Americans have a growing fascination with endurance sports, with ultra marathons and Ironman competitions attracting enthusiastic crowds of participants. In light of this, perhaps an appealing way to get people to save more money would be to characterize it as an exercise in endurance and toughness.
After all, training for endurance sports demands an ability to set goals and the discipline to pursue those goals on a daily basis. These same skills are essential to building up a healthy savings account. Do you have what it takes to be a successful saver? These five questions should help you determine whether you have the needed characteristics:
- Can you go it alone? Endurance sports are a very independent experience. You typically compete solely for yourself and not as part of a team, and it requires a deep reserve of self-motivation to put in the training necessary to get ready for these events. That same sort of independent motivation is also important to saving money. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Americans these days save only about 5 percent of their incomes on average, so there tends to be more peer pressure to spend than to save. If you want to buck the trend and save money, it helps to have a strong independent streak.
- Do you sweat the small stuff? Training for extreme endurance sports requires fastidious attention to detail, from nutritional habits to running technique. Similarly, successful saving relies on attention to certain small financial details that can really add up. For example, shopping around to get the best savings account interest rates can pay off day after day, as can taking the time to search for free checking accounts. Getting periodic insurance quotes rather than automatically renewing with the same firm is another way to gain ongoing savings. These may not be spectacular financial moves, but if you sweat the small stuff in enough ways it can make a difference.
- Do you know the right pace for the long haul? It takes careful planning to pick the optimal pace for a long race. The same kind of planning ahead is necessary for a successful savings program. You can't just play it by ear -- you have to figure out what you need to accomplish year by year in order for it all to add up to meeting your long-term goals.
- Can you overcome obstacles? A successful training program inevitably means fighting though unexpected difficulties: bad weather on some days, nagging injuries on others. Similarly, you can expect to have setbacks in your savings program, such as unexpected expenses, a stock market loss or a decline in savings account interest. Don't let those setbacks become excuses for not meeting your goals -- remember, obstacles are things to get over, not to hide behind.
- Can you live by a daily discipline? Endurance training has a cumulative effect -- you won't get anywhere with an on-again, off-again approach. Similarly, a budget and savings program has to be a daily commitment, because any lapses can quickly undo the good work that you have done.
Nobody said saving money was going to be easy. As with endurance training, there are no shortcuts, but in the end success may be all the more gratifying because the challenge is so tough.
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