Money Carpenter or Money Gardener?

What’s the difference between carpentry and gardening? With the first, you can start with a vision, follow a plan to the letter, and end up with exactly what you first imagined. With the last, you can start with a vision, follow a plan to the letter, and end up nowhere close to what you first imagined. Success in carpentry is largely within the carpenter’s control. Success in gardening is largely not within the gardener’s control.

Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist, in her book The Gardener and the Carpenter, describes carpentry and gardening as two different models of modern parenting. The former molds children by steering them in certain directions; while the latter allows children more freedom, within guidelines.

What if we applied carpentry and gardening to success with money?

Money Carpentry

Some people believe that achieving financial success depends, like carpentry, on acquiring the right set of knowledge, skills, and tools. All they have to learn is how to use them in the right combinations and right order. Indeed, many firms in the financial industry would like customers to believe their advisors are money carpenters. You place your order with your vision in mind, and their carpenters will make it happen.

Financial success actually can happen this way. Certainly having knowledge, skills and tools increases the chance it will.

Money Gardening

Money gardeners, however, understand knowledge, skills, and tools can only get them so far. They know that life, like money, is as unpredictable as the weather, so they do what they can to protect themselves from well-known hazards. They also accept there are hazards they can’t prevent or protect against, without significant expense. When they have a bumper crop, they are proud but grateful, and they save for the future. When they have a drought, they don’t give up.

When you view money as gardening, you regularly tend to it with skills and tools, but not too often. You know it may not turn out exactly as you envisioned in the beginning. In fact, it probably won’t. It could turn out better, it could turn out worse, but more likely, it will turn out different.  

That can be scary, or it can be exciting. Will it be storms or sunshine? We have no control over that. Money carpenters find it hard to accept this variability. Money gardeners, as a certain saying goes, accept the things they cannot change, change the things they can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. While money carpenters might feel safer with formulas and blueprints, money gardeners feel more free.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly 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."

Leave a Reply