What an Ironman Can Teach Us About Financial Planning

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It was August 15, 2015 on an already sweltering morning in Mont Tremblant, Canada. I dug my toes into the sand amidst a crowd of 2,700 elite athletes from around the world. As I zipped up my wetsuit, I thought about all my training the past year, my strategy to conquer the day and a slew of what ifs I’d encounter over the next 16 hours stirred excitement mixed with worry. Then BANG, fireworks erupted across the beach and I was off.

I learned a lot from my journey to becoming an Ironman, but it wasn’t until I returned to my office in New Jersey that I thought about my experiences and how they related to my work. As a CFP® professional and author on personal finance, I naturally connected my competition to my clients’ goals and concerns.

Lessons from Setting Goals

This outrageous idea of going from not even having a bicycle—let alone competing in triathlons—to taking on the ultimate fitness test (the Ironman is a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike, capped off with a marathon) stemmed from another one of my crazy New Year’s resolutions. I woke up on January 1, 2015 and the first thing I did was scour the internet for potential Ironmans. August gave me eight months, what I thought was enough time, and Quebec was not too far away. I immediately registered for the race, paid my $800 entrance fee, and marked the date on my calendar.

Set a goal with a date. As simple as this sounds, this was probably the most important step I took in the whole process. I advise clients all day long who want to reach their financial goals that a goal without a date and commitment is just a wish. Circling 08/15/15 on my calendar instantly set the tone and allowed me to design a training regimen and appropriate diet. I’m not saying a 24-year-old client should pick 08/15/58 as their exact retirement date, but benchmarks penned to paper and voiced aloud are critical.

Seek expert help, educate yourself, and develop a road map. Back to the training and diet—I had no idea where to begin. I still lifted weights as I did for football in college and I ate anything I wanted. So, I went to Barnes and Noble and purchased an Ironman-endorsed training manual. I read it cover to cover and created my own daily workout routine from March 1, 2018 to August 15, 2018, recognizing that I’d burn out if I devoted to any longer of a program. There are two lessons to be gained here: first I sought expert help and became a student of the game. A financial objective is no different in that a client must educate him or herself, furthermore a trainer certainly would have accelerated my development the way a Certified Financial Planner™ will to a client. Secondly, there was a detailed game plan of how I’d be prepared for race day, this is no different than how a family must plan for college, retirement or saving for their first house. A road map towards a defined goal with consistent effort despite ups and downs along the way makes a far-off goal attainable.

Race Day Lessons

Preparation is key. The nerves I felt before diving into the crystal-clear water of Lake Tremblant are not all that different than those clients feel before buying an investment property, sending a child to college or handing in their retirement papers. The fear of the unknown is inevitable and faith in prior preparation is the only comfort.

Breaks help to stay the course. Within the first 200 yards of my 2.4-mile swim, I was booted square between my eyes from the heel of another competitor. I stopped swimming and struggled to gather my senses as everyone pushed past me. I was just a few minutes in to a 16-hour contest and doubt raced through my mind. Plenty of retirees or entrepreneurs can sympathize with this feeling after suffering an early defeat or market setback. Taking a break (perhaps for your clients a vacation, for me 30 seconds of floating amongst adrenaline-filled contestants) and diagnosing the situation from an optimistic viewpoint can help stay the course.

Don’t be on autopilot and risk injury. Next was the 112-mile bike ride through the mountains of Quebec, as the sun raged overhead with 90-plus degree heat. This was the longest part of the contest and most monotonous, yet most dangerous. I saw several cyclists leave in ambulances due to brutal downhill crashes, the result of not paying attention or taking unnecessary risks. Again, there is a perfect parlay to wealth management, a sound financial plan often borders on boring, tempting investors to enter unchartered territory at the risk of the whole strategy. Even though a financial plan may seem to be on autopilot, active oversight is crucial in order to miss an unforeseen trap (tax change, market correction, illness/injury, lawsuit, etc.)

Cheering clients on helps. Then there was the 26.2-mile run. I raced through the dark of night fighting off a roller coaster of emotions. I knew if I could suck it up and stay positive that I would complete my mission. The screaming support of thousands of fans along the race course was also invaluable. A client near the end of paying off college, selling their business or in the last stage of retirement distributions knows what I mean. At this stage, one needs to play it safe (perhaps fixed income or annuities in retirement), visualize the finish line and realize it’s okay to ask for help, be it fans, advisers or family.

Don’t squander your accomplishments. Lastly, sportsmen can’t forget about recovery or their body might not appreciate their accomplishments. Clients must not forget those estate planning documents and business succession plans, or your legacy could be squandered as well. As we now know, athletes and investors alike can enjoy the thrill of a well-deserved victory by following the same tenets.

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Bryan M. Kuderna is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow and an investment adviser representative with Kuderna Financial Team. He is a perennial qualifier for the industry’s prestigious Million Dollar Round Table®, Leaders Club and Inner Circle. He is the author of the bestselling book, Millennial Millionaire: A Guide to Become a Millionaire by 30.

2 thoughts on “What an Ironman Can Teach Us About Financial Planning

  1. Nice, I have done 8 myself and mentioned coorlation in a local article

  2. Congratulations on a huge accomplishment, Bryan. You mention it in the article so I am curious if the choice to DIY and buy a book versus hire a trainer gave you any insights? I am not a planner and have worked in allied fields for over 20 years. When people ask me for advice I advise them to ask a professional and to look for a CFP. Unfortunately most opt to “do it themselves “ maybe arming themselves with some fresh knowledge at best. What would have gotten you to hire a tri specific trainer out of the gate?

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