The Boston Marathon is an event where otherwise normal people travel great distances, at great expense, to punish themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally for 26.2 uninterrupted miles, sometimes in the rain.
The very nature of a marathon race really does beg the question, “Why?” In fact, I asked a marathon runner this question years ago, “Why would you choose to run a marathon?” “Because it’s there.”
It turns out that humans are hard-wired for creating and pursuing finish lines of all sorts. How else can you rationally explain horse racing, college graduation, or The Bachelor? Let’s setup a finish line for ourselves, for no other reason than to give us some way to measure how far we’ve come and how fast. Naturally, the exclusivity created by having a finish line in place creates scarcity for all involved. The tougher the race, and the fewer winners there are, the more valuable the reward for those who persevere and finish strong. Are there financial finish lines? Are there moments in time when we should stop and celebrate crossing these thresholds?
Here are some meaningful financial mile-markers and finish lines:
- First Paying Job
- College Graduation
- First ‘Real’ Job
- First Home Purchase
- Forever/Dream Home Purchase
- Education Expenses Completed
- Consumer Debt Freedom (credit cards, car loans, etc.)
- Mortgage Payoff
- Financial Retirement
- Medicare Qualification
- Formalized and Funded Financial Legacy
While I’m sure there are some examples that I’ve missed, most of these mile-markers and finish lines are universal to us all. For better or worse, it’s the American Way. We steadily accumulate debt and assets, then work like crazy people to free ourselves from the burden of that debt, hopefully in time to enjoy a long enough and meaningful retirement. We’re not much different than marathon runners when we sign up for a punishing race only to celebrate when we’ve crossed the finish line. And while we could question that sanity of it all, it seems to be an expression of our very DNA to choose this adventure.
So, if the race is worth running, it’s worth running as well as possible. To do that, it’s very helpful to settle in for a long journey, but also to become clear about where the important mile-markers are along the way, and to celebrate those as they’re achieved. Because the challenges can be so tough at times, it makes the finish line so difficult to reach yet so gratifying to experience. The reality is that not everyone finishes at all. Whether due to illness, injury, or lack of commitment, the coveted finish line is not guaranteed to any of us and will not be experienced by all of us. Planning then, is being as clear as possible about our objectives while also preparing for the inevitable obstacles.
If you or someone you know could use some guidance in pursuing the financial finish lines that are so critical to living a life well-lived, please encourage them to seek a trainer, an advisor. Because while not everyone can be a Boston Marathon winner, there are a whole lot of people who have a great time running their own race, as long as they can see an attainable finish line somewhere out on the horizon.