Management” category by RIA Intel. (As of the end of May 2024, PPA manages just under $1 billion for our clients.)

• • •

“RIA Intel is delighted to announce the finalists for its third annual RIA Intel Awards.

“We had close to 300 nominations across 12 categories, from massive RIAs to entrepreneurs just starting out. Our finalists were chosen from an extremely talented pool of candidates who represent companies and people that are changing the face of wealth management …

“This year’s was the largest pool of candidates ever, with almost 300 nominations from the best and brightest of wealth management.”

To read the full announcement and view the list of finalists, visit the RIA Intel Awards website. Award winners will be announced in June.

• • •

We’re honored and grateful to receive this recognition. We want to extend our gratitude to our team for their dedication to our clients and to our clients for placing your trust in us for over two decades.

It is our immense pleasure to serve you and your families. We look forward to continuing to offer principled, personal, and practical financial guidance to help you gain clarity and peace of mind in your life with money.

Amy Gallo: Best-Selling Author, Speaker, and Workplace Expert

Corenna Roozeboom Life with Money

Amy Gallo, a client of Park Piedmont, has dedicated her career to helping people improve their lives at work, asking and answering questions such as:

How can we make our work environments and relationships more positive and less stressful?

Amy is a workplace expert who writes and speaks about gender, interpersonal dynamics, difficult conversations, feedback, and effective communication. She is the best-selling author of Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People) and the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict, as well as hundreds of articles for Harvard Business Review. For the past four years, Amy has co-hosted HBR’s popular Women at Work podcast, which examines the struggles and successes of women in the workplace.

Amy is frequently sought out by media outlets for her perspective on workplace dynamics, conflict, and difficult conversations. Her advice has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and NPR.

We caught up with Amy to talk about her work as well as her own life with money.

• • •

We spend so much time at work – and yes, it’s to earn money – but work is such a huge part of our lives beyond that. Given your focus on the workplace, do you think of your work as helping people navigate life with money?

Amy: I do think about it that way – in two ways, actually. One is that conversations around money involve a lot of conflict – or perceived conflict – in terms of asking for raises, negotiating a salary, trying to figure out what your bonus is going to be, or even talking to your friends or partner or colleagues about money. There’s a lot that I talk about that is very relevant to those conversations.

And also, for a lot of people, if you ask them why they work, they would say it’s to earn a living. And if that’s your only reason, it’s going to be a pretty soulless endeavor. But many of us have other reasons for working, and one of them is having relationships with people. And I feel as though having those be as positive as possible is helping set people up for success.

My overall mission is to make work less stressful for people and to normalize conflict and disagreement as an inevitable part of interacting with other humans. And I think in all my work – whether it’s with Harvard Business Review, my own speaking, my books – that is really what I’m trying to do: help people have fewer sleepless nights and enjoy work and their relationships with their colleagues more.

Thinking about your own life with money, what is the best gift you’ve ever given?

Amy: My husband turned 50 during the pandemic, and he is an extreme extrovert. He would have loved a huge party, which we obviously couldn’t throw for him. So, I asked friends and family to send pictures and a little toast to him, and I put it all together in a book.

It cost me very little – it had little to do with money, but it was just a representation of his life. And this is a bit morbid, but he always jokes that his biggest regret after he dies is not hearing the eulogies at his funeral. So I sort of thought of that: “Please eulogize him so he can actually hear those things!” And it’s true! Oftentimes we don’t say those things until someone has died, and that’s the saddest thing.

Amy Gallo

Park Piedmont Client Amy Gallo. Photo Credit: Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

What is your favorite savings tip? How do you make saving easier for yourself?

Amy: Honestly, the thing that has helped me most was being raised by a single mom who had to be very careful with money. And I really saw – and I think she was explicit about this – be independent financially. And from very early on, that had me thinking, how do I maintain that independence? No matter how much I rely on the people around me, how do I make sure that no matter what happens, I feel safe and secure? So that’s sort of a mindset thing that I think has really helped.

And then another thing is, my family always jokes that I’m squirreling away money in my savings account. Sometimes I say, “Even if I just transfer a tiny amount every week or every month, at least it’s building.” And I like numbers, I like seeing it build. Even in my 20s when I was making very little money, just putting a little bit away gave me the sense that 1) I was building my security, and 2) it’s just nice to see that number grow.

