Its not a marathon

Financial Independence is Not a Marathon

What’s with “It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint”?

Everyone uses the phrase: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” as inspiration for anything that’s hard. I’ve also heard it used for the path to financial independence a number of times. Look! Here’s the first listed google image of the phrase:

There’s a beach path and everything! So inspirational!

Truth be told, I’ve always hated this phrase. I hate running, so I might be biased, but I think the phrase is dumb. Let’s look at a bit of history here:

The origins of the marathon are found in 490 B.C. with the Battle of Marathon. Free men were fighting for an end to oppression and slavery and to further democracy. When the battle was over, it is said that the messenger, Pheidippides, ran from the battlefield in Marathon all the way to Athens* to tell them the battle had ended. He got there, proclaimed: “We were victorious!” And then he died.

That’s right. He DIED.

Not only does this story make me never want to run a marathon or support those of you that do (“You Guys! You’re risking your LIVES!”),** it also completely ruins the analogy for me. I do not plan to fight my way to financial independence just to die of exhaustion!

Why Isn’t Financial Independence a Marathon?

“The path to financial independence is a marathon, not a sprint” indicates that one day, you just start running. One day, Mr. T and I said: “Let’s do this retire early thing” and we started running. If you tried this on a marathon, you might actually die. You can’t just get up one day and decide to run a marathon without any training at all! So is the path to Financial Independence really like the training for a marathon? That doesn’t make a great inspirational quote, but let’s explore it anyway: I agree that you cannot just decide one day to change everything in your finances. It has to happen in stages or you won’t last. But you’re also not training for anything. Every step you take toward financial independence isn’t just another training run, it is the actual course! That one increased 401k contribution actually gets you closer to Athens!

The path toward financial independence is also not a marathon because you don’t have to run the whole way! We’re on a slow and steady course to greatness. But that means we make a stride down the path and then we wait. A marathon is about pacing. If you run too fast for the first mile, you’ll die before the end. Finances are the opposite. If you run as fast as you can for the first mile, you can take a rest and still move forward!

It’s About Front Loading!

Here are two examples:

  1. Let’s look at a $100,000 30-year mortgage (at 3.5%). If you were to marathon it, let’s say you add $100 extra to each of your payments for 20 years. You are able to cut off 8 years of your mortgage and save $18,640 on your total interest over the life of the loan! Now let’s say you front-load that same $24,000 into two years. So, instead of paying $100 extra/month, you add an extra $1000/month the first two years of the mortgage and then stop paying extra completely! Even though you’re only paying extra for two years and you’re putting that same $24,000 toward the mortgage, it cuts off ten years of payments and you save $30,030 in interest. You gain 2 years and $11,390 in saved interest over marathoning it!
  2. Now let’s look at investments. If I’m marathoning (and starting with zero), I’m trying to pace myself, so I’m maxing out my Roth IRA every year ($5500), but I’m only contributing $6000 to my 401k with increases when I get raises. After five years, I have about $70,000 and by year ten, I’m looking at about $200,000! What happens if I front load these investments? I’m again starting with zero, but I’m going to max out my Roth IRA and 401k for the first 5 years. At the five year mark, I have $136,000. If I stop all contributions except for $200/month to one of the accounts ($2400/year), I still hit that $200,000 around the ten year mark.

Why Financial Independence Isn’t a Sprint:

So if it’s not a marathon, it must be a sprint, right? We’ve just proven that doing something really big at the beginning is really helpful. The problem is that time is a big factor as well. $500,000 can turn into $1,000,000 in 12-15 years if invested in the market (low fee index funds, obviously!) without any contributions at all! If you sprint at the beginning and front load your debt payoffs and your investments, then you can actually just sit back and wait. If you set up automatic payments to max out your retirement accounts each year, you’re also no longer racing. You’re just sitting back and waiting. Either way, you have to wait. If you can sprint your way to $1,000,000 in 5 years and you’re happy with that number for financial independence, then you’ve successfully sprinted it! For the rest of us, we work on sprinting when we can and waiting around the rest of the time. Time is on our side here.

So really, the path to financial independence is more like a sprint followed by a rest on a moving sidewalk because once you’ve set your finances in motion and done the initial sprinting, you’ll keep moving forward even if you’re no longer racing.

Forget that inspirational quote about your finances being like a marathon. I’ve made you a new one to print out and put up for motivation:

The path to financial independence is a spring followed by a rest on a moving sidewalk.

You’re Welcome!

——————————————————————————-

*Which, ironically, is only 40km away. Why 26.2 miles? No reason, really. 

**Any event which causes men to bleed from their nipples should be banned!

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58 Comments

  1. Damn I needed this today. I’m thinking a lot about how to make it happen when I’m essentially starting from zero, and this helped a lot. I’ve got some front loading to do!

    • MaggieBanks

      You don’t need to race all the time! Get the front loading done and then just chill! Glad I could inspire you today, Amanda! Happy Wednesday!

