Planting Seeds For Financial Success

The sooner you start putting money away, the easier it will become and the greater your financial gains. Don’t get discouraged if at first your contributions seem ineffective.

I’ve been talking to a lot of lawyers lately that are feeling the double-whammy of high student loan debt burdens and standard entry-level legal salaries.

On the one hand, you have a huge hole in the ground in the form of student loan debt and, on the other hand, you have a small (but growing) shovel to fill in that hole.

To make matters worse, there’s competing demands for every dollar that comes in. Should it go to debt? Retirement savings? Home downpayment? 529 plans? Sometimes even a chart showing you which accounts to prioritize isn’t helpful when there’s not enough money to go around.

But take heed! Mighty oaks grow from little acorns.

Since it’s Spring, I thought I’d illustrate this with my own attempt to grow tomato plants on a NYC balcony one summer.

I planted the seeds in late March. Of course, March is still very much winter in New York, so the 12 little plants needed as much protection as possible. When you plant seeds, the first couple of weeks you don’t even see anything above the surface. It’s easy to forget the seeds are even there.

Since there’s nothing to see or measure, your only options with new seedlings are to walk away and hope for the best.

Once I started to see green stalks shooting through the soil I knew I was on to something. Of course, a couple of the plants didn’t make it very far after getting above ground (and two never made it above the soil at all).

But, there were a few seedlings that turned into particularly strong plants (at least compared to their peers).

I focused my attention on those seedlings, transferring them to bigger pots and doing whatever I could to make sure they received maximum sunlight.

By the time the weather was warm enough to move the plants outdoors, there wasn’t much to see above ground but I was shocked by the size of the roots!

The roots have taken over the entire container!

I don’t mean to belabor the obvious comparison I’m drawing, but all of the things that you’re doing to take control of your financial life are pretty similar to the root system.

Updating your resume? Applying for new jobs? Setting up automatic savings systems? Opening up a Backdoor Roth IRA with $5,500? Paying off debt? All of those actions add up over time.

Yet, the plant still looks pretty small, especially when I transferred it to the bigger pot.

80% of the plant is still below the surface but now it finally has room to grow.

But, if you’ve ever grown plants, when you transfer a healthy seedling to a big pot you know that big things are in store. The little plant now has access to all the nutrients in the big pot!

Given the extra space, it’s only a matter of time before the part of the plant that’s above ground takes off. Of course at this point, we never see the root system again since the plant is in its permanent home.

In a matter of weeks the tomato plant is getting big and yellow flowers are starting to show (near the top)

So keep planting those seeds! Walk away and let them grow. Don’t try to get fancy. If you make solid investments each month, it’s inevitable that you’ll reach your financial goals. Many of us will try to beat the system to get there faster but it’s the steady march forward that actually works.

Joshua Holt is a former private equity M&A lawyer and the creator of Biglaw Investor. Josh couldn’t find a place where lawyers were talking about money, so he created it himself. He convinces the student loan refinancing companies to give you cashback bonuses for refinancing your student loans and looks forward to you discovering how easy it is to track your net worth with a free tool like Empower.

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