The planning and dedication needed in having an actual, actionable strategy for saving money reminds me a lot of my marathon training.
The act of saving money is a lot like training to run a marathon (hear me out).
In its broadest picture, growing your savings account seems overwhelming. But just as you’d be hard to find any marathoner who would say getting to the finish line wasn’t worth the work, you would also have difficulty finding homeowners that would say saving for their downpayment wasn’t worth it. That’s because usually the most rewarding things in life require the most legwork—figuratively and literally.
1. Don’t start too fast. Consistency is key.
When I get excited about something—whether it’s a new project at work, a new book I’m reading, or a workout—I start fast. That sprint mindset may work when meeting a short-term goal, but when it comes to distances that’s not sustainable.
During my first long run with Team Eye and Ear for the 2018 Boston Marathon, I thought I could keep up with some of my other team members even though they were running at a faster pace. About four miles in, I couldn’t. I started to feel discouraged and thoughts about giving up creeped into my mind.
In a lot of ways, saving money is the same way. When I first decided to start building up my savings account, I was depositing hundreds of dollars every paycheck. But life events happened and the deposits got smaller and less frequent. By the end of the year, I realized I could have consistently put aside $50 per week with the same results and less anxiety.
2. Shed the excess.
It was really cold on my first long run. My eyelashes froze (I’m still scarred by this). But what made that run even worse was all the layers I wore and gear I brought with me: a belt, phone, water, ear buds, back-up earbuds and tissues, to name a few. I needed to strip down to the necessities.
Saving is the same way. You are only going to be successful in building a savings strategy if you have an awareness about the expenses you need vs. the ones you don’t. When I began evaluating what I spend money on, I realized I care about traveling and I like being able to try out new restaurants once a week. I also realized that I could do without regular shopping trips, weekly Starbucks runs, and ordering lunch. By cutting out the unnecessary expenses, I now can do more of what I love.
3. Don’t break a rule.
I just finished the memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.” I took away from it a lot of lessons and helpful mantras, including a lesson about sticking to your rules.
Throughout my marathon training, my rules have been this: do not walk; do not cheat your mileage. If I set out to run 14 miles, I will run that even if I am barely jogging. The thought is if I allow myself to bend on one rule, I’ll easily justify tweaking the rest.
The same thing goes for a savings plan. Just because I’m craving fries or don’t feel like making a salad before work, doesn’t mean that I should buy lunch. In order to build anything you have to have some sort of foundation. Figure out your foundation, make your rules and do not waver on them.
4. Set up checkpoints.
Saturdays are for long runs, and being part of a charity team, I have access to a program that hosts assisted runs with volunteers to hand runners water, pretzels, and Swedish fish along the course. I adore these stations. It gives me time to refocus, refuel and analyze the work I’ve done and the work I had left to do.
However, I didn’t realize exactly how much I appreciated those checkpoints until one week I had to conquer an 18-mile long run on my own. No check points except for the ones I created, which ultimately, were none. That was a mistake. I was out of sync with my body and looking too much at the big picture. Three miles until the next water station feels a lot easier than dreading the 12 until you finish.
From your daily life to your savings account, setting monthly or bi-monthly check ins lets you evaluate how your plan is going— and pivot if necessary—in order to be the most successful without draining your emotions or your wallet.
5. Motivation only goes so far. Determination is what gets you to the finish line.
In marathon training, you will hit a wall and you’ll have to find a way to make it through. To get through that wall, I’ll need to rely on all the work and strength I’ve built up in the months leading to that moment to help my legs continue to move.
Determination is what gets you out of bed and on the pavement in the middle of February when it’s 20 degrees outside. Determination is how you build a habit in working out and doing mobility work every day for three months. It’s not the fun part, but it’s the work that matters.
I want to travel without limitations. I want to buy a house one day. I want to potentially go back to school. Those are my motivations for saving. But to make actual advancements toward those goals, I have used determination to build good habits: looking through my bank statements monthly to see how I’m spending, depositing a designated amount into my savings account monthly, or working with an advisor to figure out what are the best savings accounts to have the most impact. By putting my head down and putting in the work, I know I will reach the finish line.
Meagan McGinnes is a freelance writer with interests in New England culture, locally sourced food, the environment, fitness, and storytelling. She’s a foodie who shares her love of snacks as a senior reporter at Project NOSH—a trade publication by BevNET that covers natural, organic, healthy, or sustainable packaged food companies and products. Follow her @meaganmcginnes.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.