Ten years ago I stopped funding my retirement account. It was the classic case of having more month at the end of our money. Our credit card balance was growing…not shrinking. I needed to do something to turn this around.
The retirement fund was a voluntary contribution each month. The company offers a 50% match up to a pre-set limit. From the day it was offered I said yes. I took full advantage and it felt good!
But, then it felt different.
As our credit card balance grew it felt like we were going deeper in debt to fund a retirement that was many years away. So, I signed the papers that would discontinue the monthly contribution. I also promised myself this would be a short break.
It took a full year before I was able to resume, but only at a very limited amount. It took another three years until I was funding again to take full advantage of the matching contribution. That meant four years of no, or very limited, investment towards our retirement.
There are some parallels between a commitment to saving money and a commitment to fitness.
- Both require sacrifice NOW.
- You won’t see tangible results until LATER.
- The Future You will be significantly impacted by the actions of the Present You.
A recent poll by Freeletics, a health and wellness app, asked people about exercise and their attitudes about it. One of the questions focused on the excuses to not exercise. The number one excuse is…
I DON’T HAVE THE TIME.
If a similar poll was done about saving for retirement the top answer would probably be…
I DON’T HAVE THE MONEY
That was certainly my reason for those four years when I either wasn’t saving anything, or saving very little. But, let’s dig a little deeper into why, “I didn’t have the money.”
- A few years earlier we put an addition on the house and refinanced the whole thing with a 15 year mortgage (which has higher payments than the traditional 30 year mortgage)
- Our home-schooled children attended a two day a week school which had a modest tuition.
- Ava and I continued our weekly date night which included dinner out.
Each of these was a choice. We didn’t have to take add an addition to our house, pay private tuition, or go on weekly date nights that included dinner. Yet, each of these choices made it FEEL like we didn’t have the money to save for retirement.
And, now ten years later do I regret these choices because of what we don’t have in our retirement savings? If I do the math it’s pretty discouraging the difference between what we could have had and do have because of those four year.
That said, each of these choices also led to significant non-financial blessings.
The addition on the house gave our big family more space and also created opportunities for special events that will be lifelong memories. I’m proud of the education our children received. And, you know what…those date nights were a weekly lifeline for our marriage during a really crazy season.
No, what I regret about the four years of investing little into our retirement is this:
- I didn’t take time ten years ago to better understand the future impact of my decisions.
- I made it “All or nothing.”
Let’s bring this back to exercise and the number one excuse not to…I don’t have the time.
In 2018 the government did a time use survey and concluded, on average, that adults spend about five hours every day on leisure time activities. Obviously, some people have more than that, and many have less.
I’m sure my wife would have laughed at five hours a day when we were active parenting six kids. And, then there are the heroes among us who spend their time care-giving for a sick loved one and can barely find five hours of free time in a month.
We all have the same amount of time, but we don’t all have the same amount of time freedom. For those who struggle to include fitness activities in their schedule this isn’t a critique of their time choices. Instead, I’d like to offer a different perspective. One I wished I had used when I made those money choices.
I DIDN’T THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE IMPACT OF MY DECISION TODAY
We all live in the tension between the “right now” and the “future”. Every decision I make affects both the current me and the future me.
This has not been an easy lesson to learn. Ironically, at the same time I made those financial decisions I also made a decision to pursue fitness. I did that because I didn’t like how I felt or looked. I was also focused on the current me when I took action.
More than ten years later I’m feeling the impact of both the financial and fitness decisions. Both were made without thinking how the future me would benefit or be harmed by what I was doing. The reality is you and I are both feeling the impact of decisions we made ten years ago whether we thought about that or not. It’s the way things roll.
But, we can make life easier for our future selves if we take a moment and think about what could happen because of the decisions we are making today. I’m learning to be more aware and intentional. What I’m really learning is how to be kinder to my future self.
Ten years ago, I did not consider how the future me would be impacted by the decision to stop funding my retirement program. I was so focused on the present me that I made a choice that I’m paying for ten years later.
I MADE IT AN ALL OR NOTHING DECISION
I have a tendency to see only black or white and miss all the shades of gray in between. It was either pay off the credit card debt OR save for retirement.
Why couldn’t it be both?
Why wasn’t I able to see there were options in between the two? Why didn’t I understand that smaller, incremental investments would make a difference? If I couldn’t save a large chunk every month it just wasn’t worth it.
I think we believe the same about fitness. If we can’t spend an hour at the gym several days a week, we feel like it’s just not worth it. And, since we don’t have time for that we don’t do anything. What we’re missing, and what I missed about saving, is that small investments are incredibly valuable.
Moving towards fitness really doesn’t require a large chunk of time every. If your schedule is packed and finding time for exercise is a brick wall, how about a different approach?
If you get 30 or 60 minutes for lunch, take 10 minutes and go for a walk. It might not feel like much, but even a ten minute walk has both immediate and future health benefits.
As your fitness level grows, you can add a little more intensity. This could be a faster pace, going up a hill, or even stairs. What you’re doing is building a daily exercise habit and creating some fitness momentum. And, with that you’ll discover you want to move even more because you can.
And, that’s how you find time for exercise when you don’t have time for exercise. Start small and think long. Ten years from now your future self will thank you.
TAKE THE CHALLENGE
You can start small with The 30 Day Fitness Challenge. This free guide has everything you need to get started, including an easy to follow formula for setting the right daily goal, a contract to help you keep moving on days when your emotions tell you otherwise, and something special to help you know and feel that you are winning at exercise!
If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. While it’s not cheap, it’s less than a few months at the gym. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.
Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking for exercise. As a fitness activity, walking is sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions.
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