Market Froth and Making Meringue

For Thanksgiving, I had one goal: to make a lemon icebox pie that tasted just like my grandmother’s.  I had tried before, but half the battle with lemon icebox pie is the meringue. My grandmother’s meringue had stiff white peaks. Denver’s airport, with the manmade rooftop peaks mirroring the real ones in the distance, reminds me of her lemon icebox pie. My first try with meringue several years ago ended with a gooey white puddle on top of the filling.

“You didn’t beat it long enough,” one family member said.

“You need to add cream of tartar,” a restaurant-owner friend told me.

“You can’t have ANY water in the bowl,” Mom said.

Determined to get it right the night before Thanksgiving, I made my filling, heated my readymade graham cracker crust in the oven, and waited for it to cool. Then, it was meringue time.

I cleaned the bowl and dried it. And dried it. And dried it. I carefully cracked and separated the eggs. Pouring the whites into the automatic mixer bowl, I added the sugar, vanilla, and cream of tartar. After turning on the mixer, I watched the whites swirl in the bowl as the blades scooped and blended the sugar.

Then my phone rang.

It was a friend. I really wanted to talk to her but the mixer was noisy. I explained what I was doing, and she offered to hang up, but I decided to go in another room.

Absorbed in our conversation, a while later I realized I had forgotten about the mixer. I muted the phone and hurried into the kitchen. As I turned the motor off and pulled the blades out, I wondered if meringue could be overbeaten. But it was still gooey.

When I first ran into the kitchen, I was worried about how long it had been beaten. But when I saw the goo, I wondered if the peaks would ever come. What if I messed it up again?  What if I make it worse by continuing? Or the first advice was right, and it hasn’t been long enough? How will I know? Little panic attacks burst through my stomach.

Returning to the phone conversation, I stated with an air of false confidence, “Well, you know, with meringue, you have to wait what seems like a long time for it to turn out right.” And then I added, “It’s like….money. You have to…just… WALK AWAY.” She’s a financial planner and she thought that was funny.

But it is true. Particularly with market conditions in what might seem like froth, many begin to wonder how they are supposed to know when “it” is ready. What if this is the peak? What if it’s not? What if I regret whatever I decide? What if I regret not deciding? Little bursts of panic arise from uncertainty, whether it’s markets or meringue.

In times like these, it helps to have a recipe, and a professional, to keep emotions from ruining the plan. It also helps not to look too often at the results.

In the case of my meringue, I decided to stick to the prior advice and wait it out. Rather than hover over the mixer, I walked out of the kitchen to give my friend my full attention.

When we were finished, I returned cautiously, turned the mixer off and lifted out the blades. The bowl of goo had frothed into white peaks rivaling the Rockies. Browned a little in the oven and refrigerated overnight, the pie turned out as I remembered.

You know, we might not need so many financial professionals if we could make achieving financial goals taste that good.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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