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Creating A Guide For High Achievers

By anyone’s calculations, 2020 is a strange time to be celebrating milestones.

The way the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives has meant that many of us feel disconnected from our normal ways of marking weeks or months. It has also meant that we have often had to forgo occasions we would normally mark with a party or gathering. Instead, we make do with Zoom or just regretfully wait for a time in the future when we can meet again. But milestones don’t always arrive at a convenient moment. I marked a few this year myself.

One milestone that seems appropriate is celebrating my 10th year on the Palisades Hudson Financial Group team in the same year that we’re publishing our new book, The High Achiever’s Guide to Wealth.

As the editor of The High Achiever’s Guide, I had the opportunity to edit – and, in two cases, co-author – chapters on topics I’ve helped my colleagues write about throughout my time at Palisades Hudson. Some of these topics, like the basics of budgeting, I had a decent grasp on when I arrived. But many others, including investment basics, retirement planning and insurance, were mysterious at first. When I started as an administrative associate at the firm in 2010, I was a college graduate who loved reading and learning, but my exposure to personal finance topics was on the basic side. Equities, exchange-traded funds and expense ratios were all Greek to me – and I expect the same will be true of many of our readers.

In some ways, I was channeling my 2010 self as I edited this book. We wrote it for readers who are smart and curious, but who have varying levels of financial knowledge. The topics we cover in the book’s 20 chapters can be complex, but they don’t have to be opaque.

Luckily for me, I didn’t have to create an accessible guide on my own, even if I have learned a lot in the past decade. Our new book has 14 authors besides me. I’d had chances to collaborate with all of them before we started this project, too. I helped to create our previous book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55, in both its original and second editions. Looking Ahead includes chapters from many of the authors who appear in The High Achiever’s Guide to Wealth. The authors who did not appear in Looking Ahead have written articles for our Sentinel newsletter or posts for our “Current Commentary” blog.

In working with them, I have learned each author’s particular expressions and idiosyncrasies. It is one of the great pleasures of my job that I’m not expected to smooth those away. In our books, as in all our writing, our firm commits to the individuality of our staff members. Each of them is smart and experienced, but each of them also has their own voice. My job as an editor is to make sure their writing is clear and clean, not to make every person in the firm sound alike. If you pick up The High Achiever’s Guide, you will have a chance to meet my colleagues, assuming you are not lucky enough to know them already. Each chapter bears its author’s name, as well as its author’s voice.

I celebrated another milestone this year, besides my work anniversary. That milestone, too, arrived with unexpectedly appropriate timing. One of the chapters I co-authored in The High Achiever’s Guide to Wealth focuses on education funding: saving for future education expenses and paying off your existing student loans. This also happens to be the year I paid off the last of my own student loans. Normally, I would have thrown a party. In 2020, I bought myself a Dutch oven instead. (It’s very pretty. I expect an especially photogenic soup season this winter.)

The birthday I celebrated this year, my 35th, is not an especially notable one. It does, however, put me squarely in the demographic we intended this book to help most. While generational definitions are fuzzy around the edges by nature, according to most calculations I’m an “old millennial.” The Pew Research Center defines millennials as those born between 1981 and 1996; the U.S. Census Bureau pegs us as the generation born between 1982 and 2000. Regardless of where you draw the line, most millennials are now in their 20s and 30s, with the oldest coming up fast on 40. Personally, I am keeping my fingers crossed that we are now past the days of journalists claiming my peers and I are killing everything from napkins to diamonds. Regardless, many of us are moving past the beginnings of our careers and making choices about how we want to shape the rest of our lives.

I have noticed that my friends and I have started having different financial conversations than we did in our early 20s. This makes sense. But these conversations haven’t only changed in their focus. Our financial concerns are also starting to diverge as we reach different milestones and pursue different goals. My friends are now single, cohabitating and married. Some have children; some plan on children; some know they will never have children. Our parents may be working or retired, and some of us have had to deal with a parent’s serious illness or even a parent’s death. Some of us rent and others have invested in their first home, whether a house, a condo or a co-op. (Why yes, I do live in New York City, one of the few places co-ops are common.) Almost all of us are trying to balance paying down debt, saving for the future, and enjoying a bit of fun or comfort in the present.

I am probably a bit biased, but I would describe all my friends as “high achievers” in one sphere or another. Some of them have the natural inclination or the training to handle their finances with confidence. Others don’t. That does not make them any less accomplished in their own fields. It just means they need some resources or support in an area outside their specialty.

I am not a financial planner. But 10 years of working with my colleagues has taught me a lot about what they do and how they think. It has also taught me that high achievers of all ages can benefit from experienced insights, clearly expressed. My co-authors brought the experience and the insight. My job was to ensure they expressed those thoughts clearly. The result is now available for your benefit.

In the opening chapter of The High Achiever’s Guide to Wealth, Palisades Hudson’s founder and president, Larry Elkin, observes that wealth is about having choices. Our book does not aim to supply a definitive answer to most questions about how to manage financial priorities and pursue your goals. It certainly does not tell you what those goals should be. Instead, the authors provide information and perspective. Our intention is to give readers tools to make informed choices that best fit their own situations. At Palisades Hudson, we consider our clients’ financial planning in a big-picture context that encompasses all areas of their financial lives. Our book encourages readers to think about their goals in the same way.

The High Achiever’s Guide to Wealth was the product of many hands. In addition to my co-authors, I relied on the sharp and perceptive copy editing of Barbara Schechter, as well as technical edits from Larry. The beautiful copy in your hands, whether a paperback or an e-book, owes its design to Najdan Mancic and Ashley Bell. Administrative associate Lesley Oberstadt also assisted in the creation of the charts and tables that appear throughout the book. I’m grateful to all of them for their contributions.

The final product is one I will be happy to pass along to my own friends, and one I hope will help them. (I doubt they will be unhappy to learn that I consider them members of the book’s stated audience of “high achievers.”) My colleagues and I are proud to share our latest book not only with our clients, colleagues and friends, but with readers who have never met us. We will be amply rewarded if our readers find it a practical guide to building wealth, whatever way they choose to define it.

Administrative Manager Amy Laburda, who is based in our Stamford, Connecticut office, is the editor of the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. She also edited the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth, as well as co-authoring two of its chapters.