Recently Lazy man illustrated the keys to financial success by comparing it to the Patriot’s success on the football field. I don’t know much about playing football, but if it is anything like hockey, it is less easy than it looks and requires tremendous skill. Not only do these athletes need to have a high level of fitness and be fairly powerful (strong), they also need athletic skills such as agility and dexterity as well as technical skills and game awareness. It can take years to acquire sufficient competence to even play the game. Therefore I personally prefer the marathon analogy.

Running a marathon is comparatively simple in that it only requires a high level of fitness, some legwork, and following some simple rules about hydration and nutrition. For those who are already competitively fit, a marathon is not a big deal and there a certainly more grueling challenges for those who want to test their limits (ask me sometime). However, or sedentary people it is a big deal just like getting out of debt and building up a large stash of money is a big deal. So what does marathon running and personal finance have in common.

In both cases, it is not the completion of the event that matters. Rather, it is the preparation needed to get to the event. Like a disciplined savings program, preparing for a marathon requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline. Would-be marathoners need to stick to their training plan for several months and learn to deal with sustained discomfort for extended periods of time while building up a sufficient level of cardiovascular fitness.

The preparation requires an ongoing effort. Training for a week and a half and then taking a week off and then starting again or putting the training off will not obtain the expected results in time for the event. Whether we like it or not, delaying the training or the savings plan does not extend the time until the competition or the day of retirement and one risks showing up unprepared.

Sometimes a small effort is not enough. Nobody can complete a marathon by never pushing oneself beyond jogging. At some point the actual transition to running has to be done. Similarly, saving 5% for retirement is better than nothing, but it is not enough to actually retire in time. The larger the effort, the better the results.

It’s a primarily mental game. The learning curve of running is relatively shallow just like saving money does not require any special talents. All it requires is to follow a few simple rules and then go out and do it. Daily. Week after week. In short, what is needed is legwork to build up the tolerance of the legs and joints to be pounded on for hours at a time despite the mild discomfort. Similarly financial security is built by going without present comforts and saving money over an extended period of time. There is no fast way to get there. Going too fast risks injury just like get rich quick schemes rarely work and often have high risks of setting progress back by several month.

Marathon running can change your life. I must say that running half a marathon did not change my life and I doubt doubling the distance would have made much of a difference, but that was because I did not need to prepare for more than a couple of weeks. However, preparing to a competitive level in clubbell sports, which took 18 months, did change me. It made me physically confident in the sense that I am ready to accept any physical challenge that life may throw at me. Similarly getting in financial shape will thoroughly change a person’s self-confidence and attitude towards money.

It is perhaps not surprising that personal finance and personal fitness have many things in common and why some personal finance bloggers also have an interest in fitness. Finance and fitness are both about self-discipline, self-control and hard work. People with those life skills will tend to do well in any endeavor and running a marathon (or saving a lot of money) can help uncover or build them.

Originally posted 2007-12-29 20:17:39.