  2. thejollyledger

    I love the analogy about front-loading!

  3. The Green Swan

    Ha this is a great post, you totally debunked that quote! Can I just call for an Uber to get to Athens?

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s what I’d be thinking. NO way would I volunteer to take the message! 🙂

  4. Nice! The moving sidewalk analogy is absolutely spot-on…like those moving walkways in airports that get people from Point A to Point B either *faster* (if they walk on them) or *without the requirement that people actually move their legs*. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Right! My kids insist on taking them even if our gate is somewhere in the middle and then we backtrack… whatever… it’s as good as DisneyLand! 🙂

  5. Tawcan

    Financial independence is neither a marathon or sprint… you need to enjoy the journey while you’re on it. If you are constantly looking forward to the finish line, when you get to the finish line you’ll find that your life isn’t all that great. Why? Because you’ll just look forward to something else.

    • MaggieBanks

      Everyone needs to learn to just slow down and look around every once in awhile. Racing all the time gets exhausting. And then you die! 🙂

  6. I actually love this, because I too – hate this saying. And I like to run, so you’re obviously not biased in that sense! It is always about how you prepare, and the “actual course” as you mentioned above. I personally haven’t opted for financial independence yet, but so far following others journeys proves that what you say above is so true.

  7. I absolutely hate running, even though I’m trying to jog my way back into 5K shape now that I’m retired. I agree that the analogy doesn’t quite work when applied to becoming FI and early retiring. When you are running (a sprint or a marathon) you just wear down yard after yard, mile after mile. When you are saving for financial freedom, you get stronger and stronger as you go!

  8. You made my day. Great post. And yes, it is a stupid phrase but everyone has heard it in an inspirational way and never questioned it. Kudos.

  9. Hey Maggie,

    Great analogy and point! Life is not a marathon or a sprint. Life is life! It goes by just as quickly as anyone else. We all have the same amount of time in our 24 hour days as anyone else. The same 12 months. It is what we choose to do with it that makes it.

    Marathons don’t make sense, why did anyone decide this would be a good thing to copy? It’s the same as seeing someone swimming through shark infested water, get eaten, then thinking “Hmm what a great event this would be, let’s add it to the Olympics”.

    Our financial lives are more like a treadmill – you can set it at whatever pace you want. You can make life easier for yourself (with an decline) or harder (with an incline). How fit/rich do you want to be when you get off/retire? That’s up to you, but you must work(out) harder if you want to be fitter/richer 🙂

    Why didn’t this dude just ride a horse? Why was it so imperative to tell the news ASAP, the battle would still have been won a day later. Bizarre.

    Tristan

    • MaggieBanks

      I like the treadmill analogy! And watching shark swimming in the olympics could be very interesting. What country would dominate that event? 🙂

  10. I suppose it’s like the tortoise & the hare. The turtle would probably die before it completed a marathon. The hare effectively burnt out because they went too fast too late. Tackling any debt or savings goal is taking the apporach of the tortoise. Slow & steady (primarily steady).

  11. A good thought experiment on the often heard quote.
    It comes down to having an aha-moment to realise you can reach FI by changing some things in life… Once that is in place, just let ir do its things and adjust where needed.
    Most importantly, do not forget to life while waiting… That is probably why it can not be a marathon!

    • MaggieBanks

      Exactly. No one enjoys the actual nipple-bleeding events! They love having done it! 🙂

  12. Great way to challenge this cliche. I agree that the front-loading nature of preparing for FI is very powerful and we definitely hope it will get easier as we make progress, get rid of debt, invest more, and increase the momentum of earning interest. I sometimes have to remind myself that FI isn’t a race at all. Just because someone else achieved it as XX age, has very little to do with my life. So we try to focus on the wins along the way.

    • MaggieBanks

      Definitely celebrating wins a long the way is so helpful! And there is a great momentum that we’re counting on as well!

  13. Ha! Loved this. I wrote a post a little while ago that was called uhm… “Pursuing Financial Freedom is a Marathon, Not a Sprint”. Maha. And I meant it, too!

    But now that I’m on a little low, I like your approach better. It does feel like a sidewalk, but I’m preparing for the next sprint.

    • MaggieBanks

      Ha ha ha – Sorry to call you out! 🙂 The lulls between sprints are relaxing and frustrating, but running the whole way doesn’t work either!

