While you don't have to train quite as hard as an Olympic athlete to achieve your financial goals, it wouldn't hurt to try adopting some of the qualities that make them so great and apply them to your financial situation.

Sound far-fetched? Perhaps. But if it will make you more disciplined about how you manage your money what's to lose? In the end, you may not be able to lift hundreds of pounds or participate in a decathlon, but you're finances will be on more solid ground.

Get a Head Start

Be a Gold-Medal Winner When It Comes to Your Personal Finances

The pint-sized pixies that captivate on the vault and uneven parallels started training in preschool tumbling class and just kept going. Starting early is a good lesson and you should aim to do that when it comes to saving for retirement.  Setting aside 10 to 15 percent of your earnings, starting with the very first paycheck, will mean major rewards later.

In fact, relatively small sums, contributed regularly, can add up over time. At a conservative average annual rate of return of 6.5 percent, a 22-year-old investing $200 per month in a 100-percent stock portfolio—roughly the cost of a sandwich and soda each day—would end up with $248,600 at age 67, even if he never invested anything after age 30. If he invested $200 per month for all 45 years, he’d have more than $591,000.

"The math works for you," says Kim Forrest, senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. "You may think it’s a little bit of money, but it adds up."

Savers with relatively low incomes, taxed at federal rates of 10 and 15 percent, should use tax-advantaged Roth 401(k) and IRA plans. They won’t get a tax break up front, but their investments will grow tax-free—a huge lift to returns—and they’ll pay no tax on withdrawal years later, when their presumably higher incomes could be subject to higher tax rates.

Stay in for the Long Haul

When runners compete in the marathon in the Olympics in Rio this month, they'll have to run 26.2 miles. While the run is long, the training for the big day has been going on for even longer. There's a certain dedication that's required from athletes to train and then run the distance.

To earn outsized returns in stocks, you'll also need to have some endurance—enough to let you buy stocks and hold them for a significant period of time.

"Investing is a marathon, not a sprint," says John Piershale, a wealth adviser at Piershale Financial Group in Crystal Lake, Ill. That means ignoring day-to-day fluctuations in the stock market and staying the course for many years. Deciding on your allocation of investment allocations and sticking with it is the wisest strategy.

Studies by the investment research company Dalbar have shown that folks who stay put and don't buy or sell during market volatility do far better than those who time the market. So buy, hold, and reap the rewards.

Like marathoners who plan how they'll accomplish each mile and tackle the long road ahead, workers who are saving should meet with a financial adviser to fine-tune their plans and portfolios several years before retirement, says Matthew Carbray, managing partner at Ridgeline Financial Partners in Avon, Conn.

"In a race, you know where you should be at the 3-, 5-, 10-, and 20-mile marks," he says. "It’s the same with retirement. You'll need to know how much money is coming in throughout your retirement, and where it's coming from."


While many athletes in the Olympics train in just one sport, decathletes master 10 diverse track-and-field events. An athlete is likely to excel in one or more sports, but not every one. But that means that an outstanding score in one event during the Olympics can balance out a less-stellar performance in another.

Diversification can be key to your success when it comes to investing. By diversifying your holdings you reduce your overall risk of losing money. That's because when some holdings fall in value, others will maintain their value—or even rise—helping to negate the effects of the fall. Mutual funds—collections of stocks or bonds—provide that diversification. Investing in several mutual funds that focus on different types and sizes of companies—large-cap, small-cap, and international, for example—reduces your risk even more.

While you’re young, put all or nearly all of your holdings in growth-oriented, stock mutual funds. As you age, shift gradually to less risky bond holdings.

Savers who diversify their holdings beyond stocks and bonds are poised to do even better. When Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed retirees about their asset mixes, those with the most diverse portfolios—stocks, bonds, real estate and commodities, to name a few—had the biggest nest eggs.

Don't Get Weighed Down by Debt

A weight lifter in the Olympics is trying to break records by lifting as much weight as possible. Here's a case where you may not want to emulate the Olympian, but rather do the opposite.

Don't carry more debt than you can handle—it could be a huge drag on your future. A common rule of thumb is to have your mortgage principal, interest, taxes and insurance (PITI) account for no greater than 28 percent of your gross income. If your gross income is $100,000 a year—$8,333 a month—your monthly PITI should not exceed $2,333. 

With student debt, don't take on more in total debt than you expect to earn from a job in your first year out of school. Student-debt expert Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice-president of strategy at Cappex, a college and scholarship search site, recommends that you also limit your debt to 10 to 15 percent of the gross income you expect to earn in your first year working.  

Go Light

Athletes look for light, aerodynamic clothes to wear when they participate in sports—whether it's beach volleyball or marathon running.

In the same way, you'd do well to lighten up (on fees) when it comes to investing. Look for investments that come with low fees and don't eat into the returns that your investments generate. By one estimate, a typical couple loses more than $150,000 to mutual fund fees over a lifetime of 401(k) savings. Pick index mutual funds keyed to broad-based market indices such as the S&P 500; they have low fees because they require little active management. Investment researcher Morningstar has shown a high correlation between low cost and superior performance over time.