An important financial lesson from the racing world

While I am not a huge racing junky, I do enjoy watching an occasional NASCAR or Indy car This weekend many of us will take some time to watch drivers traveling almost 230 MPH make their way around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500. It is a Memorial Day tradition.

The skill of the drivers just amazes me. I can’t even begin to imagine driving well over 200 MPH with a concrete wall a few inches away to the right and a car to my left so close I could almost reach out and touch it. How they can navigate a 500 mile race, lap after lap just inches from disaster, is an incredible skill.

When I watch them drive I think about driving through a construction zone at 45 miles an hour next to a concrete barrier and I can’t even conceive of doing the same thing at more than 4 times the speed.

Keeping your eyes on the destination

So how do you guide a vehicle through a turn at 200 MPH without killing yourself? The key is you have to keep your eyes on where you want the car to go. If you look at the wall you will hit it. If you look at the car beside you, you will drift down into it. The key is to always keep your eyes on the destination.

There is an important principle here for our finances.

Getting out of debt is hard and I guarantee that the moment you commit to trying to get out of debt, Murphy will show up to test just how serious you are. In addition, you probably didn’t get into debt in a week or two. You won’t get out of debt in a week or two either. But sacrificing to make those extra debt payments month after month can get discouraging after a while. Just like that driver completing lap after lap you can easily be tempted to take your eyes off what is ahead and focus on the difficulties that surround you.

3 ways to keep your focus

So how do you keep focused on where you are going when you are tempted to let your eyes wander?

Know your why

Why do you really want to get out of debt? What do you hope to be able to do? Where would you like to go? What do you plan to do with the extra money? These are important questions. Without having a why that is driving you, it is very hard to commit to lasting change. Maybe you dream of traveling. Perhaps you wish you could quit your stressful job, but you can’t afford to because it pays too well, or maybe you wish you could quit to stay home with the kids but right now you need two incomes just to make the payments. Maybe you’d like to be able to move to a nicer neighborhood. Perhaps there is a cause you wish you could give to but you have no extra money. Or maybe you are just tired of sleepless nights wondering how you will pay the bills.

There are no wrong answers for why you want to get those debts paid off, but the important thing is understanding your reasons. Those reasons are the destination that will help you stay on track when you start to feel discouraged.

Make it visible

I’ve heard of people who print their debt snowball list and place it on their refrigerator so that they see it everyday. Each time they pay off a debt they mark it off with a big fat red marker so that they have a very visual reinforcement of the progress they have made.

If you are trying to pay off your house make a drawing of the floor plan of your house on a piece of graph paper. Each time you pay off another $1,000 color in another block. Have a little celebration each time you get another room completely paid for.

Or perhaps you just need a reminder of that why. Maybe you dream of taking a trip to Hawaii. Find a picture of Hawaii that you love. Blow it up and hang it where you see it everyday. Dream of quitting your job to stay home with the kids? Put a picture of them on your bathroom mirror so you see it every morning and to remind you of why you are sacrificing to pay off debt. Whatever your “why” was, put a reminder out somewhere that you will see every day. It will keep your eyes focused on your destination.

Track your progress

Track your monthly progress. When we were getting out of debt I kept a very simple spreadsheet that listed all our debts. Each month I simply added a new column with the remaining balance on each one.

The problem is that as you are struggling through month to month it is sometimes hard to see the progress you are making. That was certainly true for me. Many times I wondered if the sacrifice was worth it as it just didn’t feel like those balances were going down much. When I would start to get discouraged, I’d simply take a look at that spreadsheet and look back 6 months or a year and I could see that we really were making progress. The encouragement that spreadsheet gave me was a big factor in our ability to stick with it until that last debt was paid off.

Staying focused on the destination

Just like that race car driver needs to keep his eyes on where he wants the car to go, keeping our focus on the destination will go a long way toward keeping you on track getting out of debt. Know your why, keep it where you can see it and track your progress. Accomplishing anything good takes patience, discipline and sacrifice. Don’t give up. The  finish line is worth it.

What is your “why”?

Photo credit: glovsky225 (creative commons)

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