When I start working with a new client, I need to know everything
— and I mean everything — about their finances. From monthly
expenses to account balances to credit card interest rates, no
detail is too small.
But before we get into the financial minutiae, I ask two
questions that have nothing to do with money, yet tell me more
than a pile of bank statements ever could.
1. What is your favorite Starbucks drink order?
In many ways this is a simple question. I've learned over time
that caffeine comes in handy when talking about personal
finances. Without it, the risk of glazed-over-eyes syndrome
increases significantly, especially during the first meeting. So,
I always come prepared with the client's beverage of
But, truth be told, I have an ulterior motive for asking this
question. What you buy at Starbucks reveals something to me about
how you spend your money.
In my experience, if you prefer a basic drink like a
venti black coffee or a tall cappuccino, you're probably not
a big spender in other areas. If your order is more
elaborate, like a venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato with
sugar-free syrup and light ice, then I'll brace myself for a
budgeting and scaling back. And, if you respond by telling me
how much you hate Starbucks and only drink premium espresso from
a pricey independent cafe, then I'll expect to have a frank
maxing out your retirement accounts because your
disposable income may be higher than it should be.
These are just observations of course, and are not based on any
kind of data or science. I ask many more questions during the
meeting to get an accurate perspective on a
client's approach to spending. But more often than not, the
Starbucks question holds true.
2. What are your goals?
Financial planning should never be a cookie cutter experience.
Before I start calculating a
savings strategy for a new client, I have to
understand their goals.
If you want to get married, buy a home, and start a family in the
next five years, your financial plan is going to look a
lot different from someone who dreams of visiting 30
countries before turning 30.
The goals have to come first, then the money follows. Once I
know a client's vision for the future, I can do the
math on how to get there from here. Spoiler alert: You might
give up your daily coffee, unless you'd rather cut back in
other areas. It's not my job to tell you how to spend it
day-to-day, as long as you're on track to meet your goals.
Don't worry though. If you do give up buying coffee, I'll still
have a venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato with
sugar-free syrup and light ice for you next time we
Lauren Lyons Cole is a certified financial planner and
Business Insider's Your Money Editor.