And also, I have a couple accounts that I don’t even think about. I try to have experts who are thinking about them, but those are just off to the side for later. It can be easy to just think short term, and there are expenses that will come up that would be lovely to spend money on, but I also just think – not thinking about those accounts, not regularly interacting with them in a way that they become part of the calculation around my spending is really helpful.

In all my work, there’s short-term versus long-term goals. If you engage with the long-term goal on a regular basis, you’re going to quickly turn it into a short-term goal, right? You have to give it space and time. And I’m a huge fan of outsourcing, right? I’m not an expert in investing and in money. That’s why I have experts to do that.

What’s the last thing you purchased that brought you joy?

Amy: I actually have it right here! It’s a candle. When I go to London for work, which I do once or twice a year, I always stay in the same cute boutique hotel. And I love this hotel. It’s super well-designed, the staff are amazing, and I love being there. This time when I was there – I was just there two weeks ago – I thought, how do I bring some of it home? And they have these candles which actually smell like the hotel – they must scent the hotel with this scent. So it’s a small thing. It really didn’t cost much, but it helps me tap into this nice memory.

Speaking of stress, is there a decision you’ve made, or a step you’ve taken, that has made your life with money less stressful?

Amy: This is going to sound as though I’m pandering to you all, but it’s so true. The first time I hired a financial advisor – the one I worked with before Park Piedmont – I thought I didn’t have enough money to work with a financial advisor. But once I started working with him, I realized you can have twenty dollars or you can have 20 million dollars, but you might not know what to do with it. And it just took my stress level down. And especially since transitioning to Park Piedmont, the level of expertise and trustworthiness has reduced my stress enormously.

What led you to transition to Park Piedmont?

Amy: I had outgrown my previous financial advisor, and I knew the fees they were charging were actually quite high. And Park Piedmont, Tom in particular, had come highly recommended from a friend. Actually, two different people in my life know Tom in different ways. And I’m an obsessive researcher when I’m making a decision, and my research about Park Piedmont was glowing. I felt like everything I was finding out was so positive.

What do you wish you could tell your 20-year-old self about life with money?

Amy: I think what I would tell her about life in general is, “Don’t worry so much. You’re doing the right things, you have the right mindset. Things will work out.” And I think I’ve been pretty good about this, but also just making decisions that are driven by values, and not necessarily by finances. And that has really paid off for me. I have a career that I love that supports me and my family. And it’s so aligned with my values and what I care about in the world.

I don’t know if I knew that was possible when I was 20. I think I thought you could make a lot of money, but you would have to hurt people in the process, or you’d have to do things against your values. And I was really struggling with that. So I think I would tell myself, “Just keep following your values. It will work out. You have to think about money – you know, I was still squirreling away – but just trust the process and it’ll happen.”

Lessons on Investing from Daniel Kahneman

Corenna Roozeboom Comments, Life with Money

“Daniel Kahneman may well have had more influence on investing than anyone else who wasn’t a professional investor.”

That’s a considerable statement, especially coming from Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig, also known as The Intelligent Investor. But considering Kahneman’s life’s work, it’s convincing.

Kahneman – a psychologist at Princeton and the 2002 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics – died in late March at the age of 90. You may know him from his bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Or maybe as one half of a famous duo.

As Zweig notes, “Before the pioneering work done by Kahneman and his research partner, Amos Tversky, who died in 1996, economists had assumed that people were ‘rational,’ meaning we are self-interested, use all available information to make unbiased decisions, and our preferences are consistent. Kahneman and Tversky showed that’s nonsense.”

That’s because Kahneman and Tversky pioneered what is known today as behavioral economics. In other words, thanks to them, we know now that we don’t actually know quite as much.

As Zweig puts it, “No, people don’t incorporate all available information. We think short streaks in a random process enable us to predict what comes next. We think jackpots happen more often than they do, making us overconfident. We think disasters are more common than they are, making us suckers for schemes that purport to protect us.”

And just in case that hasn’t deflated your confidence in the ability to make good investment decisions, he elaborates further: “We jump to sweeping conclusions from fragmentary data… We overestimate our own experience and expertise. We anchor on irrelevant numbers, exaggerate our successes, and forget our failures” (The Intelligent Investor newsletter, 4/9/24).

So if we aren’t the rational decision-makers we tend to believe we are, how then should we invest?

Here are three lessons on investing from Daniel Kahneman that Park Piedmont has learned from and adheres to.

Make fewer decisions.

