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The Parallels Between Fitness and Finance

Written by Nickel - 17 Comments

I’ve recently been thinking about the parallels between fitness and finance. During the last week in February, we went on a Disney Cruise. There were tons of kid activities, which meant that my wife and I had a lot of time to do things on our own. Among other things, we spent a bit of time everyday in the fitness center working out. And boy, did it feel good.

We’ve both been active throughout our lives, but sometimes life gets in the way. This is especially true once you have four little boys running around the house. While my wife has been better about remaining active by doing regular sessions on the treadmill, the miles have been catching up to her and one of her knees in particular has been bothering her.

To make a long story short, back in early March we re-committed ourselves to an active lifestyle. Given that we’re just too head off to the gym (and we wouldn’t have sufficient childcare even if we had the time), we decided that we needed to focus on assembling a home gym of sorts. Three months in and we haven’t looked back.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand — the parallels between fitness and finance. The more I think about it, the more I see. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…

Nothing will work if you’re not ready for change. First and foremost, you have to have the right mindset. Change takes discipline, and that sort of discipline requires that your actually ready for (and committed to) change. It won’t work if you’re content with the status quo.

Slow and steady wins the race. The key to any lifestyle changes is to stick to it. In my experience, this means that no matter how gung-ho you feel at the outset, you need to rein yourself in and set a sustainable pace. Both financial and fitness-related improvements take time. Don’t burn yourself out. Make small changes and allow them work over time.

Do what works for you. For me, this meant buying a rowing machine for a more or less full-body cardio work. I don’t like running, and I know that I won’t stick to something that I don’t enjoy. Walking is fine but, to me, it’s a relatively inefficient use of my time. In contrast, rowing gives me much more for my proverbial buck.

In the financial realm, doing what works for you might mean shunning credit cards (or not). Or it might mean going against conventional wisdom when paying down debt (or not).

Make a game out of it. Guess what? You’re far more likely to stick to something if you’re actively engaged in it. Set goals and them strive to beat them. In the financial realm, this works for almost anything, including things like meeting investment goals or sticking to a budget.

On the fitness side, competition can drive you to new heights. For me, this has meant maintaining an online logbook at Concept2.com where I can pop in and compare my performance with that of others. I’ve also joined a “virtual” rowing team to give me teammates against which I can compete, and with whom I can commiserate.

Compare against your own benchmarks. As important as gamesmanship is, it’s also important to compare against your own benchmarks. Just as you should track growth in your personal net worth instead constantly comparing against broad benchmarks and trying to keep up with the Joneses.

In the fitness realm, competition is healthy. However, you should also focus on your own personal bests and use those more than anything as an absolute measure of your progress. Gauging your progress solely relative to that of others can be discouraging — you don’t want to end up in a race with the Red Queen, making no apparent progress even though you’re truly progressing by leaps and bounds.

It’s okay to screw up. While slow and steady wins the race, that doesn’t mean that all is lost if you fall off the wagon. Get back up, dust yourself off, and press on. Consider it a learning opportunity. Think about what led to your failure and try to avoid a repeat performance. The key here is to just get back up on the horse without beating yourself up too badly.

Reward yourself. While self-discipline is an important component of any positive lifestyle change, it can get old over time. If you meet your goals, reward yourself. Whether this means splurging on something nice, taking a day off from your exercise regimen, or whatever else you might think of, do something nice for yourself and don’t feel bad about it. Just try not to make it too counterproductive or you’ll regret it when you get back to the grind.

Other parallels

It also hasn’t esacped my notice that there are a number of decisions that you can make in life that will improve both your bottom line and your waistline. For example, bringing a healthy (and cheap) lunch to work vs. regularly eating out can save both calories and dollars. Likewise, walking or biking instead of driving or paying for public transit means that you’ll save a bit of money and get some exercise.

Now it’s your turn… What did I miss?

Published on June 5th, 2008
Modified on July 24th, 2008 - 17 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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17 Responses to “The Parallels Between Fitness and Finance”

  1. 1
    Lissa Says:

    What a great article! I’ve had similar thoughts recently comparing losing weight and getting out of debt, and agonizing over how long it will take. Another correlation that funs under the “slow and steady” category is realizing that it takes time. You can’t expect to meet your financial goals (freedom, out of debt, etc.) in a short amount of time, nor can you expect the same for losing weight. Most people can’t pay back $30,000 or lose 30 lbs in a month. It’s not realistic. You have to set short and long term goals that can actually be met in both cases to meet the end result in the future.

  2. 2
    tom Says:

    I’d say that the most difficult part of the fitness/finance process is starting a routine. Whether it’s a fitness routine where you workout every day/every other day/3 days a week or a family budget, starting these activities is the most difficult part of the process. Sustaining or sticking with it becomes… well… routine!

