What if we started treating our finances the same way we approached our fitness endeavours — by doing what we can, modifying when we need to, and slowly getting stronger?
I take Les Mills group fitness classes at the YMCA, and the instructors always remind us that every exercise includes a “low option” ("low" in this case meaning "low-impact") for people who want a modified workout — which, as they also remind us, is still a workout.
Just because you’re doing side steps instead of jumping jacks, or squats instead of burpees, doesn’t mean you aren’t increasing your physical fitness. Doing what you can, whether you’re the person doing yoga headstands or the person doing chair yoga, is a great way to improve your overall health.
At The Financial Diet, Madison T. Clark argues that we should treat our finances the same way. She suggests we apply the CrossFit concept of “scaling” — that is, adjusting our workouts to fit our ability — to the way we manage money.
In other words: Not all of us will be able to set aside the recommended 15 to 20 per cent of our income for retirement. That doesn’t mean we should give up on saving altogether. Nor does it mean we can’t work on improving our financial fitness at our own rate, even if we’re moving more slowly than our peers.
One of the most common questions people have about getting their finances in order is how to possibly save enough for retirement when the numbers are so overwhelming. Life is expensive, and putting away 10 per cent of your salary per year seems painful at best and impossible at worst.
Clark also suggests that we remain honest about our abilities and boundaries, as a way of “squashing assumptions”:
Are you the last friend in your crew to have undergrad student loans to pay off? Offer to host a Sunday potluck brunch, rather than dropping $40 on a boozy meal out. Invite friends to enjoy the warmer weather by taking a long walk or throwing a frisbee around at your nearest park.
Be up front with these people who, presumably, love you; knowing you’re needing to divert your money to this particular purpose right now should trigger additional support and more creative ideas for how to spend time together.
One of the best things I did after tearing my meniscus was to tell my core group of gym friends that my workouts would be looking drastically different than theirs. Not having to deal with any comments of “Oh, taking it easy today?” or “I wish I were biking instead of running” meant all my mental work could be focused on my own rehab and strengthening rather than squashing assumptions.
Yes, this might mean learning how to say no — to your friends, to the purchase that’ll put you over budget, and to the idea that you should be at a certain place in your financial life (or that you should already have a certain amount of money saved by now).
But scaling, as many CrossFitters have discovered, works. You do what you can today, you do what you can the next day, and over time you get better.
So if you don’t think you can achieve whatever financial goal is currently hitting the headlines, ask yourself what the scaled version of that goal might be.
Then go after it — because the one thing you shouldn’t do when you’re treating finance like fitness is tell yourself you’ll put it off until tomorrow.