Anyone who lives in, has visited, or frequents New York City knows that there is something extraordinary about a black and white cookie. Also known as half-moons, if you’re upstate, or harlequins in the Midwest, they are more than a cookie. They are a fluffy, just-sweet-enough cake covered in thick, decadent fondant (half chocolate, half vanilla) instead of frosting, so that they can be wrapped in cling-wrap and travel well… not that they make it very far. In addition to the smooth richness of the fondant balanced by the fluffy spring of the cake, the thing that makes a black and white cookie so delicious, is it’s allure. They represent something we want to be a part of… a tradition, a history we want to live in for a moment, even though the world has changed.
The same is true of the traditions and ideals we hold for ourselves when it comes to success and achievement. In our culture we have learned that ‘winning at life’ looks a very specific way, both socially and economically. We see our clothes, our cars, our homes, the restaurants we eat at, the schools our children attend, our titles, our designations, our account balances as status symbols that display our level of success.
I was saying to my colleague, Jodi Carter of Financial Insight Training the other day, that when it comes to money, so many of us see things as one of two ways: success or failure. It’s either black or white. Which made me crave a black and white cookie then and there, of course, but also made me think a bit deeper about what that means, and her response (similar to this Instagram post) inspired me to write this piece.
What are black and white cookies? When you look at the recipe, it’s everything you would expect. Flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, butter, lemon zest, etc. The ingredients are standard, but the result is a dream, made even more so by the stories we tell ourselves about it. We may want something that looks delicious, like owning a multi-million-dollar home or a vacation property or the newest electric vehicle. But will owning that home or car truly fulfil our desire? Maybe we are just looking for a taste, not the whole cookie. My point is that it’s not all or nothing. It’s not someone else’s American Dream or bust. There is more than just the black or white decision. There is more than just I can or can’t afford the thing I think I want so badly.
When facing these larger life decisions, all of which are financial, I love to ask, “What is the third option? What is the version of this that you might not be considering?” Identify the ingredients, then weigh the data, and make a decision that satisfies both the dream you want to live out, and the reality of when and how you can achieve it.
When deciding on something like when to buy a home, or how much home to buy, begin with figuring out where you’d like to live, what you'd like the home to have, and what is most important to you about it. When purchasing a car, determining what school your child will attend, or deciding on any major purchase, ask yourself similar questions and then align what you uncover with your time horizon and finances. Rarely is it all or nothing. Often, the result is somewhere in the middle… one might even call it, the sweet spot.