Investment, exercise regimes have merit

Just as exercise should become a habit, so should positive money behaviours. Photo: Getty Images
Just as exercise should become a habit, so should positive money behaviours. Photo: Getty Images
Apparently, our ability to see patterns is one of the mental shortcuts that evolution has imprinted upon our brains.

It may be for this reason that during a recent and very overdue return to my exercise regime that I ended up reflecting on the parallels between fitness and money management.

In our largely sedentary world, fitness is not a natural state.

For most of us it takes ongoing work and determination to stay fit; the same can be said for money management.

We live in a world where incessant advertising can easily have our money spent even before we have earned it.

Understanding this and developing protective habits to help us be good with our money is essential. Strategies such as ''pay yourself first'' by having savings deducted directly from your earnings before you can spend them are really helpful.

Other habits like establishing separate accounts for short, medium and long-term goals seem simple but can make a big difference to our investment behaviour.

Exercise should become a habit. Establishing a new exercise regime can initially be difficult.

However, when the new activity becomes ingrained via a habit, we no longer have to make a conscious decision every time we roll off the couch.

We need to make sure that our positive money behaviours also become ingrained as habits and do not take a monumental act of willpower every time we want to save.

Exercise smarter not harder.

In the world of fitness, it is well understood that doing the right type of exercise is just as important as doing the exercise itself.

The same can be said for money management.

Yes, any savings is better than no savings but where this money is being invested is critically important.

If your money is working harder, then you will need to contribute less to generate the same outcome.

Being coached also makes a difference.

For those of us who have worked with a skilled sporting coach in the past, we know the difference in outcome that can be achieved by working with the right person.

Perhaps it is the combined impact of a training programme developed to achieve your goals and objectives, knowledge, encouragement, accountability and just good old-fashioned bloody-mindedness that can make a huge difference in the level of achievement. Precisely the same can be said for a good financial coach or mentor.

Stay motivated by focusing on your goal.

In high performance sport the concept of positive visualisation is often used to help the athlete experience the feeling of success before it is actually achieved.

In a money situation the same general approach can be taken. For some people it might be a specific figure that motivates them, for others it could be their future lifestyle.

Identifying your key driver is an important step as it provides positive motivation in those inevitable moments of self-doubt when we can end up asking ourselves ''why am I doing this?''.

Be suspicious of the promise offered by short-cuts.

It seems that every week there is a new device on the market that offers instant fitness results without doing any work. They often end up being stored under the bed in the spare room within 30 days.

The promise of instant financial return opportunities should also be treated with scepticism. To buy something that you do not use is one thing but a promised financial short-cut that leads to complete capital loss can be devastating.

Although this column has focused on the parallels between personal fitness and our finances there is an important area where the parallels break down and it is a good thing.

Unlike our level of fitness, a well-diversified investment portfolio will not generally erode if it does not receive any attention for a few months.

In fact, if we build our financial base early enough, then it will gather its own momentum (through compounding returns) and become self-perpetuating.

If only my fitness could take care of itself in the same way!

-Peter Ashworth is a principal of New Zealand Funds Management Ltd, and is an authorised financial adviser based in Dunedin. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and not necessarily that of his employer. His disclosure statements are available on request and free of charge.

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