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How often do you make unreasonable financial decisions?
Probably not often enough.
Will Guidara is the James Beard award-winning former general manager of Eleven Madison Park in New York City. How did EMP earn the title “World’s Best Restaurant” in 2017?
Three stories from Guidara about unreasonable decision-making:
“A family of four from Spain was dining with us on the last night of their New York City vacation. The children at the table were incandescent with excitement, and for the most wonderful reason: thick snow was falling past our massive windows, and they’d never seen real snow before.
Spur of the moment, I sent someone out to buy four brand-new sleds. After their meal was over, we had a chauffeur-driven SUV whisk the whole family up to Central Park for a special nightcap: a few hours of play in the freshly fallen snow.”
A couple was celebrating their anniversary at one of renowned restaurateur Daniel Meyer’s restaurants.
“Midway through their meal, they remember they’ve left a bottle of champagne in the freezer. They call the sommelier over to ask if it’s likely to explode before they get home (almost certainly yes). The sommelier saves the day by taking their keys and rescuing the bottle, so the couple can relax and finish their celebratory meal.
When they arrive home, they find the champagne safely tucked into their fridge, along with a tin of caviar, a box of chocolates, and an anniversary card from the restaurant.”
“In early 2010, on a busier-than-normal lunch service, I was in the dining room, helping out the servers when I found myself clearing appetizers from a table of four foodies on vacation to New York. They were going to the airport to head back home after their meal.
I overheard them talking, ‘What an amazing trip – we’ve been to all the best restaurants – Per Se, Le Beradin, Daniel, Momofuku, now Eleven Madison Park.’ Then another person jumped in, ‘Yeah, but the only thing we didn’t get to try was a New York City hot dog.’
…As calmly as I could, I walked gracefully back in the kitchen, dropped off the plates, and then literally ran out the front door and down the block to the hot dog cart. I bought a hot dog and ran just as fast back into the kitchen.
Now came the hard part: convincing the chef to serve it in our fancy fine-dining restaurant. …Eventually, he agreed to cut the hot dog up into four perfect pieces, adding a little swish of ketchup and a swish of mustard onto each plate, and finishing them with a quenelle of sauerkraut and a quenelle of relish. Then, before we served the table their final savory course…we brought them their hot dog.
I introduced it: ‘To make sure you don’t go home with any culinary regrets, a New York City hot dog.’”
Guidara’s decisions rejected convention in the restaurant business. They required thoughtfulness, creativity, and a little bit of defiance. And they brought on additional risk, with uncertain outcomes.
From the outside, the decisions probably looked pretty unreasonable. Yet, they ultimately helped Guidara to create the exact restaurant that he envisioned.
Most of our financial decisions conform with standard rules of thumb that we’ve picked up over the years. Why? (Other than that someone once told us to?)
We may — understandably — shy away from uncertainty. And we may fear what will happen if we diverge from the decisions we see parents, friends, and colleagues making. So sticking with the conventional wisdom feels safe.
In this way, we’re like most restaurants. Our prudent financial decisions are good enough. When we take this approach, we feel good that we’re actively trying to avoid worst-case scenarios. And, most of the time, we’re generally satisfied.
But Eleven Madison Park’s philosophy showed us what’s possible when we act unreasonable. It showed us that we can move closer to the exact life we envision when we act with thoughtfulness, creativity, and a little bit of defiance.
What financial decisions could you make that might look unreasonable from the outside?
You could leave your high-paying job later this year for a less time-intensive position. But why would you give up that salary and prestige? Only you may know that you want to spend more time with your kids while they still want to hang out with you.
You could take a sabbatical next summer to fulfill that dream of hiking in Europe. But why would you risk hampering your career trajectory? Only you may know about how the break would boost your health and make up for the travels that you’ve postponed for years now. Plus, you’re not getting any younger.
But becoming financially unreasonable doesn’t only mean extreme life changes. You can become more unreasonable in small ways, too.
Guidara established one such easy, but very impactful policy at EMP.
The host would ask each guest, “‘How’d you get here tonight?’ If they responded, ‘Oh, we drove,’ he’d follow up with, ‘Cool, where’d you park?’ If they told him they were by a meter on the street, he asked which car was theirs so one of [them] could run out and drop a couple of quarters into the box while they were dining.”
In your case, you might decide to start paying for a laundry service or a house cleaner. A financial decision that requires you to forgo some savings may seem unreasonable. But only you know how much you and your family will benefit from less stress and additional free time.
Guidara said this about the moment when he served that hot dog at Eleven Madison Park:
“Guys, they freaked out.”
He added, “Each person said it was not only the highlight of their meal, but of their entire trip to New York, and they’d be telling the story for the rest of their lives.”
What stories do you want to start telling?
Hi, I’m Kevin. I’m a financial advisor in Washington, DC. I’m also the founder of Illumint, an independent financial planning company in the District that specializes in financial planning for Millennials like you. I empower our generation with the confidence to invest an inheritance, financial gift, or extra savings. If you’re new to Financially Well, welcome – you now have access to the leading finance podcast for Millennials. I encourage you to read, watch, or listen to the ideas I’ve shared about making your money work for you. And then when you’re ready, please send me your thoughts & questions!
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