Financial Security Is a Marathon, Not A Sprint

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I’m training for a marathon right now. Yes, I know, I’m crazy to be doing that at a) my age; and b) so recently after my cancer treatment. But you know what? I AM DOING IT ANYWAY, BECAUSE I CAN.

(Suffice to say that the fact I can run long distances only 2 months after major cancer surgery is my little way of giving a GIANT MIDDLE FINGER TO CANCER. Ha! Take that, cancer!)

I run 4-5 days a week, plus strength workouts and stretching, and I work full-time, and I have 2 kids, and I run a household.

Sound like a lot? Well yeah, it is. But here’s the thing: we all have the same number of hours per day allotted to us. If you make good use of those hours (instead of, say, blowing too much time watching trash TV or whiling away the hours on social media. I don’t use social media, and guess why: IT’S A WASTE OF VALUABLE TIME, and TIME IS MONEY), then you will be absolutely amazed by what you are able to accomplish.

When you train for a marathon, you don’t start out by running 26.2 miles right off the bat. You start maybe only by walking around the block (if you’re a complete couch potato) or by jogging a mile or two if you’re already in decent shape. Once you decide to get serious about long-distance running, you might try running in some organized road races (like a 5K, which is 3.1 miles and is within reach of most people to train for pretty easily, even if you walk it). If you still aren’t satisfied with a 5K (I wasn’t), you start training for longer distances, like a 10K, a half-marathon, or a full marathon. How do you do that?

The key to long-distance running is a) run a little bit each day, up to 4 times a week; b) be consistent; and c) vary your workouts (ie, do at least 2 workouts per week that aren’t running). That last one is very important, because if you don’t vary your workouts AND do some rest days (I do 1-2 rest days per week), you’ll destroy your knees and risk overuse injuries. You increase your distance a little at a time—perhaps 1-3 miles per week. Over time, you’ll get in better shape, you’ll run faster and longer, and you’ll eventually find yourself able to run half-marathons and full marathons. I am in my mid-40s, with bad knees and ankles, AND a cancer survivor, and I ran 14 miles just this morning as part of a training run (not even for a race!)

The key to long-term financial security is quite similar. You need to a) save a little bit of money at a time (you do not need to win the lottery or get a big inheritance to build your savings—just $20 a week is enough to start); b) be consistent about saving money (called dollar-cost averaging, it means you invest/save money every month, consistently, without paying attention to the up-and-down swings of the investment markets or to interest rates; a very good way to make sure you do this every month, consistently, is through payroll deductions); and c) vary your investments. (Just like you should vary your workouts when training for a marathon—like doing yoga or biking or swimming in between runs, you don’t put all your money into a single investment, like a savings account, or a single stock, or [God forbid] high-risk investments like cryptocurrency or pork-belly futures.)

You can also apply the same 3 marathon-not-sprint tactics I recommend for saving to paying down debt (because Debt Sucks). Paying down debt is itself a form of savings, and one of the best ways to get rid of it is to put small amounts (or big amounts! or both!)of money towards it consistently while also not incurring any more debt. That last part is very hard for some people I have profiled on this blog, and maybe for you too. 

What I have found via marathon training is, while you might not notice the small changes that add up in your body/overall fitness from moment to moment, one morning you will wake up and discover that you have rock-hard, muscular legs and abs, and that you are stronger and fitter than you have ever been, and that you can run 15 miles (or 20! or 26.2!) at a stretch when once upon a time, you could barely walk around the block—that was me, post-cancer surgery).

When you apply the marathon-not-sprint technique to your personal finances (a little more $50 savings here, a little more investing $500 there, smattered with paying down your credit cards and not re-upping the balances), you might not notice anything huge (like becoming a millionaire) for the first few months, or even the first few years. But after 6 months or a year, you might discover that your savings account balance is higher (or maybe you have a savings account for the first time in your life!), your debts are smaller (or nonexistent!), and you are saving more for retirement. Little by little, smart money decisions can add up, just like training-for-the-marathon miles can.

So remember folks, most financially secure people do not become financially secure overnight. Marathon runners do not become marathon runners overnight, either. Slow and steady practice wins the money race as well as the road race.

I remain your Cheap Yuppie Mom.

 

 

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