Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.
For those of you who didn’t spend Sunday watching the Daytona 500 – and bemoaning its 6.5-hour rain delay and multiple 8-car-plus crashes – well… you have my sympathy. (And my apologies, because you probably aren’t going to like today’s post if you’re not a NASCAR fan!)
I’ve been an auto-racing fan since high school. I grew up going to local dirt tracks, and a NASCAR race was the first professional sporting event I ever attended.
So while spending Sunday trying to watch the race AND get some work done, it occurred to me I could multitask… and share some personal-finance advice for those of us driving toward financial freedom!
1. Know the track.
Smart drivers don’t see the flag go down at the start of the race and take off at full speed. Most will hang back for a lap or two and get the feel for the track. Is it slick? Are your tires warmed up? Are there grooves in the track? How tightly is your car handling today? Smart drivers gather info before hitting the hardest.
Meanwhile, pros also know that the track changes during a race. A curve you navigated easily on lap 30 might be a crash waiting to happen on lap 130. Smart drivers anticipate external factors.
In personal finance, so many of us are SUPER PSYCHED to hit the ground running. “I’m going to pay off all my debt and put $200 in savings a month and pack my lunch every day!” You know what I mean, right? That starting-line enthusiasm is awesome… but it’s REALLY easy to burn out.
Meanwhile, sometimes we get in a groove financially (which can be a good thing) and don’t pay attention to the conditions changing around us. Things start to get slippery… and what worked for us before isn’t holding us in position so tightly now. Maybe there’s a piece of metal on the track, a remnant from some earlier (financial) carnage. Maybe the weather has left potholes or puddles in your plan.
Financial race pro tip: If you’re just starting your financial “race,” use your momentum to your advantage, but don’t try to change everything at once and risk burnout. Take a clear inventory of your financial picture, the “track” in front of you, and be aware of the places where you’ll be able to go full-throttle – and the ones that might slow you down.
If you’re “mid-race,” don’t miss the value of reassessing conditions. Is everything still working as expected? Or is it time for a pit stop where you can make some changes?
2. Build a solid pit crew.
If you really want to be impressed while watching a NASCAR race, check out the pit crew changing a tire in 5 seconds flat. These crews can add fuel, change tires, repair sometimes MAJOR body damage and more in a matter of moments when the driver needs it most.
In fact, this is one of the things I think is coolest about racing: Even though there’s only one driver, that person can’t do it alone. Smart drivers build an incredible crew, one that coaches them, helps fix things that aren’t working, and that is 100% dependable when you need it most.
Personal finance is often thought to be an incredibly solitary race. No one wants to talk about money, and certainly almost no one wants to ask for help with it!
Financial race pro tip: Surround yourself with influencers – both mentors and peers – who will help you finish your financial race strong. That includes reading blogs like MvD, but it also includes making friends in the office who are OK with not going to that pricey sushi bar every day at lunch.
Don’t be afraid to talk dirty about money. Can you imagine if NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. was afraid to tell his pit crew that he was having trouble with his rear tires? Once you build those solid partnerships, you’ve got to have enough trust in your team to share with them what’s working and what’s not – and if they suggest a change, it might be WELL worth considering.
3. Pace yourself.
The great thing about NASCAR races is that they’re relatively long – and the leaders change sometimes dozens of times throughout! In a 200-lap race with more than 40 drivers, at some point, pretty much any one of them can take the lead.
That’s why pacing is so important. It’s nearly impossible in racing to get ahead and stay there the entire time. It’s a continual fight – and that means smart drivers have to be prepared for the long haul.
Then there’s knowing how to handle periods of caution, when drivers are locked into position at a fixed speed following a wreck or some other problem on the track. Cautions can buy you time to recover, but if you’re not careful, you can still crash and burn during them.
In personal finance, we often don’t do a good job of pacing. Like I mentioned, we’re often SUPER hot at the starting line, but then we get bored. (I mean, look, we’re driving in the same circle over. and. over. Pay Bank of America. Pay Citi. Pay Chase. Pay Bank of America. Pay Citi. Pay Chase. 200 laps of that will drive you a little bit insane, right?)
We also tend to have a hard time dealing with financial “cautions” – those periods where we’re not exactly advancing, but rather just trying to position ourselves not to fall behind later on.
Financial race pro tip: The advice we give most often to Man Vs. Debt readers who want to know where to start is simple: Pick one thing. JUST ONE. Do it. Then pick one more. And then one more. Don’t burn out at the start, but keep moving ahead in the pack, one “car” at a time!
Meanwhile, if you’re bored, or worse, caught in a holding pattern, don’t negate the value of slowly and steadily holding your own. Keep track of your progress, and keep doing the right things so that you don’t start moving backward!
4. Get back out there after a wreck.
Crashes happen. Watching Sunday’s Daytona 500, you might think they happen a LOT. (And they do.) But while they can be heart-stopping, they’re usually not the end of the world, or even of that particular driver’s chance to finish well in that specific race!
The most important thing about most NASCAR crashes is that in many of them, the pit crew can help the driver get back into the chase quickly. Oh, sure, the car might be a bit banged up; the driver shaken; the frame held together with more duct tape than anything else. But smart drivers know that the best way to recapture the momentum of earlier in the race is to get back out there and hit the track again.
In personal finance, we get hit with TONS of crash-inducing junk. The gutters on your house break under the weight of an ice storm. You literally wreck your car. The heating or cooling bill is much higher than anticipated. Your hours are cut at work. These can all get you way off track, sometimes so much so that you’re not sure there’s enough financial duct tape in the world.
Financial race pro tip: Take a lesson from the smartest NASCAR drivers and remember that the most important thing to remember after a crash is NOT PANICKING. Coming back after a plan-wrecking crisis requires the support of your crew, and you may not finish as quickly as you originally hoped.
But you CAN still finish the financial race if you’re willing to focus on what’s most important. Who knows? You could even end up better off after the crash, if it makes you more aware of your situation and more focused on getting where you want to go!
So even if you’re not a racing fan, I’m curious to see if you’ve got any thoughts on your “financial race.”
What other lessons can we learn from looking at our money this way?
What part of the race are you in right now… and where are you seeing red flags, yellow flags or green flags?
Tell us in the comments!