5 Things A Triathlon Can Teach Us About the Journey to Financial Independence
“A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot.”
This past weekend, my husband competed in his first ever half triathlon, let alone his first ever Half Ironman. To say that I am awed and inspired my him and all of the other athletes is an understatement. If you are not familiar, a half triathlon consists of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 bike ride and a 13.1 run. It’s a pretty grueling test of endurance. It normally goes on rain or shine. On this day, it was raining for most of the race and even as a spectator it was tough to be out there. I have never ran anything longer than a half marathon (13.1) so to see people run this long after biking and swimming was amazing. In the end, the goal is just to finish so whether it took you 4 hours (the winner) or more than 8 hours, it is a feat in itself. As I was watching the entire race play out before me, I couldn’t helping think about some of the similarities to the Journey to Financial Independence. So here are my thoughts.
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Everyone’s Number is Different
As I observed the athletes competing, what I noticed was that everyone was completing each leg of the race at different times. If you look at the time splits and the final finisher numbers, all of the times varied, whether by a few hours or a few seconds. If you also ask everyone competing, what their ideal finish time is, they would also give you various number ranges.
This is akin to the FI number. People always ask what is your FI number? What will it take for you to be able to stop working and retire? The most common answer is 25x your yearly expenses. For example, if your annual expenses are $40,000, then you would need $1,000,000 saved up in order to be able to withdraw from it to cover yearly expenses for the next 25 years. One thing to note is that this figure is an average and based on so many variables: rate of return, actual expenses, family size, etc.
Everyone’s number is going to be different. So don’t judge yourself based on what others are calculating for themselves. Do what you can, make adjustments along the way and keep going.
Want to see what your FI number could be? Use the free tools over at Personal Capital.
Practice Leads to a Great Performance
Looking at all of the athletes, I know that none of them decided to do this race the day before. Many had been training for a year to get into shape, learn to swim, learn to bike, practice long runs, etc. Race day was just one day out of many, many days that required consistent habits, lots of practice and plenty of sacrifices.
In the same vein, financial independence doesn’t happen over night. Many of us will have to climb out of debt first before we can start investing. We may have to sacrifice buying new things in order to save money. Financial independence also requires consistent actions that build on top of each other. It’s automating savings and investing. In the same way that we run often to test our endurance, we also have to learn and practice habits consistently to build that nest egg.
No one is born great. Sure there maybe outliers out there, but even those that are born with talent have to continuously learn to be better than yesterday.
It Doesn’t Matter When You Start
During the race, the swim portion is the first part and athletes have to self-seed themselves based on their estimated swimming finish. You may opt to start in the later seeds, but nothing can keep you there. if you are feeling the adrenaline, you can certainly make your way faster to the finish line, get a new PR and head to your next course faster.
The best time to start your financial journey is now and now can be when you are in your 20s or in your 30s or older. The sooner something clicks for you about the Financial Independence journey, take action immediately. Whether it’s reading all of the posts in this blog or heading to the library to grab a personal finance book (we recommend Your Money or Your Life), it’s all about action. Don’t beat yourself up for starting late. Late can be objective. If you start at 50 and live to be 90, you have 40 years to take advantage of compound interest. You’ll make your 80 year old self happy for starting at 50 instead of never at all.
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Mindset is Everything
Any change must begin with mental change.
They say that 90% of a triathlon or any other endurance sport begins in the mind and stays in the mind. I think this is absolutely true. When I ran my first half marathon a few years ago, I was not mentally ready, maybe slightly physically, but looking back the thoughts running in mind throughout the entire training process was very negative. I had a lot of negative self-talk, doubt that I could finish such a long distance and lots of fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, after having one half marathon under my belt, I knew I could it and completed another half marathon.
If you ask any triathlete, they’ll probably tell you that the biggest thing they have to overcome is the thoughts of “I can’t” to “I will.” It’s fairly common, unfortunately, to think that we can’t accomplish certain things. A lot of it is conditioning from past influences, but the reality is that today and tomorrow, we can change that.
We talk a lot about money mindset and it is absolutely worth addressing that once you conquer the old mental models of what money is and how it can be used for good, it can change the way you view money. So there’s a lot we can learn from these athletes in how to overcome failure, how to keep going even if progress is slow and how to change those voices in your head to “I can’t” or “I don’t deserve” to “I am great” and “I will.”
Your Support System is Key
I did not see a single athlete that was by themselves at the event. Whether it was their partner, their kids, their friends, their siblings, their parents or their teammates, each athlete had a support system cheering them on before, during and after. At the finish line, I saw so many people hug each other, give each other high gives and genuinely feel happy for their accomplishment.
This is the same for financial independence. We don’t need to do this by ourselves. We can learn so much from each other. If you are not getting the right support system to help you establish better spending and saving habits, I would encourage you to consider finding a new circle. It may mean alienating some people, but if you desire financial success, then it’s necessary to be with people who have the same goals as you or who can support you without judgement.
No man is an island and while doing a half triathlon is an individual sport, it still requires the support of spouse’s who stay home to look after kids or prepare meals, it still requires friends who drive to cheer you on the in pouring rain and it requires lots of volunteers to make an event like a triathlon happen so smoothly.
Personal finance is personal, but it doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself. Reach out to a family member who can keep you accountable. Reach out to the financial independence or debt free community. If you are in NJ, you can come to one of our Meetups and if not, check your local Meetup or Facebook groups. We succeed in groups so find yourself a training buddy and get accountable.
Have you ever done a triathlon or been a spectator, what did you think? Any other words of wisdom from watching these athletes compete?