“For all his knowledge of how foolish investors can be, [Kahneman] didn’t try to outsmart the market,” says Zweig. “‘I don’t try to be clever at all,’ he told me. Most of his money was in index funds … ‘All of us would be better investors,’ he often said, ‘if we just made fewer decisions.’”

Like Kahneman, Park Piedmont advises our clients to invest almost entirely in index funds – to minimize fees, maximize diversification, and to make fewer decisions where miscalculation can occur.

Don’t try to predict the future.

“The idea that I could see what no one else can is an illusion,” Kahneman once told Zweig.

Despite his influence on investing, Kahneman was no better at predicting the future than we are – or than anyone else is, for that matter. Nobody can predict future events, or how the markets will respond to them, so we don’t try to. Instead, we focus on what we can control: a custom asset allocation that accounts for our clients’ unique goals, time horizons, and risk tolerance.

Focus on the long-term and ignore the noise.

“If owning stocks is a long-term project for you, following their changes constantly is a very, very bad idea. It’s the worst possible thing you can do, because people are so sensitive to short-term losses. If you count your money every day, you’ll be miserable,” Kahneman once said.

We advise the same. Unless your goals, time horizon, or risk tolerance have changed, ignore the financial media and even, largely, the markets. Focus on the long-term, and don’t let the markets themselves dictate your decision-making.

In short, “Investors who take Kahneman and Tversky’s lessons to heart can minimize fees, losses and regrets,” says Zweig. We would agree – and we’re grateful Kahneman recognized our collective limitations in order that we, years later, can craft our guidance accordingly.

Peter Brill and Wendy Lewis: World Travelers & Thoughtful People

Corenna Roozeboom Life with Money

Park Piedmont clients are entrepreneurs and homemakers, world-renowned physicians and award-winning authors and directors, the founders of startups and the owners of closely-held businesses, and young professionals and retirees.

The common thread is that they are thoughtful, intelligent people doing good and interesting things with their lives.

Today we’re kicking off a new series to help our clients get to know other clients in our extended community – others who look to Park Piedmont for financial guidance that’s principled, personal, and practical.
Peter Brill and Wendy Lewis
We begin with Peter Brill and Wendy Lewis, who have been traveling the world together since January 2022 – by sailboat. We caught up with them as they prepared to pass through the Panama Canal and asked them to share a bit about their adventure around the world – and to reflect a bit on life with money.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

• • •

Whose idea was it to travel the world by sailboat? Did either of you need convincing?

Wendy Lewis: We first went sailing together off the coast of Hawaii, and I was overwhelmed with joy because it was so much fun. And then later we were out on a charter in the British Virgin Islands, and I turned to Peter and said, “Have you ever thought about sailing around the world?” And he said, “Don’t mess with me because I have. It’s a dream.” And I said, “Really? Let’s do it.”

Peter Brill: Yeah, we shared it from the beginning. And the timing was right. Our children were adults and in a good place, and both sets of parents had passed away so we were no longer caring for them. And things were opening up after Covid. So we made the decision pretty quickly, but we’ve remained flexible in terms of making travel plans. There are different constraints to consider for traveling by boat versus over land – like hurricane or cyclone seasons, winds, and currents. And when you’re traveling the world, you’re also thinking about changing political climates, safety and security, and of course budgeting. Park Piedmont’s “How Long Might Your Money Last?” illustration has been helpful in that regard.

What is one purchase you’ve made that felt especially weighty – or filled with possibility?

Wendy: Buying the boat! We knew we wanted this particular boat because it’s set up for sailing in the way that we wanted to sail. It’s safe and it’s sturdy, but it moves fast and it’s fun to sail. So that purchase felt like a leap!

Peter: Yeah, we sold everything. The house, the cars – the boat is our home now. We purged a lifetime’s worth of stuff. We don’t have any possessions except for some artwork, books, and photographs – some personal stuff like that, but no furniture or anything. If we have it, it’s in the boat with us. And we’re just going to do this until we decide otherwise – I guess if it stops being fun, or if there’s a health issue, or if something else comes up that shifts our thinking.

Wendy: We’re thinking 5-7 years, or maybe 7-10.

Peter: And we’ve been aboard for over two already!

Have you discovered any tips for saving during your travels?

Peter: Yeah, here’s a big one: if you don’t purchase health insurance coverage for the US, you save an enormous amount of money. Colombia is an example of an advanced, modern, cosmopolitan country with good, affordable healthcare. There’s actually something called dental and medical tourism – people who fly from the US to Colombia to get first-rate, affordable healthcare. So we’ve saved a lot of money by paying out-of-pocket for minor expenses and by purchasing insurance based in London for major medical expenses we incur anywhere in the world – even in the US, though not for longer than a month.

