I finished my most recent marathon last week. It was harder than the average because it was unseasonably hot and I wasn’t feeling too well. I wasn’t happy, so I found a similar sufferer to chat with for a few miles. This woman didn’t want to talk about the race, either, which was good. I asked her why she was running (charity, bucket list item, etc.) and she said it was stress relief. She said she’d been so mired in debt and financial problems (I swear, I must wear a sign that says, “Talk to me about your financial problems so I can write about them”) due to some medical issues in her family for the last few years that she’d taken up running to keep her stress down. Running was cheap, she said, and it allowed her to burn off her frustrations. I couldn’t disagree with her. She said that she’d gotten things under control now, but it had been a long few years and she had really struggled.
We parted ways after about six miles and I thought about her situation and how running was probably not only a stress reliever for her, but also a metaphor for her journey. I found myself thinking that getting your financial house in order isn’t that different from running a marathon. You start out all excited, you go at it for a while, you get tired and frustrated and want to quit, and then you suck it up and finish, glad in the end that you did it. Here’s how I see it:
The Start Line: When you start out in a marathon, you’re exited. You’re pumped up and ready to go. You feel unstoppable. You’ve made the decision to be here, you’ve arrived at the start line in good shape (most of the time) and you’re excited by all that lies before you. It’s not that different when you decide to get your finances in order. Maybe you read a book that inspires you or you hear a story from a friend. Whatever the motivator, you get excited. You make that budget, you get your papers in order and you’re ready to roll. You’re thrilled to begin the journey and you know you’re going to win the war and become debt free or achieve whatever other goal you’ve set for yourself. The crowds are cheering you on and you can’t wait to begin.
Miles 1 – 10: The first few miles go by quickly in a marathon. You feel good and maybe you’re setting a personal best pace. Your energy is high, the temperatures are still low and things are all generally working in your favor. The miles speed by and you find yourself thinking that this will be easy, that you can set a new personal record. Heck, you think, maybe I’ll even pick it up a bit since things are going so well. Working on your finances is no different. Those first few weeks it’s easy to restrict your spending and stick to a budget. You’re proud of your achievements and you can’t believe how easy this is. Why didn’t you do this before? The debt numbers are going down and the savings numbers are going up. You probably start thinking this will be easier than you thought and you might try to pick up your pace even more and slash even more from the budget. The problem is, the race is still young.
Miles 11 – 20: As you near the halfway point in a marathon, you get excited. “It’s all downhill from here,” you think. You’re probably still feeling pretty good. Maybe some things are starting to hurt, but it’s not a big deal yet. The day is getting hotter, but you can cope with it. Maybe you start slowing a bit and your stride gets a little off, but it’s no big deal, you can still have a good day. You’re optimistic that things will still go well, but maybe you find yourself backing off the pace a bit as you near mile 18, trying to conserve a little energy. You don’t want to hit the wall after all. When you’re tackling the financial marathon, you’re excited to see your numbers changing, but you’re also starting to realize that this won’t be as easy as you thought. You’re getting tired of sacrificing all your fun things. Maybe you’ve had an unexpected expense that has slowed your pace a bit. Maybe you slip up and blow some money that you shouldn’t have. Maybe you find yourself putting off doing things that you know you should. You’re starting to see some problems in your game plan and things aren’t fun anymore. You realize that this is going to take a while and maybe you feel some frustration. You’re still optimistic that you’ll achieve your goal, but reality is creeping in and messing with your mind.
Miles 20 – 26: Unless you’re having a stellar day, this is the point where you regret having even toed the starting line. If you had small pains earlier, chances are they’re now full on agonies. Cramps, blisters, you name it, it hurts. The day has probably gotten hotter (or it’s raining) and you’re not as comfortable as you were. Your pace is probably breaking down and that personal best you thought you might get is possibly long behind you. Maybe your stomach is rebelling from the sports drinks and energy bars. Six miles might as well be fifty as far as you’re concerned and you start questioning your sanity for having even begun this stupid thing in the first place. You think seriously about just stepping off the course and quitting. In a financial marathon, this is the point where you really get fed up. You really want that new car and you hate that you can’t have it. Maybe you rebel and buy it anyway, sabotaging your progress, which just makes you even more frustrated. Maybe unexpected expenses have set you back even further and instead of having things done in weeks, you’re now looking at months. You hate everything about money by now. You’re tired of worrying about it, tired of tracking every cent. Sure, you can see the end is near, but that last $2,000 you have to pay might as well be $20,000. You’re tempted to just give up and you wonder why you ever thought this was a worthwhile goal in the first place.
The Finish Line: Somewhere around mile 23 in a marathon, you make the decision to suck it up and finish. Nothing may be going right anymore and everything may be hurting, but darn if you haven’t come this far. There’s no way you’re going to give up even if it means crawling across that finish line. You dig deep and find the motivation to finish. Maybe you have to distract yourself by singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall or cranking up your iPod until you risk hearing loss. Whatever gets you through, you use. And it’s so worth it when you hear the cheering crowds, accept that medal, and see that your time, while maybe not a personal best, wasn’t so bad after all. You look back and think, “I’m glad I did that.” When you’re about to finish your financial marathon, you have to do the same. You have to make the conscious decision to finish, no matter how painful the journey has become. It’s certainly not fun at this point, and maybe it’s become painful seeing things you wanted to do or buy slip past you. You have to find whatever motivates you, whether it’s the thought of sending in that last check, or fantasies of calling a credit card company and telling them to stick it. And when you finish, the rewards are worth it. Maybe you’re out of debt or a proud homeowner. Or maybe you’ve just found peace of mind and a sense that you can do whatever you set your mind to. You got what you wanted and you look back and think, “I’m so glad I did that.”
Finish your financial marathon. It’s worth all the agony in the end.