I have to admit, I probably watched 50 hours of television during the Olympics. My eyes were so tired of staring at the screen that I had a headache, and while you may think I was bordering on technology overload, I simply couldn’t turn away… after all, the Olympics are a holiday that come around only every four years.
As I watched the best athletes in the world compete on sport’s biggest stage, I realized how many parallels there are between the world of personal finance and athletics. Here are my top five personal finance lessons gleaned from the games of the XXX Olympiad:
#5: Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come
Screw Kevin Costner. While the ghosts of baseball players past may have come to his middle-of-nowhere ball field, the Olympic organizers in London have realized that just because you spend billions of dollars on stadiums doesn’t necessarily equate to occupied seats.
The same theory applies to your investments. Just because you open a Roth or enroll in your employer’s 401(k) plan doesn’t mean cash will start flowing into it. You have to do the work. Assuming the money will appear without budgeting and planning on your part is major blunder.
#4: The 2010s Have Got To Be Better Than The 2000s
The first decade of the 21st century was a horrible one for the U.S. Olympic diving team. Between the three Summer Games – 2000 in Sydney, 2004 in Athens, and 2008 in Beijing – the squad took home just a single medal in more than 70 attempts. Not even a week into the 2012 games in London, the U.S. team had pulled in three medals already, proof that the second decade of the 21st century will be better than the ten years preceding it.
I’m making this my mantra when it comes to personal finance too. Between 2000 and 2010, I saw my personal debt skyrocket and my earning power remain more or less flat (of course, I didn’t enter the job market full time until 2005, so there’s not a full set of data with which to work). Like the U.S. diving team, I’m pinning my hopes on a sunny future, full of plenty of gold and not too many ripples on the financial surface.
#3: You Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends
It’s only fitting that England’s original Fab Four (that’s the Beatles, for all you pop culture ignoramuses) should give rise to my third personal finance lessons spawned from the London Olympics – although I’m sure when John, Paul, Ringo, and George penned “(I’ll Get By) With A Little Help From My Friends” in 1967, they’d never have imagined that a random blogger would use it in reference to another fabulous group – America’s Fab Five women’s gymnastics team – 45 years later.
The fact is, when the United States’s Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify for the individual all around, she was absolutely despondent; it appeared her dreams of Olympic gold had gone out the window. Instead, she found solace and support from her friends – her four teammates – and together, they claimed Olympic gold in the team competition for the first time since Kerri Strug landed on her one good ankle back in 1996.
You need to work with others to improve your finances as well. Going it alone is dangerous; look to a certified financial planner, a professional accountant, or just a friend with excellent investment sense.
#2: Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket
Going into the Olympics, all the talk in the pool was about Michael Phelps and his friendly rivalry with fellow American Ryan Lochte. Then Phelps failed to medal in the 400 IM, Lochte didn’t reach the podium in the 200 free, and both were a part of the 4×100 free relay that got chased down by the French. Meanwhile, virtual unknowns like Matt Grevers, Dana Vollmer, and Allyson Schmitt have claimed gold.
The lesson? Don’t lump all your expectations on one or two high performers. So great, you’ve got stock in Apple and Google, but what about non-Internet based industries? What about energy, commodities, international funds? There’s more to the Olympics than just two swimmers, just like there’s more to your portfolio than your favorite stock.
#1: When In Doubt, Go With The Americans
It was a race to the finish between the U.S. and China to see which nation would claim the most medals in London. But while the Chinese have earned medals in dainty sports like table tennis (it’s ping-pong, people), the Americans have claimed medals in sturdier sports.
In my mind, there’s nothing better than the American work ethic – this applies to the products we produce, the companies that call our nation home, and the athletes who proudly compete wearing the red, white, and blue. Would you ever cheer for a Chinese sprinter over an American? Heck no! So the next time you’re deciding between a product made abroad and something produced right here in the U.S.A., do what we always do every four years and show your patriotism.