Managing Your Own Money Marathon

I say all the time to my clients: building your financial foundation is not a destination, it’s a journey.  It takes time, dedication to certain habits and routine, and focus on consciously deciding what really matters to you in life.

Back in late April, I made the decision to do something crazy that I’d never done before (and quite frankly, never thought I would do since I don’t consider myself an athlete).  I committed to walking 26.2 miles for the Jimmy Fund/Dana Farber Cancer Institute, a charity that is important to me.  Why did I do this?  For a few reasons: 1) I was ticked off at what happened at the Boston Marathon and was determined to participate in something that honored the people who died or were injured; 2) my Dad was a patient at Dana Farber from April 2008 – August 2009 and my family has a lot of kindness to repay so raising funds is important to me; and 3) I wasn’t doing very well with maintaining an exercise schedule of any kind and so I needed to set a personal goal that would stretch and push me.

As someone who didn’t necessarily view themselves as an athlete, how did I get started? I decided that it mattered enough to raise the funds for a good cause and if I was going to stretch myself in the process, why not a marathon (I’d done the half marathon 3 years ago, I could do this too, right?).  I signed up to participate in the event.  I looked for a plan to help me do what I had no idea how to do because I’d never attempted such a feat before.  I carved out time and scheduled the plan into my calendar of an already-busy life.

Isn’t it funny how a lot of the process I used for my walk applies to money management too?  You have to decide that it matters to you to be proactive with your money; you have to sign up (or show up) to learn how to do it; you have to develop a plan that works for you and; you have to find time to manage your plan and your money.

And the parallels go even deeper than that.  Here are a few of the key reflections I had about how marathons and money management are similar:

1)     You have to manage your resources effectively – For the marathon walk (and to some extent during my training as well), I had to fuel myself regularly with water and food along the way but at the same time I didn’t want to carry anything too heavy.  So I didn’t carry much with me and every few miles at a rest stop I had to decide how to refuel and adapt accordingly.  I also had to decide when to reapply gel to my feet so I wouldn’t end up with raw feet and nasty blisters!  It was a bit like balancing a budget (I know, such a horrible word…savings and spending plan is so much better) as I had to stay in touch with my energy and fuel myself as appropriate.  In terms of a financial plan, you’re always able to manage your resources more effectively if you know what matters and what doesn’t so that you’re not using money wastefully on things that don’t make you happy.  Manage the money you have!

2)     Having a plan offers a framework for smaller steps to lead to bigger steps – When I found a plan online to use for beginner marathoners like me, I instantly sighed in relief.  I wouldn’t have to do it alone, someone (or the plan) would help me know what to do.  The plan kept me on track, focused and aligned with the smaller steps along the way that would be necessary to get to the bigger step of the actual walk.  In managing your money, smaller steps like monthly deposits in your savings account can add up in the end to helping you make a big purchase or serve as a stable source of money in the event that something unexpected comes up.  And in the larger scheme of things, smaller proactive steps managing your money can ultimately also lead to financial stability in the short-term and a secure retirement in the longer-term.  In a nutshell, if you do the work to take the smaller steps, you’ll reap the rewards of the larger steps later on down the road.

3)     TRUST the process – One of my favorite sayings is that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and who you become in the process.  I trained for 4 months, and some of those days were super hard.  I also sweat something awful most days in the New England summer humidity, yet I kept on walking.  After an 18-mile training walk on a Sunday in mid-August, I somehow bruised my left heel and had to take a whole week off from training just several weeks before the event (can you say freaking out?!?!?).  Truth be told, there were several moments where I heard the voice in my head say “can you really do this?”  But I had to trust that everything was happening as it should, and use my plan as a guide and adapt as necessary.   That’s just what it’s like with a financial plan – you set it up with the best of intentions and use it as a guide most of the time but when life throws you a curveball that you weren’t expecting you have to trust and adapt.  Managing your money proactively and using money as a tool to support your life is like the training that I did, so that you can enjoy your life now (the journey) and in the future (the destination).

Sometimes people think that managing money is too hard of a skill to learn and that they’re the only ones who don’t understand it.  I’m here to dispel that myth once and for all as I’ve proven that money management is a teachable and a learnable skill if you’re willing to train yourself in effective and efficient money habits and routines.

And all I have to say to that is if I can complete a marathon walk for charity, then trust me – learning how to manage your money will be a piece of cake in comparison (and I’m pretty sure you won’t walk funny or have blisters when you’re done!)!!!!

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