Around the same time I decided to get my finances under control, I also started running. It was a hobby to help me live long enough to actually enjoy a retirement, and to help me spend less time with video games. Switching from my expensive video game hobby to running was one of the smartest things this dumb guy has ever done.
Running for My Life
The transition was also a little bit easier than I thought it was going to be. For years I had spent hours of my time doing tasks to make my video game character stronger. I just thought of my running and training as doing the same thing, except for real. I was leveling up my endurance, my strength and my speed. Only with running, I was able to apply my real life “leveling up” and it benefited me in almost every other aspect of my life. Unlike video games where the benefit was gone as soon as I powered off the game.
I think the hours that I spent “grinding” away at my video games made the grinding schedule of race training easier. The monotonous repetition of the video games I played made running for 2+ hours pretty easy, especially once I got started.
The value in running a race isn’t the actual race, it’s the training before the race. Similarly, the value in saving for retirement isn’t the day you retire, it’s the personal growth on your journey. The will it takes to keep grinding away at saving is the same as the grind of running 13 miles; and you are better because of the grind.
Over the last 2 years I’ve found other parallels between running long distances and saving our money.
Here are 5 similarities I found between running half marathons and saving for retirement.
1. Starting is the Hardest Part
Getting into the habit of running is hard to do. Your brain and body are telling you to stay relaxed. After all, you aren’t in danger, you don’t need to hunt for food – what is the point in running? We procrastinate. It might take 2 minutes to get up and change into some running clothes and be out the door, but for some reason the task seems much more daunting.
Saving is the same way. In today’s world of instant gratification, we are bombarded on social media by pictures of people living extravagant lifestyles with no apparent downside. The top Instagram accounts didn’t get there because they tell their followers:
“Instead of spending $300 on this amazing jacket I’m wearing (and was probably paid to wear), put $250 in a low-cost index fund and put the remaining $50 into a high yield savings account. After all, the jacket you already have is in good shape, it’s ok that it is last year’s style.”
YOLO (You Only Live Once) is synonymous with spending now because you might die tomorrow. When I think it should be synonymous with saving your money now because you don’t want to spend the last 40 years of your life stuck in a job that you can’t leave because you never saved for retirement.
Everywhere we look, opportunities to spend money abound. Resisting the urge to spend and have fun right now go against how we are hardwired. Even though it only takes 5 minutes to set up a Vanguard account online with automatic deductions, to the person who hasn’t started – it might as well be 5 weeks of work. But once you do start…
2. The First 2 Miles Really Suck
Yeah, they really suck. Your body was just in a peaceful state, relaxing, enjoying not being the target of some wild animal, secure in your home. Suddenly your legs start moving and your breathing increases. Your heart beats faster to keep oxygenated blood flowing to your body. Your brain will try to do anything to get you to stop running and get you back to the peaceful homeostasis it had moments ago. When I start running, my foot will hurt, or my stomach will hurt, or my thighs will hurt. It’s the part of my run that I feel the worst. My brain is trying anything to get me to stop running, and it can go on for as many as 3 miles. Eventually, my brain gives up and I break through the “wall.”
When saving, it is the same. There is a painful adjustment period right after you start saving. Your body and brain start to crave to have things back to the way they were. You really want to go out to eat, you really want to spend money on that thing you think you really need. Things you had never been interested in before start to become really interesting to you.
When we started saving, I suddenly became very interested in graphic novels. I had never even read a graphic novel, never been into comics, but suddenly I was all about graphic novels. Over a couple of months, I spent about $150 on graphic novels. I was looking for anything to spend money on that I could justify. After all, graphic novels are books, and it’s always OK to buy books. I also started buying Star Wars Funko Pops, I was rebelling against the “pain” of not spending as much money. It was a period of winding down that lasted about 6 months. But eventually I broke through the spending wall and don’t really have the random spending cravings like I used to have them.
3. There Are Many Levels of Dedication
When it comes to saving and frugality, the sky is the limit for how crazy you want to be. Some people really take frugality to the extreme and do things to save money that I would never do. There are some things that I do to save money that other people would never do, so on and so forth. The fact that I have a cheaper iPhone SE is preposterous to many folks that I work with and spend $800+ on their phones. Meanwhile, to others, my same iPhone SE that I spent $349 on is a waste of money compared to a $49 Boost Mobile smart phone from Walmart.
It’s the same in running. I think people who run ultra marathons are crazy. Crazy in that I admire everything they have to do to complete an ultra marathon. To me, Mr. Money Mustache is an Ultra Marathoner of frugal living. I admire his level of frugality, but have the same desire to achieve that level of frugality as I do run an ultra marathon (none).
To me, half-marathons are the sweet spot. I can go out and run a 13.1 mile race without much effort. I really don’t think too much about running a half marathon, I can just go out and do it. Many of my friends think running 13 miles even one time is absolutely crazy. They are content running their 5ks or 10ks. Of course, the more frugal you are, the more you save, the lower the risk of financial ruin. The more you run (or do any cardio exercise), the better health you will have, the lower your risk of heart attack/stroke/etc. No matter what level of saving (or cardio) you do, it is way better for you long term than doing nothing, and any level should be celebrated.
4. Running and Strength Training are like Saving and Investing
Running alone can only get you so far. Strength training needs to be incorporated into a marathon training program to strengthen your core, back and legs. When you incorporate strength training you will achieve better stamina, faster recovery, and faster times. One without the other will still produce results, but when used together, the results will be even greater.
It is the same with saving and investing. If you only save, you can certainly grow a really nice bank account balance. But you will unlock the true potential of your money and saving by investing your savings regularly. However, in the same way that you should strength train smartly, you should be investing wisely as well: low cost index funds.
5. They Take Time, Planning & Goals
Saving the most obvious for last. For someone that is just starting out training for a long distance race, it takes creating a plan of when you are going to train, and what that training is going to be. Once you create your training plan, you start to execute your plan. Running when you are supposed to run. Resting when you are supposed to rest. You tick off each day, each distance, recording your progress towards your race day. After a while, you are finally ready for your race. A 2 hour half marathon time is really the end of hundreds of hours of planning. The race itself is really just the end, the personal growth occurs in the weeks and months during training.
The same goes for saving for retirement. It takes a lot of planning and goal setting to come up with each individual strategy. Before you get to retirement, you have to work through your plan and tick off each of your goals as you go. You set your “magic number” that you want to hit for your retirement. And you make adjustments to your plan along the way. Sometimes you miss one of your training days; you get sick, injured, life happens. You have to adjusting your saving or your spending, or maybe your final goal.
There’s incredible value in the grind of working towards a hard goal. I need to be aware that the best growth comes from adversity and challenge. My mind and my heart need to be open to finding those opportunities for growth, even when times are tough.
I imagine that over the next 4,252 days, I will have many opportunities to put this personal challenge to the test. Keeping positive is going to be a crucial key to keep up the grind.
Thanks for reading,