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Olympic Athletes and Financial Success

I don’t watch TV. Ever.

Except for something historically monumental–like the presidential elections–or, when the Olympics are on. I find the Olympics to be incredibly inspiring and interesting, unlike 99.9% of the rest of what airs on television.

As I’ve been watching the Olympics these past few days, I can’t help but notice so many financial lessons which can be gleaned from the success of these highly-trained and experienced athletes. The principles which they’ve applied to achieve athletic success can be equally as helpful when it comes to finances:

1) Success Requires Strategy

None of the Olympic athletes woke up one day last month and decided they’d compete in the Olympics. No, they’ve spent days, weeks, months, years, and even decades preparing, planning, and practicing.

I read the autobiography of Michael Phelps last year and found it fascinating that he and his coach had set exact goal times–down to the hundredth of a second–that they were aiming for him to hit in each of his Olympic races in 2008. They practiced for these times over and over and over again, and they were forefront in Phelp’s mind at the Olympic games. I have no doubt that having a clearly mapped out strategy is one prominent reason Michael Phelps brought home eight gold medals from Beijing.

If you want to be financially successful, it’s not enough to say, “I’m going to get out of debt.” Or, “I want to save to pay cash for a car.” No, you have to have a clear-cut game plan. You have to have goals and then break those down into attainable, bite-size objectives.

2) Success Requires Sacrifice

Olympic athletes make phenomenal sacrifices. While the rest of us are sleeping, or vegging, or shopping, or eating, they are in the gym training. They don’t live a normal life or participate in many of the social activities that most in our culture do because so much of their focus and energy must be devoted to physical training.

If you want to succeed financially, it’s also going to require sacrifice. You’ll likely have to give up some of the societal “norms” if you’re working your way out of debt or living on a beans-and-rice budget in order to save for a big purchase or stay out of debt. You might be driving an old car, wearing thrift store clothes, and clipping lots of coupons. Your friends might not understand or think you’re weird. That’s okay. In the long run, those sacrifices and your counter-cultural living will pay off with big dividends.

3) Success Requires Self-Discipline

No athlete ever makes it to the Olympics without exerting enormous self-discipline–probably more than most of us can fathom! They push themselves through pain, injury, exhaustion, and excruciating fatigue.

They don’t give up when the going gets tough. Winners aren’t quitters.

I believe self-discipline is one of the greatest keys to financial success, as well. If you’re not willing to stick with a budget, to say “no” to what you can’t afford, and to stop living beyond your means, you’re never going to get ahead.

If you keep going, keep plodding along, keep sticking with your budget, keep pressing forward when it seems like you’re not getting any traction, you will reap the fruit of your efforts.

An Olympic medal is probably not a reality for most of us, but implementing the principles of Olympic athletes in our personal and financial lives can result in amazing success–which will hopefully be much more long-lasting than a one-time Olympic victory.

photo credit: Shazz Mack

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  • teresa says:

    thank you for this article, great insight!
    love your work to help us all gain savings in our life!

  • What a wonderful, timely analogy! And so true!

  • Thank you for the inspiration to continue persevering regarding financial goals, Crystal! My husband and I have made some pretty challenging financial goals for this year. We are excited and are trying to be fully dedicated to making sure that they happen. Deliberate planning makes a huge difference regarding finances. Blessings!

  • Need A Nap2 says:

    You also need to remember to keep making goals once you’ve achieved one. All athletes need to plan for after their “glory days” are over. One injury and they could be out of competing. What are they going to do now? Whether a goal is reached or blown away by circumstances, you need to have more plans in place. That’s one reason I really like Dave Ramsey’s snowball plan. If you have car trouble and need to pay out of your $1000 savings then you build your savings back up again. 🙂 And most athletes that I’ve admired have gone onto college or other great careers because they planned for something after their competing days were over.

  • Angela says:

    I want to tell you this. This is the best post you’ve ever written. Such an inspiration! Keep up the good work!

  • Sheila says:

    Great insight, Crystal. I think many of the points you made can also be applied to life in general. If you want to accomplish anything in life, you can expect to sit around a wish for it to be so. You have to get up and do something about it!

  • Kassandra says:

    I LOVE this! And, I have to admit… my husband and I are in the beginning of our financial journey… A few weeks ago, many thought we were weird, that is, until they started hearing and seeing how much we were saving. I took it upon myself to post my savings on Facebook for all my friends to see… There are still a few who think we are freaks of nature. 🙂 The rest now want to know what our secrets are. It’s a nice change of pace, it brings hope. We have accomplished more financial goals in 6 months than in the 10 years we’ve been in the same residence and married because of this “new way of thinking”. Thank you, Crystal for making it okay to be a stay at home mom and for making it okay to live differently than others! I am the happiest that I have been in my entire adult life! xoxo

  • zammsmom says:


  • Rachael says:

    One thing that is worth noting…becoming a world class athlete can also be very costly (usually is). One can be born with an extraordinary talent but with the right training and coaching it can blossom into something amazing. Being the parent of a very talented child who plays soccer I can say from experience that fees, clubs, uniforms, and travel all add up to thousands per year and the cost is only rising the older he gets.
    Some parents choose not to pay for these extracurricular activities, for us the success and happiness of our child is worth every penny. I think that saving and paying down debt should be the priority for most families; that said there are expenses that some consider extravagant that for others are an investment in the future. If our son can get an athletic scholarship for part or all of his college career that will be money well spent now. Also, if he is gaining skills, like team building, self esteem, dedication, and perseverance, that too is money well spent.

  • Mike and Lisa ~ MoJo Savings says:

    Great read. Thanks Crystal.

