Over the years I’ve found that the best way for me to stay fit and engage in some regular exercise is to set myself a goal. Last year I set myself a goal of completing a triathlon. I’ve done quite a bit of running over recent years, so felt I’d be okay on that aspect, and I figured that whilst I might not be quick, I could get the ride done. The real challenge for me in completing a tri would be the swim. Aside from a few lessons growing up, I’ve never been a swimmer. Certainly never been in a squad, done nippers, or anything similar. In fact I’m pretty sure that anyone who saw my daddy long legs like body at the pool or beach would quite quickly conclude that I’m no swimmer.
I’m still pretty terrible at swimming, but I’m better than I was, and I’m really, really keen to improve further, especially at ocean swimming which I have fallen in love with. I’ve discovered that the difference between swimming in a pool and swimming in the ocean is a bit like the difference between producing an art work with the assistance of a dot to dot print, versus starting with a completely blank sheet of paper. Waves, currents, salt water, sea creatures, and no black line to follow make ocean swimming that much more challenging, but also more enjoyable. I think the fact that swimming, and ocean swimming in particular, is not something that I have a natural aptitude for, makes improvement and progress all the more rewarding.
So with the triathlon season coming to a close, and having put quite a bit of effort into the pursuit over the past 6+ months, it occurred to me that there are many similarities between this multi-disciplinary sport and financial planning – where I devote my professional energies.
As the name implies, there are 3 stages in a triathlon – the swim, ride, and the run. In actual fact there are really four elements, because to move from the swim to the ride, and from the ride to the run requires a transition – bathers off, runners on etc. 20 seconds gained through pushing a bit harder in the swim can so easily be given away wrestling with your wet suit as it wont come off your foot. So I think of triathlons as actually having fours elements, all of which I need to execute well.
The swim is where things begin.
This is the most technical leg by far. It’s a bit scary – you can’t touch the bottom, and did I hear someone say shark? And at least when you first jump in, it’s cold. In a financial planning context setting up your financial safety net has much in common with the swim leg. Getting your Income Protection in place to protect against a loss of money coming into the household. What about life, trauma, and total and permanent disability cover? Should I run some or all of these through my super? Which policy options should I take up and which should be ignored? And having done all the hard yards getting your financial safety net in place, the hope is that you will just swim along on a nice calm ocean, and never need any of it.
Next up is the ride.
This is the longest leg time wise. It’s gruelling as you try to maintain your pace, but you’re also moving quickly which provides for some exhilaration. Debt clearance and retirement planning share many of these traits. Paying down your mortgage is a long grind. But as you get closer and more and more of your repayment is knocking off the principal rather than paying interest, you start to see your loan balance reduce quite rapidly until one day you puff your chest out and announce to anyone who’ll listen that you now own your house. What a wonderful feeling.
Likewise retirement planning is not a short term fix. Fortunately via Australia’s superannuation system you start building retirement savings as soon as you enter the work force. At some point though you need to engage with your retirement savings and consider how your savings are invested, and whether you should be making extra contributions. Working in reverse to clearing your mortgage, whereas in the early years the balance often doesn’t seem to move a lot, as your balance grows and perhaps your wage rises with increased experience, your retirement savings start to build momentum and the exhilaration of seeing some quite large numbers on your superannuation statement put a smile on the face.
The final stage is the run.
Having just jumped off the bike, your legs feel like cement initially so you need to have the mental toughness to push through that. On the upside though, the run leg is where you burst through the finish line and gain the rush of positivity that you feel as you’ve achieved something that was tough and challenging. Wealth creation is like this. Unlike retirement planning, wealth creation is often about achieving shorter term goals – perhaps saving for an overseas trip, or the kids school fees. You’ve already usually got the burden of mortgage repayments or rent, plus the usual bills and living costs. These are the equivalent of those cement legs when you jump off the bike – it’s so tempting to just stop there. But if you are to have a really fulfilling life, to feel like you’ve achieved, and that you’ve had control of your life, then you need to push on and devise, implement, and stick to, your wealth creation plans.
But don’t forget the transitions.
The pro’s do it like Superman in a phone booth whereas I look more like Basil Fawlty. When done well, transitions don’t give you much joy, but when you flail about with your wet suit, trying not to cause a domino style crashing of the other competitors bikes, the down side to a poor transition becomes quite evident. Budgeting is like this. No one likes budgeting, but if you have no budgeting process (and there are many ways to skin this particular beast), disaster awaits, ranging from failing to achieve personal goals like buying your first home or experiencing another culture, through to, in the worst case, bankruptcy, when the credit cards and other forms of debt simply overwhelm you.
So there you have it, Triathlon and Financial Planning, not the most obvious of associations I know, but I hope these analogies have given you some food for thought.
I’ve got the final triathlon for the season on this weekend, and I’m already thinking of what I can do over winter to return next season somewhat more competent. Best wishes for you in your endeavours.
Triathlon stages vs Financial Planning stages
|Attributes||Financial Planning equivalent|
|Swim||Technical, scary, cold||Setting up financial safety-net – insurance.|
|Ride||Gruelling, fast, long, exhilarating||Debt clearance, retirement planning.|
|Run||Push through weariness, finish line euphoria.||Wealth creation.|
|Transitions||Chance of disappointment outweighs upside.||Budgeting|
What do you think? I know there are a ton of keen triathletes out their so I’d really love to hear your thoughts.
Paul Benson can be found on the podcast Financial Autonomy, and is a regular contributor to Fairfax.