Marathons & Money: Thoughts from a Financial Planner on a Cold Marathon Morning

By: Elliot Pepper, CPA, CFP®, MST

On November 20th 2022, I completed the Philadelphia Marathon for the 4th time, and while my finishing time was nowhere near prior year races, the slower pace left me with extra time in the blustery Philadelphia streets to think…and when I get time to think…well don’t ask. On this particularly frigid Sunday morning, I could not help but think about the relationship between training and running a marathon and preparing and executing on a financial plan. 

1. Starting things is easy, but what is important is to continue them: “Hey, I bet I can run a marathon” – easy to say, but it took a long time and lots of repetitive work through rain, blazing heat, freezing temperatures, and frustrating injuries to reach the point of running 26.2 miles. Successful financial outcomes tap into the same commitment of repetitive actions over time – especially when it’s hard. Over $80 billion of Warren Buffet’s wealth was earned after he was eligible for Social Security. Compound interest is the energy that drives outsize returns. In a marathon we condition our muscles to withstand enormous stress and with time and practice our speed can dramatically improve. The common denominator for both a strong portfolio and a strong marathon speed is time and continuous investment. 

2. Delayed gratification is hard: I don’t care what anyone says, 26.2 miles is a lot of miles to run at once. The glory of the finish line doesn’t show the early Sunday morning runs, turned down happy hours, and late night speed workouts at the high school track. I would create short term rewards to encourage myself in seeing through to the end goal. A nice dinner out with family, or a concert with friends, were the small rewards that helped me in my marathon training. The same applies to savings. I might say that I love to save, but here is the thing – I also love food, surfing, music, and home improvements. I believe strongly in the savings concept of “PYF” which is an acronym reminding us to “Pay Yourself First”. This means that savings and investing should be part of your spending plan, not an afterthought after the month’s bills are paid. I make sure to track my savings, but if I meet my “PYF” goal for the quarter – it’s time to splurge on something I wouldn’t otherwise spend on. Short term rewards can be the fuel necessary to see a long term plan to fruition. 

3. Setbacks do NOT equal failure: I was really hoping to finish with a better time this year on my race. My personal record was nearly 30 minutes faster than this year’s race, and I have no shortage of excuses for why I did not meet my desired time. Toward the end of the race, I decided to stop dwelling on what didn’t happen, and focus on just enjoying the moment and being grateful. A friend and fellow runner reminded me to focus on running my own race, not someone else’s. There will be setbacks in your financial plan. This year’s stock market, crypto fiasco, and rising interest rates are reminders that life will not always go according to the plan of your spreadsheet – and numbers don’t care about your feelings. Navigate the ups and downs – realizing that there is only so much you can control.

4. Enjoy the success, but realize the race is never really over: The euphoria felt at the finish line of a marathon is hard to put into words. However, it does pass and then it’s onto the next race, hobby, exercise routine, whatever I need to do to stay healthy. Financial goals are similar. There are the big ones we all talk about such as building an emergency fund or saving for retirement. These are important goals, but once met, the game is not over. New goals will emerge, prior goals will resurface and need to be tweaked in order to reach. A lesson I was taught from a very inspiring high school teacher was to think of life as a downward escalator, if you stop putting in effort, you will only go down – always keep working, learning, and finding the next accomplishment! 

Who knows, maybe next year’s marathon will see me return to my glory days of sub 7:30 miles, or maybe this year was the last marathon I will run. Either way the lessons learned from years of training, trying, failing, but trying again have application to both my investment accounts, but more importantly to life.  

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Elliot Pepper, CPA, CFP®, MST is Co-Founder of Northbrook Financial, a Financial Planning, Tax, and Investment Management Firm. He has developed and continues to teach a popular Financial Literacy course for high school students.

This content not reviewed by FINRA Northbrook Financial is an Investment Adviser registered with the State of Maryland. All views, expressions, and opinions included in this communication are subject to change. This communication is not intended as an offer or solicitation to buy, hold or sell any financial instrument or investment advisory services. Any information provided has been obtained from sources considered reliable, but we do not guarantee the accuracy or the completeness of any description of securities, markets or developments mentioned. Please contact us at 410-941-9709 if there is any change in your financial situation, needs, goals or objectives, or if you wish to initiate or modify any restrictions on the management of the account. Our current disclosure brochure, Form ADV Part 2, is available upon request, and on our website https://www.northbrookfinancial.com

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