The parallels between success in running and personal financial planning

By Frank Conway

These are weeks of New Year’s resolutions where plans are made with the best of intentions all over the world.
Many plans focus on physical fitness while others focus on financial. On the physical fitness front, who doesn’t think about losing a few pounds or inches from the waist-line? The same is true when it comes to personal finance. Following the Christmas spending spree, many face sticker shock when the first credit card bills are slipped through the front door.

A plan of action is needed if one is to be successful
A plan of action is needed if one is to be successful

Personal financial planning and running have a lot in common. To be successful at both, one absolutely needs a roadmap, a plan to get from a state of good intentions to goal realization.
So, using some running tricks, the following are some basic tips to get you from thinking to doing and in the long-term, success to achieving your long-term goals, be they physical or financial:
1. Set your goal. This is the biggie. In running, you are finished before you even start if you don’t set one. Goal setting is paramount for running success. Whether it’s a goal to break the 4-minute mile barrier or complete the local running challenge, without stating this in advance, it’s near impossible to get there. The same is absolutely true for personal finance. Think about what you want financially and write your goal down. This may be little more than paying off that credit card bill or something a lot more demanding, such as setting up a personal pension plan. You must state your goal if you want to achieve it!
2. Develop a strategy. Now that you have set your personal goal, the next task is to develop the strategy to get there. This will require some time as you have to identify where you are now. When runners set their goals and develop their strategy, they will first identify where they are now. Even world class athletes must accept the extreme challenges they face when they simply switch events. Say for example an 800M runner plans to move up to the 1500M, they know that their training routine will need adjustment. Some athletes succeed, some fail but all use a personal strategy to achieve their goal. In personal finance, it’s important to map out the state of personal finance today. How much do you earn, how much do you spend monthly. How much disposable income (if any) do you have presently? Do you even know? So, if it’s paying off a credit card debt, setting up a college education fund or planning for retirement, where do you plan to squeeze that extra cash from your current budget to achieve your goal. TIP – use a simple personal financial planner to give you greater visibility of where you spend all of your money now. Use the one page Personal Budget Planner on the Irish Financial Review to get you started.
3. Devise your tactics – these are the means of implementing the strategy to achieve the goal. Runners for example may have a specific race they want to win and the strategy to get them there but how and when they race, what days they plan to do hard tempo runs, do their weekly long runs, the inclusion of ‘easy days’ these are all the daily actions that need to be mapped out and constantly adjusted in order to stay on track. The same applies to personal finance. How can you manage to pay off a credit card bill if your finances at present are very limited? In this case, you may decide to forego some little luxuries as a means of squeezing the extra cash from your family budget. One idea here may include running to work and leaving the car at home thereby cutting out some fuel costs. This is just one example of a means of achieving ‘little wins’ that can be employed to get to that big long-term win.
4. Prepare for setbacks. Running is one of those sports where injury can come often. But having a plan is a fantastic way of keeping the long term goal in play even if the short-term ones get knocked on the head. In personal finance, that car may need to be repaired and some of your scarce cash gets re-directed for a while. Not to worry, this is normal and as soon as the short-term hiccup is out of the way, you simply resume working on the long-term goal.
5. Allow time and remain committed. Runners that do not allow sufficient time to achieve their goals usually don’t. This is the very same in personal finance. You need to be realistic when you set your goals and allow sufficient time to get there. That pension plan won’t happen overnight, it will take time to grow and with investment returns always at the mercy of market conditions, there will be ups and downs. Equally, the credit card bill can very slow to pay down but over time, it WILL disappear!

Remember, set your goal, develop your strategy, devise your tactics, anticipate and prepare for setbacks, allow time, be patient and most important of all, remain committed!

Frank Conway is the founder of, the financial literacy and personal budgeting service that provides financial education specifically developed for students.

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