My wife is an accomplished marathon runner. She just finished running the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, which is her 11th (or maybe 12th) marathon in 5 years. If you aren’t up on marathon running, it is a 26.2 mile race that is as much about mental endurance and physical. While I was cheering as she set a Personal Record (PR) by about 5 minutes, I realized that although I was certainly impressed by her time for the marathon, I was much more impressed by what it took to get to her setting a PR. Although you may not be apt to running a marathon, her training is something we should all seek to emulate in our personal financial lives.
You have to do it (almost) every day
If you ask her how she got started running marathons, she will tell you that she doesn’t remember. She has been running since middle school, and has slowly increased the numbers of miles she runs each week. She goes out and runs every day, regardless of the weather or how she is feeling. You can’t just decide you want to run a marathon, and become an accomplished runner overnight (maybe someone out there can, but not most of us). It takes time and commitment, every day, no matter the circumstances.
It isn’t optional
She never says “I can just take today off.” It doesn’t matter how busy she is, there is always time for running. She ran every day of our honeymoon, vacations, holidays, and almost every day in between. Deciding WHEN she will go for a run is the question, not IF she is going to run. She has been doing it long enough now that it is second nature, and not running is her abnormal, while running is her normal.
It isn’t motivation, it’s dedication
Some people say “I wish I had her motivation.” She isn’t any more motivated than the rest of us, she is simply more dedicated. Motivation (or lack of it) is used as an excuse to not get started. It takes dedication to run 6 days a week and to make it into a habit so engrained that you can’t imagine a day without it. She hates 5:30 am as much as I do, but she still gets and goes for her run.
She uses goals to help her stay on track, and give her a reason to push through that last mile when she really wants to stop. She runs 2 races a year and has a goal time that she aims for. This helps her benchmark her success, and know if she is progressing. Setting concrete goals is the key to measuring your progress.
What can all of this teach us about personal finance? Well, you can’t just wake up one day and be good at it. It takes time, every day, to manage your personal finances. You have to make it a non-option. When you create a cash flow plan, you can’t just throw it away the first time it goes awry. Approach managing your money as if you don’t have a choice, because in reality, you really don’t. People aren’t born great money managers, it takes dedication, training, and trial and error to become good at it. Lastly, set concrete goals that you can use to measure your progress. A goal of “get out of debt” is not a very good goal. “Pay off Credit Card #1 by June 30th 2013” is a great goal. You can look monthly to see if you are on track, and on June 30, you can celebrate your accomplishment.
There is a lot more that can be learned from my wife’s marathon training, but these are the major ones I thought of. I would love to hear your thoughts on other things you might be able to learn from it. I would also love to hear reasons you don’t think the above points are relevant. Please share in the comments section!
Alan Moore is a fee-only financial planner and founder of Serenity Financial Consulting in Shorewood WI. Follow him on Twitter @R_Alan_Moore. You can contact him at email@example.com, 414-455-5313, or visit his website at www.SerenityFC.com. Want more education? Download your free guide to the “10 Easy Steps To Securing Your Financial Future Today.”