What’s the last thing you purchased that brought you joy?

Wendy: We love artwork, and we recently purchased a little wooden sailboat that someone made in the Guna Yala part of Panama, an indigenous area. They make the sails out of anything – just sheets sometimes. And there are these beautiful traditional textiles that the Guna Yala make, called molas. They’re entirely hand stitched, and many of the women wear these on their clothing – like with a collared blouse. They’re so beautiful. So we bought one of those too. Both purchases have brought us joy.

What do you wish you could tell your 20-year-old self about life with money?

Wendy: It’s okay to follow your heart, and money will follow. I really bet that you’ll work it out. Another thing is that it’s okay to splurge every once in a while. You do need to save, but – my dad was a great caregiver and took care of our family financially. But one day after he retired he said, “You know, I think it’s finally time to start spending this money that I’ve saved.” And that really struck me. He and my mom had dreamed of going to Europe and to places where he had served in the war. And then unexpectedly, he was sick. He’d always been super healthy, but he passed away in six months. So they didn’t get to go on that trip. I was just barely 30 when he passed away, and it really stayed with me. So in a way, that was also a lesson to that younger self: save but also enjoy, because all you have is what is immediately in front of you, you know? So much about money is about saving for the future. That’s important – I don’t want to discount that – but all we have is right now.

Peter: I would say, “Tranquilo.” Don’t worry so much about money. I think I spent too much time worrying and feeling anxious about it. There’s so much energy consumed in worrying, and it isn’t helpful. So I would tell myself to spend that energy on something else.

What is one decision you’ve made, or step you’ve taken, that has made your life with money less stressful?

Peter: Before we left, we needed to organize our finances and streamline everything. Turning everything over to Park Piedmont pursuant to our values and our desires has been great. We don’t fuss over it, it’s not something that requires a lot of energy or bandwidth on our end, and that’s the choice we like.

Wendy: The thought and care that the Park Piedmont team puts into their work has been great for us – it’s something we don’t have to worry about when we’re traveling, so that’s huge.

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received or given?

Wendy: Time – the gift of spending time together. And also unconditional acceptance from someone. Money can of course help with things like spending time together – like giving us the ability to bring our kids here, or for us to go back and visit them. But if we’re talking about something specifically related to money, the best gift I’ve ever received was when I was traveling in Africa with my brother. He paid for us to trek and visit gorillas in Rwanda. We loved it so much, we went a second time and were lucky enough to see a newborn baby gorilla. The whole band was celebrating its birth. It was amazing.

Peter: I think the best gifts are experiences – being with loved ones, with family and friends.

During your travels, have you noticed differences in “life with money” (approaches, mindsets, etc.) in other parts of the world – that perhaps have even changed your own?

Wendy: Traveling has allowed us to meet so many creative, resourceful, entrepreneurial, and funny people – and to experience value systems that are different than we typically see in the US. For example, we’ve experienced overwhelming generosity from people who may live very differently economically. They’re so eager to help us – sometimes it’s related to money, sometimes it’s related to time, and sometimes it’s related to understanding the language. It has changed me in ways that will impact how I interact with people when we go back to the States.

Peter: Yes, and if someone helps us out with something, our reaction is to ask, “How can we pay you?” And they’re like, “Pay us? You don’t need to pay us!” In many ways, resources allow us to do amazing things like travel. But money makes life more complex – it doesn’t guarantee happiness, fulfillment, or peace.

Money, Meet Meaning: Introducing a New Podcast

Tom Levinson Life with Money

Money, Meet Meaning

April 15, Tax Day: the culmination of our annual season of data-gathering, number-crunching, and spiritual reflection.

What’s that? You don’t use tax season as an opportunity for self-examination and renewal?

OK, fine – me neither.

Tax Season is a time-intensive, laborious grind, and you’re no doubt in good company if you offer a grunt of thanksgiving when it mercifully wraps up.

In many ways, taxes fall outside our sacred considerations.