  14. J

    This made me laugh! You’re hilarious, Maggie! I needed to read this today and will probably need to read it many times again in the future. Thanks for this! I hope you and your family are doing well. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks, J. We’re doing awesome. Glad I could make you laugh! 🙂

  15. Here’s another reason why FI is not like a marathon: I’ve run only one marathon, and I’m a super slow runner, and my marathon was still over in about five hours! Even if you count all of my training, it was over in about eight months. I WISH FI could happen at either of those speeds. 😉 I like your analogy much better — or maybe sprints interspersed with moving sidewalk periods. Or a sprint on a moving sidewalk? Haha, I could keep going…

    • MaggieBanks

      I could NEVER DO THAT. Good for you. Though yes, maybe five hours of horrible to the finish line is one way to do it… but I’m not a big fan. I’ve had one baby without an epidural, and even though it was shorter, I don’t recommend that. 🙂

      • Haha — But endorphins. And cheering fans! And beer at the finish line! You could totally do it. Not that you *should,* but you could. 😉

        • MaggieBanks

          Ugh. Nope. None of that sounds awesome. Heard of theatre? I can get on a stage for the endorphins, the applause, and the flowers anyday… but don’t make me run! 🙂

  16. Financially Independent Marathoner

    You basically just described various strategies for completing a marathon while consistently saying this isn’t like a marathon. That said, I think the more important takeaway is that it’s just an analogy and anything that is analogous to something else is by definition not identical. If the marathon analogy doesn’t work for you, find one that does.

    For instance, we could say FI is like baseball, where you have swings and misses, but it’s really all about the average over time. And, it’s like baseball because the best long term strategy is to get lots of small hits rather than always trying to hit a home run. We can find an analogy in pretty much anything if we look hard enough.

    • MaggieBanks

      Agreed. Analogies are everywhere. And some of them are dumb. 🙂

  17. Great post. IllustrationS used really hit home. Enjoyed the story. Like J, I will probably read it an couple of times as there are a number of nuggets in there. Thanks for sharing.

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks! During the lulls, it’s always a good reminder that you are actually still moving forward!

  18. So good! We definitely front loaded our savings in our 20’s. Now that I’m 33, it feels like we have so many more options. Which is crazy because most of our peers are just now paying off their student loans and starting to think about retirement savings. I feel like we can kind of forget about retirement savings because we did most of the heavy lifting 10 years ago. =) We are currently taking a full year off from work and savings. Time for a little rest. =)

    • MaggieBanks

      Brilliant! Front loading definitely pays big rewards in the future!

  19. Liz

    As someone who has completed marathons, I feel like I should be slightly offended. I’m not, and instead I find myself wondering where the moving sidewalk has been during my races (hahaha!).

    Seriously, though, I like this analogy. I’m in sprint mode currently, mainly because I’m furiously paying off debt, but expect to move into a slow training pace early 2017.

    I’ll sprint again, I’m sure, because that mortgage payment is REALLY annoying. But not before resting, which is, after all, the most important part of any workout.

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m so glad I didn’t offend a marathon runner! 🙂 And even I might do a marathon if there were moving sidewalks!

  20. How about a half marathon? You know you train for like 8 weeks, run the race best you can, finish the race then say “Thank goodness I’m not doing that again”. JK Love the analogy.

    • MaggieBanks

      Oi! Not even a half marathon! Just tell me when I can get back on the moving sidewalk! 🙂

  21. I love this! Really needed to read this: “You’ll keep moving forward even if you’re no longer racing.”

    • MaggieBanks

      I have to remind myself of that as well! Sometimes it feels like we stop moving forward… but with finances, luckily, giant leaps pay off even when you stop making them!

  22. Yes, I think this captures FI/RE progress quite neatly. Some of us have even had to occasionally step off to fix the moving sidewalk. 🙂

  23. zeejaythorne

    People self-select into marathon training though. Well-run ones also sort your starts by your speed/knowledge. Almost everyone, except the elite, must go slow for the first mile or two because so many people/obstacles are in your way. Eventually you find a groove that works for you. Then you have to stop for a bathroom emergency/unexpected expense. More and more people have left the course. People are no longer cheering in large stretches of the race, but it is beautiful. Just you, your shoes, and the scenery. Then, you get closer to the finish and feel the momentum of the crowd and in yourself. You are so elated and have done it at your pace, and suddenly you can sprint for the last 1.5 miles. THE CROWD GOES WILD, because you are sprinting like this is a real race even though you ended at nearly 6 hours, but they want you to succeed. You feel like you are flying. It is incredible. (Your personal mileage may vary, but I loved my marathon as described above) I assume that getting out of negative net-worth all the way to financial freedom will feel the exact same way.

    • MaggieBanks

      It might, but usually as people near financial independence, there aren’t a whole lot of people cheering for them. At that point, the haters come on out. 🙂

  24. Ha ha nice, and great point about front-loading your investments.

    PS: I’ve run a marathon with no training 🙂 Helps to already be in great shape from playing soccer though!

    • MaggieBanks

      Good gravy! I would think even with soccer it would be hard to just run a marathon one day! Good for you!

  25. purplebrown18

    This is great I really like your numbers. People don’t think about how throwing big chunks of money at debt kills it faster than putting the same amount of money towards it slowly. Financial Independence is totally a sprint. Thanks maggie!

  26. Darrell

    How about, “Saving for retirement is a marathon…saving for early retirement is a sprint!”

  27. Geek

    Maybe a triathlon? The legs of the triathlon being saving, investing, and earning more. 🙂

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