(Bloomberg Business) — The night before I was to meet with my new financial planner, I forced myself to open the online questionnaire she’d sent weeks earlier. It made me anxious immediately.
The form asked about my primary monthly income, which I couldn’t put my finger on, and about secondary and tertiary income, which I do not have. It asked me to list my regular expenses, to calculate my net income, and to estimate “one-time upcoming expenses,” which it had never occurred to me you could estimate. “Do you have renter’s insurance?” asked the excel spreadsheet. (No.) “Do you have life insurance? Do you have a will?”
I closed the tab.
That feeling of unmitigated horror is exactly what Pamela Capalad, a 29-year-old certified financial planner, has built her business on. Capalad quit her job as a wealth management advisor in November to put all her energy into Brunch & Budget, a service she started to help normal people manage their money without freaking out. Food figures prominently in that strategy.
“Everyone’s stressed out about [money], everyone’s nervous, everyone’s embarrassed about it, everyone thinks they’re making all these mistakes and they’re the only ones doing it,” she says, awaiting a plate of baked eggs on top of a short-rib hash on Tuesday morning. “The idea of getting to relax and have a meal with somebody just changes the conversation and changes the atmosphere.”
Capalad generally meets clients only over meals and invites them to pick a restaurant in New York City, where her business is based, and decide how much they can afford to pay (the cheapest option is $50). The client also covers the food. Her website is plastered with photos of heart-shaped waffles, avocado toast, and poached eggs dripping with hollandaise. She sends clients an e-mail every Wednesday offering “weekly financial inspiration,” including hacks and uplifting stories about money.
That cheerful model has helped Capalad attract a client base that has eluded many financial advisors: people under age 35. Two surveys released this spring found that just 29 percent of young people have ever sought advice from a financial professional and that only 30 percent of financial advisors are actively looking for millennial clients.
Meanwhile, 79 of the 95 clients Capalad has advised since she launched the service in February 2012 are millennials. This year, revenue has increased 69 percent, she says.
Capalad’s approach tackles the anxiety about handling finances that plenty of young people feel, including me. Looking closely at my budget feels more like a punishment than a standard rite of adulthood: When I linked my bank accounts to the Brunch & Budget website on Monday afternoon, Capalad’s system spat out a number summarizing my net worth: $802.
“That’s totally typical,” says Capalad. I reassure her my net worth will increase on Wednesday, when I get my paycheck. She eventually pulls out an iPad and begins asking me the questions I avoided on the questionnaire. The first is strange: “What is important about money to you?” I don’t know, that it exists? This is not the right answer. Capalad asks me to think specifically about the things I spend money on that make me happiest. The idea, she says, is to separate expenses that matter from those that could be cut.