I was walking out of the gym the other day and I noticed a sign hanging by the exit; “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” Now bear with me – I hate motivational signs as much as the next guy. How many Leadership and Teamwork signs have we seen throughout our lives? However, for some reason this quote resonated with me.

Of course it was hung in the gym where everyone is two weeks into their New Year’s resolution, so it is meant to inspire people while they exercise. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized this quote almost perfectly relates to one’s finances as well. No matter where people are on the financial spectrum, there is always room for improvement. I think everyone could benefit by intentionally “challenging” themselves financially to make a positive change.

For some, challenging themselves financially happens as soon as they open their eyes in the morning. They may be buried in debt with little or no income. They may have massive medical bills as a result of something completely out of their control. For these people, finances are always challenging. This is similar to someone who has neglected exercise and proper dieting for years, and as a result they have high blood pressure and plenty of other health issues. Personally, these are the people I admire most when I see them at the gym. To be brave enough to take the first step towards a healthier lifestyle and actually show up at the gym is extremely admirable.

Financially, folks in this boat need to take a similar step. They need to get on a debt reduction plan. They need to invest in themselves to make themselves more marketable. They need to stop living the lifestyle they think they deserve and choose to live on less than they make. These can be incredibly hard decisions, but once a path is determined and they have started down it, positive change is inevitable.

The next group is probably where the majority of Americans fall. They spend roughly what they bring in. They save a little in their 401k. They donate to charity every now and then. They have some debt, but not a crazy amount. Truthfully they could pay off the debt within a couple of years if they set their mind to it, but why do that? Life isn’t painful. They can buy pretty much what they want when they want it (within reason), and as long as they keep their job they’ll be just fine.

This group is similar to a person with an average physical lifestyle. They exercise a few times a week and watch what they eat. As long as they maintain this lifestyle they can continue it for quite a while. There is nothing screaming at them to make a change. But, where physical fitness falls quickly with neglect (ever taken a few weeks off from your exercise routine and were amazed at how much harder the same routine is when you get back to it?), taking proper steps in your financial life now can actually have long lasting effects down the road. If one actually took the challenging steps to payoff that credit card over the next two years, by the time the debt is paid off they have adjusted to a lifestyle with margin. Now those credit card payments can be redirected to saving for their goals. Compound interest anyone?

The last group I’ll discuss is those who seem to have it figured out. They live way below their means and save aggressively. Any debt they have could be paid off in a moment’s notice, and they may even be retired already. Why would these people intentionally challenge themselves when they are set financially? For the same reason professional athletes workout more than anyone else even though they are already at the top of their game. It’s simple physics. If you aren’t working to better yourself, you’ll enter a state of decline.

Creating a debt reduction plan or savings goal certainly wouldn’t challenge these folks. That stuff is second nature to them. Maybe this year they should learn more about charitable planning strategies. Maybe they should find someone who isn’t as far along in the game and offer to be a mentor. Maybe their financial success has created a false sense of security and led them to believe they can solve any problem by throwing enough money at it. In this case they may need to challenge themselves to spend more time reading God’s Word to see what he says about wealth. The point is, no one is ever finished with their financial journey until the Lord takes us home. There is always room for improvement.

Change is constant and inevitable. We’re either changing for the better or we’re changing for the worse. By intentionally challenging ourselves, we can make sure we’re achieving the former.

Thanks, Gold’s Gym motivation quote.

Dan Funderburk is a Registered Representative offering securities through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advisor Representative, Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Legacy Wealth Management, LLC and Cambridge are not affiliated. Cambridge does not offer tax advice.

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