  • Abbie says:

    My husband and I have never had credit card debt. We did have a couple small debts though. I wanted to say that we are now DEBT FREE! 🙂 Between the encouraging words here and Dave Ramsey’s advice, we did set goals and met them. On to the next goal… 🙂

  • Ann Su says:

    Good stuff!

  • Jennifer says:

    I hadn’t thought about comparing the Olympics to our finances, but you hit the mark with this post!

  • Nisha says:

    Wonderfully written, and ouch!


  • Mercedes says:

    Amazing food for thought!


  • Mandi Harris says:

    Wow! Thanks. I love your “personal” posts. They are so inspiring. Thank you so much.

  • Melody says:

    Fabulous post! We have been following Dave’s plan for almost three years and I know some of our friends “pity” us when we have to turn down invitations to expensive outings or when we use coupons for dinners out. It’s just not the “normal” way to live. But just tonight, we are scrounging for the last few dollars to pay off our last student loan by the end of this month! I “pity” those who aren’t as happy and content as we are. Thank you so much for all your great personal insight!

  • mary ellen says:

    Great post, Crystal! And now we know how you get so much accomplished every day–no time wasted watching television!

  • Jessica says:

    It’s nice to hear from like-minded people. Sometimes it can be disheartening to hear from others who don’t have the same goals–they have nicer houses, are adding on decks, finishing basements, getting a new iphone, car, boat, or whatever… They ask what our “next big improvement project” is… our house is old and could use some touching up, definitely, but we’ve decided to wait until it is totally paid for, which hopefully will be the end of the year. Sometimes it’s hard to wait and be patient, when others around you are “getting the good stuff” now. I have to beat down the spirit of discontentment and remember our goal–and how great and freeing it will be to be completely debt-free–and be able to give even MORE! Vision–that’s what it is about. And sometimes we need reminders that it’s okay to have a different focus, so thank you.

  • Vanessa says:

    Great post!I really needed this right now.

  • Willa says:

    Great article! It really hits home, before we had our baby we had set tons of financial goals. They were hard to reach, however with diligence we reached them. We sat down last week (now that our little one is already 4 months old) and realized that we were just coasting, not really working towards new goals. We were doing ok, but without concrete goals we weren’t doing as well as we could be! Now we have a goal on when we want to pay off our mortgage. It seems almost unreachable at the moment, especially now on one income….but, with smaller yearly goals we CAN reach it. Since coming up with a goal for this year we’ve already come close to reaching it and will surely need to ‘up’ the goal! If we hadn’t sat down and refocused our goals we wouldn’t be well on our way to a paid off mortgage!

  • Jennifer H. says:

    I completely agree! I watch about as much TV as you do and do many things differently than those around me. We’re saving up for a house and making a lot of sacrifices along the way, but since we’ve been living well below our means for our two years of marriage, it seems normal to us. 🙂

  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the post. I needed to read/hear that. My husband and I are just starting out trying to figure out a budget – it’s hard. But I know it will be worth it in the end once we figure it out.

  • Maria says:

    Crystal, Thank you for posting this article. It has been a blessing to me. It reminds me why I clipped coupons, hunt and wait for sales, wear salvation army cloth (buy use and save the rest). I am sacrificing during my prime to reap the harvest later. Many blessing to all.

  • Patiences says:

    My husband and I just start Financial Peace University and have be using the cash envelopes this month. I think I am getting to a point in my life were I understand how undiscipled I’ve lived and the need to call all those things under the Lord’s submission. Thank you for your encouragement.

  • Carole says:

    You are wise beyond your years, Crystal! May God continue to bless you as you bless all of us 🙂
    I’ll be forwarding this, to be sure.

  • Beth says:

    It really is about the discipline- discipline to set healthy goals; discipline to set a budget; discipline to stick to it; discipline to keep going. What is amazing to me is how this then spreads into so many aspects of life- resulting in a yield that is more than anticipated!

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Kristin says:

    I find once I sit down and write up some of the goals I want to achieve, it seems there are so many! No wonder it feels like an uphill battle! It can be hard to narrow the list and prioritize. It’s important to set reachable and definable goals. Another thing that’s helpful is to every so often review your goals to remind yourself, and re-evaluate. Sometimes they change, and sometimes life gets in the way and you forget just what you were going after. I suggest putting it in your calendar at specific times to review them – every month, every 3 months, or whatever, otherwise that can be easy to forget, too!

  • Katie says:

    The Olympics made us think of personal finance too! My husband and I agreed that it shouldn’t be hard to explain good financial principles to a luge team. Their winning strategy is to work very hard to gain lots of speed at the beginning, then maintain discipline through the twists and turns down the mountain. It’s a reminder to us that big savings and investment in retirement when we’re young pays off much more than waiting to plan for retirement.

  • Shannon says:

    Great post, Crystal

  • I love these kinds of posts! Thanks for the encouragemet.

  • What an amazing inspirational article! My husband and I have been trying to stay true to our financial goals and this has not always been easy. I am a high school teacher and many of my students have more of the latest technology than I do. My husband works construction and there are always new tools he could be buying to help make his job easier. However, we have set our goals high and make decisions daily that will help us reach those goals. Like Olympians, we have to be peculiar people!

  • Pauline says:

    Just to let you know from someone older, this philosophy does really work. Wehave done this all our lives and now we are sitting really good, you will be so thankful you did someday. We have friends in financial captivity but we are secure because of early sacrifice and of course GOD’s blessings, so stay th course all of you it is well worth it.

  • Mama Koala says:

    Very inspirational post! I appreciate the analogy–and encouragement to stay the course. We paid off 2 more credit cards today–we are on our way to completion of baby step 2.

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