And yet — our religious and spiritual traditions (they’re sometimes also called our “wisdom traditions”) locate in taxation a chance to reflect on the delicate, often precarious balance between ethical individual action, just leadership, and the redistribution of resources to meet ever-present social needs. For example:

  • Jesus and the Gospel narratives are intentional in discussing taxation, spotlighting individual values like integrity and generosity along with big-picture aims like an economically just society.
  • The primary form of wealth distribution mandated in Islam – indeed, one of the five pillars of the faith – is Zakat. Zakat isn’t synonymous with tax – but for Muslims meeting a baseline level of wealth, it’s obligatory and serves the same end of social welfare. Beyond that, it’s viewed as a kind of worship – a way to purify wealth by providing for those in need.
  • The same goes in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. Public services, priestly work, sanctuary construction, care for the poor: all were funded by broadly assessed taxes.

Of course, there is room for healthy, constructive debate about how much taxation is appropriate. Regardless of one’s opinion on that topic, our wisdom traditions generally agree that the process of preparing and paying taxes offers individuals a platform for ethical conduct. We can direct attention to the needs of the neediest in our midst, while supporting a stable and just social order. Indeed, given the very human temptations we all confront in the tax prep process – think coveting and cheating, to start – tax season may in fact be one of our most potent spiritual proving grounds.

• • •

How do we make our life with money more meaningful? Partly, through how we use it. And partly, through how we think and talk about it.

Today, the week of April 15, we launch our new podcast, Money, Meet Meaning. Each episode promises energizing conversation and insightful reflection – on topics like spending and budgeting, lending and giving, ancient teachings and new technology, not to mention child-rearing and consumerism and coveting.

Join us as we continue the conversation, together, on Money, Meet Meaning – available wherever you find your podcasts.

An Ongoing Battle Between Facts and Vibes

Tom Levinson Life with Money

Here’s something curious.

This week The Wall Street Journal published the results of a survey it conducted with several thousand swing state voters. The paper asked about political preferences, naturally, but its questions extended into the survey respondents’ views of the economy.

According to the Journal, about three-quarters of respondents said inflation had moved in the wrong direction over the last year. This assessment was widely held across all seven states – and is in direct conflict with hard economic data.

As the Journal’s Greg Ip writes, “In the 12 months through February, inflation, according to the century-old consumer price index, was 3.2%, compared with 6% a year earlier. Use a slightly different time horizon, or a slightly different measure (such as the index the Federal Reserve prefers) and you get similar results. Take out food and energy – or for that matter look only at food and energy – and inflation is still down… Yet the average person thinks it went up.”

A similar finding cropped up around recent market returns. More Journal survey respondents believed their investments or retirement savings had declined during the previous year – even though 2023 was “a period in which the stock market roared to record highs, home values held steady or rose, and interest on savings went up.”

What’s going on here? Ip sees an ongoing battle between vibes and facts – with vibes apparently pummeling facts.

One way to begin to understand this better lies in the insights of the field of behavioral economics. The research of the Nobel-winning psychologist Dr. Daniel Kahneman, who died last week at 90, poked fatal holes in long-standing economic assumptions about the rationality of human decision-making. Kahneman found that the brain makes quick decisions using incomplete information, often leading to unfortunate outcomes.

As his Bloomberg obituary reported, Kahneman told the American Psychological Association in 2012: “People are designed to tell the best story possible… We don’t spend much time saying, ‘Well, there is much we don’t know.’ We make do with what we do know.” (In a future Life with Money essay, we will delve deeper into the work and influence of Dr. Kahneman and the wider field of behavioral economics.)

Other factors, also part of the behavioral economics landscape, are plausible, too.

Emotional Influences: Our emotions can powerfully shape our perceptions and decision-making. When someone experiences “vibes” – whether positive or negative – about a given something or someone, these emotions can override rational analysis or factual evidence.

Cognitive Biases: Cognitive biases affect us all, in particular the ways we digest information. Confirmation bias, for example, pushes us to gather information that supports our pre-existing ideas or feelings, while discounting evidence that runs to the contrary.

Going With Your Gut: Intuitive thinking works quickly and automatically, based on unconscious processes and memory. We often go with our gut, our intuition, even amid a lack of concrete evidence.

Complexity and Uncertainty: When navigating uncertainty, vibes offer a way through. Instead of sifting through messy, often conflicting facts, we occasionally go with a simpler, quicker decision-making process.

Group Identity: Humans tend to align ourselves with groups, identities, or brands that share certain values or stories. When a particular vibe resonates powerfully within one’s social cohort, the feelings can be reinforced, even though they conflict with objective facts.

