Every two years the world gathers to watch the world’s top athletes compete. Whether they are winter or summer participants, all competitors train extensively to attain that golden dream. Here are ways you can use that Olympic inspiration to reach your financial goals:
1. Assess where you stand currently
The first step to a successful training program for any athlete is to know what your current abilities are. You can’t know what you need to do to make it to the Olympics if you are unaware of your weaknesses and strengths. The key is to know yourself so you can develop ways to address your flaws and build upon your accomplishments.
When dealing with finances, you also must start by measuring where you are currently. As you may have guessed, this means it’s time to track your spending and figure out your budget. WISER suggests carrying around a notebook or making notes in your smartphone for a month, writing down everything you buy or spend. Expenses big and small should all be included. Then compare this with your income. Take a look at our “Keep Track of Your Spending” worksheet for additional help.
You also need to take a long-term view when assessing your finances. First, know what your credit score is. Every year you are eligible for one free credit report from each credit agency. Get your report today. Also don’t forget to estimate how much Social Security you will receive. Your can sign up to receive your statement electronically on the Social Security website. Finally, check to see if you’re on track for your own retirement. You can use our retirement calculator to help understand how interest will help you save.
2. Assemble a team
Olympians have an entire support system in place years before they step into that international spot light. They work with coaches, nutritionists, physical therapists, medical professionals, and psychologists. Their families not only cheer them on, but discuss training plans with them, help them eat right, and transport them to practices and appointments. No athlete makes it to the Olympics alone. Why should you be any different when trying to reach your goals?
Start by involving your significant other. Look at what you both spend each month, make sure you are aware of each other’s employee-sponsored or other retirement plans and assets, review your insurance needs, and create an organized file with your important documents. Exchange credit reports so you know where you are financially as a couple. Agree to talk about finances at least once a month. Taking this step will make sure that you are both involved in your financial decisions.
Look for outside sources as well. If it’s not in your budget to hire a financial advisors or tax consultants, you can use WISER resources as your guiding force. If you do want to consider a financial planner, check out WISER’s resources so you know what to look for and what questions to ask.
3. Set a goal
Every Olympian dreams of winning the gold medal, but even those who acknowledge that their chances are slim have their own goals in mind when they embark on their training. It might be learning a new trick, hitting a new score, or reaching a new time. Goals can, and should be, individualized.
Before you take any more steps, decide what your goals are. Have one “reach” goal and one “reasonable”. A reach goal should be something you are always striving for, that gold medal, but acknowledge that you have a long way to go before you can achieve it. A reasonable goal is one that you can achieve in a certain time limit (which you decide!). Do you want to save for retirement? How much do you need by the time you retire? Are there benchmark goals you can hit in one year, five years, 10 years toward that goal? Having a specific number can help you with planning how to reach it. Your financial goals do not have to be just about retirement, though. If you are in debt, have student loans, want to buy a house, etc., these can also be great financial goals.
4. Make a long-term plan.
Being Olympic ready does not happen overnight. Neither does reaching financial goals. Athletes train for years leading up to the Olympics. It’s not just about developing skills, but the ability to adapt to changes. Decide on mini goals along the way so you know that you are improving. Always emphasize your long-term goals first. Yes, having money saved for the holidays sounds great, but if you’re putting money in that fund instead of your retirement account(s), how will you ever achieve that gold medal of a secure retirement?
5. Start small, end big
Everyone has to start somewhere. You don’t start with the triple axel in ice skating. You start with the basics and work your way up, in increments. The same is true for your finances. Say you currently save 3% of your income for retirement. Bump it up to 5% this year. Then slowly grow it by 1% each year and by year 6, you’ll be contributing 10% of your income to your retirement! You could be saving $50 a month, only $1.66 a day. Start adding an extra $5 each month. At the end of 12 months, you’ll be saving over $100 dollars a month! Think of how much you’ll be saving, then!
6. Be prepared for pain.
Olympians make sacrifices. They miss time with their families, put their bodies through physical strain, and many struggle to find time to both work and train. In the end, it’s all worth it when they pull on that US uniform and go for their dreams.
Saving for that golden retirement is also going to require some sacrifices on your part. You will have to prioritize your long-term goal, and that means not always buying what you want. That shoe might make you feel fierce, but how much more awesome would you feel when you’re debt free, or have a large sum of money in your savings account? Saving money means a reduction in your overall spending, but an increase in your overall financial security. You may feel deprived in the short-term, but it will be worth it in the long run.
7. Don’t forget to celebrate!
Olympians get podiums and medals, with flags and fans to support them. Create your own reward system. Did you hit your first goal? Share it with your team and involve them in the celebration. Achieved that second goal? Great! Ask your spouse or get a sitter to watch the kids tonight and take a moment to yourself; watch a marathon of your favorite show or read a book. For each mini step, have a reward already set up to keep you motivated to continue. And don’t forget, that end goal of a golden retirement may be years away, but when it comes you can celebrate for the rest of your life!