Financial Tips In Exactly Three Words

Last fall, after years as a “do-it-yourselfer” in the area of fitness, I surprised myself and decided to hire a personal trainer, Laura Creagan of New England Endurance Training. No, I’m not a Hollywood starlet trying to get her pre-baby, red carpet-ready body back or an elite athlete trying to win Olympic gold. I’m not even trying to compete in, much less win, any races at the local, “age group” level.

I’m just someone who loves the same activities Laura loves – cycling, cross-country skiing, running, etc. Someone who gets a kick out of reaching new milestones in old favorite activities. Someone who loves getting out in the great outdoors for a couple/few hours of aerobic activity. Someone who values the resulting health benefits…

So why on earth would I need a personal trainer?? The thing is: I like these activities so much so that I sometimes overdo it and end up injured. (So much for those health benefits!) Plus I’ve got a few new milestones in mind for next bike season.

So when I saw this article about Laura, describing how she’d excelled in a grueling winter triathlon in Austria, I couldn’t help but think: “If she can perform at that level, she obviously knows something I don’t. And I’d sure love to know whatever that is. sooner rather than later. without Googling and poring over books and distilling boatloads of information and using trial and error.”

It took a few months before I could convince myself to take action – what with not being a starlet or star athlete – but I kept hearing the echo in my head of words I’d said to potential financial planning clients thinking about making the switch from do-it-yourselfers. “Yes, you might achieve your goals on your own, but getting one-on-one advice from someone who’s been trained and is around this stuff all the time is likely to get you there sooner with fewer missteps.”

So I finally decided to give it a try. And – no surprise – it turns out Laura does know plenty that I don’t about training, but our work together has also taught me a lot of lessons about advisor/advisee relationships of all sorts, especially those I have with my clients. Not all of these lessons are new, nor are they rocket science. But my experience working with Laura has helped me to better understand them from the advisee’s perspective, which I’m convinced will reflect benefits back in my practice.

In keeping with the fact that this is the third in a trilogy of articles of physical:fiscal fitness analogies (see footnote for other two), and to reuse a fun gimmick I recently ran across, those lessons… each in exactly 3 words.

1. It’s not magic. There are no guarantees in personal training or personal finance, but if you stick to a plan based on time-tested principles, you’ll get better results.

2. Goals dictate actions. Only do enough to reach your goal, no more, no less. Less isn’t enough, and more could cause burnout or injury. (Remember, you can always up the ante with a new goal once the current one proves achievable.)

3. Trained eyes see. If there’s a hole in your plan, the advisor can’t help but notice cause/effect relationships that the advisee may not recognize. For example, just as having no emergency fund can lead to costly credit card debt in the personal finance realm, no strength training can lead to physical strain and injury.

4. Scale invisible fences. With the help of an advisor who has more insight into what’s possible AND what needs to be done to achieve it, you can reach new heights, e.g. “You really think I can retire (complete the Assault on Mt. Mitchell) this year?”

5. Reconsider discarded ideas. Just because you tried spinning (monitoring expenses) before and hated it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work this time. Getting creative with a new tool or technique, or finally seeing the power of the idea, may be just the thing that makes it click.

6. Apply technology judiciously. You can benefit greatly from using the technology that exists to measure heart rate (investment performance), but if you try to watch it 24/7, you’ll probably get distracted from your goal, perhaps even crash.

7. Measure progress periodically. Monitoring your heart rate, power, and strength (net worth and cash flow) over time will tell where you are vs. your goal, allowing you and your advisor to adjust as necessary.

8. Accountability is good. We’re all adults here. Still, having to ‘fess up to having skipped an important workout (IRA contribution) sure is a great motivator.

9. Avoid boom/bust. Overtraining (living like a pauper) when you first start a plan is more likely to result in injury (binge spending) than in improved performance (a bigger nest egg).

10. Persist through setbacks. Reaching your fitness (financial) goals takes time, and you won’t always make progress in a nice straight line. Instead of getting discouraged and abandoning your plan for the new hot shortcut you saw in “Get Fit (Rich) Kwik” magazine, check with your advisor. While you may need a course correction, it’s possible a few words of encouragement will do the trick. (Thanks, Laura!)
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Note: These are the other two articles in the trilogy: It’s Just Like Riding A Bike and Happy Trails: A Skier’s-Eye View of Volatile Markets.

About the author

Sherrill St. Germain, CFP®

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