As you may know, my wife Stacie and I are training for the Marine Corp Marathon again this year. You may also know that I hate running, but I chose to do this to myself again (last year I did it for my wife).
Lastly, you may know that I’m about 30-40 lbs overweight for my height and bone structure. I began running this year at 225 lbs, and I’m 5’10”. But what does this have to do with money?
Endurance Running and Money Management
I’m not going to get all philosophical on you, but training for a major endurance event requires discipline, stamina and, most importantly, willpower. Leading a financially responsible life also requires the same values and mindset.
However, my training for the marathon ends on race day. My training for a financially responsible life literally lasts a lifetime, so you can see how difficult living this life can become. I must treat my money with the same respect that I am treating my body during this endurance training.
You can lose, or you can gain
Last year I posted a miserable marathon time, in my mind. All my friends, family and coworkers (and especially my wife) were so awed that I was able to complete a marathon with no running background, but I wasn’t happy with my time of 6:05:50 (yeah, 6 HOURS). That’s why I decided to sign up again. I wanted to push myself harder than last year. But this year, I have a slightly different idea on how to improve my time.
While training last year, I knew I was burning tons of calories, so I took it upon myself to make up ALL of those calories when eating. I relished in my ability to eat whatever I wanted, and almost any quantity I wanted. What was the end result? I still had to carry my 226 lb body 26.2 miles on race day! I didn’t lose a single pound. Granted, I had converted a lot of fat into muscle during training, but I deserved that horrible finish time. I barely “Beat the Bridge” and finished with just under a 14 minute mile pace.
How could I do better this year?
- Try to run faster for longer periods, while still eating as much as I want
- Maintain a reasonable pace, but lose weight through sensible eating
Yeah, I could just push myself harder this year (which I am anyway), but if I continue consuming the same amount of food as I’m burning in calories, I’ll still have to haul my fat 226 lb butt across that finish line. Or, I could reduce my calories to a reasonable amount to provide energy to complete the run and recuperate, and carry less weight for 26.2 miles.
I chose option #2 this year. I’ve already lost about 7 lbs in the last 1.5 months of running, and I hope to be down to 205-210 by race day. However, I have to balance my goal to lose weight with my body’s need to sustain itself during training. If I take in too few calories, my body will give up on me, and I could possible injure myself permanently. Or I could end up gorging on food once this period of “fasting” is over.
How does this relate to finances?
You, as a consumer, have two options to live your financially responsible lifestyle:
- Try to make more money (run harder) to compensate for your heavy spending (fat butt) or
- Reduce your spending (calorie intake) and live per your needs (eat sensibly)
Obviously it should be your goal to try to make more money (push yourself) whenever you can, but you only have so much control over how much more money you bring in (unless you’re robbing banks, but you’ll get caught). Just like I can push my body to its limits, it still has limits. I can’t run a 5 minute mile, but I can probably sprint a short distance at a 5 minute mile pace. I can just keep pushing my body until it gets better and more able to take on extra effort.
In short, you can only push your potential to earn money to a point where the market stops responding and you have no control over earning more. You will need to wait and work until the market accepts more of what you have to offer before you can make more money.
So while you’re waiting for the market to catch up to your potential, you can try option #2: live within your means and per your needs.
Let me give some examples out of my own life. They are very, very simple, but they add up. Disclaimer: Your tax rate and salary may vary from the example:
- If you use our conservative numbers from the Frugal Lunch article, you’ll save $988 per year by packing your own lunch.
For someone earning $50,000 per year paying 20% in taxes, they’ll need a 2.47% raise, or $1235 extra pay before tax to compete with the cost avoidance.
- We only have basic cable, which costs (rounded up) $20 per month. Compare that to about $70 per month to get “extended basic”, where we get all the cool channels like Travel, Food, HGTV, ESPN, etc. That’s a $50 per month difference, or $600 per year.
For someone earning $50,000 per year paying 20% in taxes, they’ll need a 1.5% pay raise, or $750 extra pay before tax to compete with the cost avoidance.
So, just practicing these two frugal tips will give you an almost 4% “pay raise” each year! That’s just around the yearly inflation rate!
However, you’ll need to continue to find ways to match inflation by avoiding costs each year, or by receiving a pay raise. But I’m sure you can keep finding ways to cut costs like keeping that car you just paid off rather than buying a new one, or buying used baby clothes at yard sales rather than new clothes from the store.
You’ll eventually get into a frame of mind where you’re thinking about “how much will I save by doing this rather than that?”, rather than wishing you didn’t have so much junk in your home or debt on your credit cards. This is called the frugal mindset. It’s one of the most important systems to getting and staying out of debt.
Just as you must keep your body trained and ready to compete in an endurance event, you must also train your mind to be ready for life’s financial challenges. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to buy something you WANT rather than something you NEED. You need to maintain a strong but steady pace towards the finish line of financial freedom.