About Us Our Story

The Motivation Behind Laurel Tree Advisors by Molly Balunek

My grandmother did not know how to keep a checkbook. She was born around 1908, so that was not unusual for her peer group. She was fortunate to marry a wonderful man who honored and cherished her and did not die prematurely, so he was able to take care of her for their entire lives, into their 90s. They were such a wonderful couple.

They had two daughters. My mother married a good man, who took care of her, too. I don’t recall my mother having a desk in the house where she took care of the household finances. My father had the desk, in the office. Mom knew how to keep a checkbook, however, but Dad handled the bills. My father opened checking accounts for my siblings and me, and taught us how to manage our own money beginning when we were about 13 years old. He gave us a monthly allowance, and made us responsible for much of our discretionary spending.

Before I went to college, he sat down with me and explained what an income statement is. He stressed the importance of understanding the cash inflows and outflows, and showed me his yellow legal pad, written in pencil, where he tracked our family’s monthly expenses. He told me he did this every January for the year ahead, and then he tracked it each month through the year to see how close his projection was to the actual. He emphasized the need to write it down and track it, not just to think about it. It took me a few years, and a marriage and a divorce, to come to fully understand how valuable a lesson he taught me that day.

Over 20 years of helping people manage and invest their money, I believe that the foundation of financial independence is built on understanding cash flow – the inflows and outflows. Everything else – planning, saving, investing, protecting – depends on this understanding.

One of my most prominent memories is when I was keeping my check register (in ink!) and couldn’t reconcile it to my bank statement. It had been several months since I balanced it, too. I sheepishly went to him for help. He quickly found the error, several pages back, and scolded me for using ink when pencil is so much more forgiving. Scolded might be too mild to describe it. The whole family remembers! To this day, I prefer to use pencil when I work on certain projects that involve overall strategy, which is frequently. I use spreadsheets a lot now, but some old habits die hard.

A few years later, he became ill, and he died from cancer when my mother was only 59 years old. He was an entrepreneur, and was running three businesses and a charitable foundation when he died. He never taught Mom how to manage the bills, even after his diagnosis. She was at square one after he died. It is ironic, really, that my sister helped Dad with the bills during his illness, not Mom. My sister was only 21 at the time.

For several years, my mother and my brother ran the businesses together because he had worked with our father in the business. After he decided to start his own separate business, she began to run the businesses herself. She has been able to provide for herself for many years. She sold one of the business at age 81, and continues to manage the second one because she enjoys it so much. She will soon turn 84 years old. Not only does she have a desk, she outfitted one of the bedrooms into her office. She is a sharp businesswoman.

Her experience is not the norm for young widows of her generation. She has worked hard and is very fortunate that she was successful in taking over the businesses and earning a living. Dad did not have much life insurance and most of their assets were invested in the businesses. As an entrepreneur, he did not have a pension, and IRAs were not widely used before his death in 1990. She did not have a lot of choices, but she has loved being a working girl, as she calls it.

It is so interesting to me how these three different generations of women have completely different relationships with money. To me, this story illustrates a few things:

  • That we can change and learn and improve our circumstances at any age
  • That we do not have to be dependent on a man (or another human being) to be financially secure
  • How much progress women have made in the last century toward financial independence

The laurel tree represents victory and perseverance. At Laurel Tree Advisors, we strive to use these traits to help each client achieve financial freedom.