  3. 3
    Jon Says:

    Just a thought…I have a friend who has a family membership to the YMCA here in Boise. He and his wife are able to go work out, and there’s actually supervised children’s play areas where the kids can be dropped off…it might be worth looking into in your area.

  4. 4
    Luke @ Money & Fitnes Blog Says:

    Great article and your first point is the most serious: Nothing will work if you’re not ready for change. It seems to me that although it doesn’t happen in all cases, people struggle at times with money and then let their fitness goals fail as well. It definitely is not an easy path to stay on track but to stay healthy and have security, I think it is worth it.

  5. 5
    nickel Says:

    Jon: We used to do that. In fact, my wife worked in the childcare at the Y some evenings every week in return and we thus got a discounted membership. Unfortunately, we don’t have anything like that near us. Moreover, that adds a good bit of time to the entire process and also requires that we coordinate our schedules. This way we can both work out on our own schedule, and there’s not additional time commitment for commuting to a club. Works for us. :)

  6. 6
    Tina at FrugalSister Says:

    Yes, I found that when I decided to make a commitment to health and finances, I also make a commitment to clean up other areas of my life like organizing my business finances and my house. It all takes time and commitment no matter what you want to change. But it is all worth the effort.

  7. 7
    Mrs. Micah Says:

    I’m working on finding fitness solutions too. I think it’s about as personal as personal finance. And it has to be as interesting or you won’t end up actually doing it. I’ve found a pretty good Tae Bo video that excites me.

  8. 8
    Dollar Frugal Says:

    Don’t forget this one – keep checking back with your end-goal. If you keep going back each month or week and looking at what you’ve done, you’ll remain accountable to yourself – whether it’s with money or fat!

  9. 9
    Meg Says:

    I think there are parallels between debt and fat. Both creep up slowly over time, both are very hard to get rid of – it’s way easier to never accumulate it in the first place!

  10. 10
    Brandon Says:

    I really appreciated this post as this is EXACTLY what my blog focuses on. Physical and Financial fitness are one in the same. If you ever want to know the specifics on any type of eating recommendations or excercise you should definitely check us out. We haven’t done like you have where we integrated the two…yet, but its cool to see your perspective on things. There’s no point in saving up millions if you are going to die before you get to use it.

  11. 11
    Kevin Says:

    I recently bought a home workout program, P90X (120 on ebay), a set of adjustable dumbells (200 on sale) and a workout mat (20). Total cost $340. Now you could substitue bands for weights and save a bunch. With that said the gym membership was going to cost me, my wife and 13yo around 1400 for the year not including gas.

    We all use these DVD’s love them, and are getting in great shape. If we stick with this over a two year period it will cost us $170 per year vs 1400.

  12. 12
    Kirstine Says:

    If you are fit and live like someone who os not (eating unwisely, not exercising, and eating more than you burn) then you will become unfit.

    If you are unfit and live like someone who is fit (eating and excersising wisely, and burning more than you eat) then you will in time become fit.

    The same with finances: earn and spend wisely – and spend less than you earn. Even if you are not rich – you will be in time.

  13. 13
    MITBeta Says:

    I recently wrote a post about the similarities between losing weight and gaining wealth.

    Check it out at my site.

  14. 14
    MKL Says:

    nickel, your post gave me the inspiration to consider these same questions and put my own spin on it. I came to many of the same conclusions and added a few of my own.

    I liked the association of making things into a game, focusing on areas that interested you in both aspects, and celebrating milestones when you reach them. One area that I found very helpful in both spheres is that getting a big win early on in a process is a major boost going forward. Losing 50+ pounds is tough, but losing two or three pounds in a week? That’s easier to wrap your head around and actually see the progress. Making a connection to writing down what you eat and what you spend go hand in hand. My #1 take home, though, is that if you practice strict portion control (for me that means cooking and allocating food to what the actual serving size says it is), I eat less and my food items last longer, thus I lose weight *and* save money :) .

  15. 15
    Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck Says:

    They’re actually opposites:

    You want to spend more calories than you take in.
    You want to spend less dollars than you take in.

    Of course, to accomplish both of these tasks, many of the attitudes you reference above must be adjusted. Because after all, doing the opposite (with regard to calories and dollars) is far easier and the default decision for most Americans.

  16. 16
    nickel Says:

    So… They’re anti-parallel?? ;)

  17. 17
    Outsaving the Joneses Says:

    After spending a year resolved to get in the best shape of my life and accomplishing that goal, I’ve started attacking my financial life. They really are very similar–it’s about being ready to do it, setting goals, and making daily progress.

    I’m very jealous of your Concept rower! I want one!

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