Posted on July 19, 2013
As an avid runner and exercise aficionado, I regularly count on my workouts to keep me balanced and energized. There is something so therapeutic about tying up my shoes, flipping on my iPod, and sweating it out. But for one month a year, my gym is the last place I want to be. Every January, hordes of well-intentioned New Years resolutioners pack into the gym at all hours of the night, stealing equipment from the regulars, only to stop going entirely by the end of the month.
As much as I hate waiting for a treadmill, what really gets to me is how quickly this phenomenon fades. Consistently, year by year, I will see a new crop of faces in the gym every day (decked out in the best fitness gear, of course) and then…nothing. What happens? How does a well thought out resolution fail in a matter of weeks?
I believe that in fitness, as well as in finance, we have a tendency to try to bite off a bit more than we can chew. “I will lose 8 pounds in four weeks” or “I will max out my retirement plan and kids’ college fund, while also saving for a down payment on a new sailboat.” Our intentions are almost always good, but can be so lofty that if we don’t quite reach them, we are quick to abandon the endeavor entirely.
Time and time again research shows that a more successful approach is to set a smaller goal that can snowball into a much larger one over time. “You want to start saving? Great! Start by putting $20 a week in a jar, or pick a larger number that still feels meaningless to you. You want to cut spending? Easy! Just cut the number of spa visits per week from five to two. (Substitute “lattes” for “massages” if you’re not a one percenter). If that feels fine for a few months, then bump it up. What matters is building the process of saving and having a plan. Make it automatic and go for it, no matter how little the sum seems at first. With every deposit, you are building your savings muscle, and the longer you save, the stronger it becomes.
Starting a savings program, just like an exercise regimen, takes time to form. Get started somewhere – anywhere – then build on that. If paying down a margin loan all at once seems daunting at first, then start by paying it down several percent a month. Check back with yourself after a few months to evaluate, then increase it another percent. Wait two more months, then do it again. You get the idea? After all, going to the gym one day a week is a lot better than not going at all, right?