For all of us, in ways both observable and unconscious, our behavior is shaped by a constant, complex interplay between our thoughts, feelings, preferences, and incentives, not to mention broader social dynamics. But being attentive to these emotional and cognitive influences – whether they’re related to personal finances, the broader economy, or other areas of life – can help us think more critically and engage more intelligently when encountering both facts and vibes.

How Much Do Our Pets Cost?

Kathryn Baranoski Life with Money

To say that the Park Piedmont team is a group of animal lovers would be an understatement.

Tom, Nate, George, and Heather are all dog owners, while Sam, Leslie and I are owned by our cats. Catching a glimpse of someone’s pet while on a Zoom meeting is frequently a highlight of our workday.

We also love it when we get to chat with our clients about their pets, and any fun stories or pet photos we receive are usually circulated for the whole team to enjoy.

How much do our pets cost?

Earlier this year, Tom wrote a “Life with Money” piece that explored the ways we invest in our relationships, and how those investments can offer the highest and most-predictable return on investment. So when a recent Pew survey found that almost half of U.S. pet owners consider their pets to be as much a part of the family as their human counterparts, we couldn’t help but get curious about how this expanded relationship might impact pet owners’ financial behavior.

According to a recent article from Forbes, 66% of U.S. households own at least one pet, compared to just 56% in 1988. Annual spending on our furry friends has increased too, with $136.8 billion spent on pets in 2022 – up from $123.6 billion in 2021.

More than 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to an article by the Washington Post, so the increase in pet ownership and spending isn’t surprising. What we wanted to know is, how did the increased spending on pets affect peoples’ spending in other areas?

I often joke that I spend more per month on food for my two cats, Luna and Vin Diesel, than I do on food for myself, and George recently remarked that he eats generic cereal so that his dog, Penny, can eat like royalty. Do pet owners find themselves cutting back in other areas so that their animal counterparts can live the high life?

That same Washington Post article interviewed several dog owners across the country, who remarked that they’ve gone to such lengths as having fewer date nights and cooking at home more, or even delaying purchasing their first home, due to the amount they spend on their pups. Budgeting for veterinary care, both routine and emergency, also factored into their spending decisions.
Cat love
Two recent surveys from pet care site Rover.com found that the majority of pet owners consider their pets a top financial priority, even at the expense of their own necessities. According to the surveys:

  • 81% of pet owners said inflation is impacting their food bills and 41% of dog owners have cut back on their own groceries as a result.
  • 37% of pet owners said there’s no amount of money they would accept if it meant they could never have a pet again, and at least a quarter said it would take $1 million or more for them to give up their pets.
  • 44% of pet owners would take a lower-paying job if they could bring their pets to work with them.

This commitment to pets is also reflected in the roughly $35.9 billion in annual spending going towards vet care, as well as pet insurance to help manage the cost of pet ownership. With the average monthly pet insurance premium being $53/month for dogs and $32/month for cats, the coverage can be appealing, albeit expensive, as a means to help manage vet bills.

Employers are catching wind of the trend too, with some 5,000 companies now offering pet insurance in an effort to attract talent and acknowledge the strong bond between people and pets.

Another interesting trend among pet owners is the rise in pet-friendly home modifications. Architects and interior designers alike agreed in a recent New York Times article that when designing or renovating a home, you may need to consider the needs of both human and animal occupants.

So what features are pet parents considering adding to their homes? According to the article, for dog owners, spaces like special dog showers or custom crates that blend seamlessly into the décor are top of mind. For cat owners, architectural playgrounds (think wall-mounted jungle gym) and hidden litter boxes are ideal.
Woman hugging dog
We don’t only spend money on our pets, though. We also devote intangible resources to them, like time, energy, and love. Reverend Tish Harrison Warren writes about this in a recent newsletter, where she describes her recent experience with hesitation around adopting a dog for her family.

“In an unspoken place inside me, I’d created a zero-sum system where any money, time or energy I gave to a domestic animal was taking away money, time or energy from other humans,” Warren explained in her newsletter. Warren isn’t the only one who felt that tension. In 2022, Pope Francis criticized couples who chose to have pets instead of children.

Warren goes on to explain that her family’s new pooch, Herbie, forced the family to slow down their lives, be gentler, and lean into love. She ends the newsletter by pulling inspiration from a poem written by Herbie’s namesake, George Herbert – a 17th– century Anglican priest and poet – “Love, without diminishing, always welcomes more.”

We love our pets here at Park Piedmont, and given the opportunity, we’d love to hear about yours, too.