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Money Marathon: 6 Tips to Becoming Financially fit

6-Tips-to-Become-Financially-FitAs a former marathon runner, a question I receive most frequently is “why do you run?” That's typically followed by a quick-witted, “the only time I will run is if someone was chasing me.” Any of my running buddies would agree--that response is not only the most overused statement, but it's also quite irrational. If you aren't a runner, and got into an unfortunate incident where someone is chasing you, chances are that you won’t get very far. 

So, why do I run? After three marathons, 10 half marathons, and three triathlons, I’d say there’s a different reason for each of them.

The last race I participated in was in April 2013 at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, DC. I decided to take a break from running, and I've suddenly found myself training for a half marathon.

Running is my therapy; it’s where my mind wanders off to places. Lately, with my upcoming wedding, it’s been all about wedding planning and combining finances after marriage. Halfway through the training program, I can’t help but notice the eerie similarities between training for a marathon and preparing for financial success.

1. Goal setting

When I trained for my first event in 2006, my goal was to complete 26.2 miles. I had never run more than three miles at one time in my life, and rather than take small steps such as a 5k or even a half marathon, I went for the "whole enchilada," a marathon. I have no regrets in the way I chose to set my goals because it worked for me…"go big or go home" is what I like to say.

But, the key there is that it worked for me. That's not to say that it'll work for everyone. So take some time to figure out your goals before committing them to memory or paper. Do you want to tackle the proverbial "whole enchilada" or would you rather pique your metaphorical taste buds with something on the lighter side?

Whether you’re building a savings account or buying a car or home, you have to set your goal according to what works best for you. There's no perfect algorithm for goal setting, and the fact that you're goal setting, in general, is already a win!

2. Develop a plan

You wouldn’t train for a marathon without a training schedule, right? Likewise, you shouldn’t plan to buy a home, for example, without developing some sort of savings plan. For instance, your goal might be to purchase a starter home ranging from $100k to $150k. A down payment for that can be anywhere from 3%–20%. For illustrative purposes, let’s say the price tag on your down payment totals $2,500, and you plan to purchase within the next year.

Divide the $2,500 between 12 months, that's $208. Now, divide that by your bi-weekly paycheck; that totals $104. So to save $2,500, that’s only $104 a paycheck! If that doesn't seem attainable, either alter your goal timeline or revise your plan.

3. Self-discipline

One of the most difficult things for me to do while training is waking up at the crack of dawn, on a weekend no less. I sometimes find myself giving myself a pep talk; I tell myself all of the health benefits that coincide with running. When that doesn’t work, I usually remind myself how fortunate I am to be able to walk/run and often think about how many people who are unable to do so would trade spots with me in a heartbeat, if they could. Training for a marathon is not something that should be entered into lightly; its three to six months of committed training, eating right, and sleeping well.

On the same token, saving money, commitment in itself. You can’t expect to save $1000 in a few months, it takes months if not years to erase those bad habits and start making saving money a priority. You might have to put a pep-talk into play when you really want to go out for dinner, but realize you would save more by eating in. Talk yourself into how good it will feel when you reach financial goal, and hopefully that’ll do the trick and you’ll stop throwing money down the drain.

4. Consistency

Remaining consistent with a training schedule can be a huge challenge, especially when life gets in the way. I learned the hard way that training for weeks at a time, then taking a week off, and starting up again will only stagger your race-preparedness growth. Adopting an inconsistent training regimen doesn't allow you to mentally or physically prepare for the feat you're about to face. Your body will thank you for staying consistent and following the plan you designed.

Remaining consistent in your savings plan will undoubtedly be a huge challenge for you, especially when life gets in the way. There will always be small setbacks such as vehicle or home repairs, or you’ll want to splurge on a nice dinner or date night with your beau; however, don’t dip into the funds designated for savings. If you keep dipping into your savings account, it will only take you longer to reach you financial goals.

5. Celebrate small victories

I still remember completing my first 10-mile run. All I wanted to do was to celebrate by taking a month off of my training, but then i remembered that pesky little #3 listed above and knew that while my feat was big, my reward should be as big. So, instead of the one month break my legs were looking forward to, I settled for a one-week rest my brain voted for.

If money-saving poses a challenge to you, set a realistic, attainable victory for the short term. When you reach that, get a little more aggressive with it. And, don't go spend your two months of saving on a one-night dinner at the hottest steakhouse in town. Rather, dine out for lunch one day of the week. As human beings, we want to celebrate our accomplishments, but it's easy to get overwhelmed by the long-term goal. Sometimes only focusing on the long-term goals makes the hypothetical "light at the end of the tunnel" seem miles away—perhaps even 26.2 miles away. And, when you say it like that—well, it seems so...difficult. So, rather than burn out before you've reached your long-term goal, set shorter milestones that you can celebrate.

One of my favorite running quotes is from John Bingham, author/columnist, “The girl who starts the marathon isn’t the same girl who finishes it.” After each race I ran, I became a little more stronger, wiser, and confident. In direct parallel, saving money can be a life-changing exercise, and when you’re afforded the opportunity to buy your first vehicle or home or have enough money in retirement to enjoy life, you'll quickly realize that the goal setting, self-discipline, and consistency all paid off.

Some will argue which is harder—training for a marathon or saving money; either way, you can't go wrong. Both will have you reaping big rewards. The feeling you get when you cross the finish line or when you buy your first home or vehicle is a feeling that no blog will bring to life for you. It's one of those rare things in life that you have to experience for yourself, and while not all of the people reading this might be cut out to be a marathon runner, there are things you can do to strive to be a better saver.

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