The 2012 Summer Olympics have been going on for over a week now and they haven’t been short on exciting moments for fans of team USA.
We’ve seen Michael Phelps eclipse the record for the most medals ever won in Olympics history, and we’ve cheered as Gabby Douglas won the all around Gold Medal in gymnastics.
Some of the things Olympic athletes are able to do are mind boggling to many of us, but as those athletes would most likely tell you, they didn’t learn to do those things overnight. They’ve had to work extremely hard over a period of many years to get where they are, and they’ve had to make sacrifices in order to be the best. There is a definite cost to become an Olympic champion.
So what are some attributes of an Olympic athlete that you can emulate in your financial life in order to get ahead?
One thing you hear time and again is how Olympic athletes have to have extreme discipline in order to train on a daily basis for their sport. For example, all time Olympic champion Michael Phelps trains hard just about every day. He gets up early to swim, and in peak training cycles he can swim 80,000 meters a week, nearly 50 miles. He swims twice a day, often for around 5 to 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. He also lifts weights 3 days a week. To fuel his monster workouts he can consume upwards of 12,000 calories a day, an amount of food that could normally feed a family of four.
In our financial lives we also need to have discipline. While we may not need the extreme discipline that Phelps has to workout 6 hours a day, 6 days a week, we can have discipline in our finances by creating a budget, and sticking to it. We can make sure to save up and pay cash for our purchases, instead of buying things on impulse. We can consistently live below our means, and make sure to save for our future. Without discipline Phelps would never have won all those Gold medals, and without discipline our finances will be a wreck.
Vision And Focusing On A Specific Goal
Olympic athletes have a clear vision of where they want to go, and what they want to accomplish. They are able to visualize their goal, even if it’s years in the future, and work hard on a daily basis towards attaining that goal.
Similarly, when we’re saving for a new home, for retirement or some other financial goal, we need to have vision in our financial lives so that we don’t fall prey to short sighted decisions that could short circuit our plans. We need to be able to see ourselves years down the line enjoying the fruits of our labors, and being able to live the life we want.
If you’re an Olympic athlete in training you need to be consistent in your diet, your training and in your routines. You don’t become a gold medal champion by sitting on the couch eating potato chips, You have to train, day in and day out – rain or shine.
When we begin a budget and set financial goals, nothing will happen unless we follow through and are consistent in following our plan. If you’ve set a budget, you need to check it on a consistent basis, have monthly budget meetings and adjust your spending when warranted. Setup automatic deposits for savings goals, and make as many things as you can automatic in your financial lives so that they happen consistently, instead of when you remember to or have a good month.
We’ve all heard of the sacrifices that athletes and their families have had to make in order to reach their goals. Take all around gymnastics gold medalist Gabby Douglas for example. Her single mother of four made huge sacrifices in order for her to be able to continue her gymnastics training, and even paid for her to leave her hometown and move 3000 miles away to be coached by an elite gymnastics coach in Iowa. The training was hard, and at times she wanted to quit, but her mom told her that, “You’ve sacrificed all of this time. You’ve sacrificed your body. You’ve sacrificed everything for this dream…life is not easy, you have to fight and just refuse to quit.” She told her daughter that sometimes things will be hard, but if you fight and make those sacrifices, you can make it through and you’ll have something to be proud of no matter the outcome.
In our financial lives we often have to make sacrifices in order to make our dreams come true as well. Whether it’s getting a second job in order to help pay off debt faster, not buying the things you want in order to focus on a long term goal or just making the sacrifice to spend more time on your finances instead of doing things that you’d rather do. Sacrifice is often a component of how we reach our financial goals.
Striving For The Gold
Training to be an Olympic athlete is an endeavor that takes discipline, vision, consistency and a willingness to sacrifice to reach your goals. While we may not be world class athletes, we can also use many of these same attributes to get ahead in our financial lives. If we can be dedicated to improving our finances, set goals for our future and remain consistent in our saving and spending plans, we too can benefit and take home the financial (and sometimes literal) gold.
What are your thoughts? Are there other attributes that you think we can look to Olympic athletes to model for us that can apply to our financial lives?
Roger @ The Chicago Financial Planner says
Excellent post Peter. These are attributes that I have observed in most of my clients who have saved and accumulated over the years to meet their various financial goals including a comfortable retirement.
Money Beagle says
Very well put. Focusing on the long term goals and setting smaller goals are key elements for long term success. Just like athletes won’t post world record times with a week of training, neither will you get out of debt in just a couple of months. It takes work, discipline, and time.
Determination would be another one that I would add; accepting failure, learning from it, and being able to brush yourself off and try again. I agree with sacrifice. Even if you are just sacrificing free time or time doing something else, sacrifice is very important to success.
I agree with the notion that sacrificing to an extent is financially important, but this is one area where I would not want to be like an Olympic athlete.
I believe that Gabby Douglas’s mother was being financially irresponsible to spend so much money on her gymnastics. Now we also learn that she is now filing for bankruptcy. The amount of money that must have been spent to get Gabby to that level is probably mind-blowing and I can almost guarantee her siblings did not receive that much funding for any of their hobbies. It’s a sad fact but you almost have to be wealthy to be able to responsibly afford coaching to become an Olympian. For everyone else, I would recommend never spending that much money, no matter how “talented” you or anyone else believes your child is. If she was an only child, that’s one thing because she’s taking away from her retirement, but to possibly screw your other children out of things like college tuition so that one of your children can compete seems unfair.
If we apply that level of sacrifice to building wealth, all other areas of your life will suffer. Your marriage will fail; you will miss out on your children’s lives; your fun hobbies will be non-existent. Yes, you will reach that goal of wealth, but at what price. Gabby Douglas (and her mother) sacrificed much and may eventually regret not having a normal childhood.
Peter Anderson says
Yeah, in looking it up a bit more, it appears that Gabby’s mom filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy a few months ago, and was now on a payment plan with her creditors. Obviously that won’t be an issue for her now with her daughter winning the gold. I was reading that Ryan Lochte’s parents were having financial problems as well, with their house possibly entering the foreclosure process. It definitely puts a financial strain to have a child in training.
I agree that for many folks making extreme sacrifices like many Olympic athlete’s families do would be ill advised. For most people the sacrifice would come into play more when trying to get out of debt, or other short term goals where they might not otherwise be able to get ahead without it.
The other part of this story is the thousands of other female gymnasts whose parents have spent thousands of dollars in hopes of making it to the Olympics and never will realize that dream. For every Gabby, there are tens of thousands of children who have been put through years (and thousands of dollars worth) of training and will probably never reap any financial rewards.
I agree sacrificing while in debt is a good idea, however it can only be a temporary fix and anything long term would have detrimental effects on one’s life.
DC @ Young Adult Money says
Overall good post. I think the biggest thing we can take away from Olympic athletes is their discipline and perseverance. Some athletes make it all the way to the Olympics only to be disqualified because of a false start or stepping on a line. Those same athletes may train another four years just to get the opportunity to compete in the Olympics. I find that impressive.