Monday, March 16, 2009

Physical and fiscal fitness: More alike than you think

I don’t like exercise. Many people get a lot of satisfaction from jogging or lifting weights. I'm not one of them. In fact, I hate exercising just to exercise. It’s boring.

I understand the importance of exercise, especially the long-term benefits. But that doesn’t motivate me much to hit the gym or the track.

You may face the same issue managing your money. You dislike budgeting. You think investing is boring. You even understand their importance and long-term benefits. Still, you haven’t been able to build your savings, reduce debt, or make much progress on your financial goals.

Habits and goals go hand-in-hand
Being physically or fiscally fit is about developing good habits that last. That’s most likely to happen if you tie those habits to a specific goal or purpose.

A couple years ago, I set my sights on summiting 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier. For six months prior to my climb, I strength-trained in the gym three times a week. I hated just about every minute of it, but I rarely missed a workout. Every leg press and stomach crunch gave me a better chance of checking Rainier off my “bucket list.”

I’ve noticed the same thing when it comes to our household budget. M and I are aggressively saving to build up a large down payment so we can move up from our townhouse to a single-family home. We’ve cut our discretionary expenses by about a third, and things feel pretty tight. But we’ve stuck to our plan—as painful as it has been. We know that every extra dollar we spend takes away from our larger goal.

“Good for you” isn’t good enough
If good money habits haven’t stuck for you, get specific. Instead of “paying off the credit cards,” for example, identify a direct, tangible benefit of reducing your debt. Maybe it will give you the cash to go on that trip to Italy you’ve always talked about. Or to get the mountain bike you’ve been eyeing. Or help get you and your spouse out of marital counseling.

Whatever the benefit, go beyond just dollars-and-cents logic. The more personal, the better. Good exercise and financial habits are tough beasts to master and maintain, even for those who do them well. If you struggle, find an emotional connection. That will turn your initial steps into ongoing habits that you’ll stick with when the going gets tough.

1 comment:

Justin McHenry said...

This is the second PF blog post I've commented on today that delivers this basic message: do the hard thing today for the reward tomorrow. Delaying gratification is so difficult for most of us that we have to almost trick ourselves into doing the hard things that we know are ultimately good for us.