Being Financially Fit
- Written by Robbie Farlow
Your money and body and more closely related than you might think. Applying the same principles to finances and fitness will help you make gains in both.
For a long time I was financially unhealthy. I struggled with personal finance and living on a budget. It seemed impossible to get out from under credit card debt and my bank account always ran dry days before my next paycheck. I had almost zero in savings and even less in any type of investments.
I made excuses and blamed the rich, my parents, the media, and of course, George W. Bush. The honest truth is, I had no one to blame but myself. My financial problems were mine. I was the one who was responsible for being an idiot and making poor choices.
Changing the way we spend our hard earned money is a life transforming endeavor, one that many, like myself, struggle with for years. Finance never clicked for me until I started to view finance through the same lens I viewed my diet and fitness.
You’re Not The Boss Of Me!
I confess it, I am a gym bro. A macro counting, food weighing, barbell crushing, mirror flexing gym bro.
In all honesty, I am really just a socially awkward ginger kid who grew up loving Captain America, Hulk Hogan, and video games. I wanted nothing more than to be AC Slater but in reality, I was just Screech. So I guess while I’m still working to be AC, I have made peace with being an uber geek.
The geek side however, has long been a strength for me. For much of my life, when tasks or challenges presented themselves I tried to view them like a game. How could I level up to be better and eventually defeat the “boss” (the challenge)?
Money though was the one boss I could never defeat. It always seemed to control me rather than the other way round.
I applied for credit cards to buy computers, making only the minimum payment. I put all night party supplies on a student credit card in college. I bought an HDTV on a card with no interest for 2 years, all the while putting nothing aside for savings.
And of course I used student loans to pay for much of the last year and a half of rent and booze in college. (I have no regrets about my student loans because it was the greatest time/money I ever spent).
I knew how to pay bills. Car insurance, cell phone, and of course my credit cards. It was all paid for with my own money from the time I was 16 and started working. Investing and saving, though? Who does that? Surely, not a 16 year old who really needed to buy that new iPod Mini.
I had accepted that I would never be good at money. I thought I would just struggle, much like my parents, my entire life. The cards are stacked against me so I may as well accept it, right?
Get Fit Get Rich
There was one thing I would not accept: being a fat, lazy, out shape 20 something. The summer I spent in NYC, I read everything I could on fitness and nutrition. I applied my geek side to this and viewed it like a game.
Every day in the gym and each time I moved up in weight, I thought of it as leveling up. I worked for a year to be able to do 5 pull ups. Slowly adding one more rep or just another half an inch to the next attempt, just a few more points of XP each time.
As I started to lose weight, get stronger, and add muscle to my former Screech like frame, I began to wonder why it seemed like so many people put themselves down and believe they could never lose weight or get in shape. Why do they seem to accept that the cards are stacked against them?
I like to think I was one of the first VIP Listen, Money Matters listeners. I soaked up every episode from the start and took notes on my iPhone, bookmarked the tools they mentioned, even signed up for Betterment.
But I was still living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to understand how I could use the wisdom that was being bestowed upon me by the sultry voices of Andrew and Matt.
Then, one day it hit me. All of a sudden my mind exploded like 4th of July fireworks on the Hudson River: “Why don’t you view your finances like you view your fitness/diet?”
Almost instantly, debt and investments made sense. I knew how to lose fat and gain muscle, so why couldn’t I apply the same laws to my financial well-being? I sat down and using the tools that LMM had outlined, I developed a plan of action.
*There is no data, that I know of, to support this theory, but I find it intriguing that with the growth of cheap money and abundant credit and our desire to consume as many material possessions as possible, we also began to consume more food than we needed, leading to an explosion of type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and more.*
Much like you need a caloric deficit to lose fat, I knew I had to create a deficit in my spending to save money. I was already planning my meals for the week and tracking my calories each day, why not do the same with my money?
Using Mint, I prepared a budget and tracked all my expenses for the next month. With the same diligence I applied to hitting my macros/calories each day, I harnessed that same power for my money.
The Long Con
I had already accepted that my physical health was a long game that I had to play. Similar to what LMM was telling me about investing in the market. The long game is where you win. I took my tax return for 2013 and went all in and established an account with Betterment.
I saw the return on investment was much better than a savings account. Just like I saw building muscle had a better ROI than strictly cardio. This time I was going to get sick financial gainz and flex my money muscle (told you I was a bit of a bro)!
The vast majority of people struggle with fitness and health because they do not see results over night. They expect the weight to disappear, as if their bodies are magic erase boards. Weight loss is not a linear progression. Neither is getting out of debt or watching your investments grow.
Thousands of people buy into the marketing promises of “get rich quick schemes” or playing the lottery. But much like the promise of quick weight loss and “six-week” six packs, those are only prepackaged, broken promises.
I consider Andrew to be my financial Yoda, and like him, I now believe the issue of personal finance will be solved by Americans as individuals becoming more educated and understanding how to make better choices.
Instead of blaming McDonalds or corporate America, I accepted it was my personal responsibility to make better choices for my diet and fitness, so why not apply the same logic and accept responsibility for my debt/spending?
I have spent a few years creating the habits that have made me stronger and healthier physically. As I learned to apply the same logic to my financial health, I realized all the bad habits I had built over the years would take time to break down and restructure.
As a fitness coach, I preach to my clients that is about the process, not the final product. Throw out the bathroom scale because just like your income level, it does not define who or what you are.
Barbells, dumbbells, Betterment, HSAs, all of these are tools. Tools many of us use every day to live longer, healthier and happier lives. I learned to treat my money like I treat my diet (or vice versa).
Live on a budget, make smart investments, like increasing lean muscle mass (listen, muscle matters), and focus on finding the best return on your investment (time) in the gym or with your money.
It will not happen over night but I have stayed strong in living by this plan and have been able to stay out of credit card debt, make investments in my HSA and Betterment, and have become a little more financially fit.
We can’t all be a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Warren Buffet but if you apply the same principles to health and money, you can live long and prosper. (RIP Leonard Nimoy).