How to Think Like an Olympian to Master Your Money

You may not think you have much in common with an Olympian, but when you put these world-class athletes' level of commitment, perseverance, and practice in the context of your own finances, you might be surprised at just how alike you are — or, at least, how alike you can be.

Start looking at the bigger picture and keep your eye on the prize with these ways to think like an Olympian and master your money.

1. Commit to a Goal — Or Goals

The ultimate goal of an Olympian is to take home the coveted gold medal in their discipline. Your goals, with regards to your money, may vary. Perhaps you want to pay off your consumer debts or school loans, establish a sizable emergency fund, or start making investments. Whatever it may be, you have to set your sights and focus on achieving that goal by contributing to it as best you can. An important part of that process is holding yourself accountable by tracking your spending and saving habits and monitoring progress toward your ultimate goal — and that often starts with budgeting.

"Olympians set goals — ranging from hitting a turn better in swim practice to winning a medal — and then devising a training program around the goals," offers Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Freedom Financial Network in Phoenix. "In personal finance, the idea is to look at what you want to do in life, set goals, and then put together a budget that will help you achieve those goals. Along the way, you may need to modify the goals or the 'training program' that gets you there — just as an Olympian would."

2. Put Those Goals in Places of Visibility

Keep track of your goals and put them in places of visibility. Whether it's a dream board with your endgame (i.e. a gold medal) or a cheat sheet of stats, many Olympians visualize the end in mind.

Personal finance expert and blogger Cherie Lowe did just when she and her husband committed to paying off $127,000 in debt.

"While we were paying off debt, a running tally hung on our refrigerator (four years later, it's still there), reminding us where we've been and where we were headed at the time," she says.

This strategy can work for you, too. Monitoring your progress — so you can visually assess your small successes — will provide the stamina and drive you'll need to make it through the long haul.

3. Recognize the Necessary Sacrifices

Nobody likes to make sacrifices — least of all Olympians who need to stay on the straight-and-narrow if they're to be the best of the best (so long, junk food and booze!). But if you're in a financial pickle, sacrifices are likely in order.

These sacrifices will depend on your lifestyle. I don't know what your personal vices are, but when you identify these monetary distractions, it's wise to devise a plan to nip them in the bud, or at least lay off them as you get your situation under control. You won't get very far in achieving your goals if you're constantly sidetracked or diverted by these things that expressly prevent you from your own success. You'll soon realize they're not worth the negative impact they have on you, and you may even feel better than you thought you would without them.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Athletes show up to practice every day and continue to perfect their skill. This is according to four-time real-life Olympian Lauryn Williams, who has started a financial planning firm that serves professional athletes and young professionals.

"Practice is about working on your weaknesses until they become skills," she says. "Saving may be something you don't do well, but you show up and practice and sometimes you save a little and others times you save a lot, but to create the habit of saving you must consistently practice it."

Money-saving expert Andrea Woroch echoes that sentiment.

"As the popular saying goes, 'practice makes perfect,' and this applies to both athletes striving to be the top talents in their sport and individuals who want to effectively manage their finances," she says. "Tasks like investing and saving money take practice; proficiency in these areas is not achieved overnight and requires the same tireless pursuit employed by Olympians seeking gold in the games. Do the same thing everyday as it relates to your money, whether that's reviewing your bank and credit card statements or tracking your goal. And when you perfect your process, keep going and never stop."

5. Show Up Every Day — Whether You Want to or Not

No matter how tired you are, or beat down, or how woe-is-me you're feeling about your finances, keep pushing every day. Olympians don't skip the gym. They pay attention to their training daily. In the same way, if you're reaching for a financial goal you have to be willing to show up and put in the hard work, even when you don't feel like it. This means balancing the checkbook, working extra hours, and being an active participant in your money goals.

6. Overcome Setbacks

In your pursuit of sound money-management, there will always be setbacks, whether it's a drop in the market or an impulse buy made in a moment of weakness. But you will bounce back — and you'll be better for it.

Let's use a self-imposed moratorium on clothes shopping as an example. You want to commit to your savings goals full force, and eliminating clothing purchases (or at least for a while) are necessary to achieve that goal. Alas, sometimes life gets in the way, but that doesn't mean that all your hard work to this point has to go up in flames.

"When you're trying to cut back on spending, but back-to-school season is demanding your funds, for instance, download apps like ShopSavvy to compare prices or Coupon Sherpa for such in-store savings as $10 off $40 or more with a Kohl's coupon," Woroch says. "Recovering from these mishaps quickly and continuing to practice good financial habits is key to your ultimate success."

7. Cultivate Self-Discipline

Reaching that podium as a medalist isn't a cakewalk for an Olympian, and neither will be achieving your financial goals. Which is why self-discipline is required, especially if you're going this alone.

"It takes discipline to train for hours every day leading up to the Olympic Games and it takes this same kind of strong will to reach your financial goals," says Woroch. "After all, it's much more fun to spend money on vacations and the latest gadget than it is to put money toward your savings goal or debt payoff plan. Having the control to forgo wants and focus only on your needs is a challenge, but it's a worthwhile pursuit, whether you're striving for gold or financial freedom."

8. Strive for Consistency

Consistency is key if you want to achieve any kind of goal, whether it's related to fitness or finances. Olympians must be consistent with their training, both mental and physical, to qualify for the games and compete with other top athletes in their sport. Similarly, consumers must be consistent with their savings goals and spending behaviors to stay on track financially. Digital tools like Mint can help you track your spending and keep an eye on your investment portfolio, while the Digit app automates savings and transfers unused funds from your checking account to your savings account.

9. Stay Positive

There will be days along this journey that you'll want to give up, throw in the towel, close the blinds and hide under the covers. We all get that way sometimes, but it's true what they say — only the strong will survive. Stay focused and maintain a positive outlook, and you'll come out the other end victorious, just like a U.S. Olympian.

Woroch notes, "To compete, Olympians must remain positive through arduous training and in the face of fierce competition. It's easy to feel defeated both as an athlete and as someone pursuing a financial goal. However, positivity can help you endure the low moments and keep your sights set on your goal. This is especially true when the stock market drops and your net worth suddenly takes a dive along with it."

Are you an Olympian when it comes to your finances?

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Dannielle @ Odd Cents

I love this article. When you have a goal and you're committed to it, you will go all out to reach it. A few months ago I set a goal to save an extra $300 in one month. I cut back, did extra jobs and saved all of my coins and I was successful.