I have a weight set in the garage. It's a nice weight set. In fact, there's about half a Crossfit gym down there—nice bench/squat rack, padded floor, bumper plates, a real powerlifting barbell, pull-up bar, kettlebells, you name it. So why am I not built like those guys with huge chests and shoulders? Probably for the same reason you're broke.
I'd like to have a huge chest and shoulders. It would be useful at times and pretty fun to look good. My wife would probably appreciate it too, especially when it was time to open jars. I even know how to get a huge chest and shoulders. I've read books on bodybuilding and weightlifting, taken classes, and know all the techniques. I've applied all those techniques before in the past for months at a time while I was an intercollegiate (club) hockey player and while I was deployed with the military. I've even had a big chest and shoulders before. But not now. I look in the mirror and think, “That guy looks kind of scrawny.”
3 Reasons Why I'm Not Buff and Why You Don't Have Any Money
# 1 I Don't Actually Enjoy Working Out
I want to work out. I want to be strong. I want to look good. But at the end of the day (and it's often at the end of the day) I don't actually like lifting weights much. There are some forms of exercise I like. I enjoy mountain and road biking. I like to play hockey. I enjoy hiking, canyoneering, and rock climbing. But going down in the cold garage and doing pull-ups by myself? No, that's like running. At least with running I can hit some trails around the house, see the sun, and maybe even compete a bit with others. But down in the garage, I'm just like the loser in the Weezer song.
How is that like finances? Guess what? If you hate learning about finance and you hate actually doing finance, you're probably not going to be successful at finance. But if you actually look through the business section of a newspaper (or its modern equivalents), follow a financial blog, occasionally read a financial book and enjoy putting in mutual fund buy orders, figuring out your asset allocation, and building a spreadsheet, then guess what? You're far more likely to do it and far more likely to be financially successful.
“But I can pay someone to do that for me,” you say. Not really. Hiring a financial advisor is like hiring a personal trainer. You still have to show up at the gym. You still have to get on the treadmill. You still have to pump the iron. You just know there's going to be someone at the gym when you get there who will yell at you to “PUSH!!!” and “Sprint! You run like a pregnant mule!” It's going to cost you something to have a personal trainer and a gym membership, but if it helps you reach your goal, then it's probably worth the expense.
# 2 I Lose Any Progress Made Very Quickly If I Drop the Habit
The really lame thing about weight lifting is what happens when you quit. And I know because I've quit a lot. Within a week you've lost the gains from your last work-out. By two weeks, you're going backward. By two months, you're basically back at your base level of fitness. That's really not all that different from finance. If you quit living relatively frugally, quit saving, quit making smart investment decisions, etc., you can rapidly undo all the progress you've made. One episode of selling low in your entire career could be irreparable. Splurging on a fancy new car could eat up two years worth of retirement savings. A foreign vacation could cancel out a year's worth of brown-bagging it to work. Letting your insurance policy lapse accidentally undoes all that work you did to set it up. Being wealthy, like growing your pecs, is a process, not a destination. Abandon the path and you'll rapidly find yourself hemorrhaging wealth as quickly as my biceps atrophy.
# 3 I Have Other Priorities
The main reason, however, that I lack a muscular physique, is simply that I get busy. I've got a job. I've got another job. I've got a wife and four kids. I've got a dozen hobbies. I volunteer with two organizations and serve on several committees. I have people hounding me to come speak to them. My business manager pesters me to write another book. My kids want me to come to their soccer games and take them to the dollar theater and jump on the trampoline. The mountains keep calling and at times I cannot resist the siren call. So what doesn't get done? Working out. In your case, maybe it's reading that financial book. Or meeting with that advisor like you know you should. Or actually looking at your 401(k) and understanding what you're invested in. Or getting disability insurance, or an estate plan, or refinancing your student loans.
Q. So How Do You Stop Being Broke?
A. SMART Goal Setting
Each year we make a New Year's Resolution. Maybe it works, but probably not. Maybe we make a little progress during January, but we've probably fallen off the wagon before President's Day. No, a resolution isn't going to cut it. We need a real plan. Here's the plan:
- Set a real goal, a SMART goal—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Specific.
- Write your goal down along with the plan to achieve it.
- Share your plan (at least the appropriate parts) with everyone—spouse, kids, co-workers, Facebook, whoever. Let your support people support you.
- Figure out what you're going to drop from your life in order to add this new thing. You cannot manufacture time. If there is nothing in your life you're willing to exchange for this task, chances are you will never achieve it because it isn't important enough to you.
- Do your most unpleasant tasks first. Whatever you put off until last is most likely to not get done, especially if you don't enjoy doing it.
- Focus on the rewards of the task, rather than the unpleasantness of the task. What will financial success or financial independence allow you to do that you want to do?
Take one step at a time. Many financial tasks are “set and forget.” Do those first. You only have to buy life and disability insurance once. You can fund 529s or HSAs or Roth IRAs in one fell swoop once a year. A will is good for years. But even the more time-consuming tasks can usually be broken up into smaller pieces.
Set some goals and let's “gitter done!” Maybe by the time I have big pecs, you'll be rich.
[Editor's Update: I actually started working out again after writing this post, but I've quit and restarted three times between writing it and publishing it.]
What do you think? Why is it so hard to do things that we know we should but don't really want to do? How has goal-setting helped you to make financial progress? What are some of your goals for this year? Comment below!