What Boxing Taught Me About Personal Finance

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Growing up I played a lot of different sports.  As I got older I focused on basketball, and became pretty good for a Canadian high school basketball player.  After finding out I was a half-step below the CIS level when I started attending the University of Manitoba, I decided that I was burned out when it came to basketball anyway.  I needed something different.  I had never been much of an individual sport guy, always playing football, hockey, baseball etc.  I decided to take up boxing on the advice of a friend who had been doing it for a while (Canadian silver medalist).  I instantly fell in love with the sport, even though I was only a little above average at it (I’m not a great natural athlete, and boxing definitely rewards speed and athleticism).  There is a definite primal quality to boxing that I really enjoyed, and I relished the opportunity to match wits and skills one-on-one with an opponent.  On the surface one wouldn’t usually associate personal finance with “The Sweet Science.”  I mean, it’s not like great heavyweight champions are known for being good with their money.  They always have so much left when they retire;)  I think there are definitely aspects of boxing you can broadly apply to personal finance.  Plus, every “tough guy” out there thinks they can fight, and every guy at the water cooler who has read the business section thinks he’s Warren Buffett – so they both have stupid male egos in common as well.

It’s All About The Fundamentals

“Never quit moving” “Stay on your toes” “Work off of the jab” “Defense first”

“Save 10%” “Never get into credit card debt” “Diversify your portfolio”

Boxing and personal finance both have a number of time-tested mantras that are essential to the vast majority of participants.  They all seem so simple to people who have become proficient in the respective fields, but yet mastering them can initially be very difficult (and in some cases it appears impossible).  Everyone knows they should save 10% of their gross earnings in order to prepare for their retirement, but people do.  In boxing there is always the temptation to “play Rocky” and swing for the fences.  The crowd loves it and it feels great when the adrenaline rush hits you; however, it is simply not as effective as a solid jab and great footwork.  Everyone loves to debate the fine points of personal finance (ex: pay down the mortgage vs RRSP contribution) and boxing (ex: amateur guard vs professional guard) often at the risk of forgetting that as long as the fundamentals are perfected, individuals will probably be just fine.

Achieving Success Requires Discipline

If there are one group of people in the world (aside from monks and soldiers) who understand what discipline means, it is boxers.  My daily schedule when I was preparing for a fight was to wake up at 6, go for a run and do some various strengthening exercises until 8, be in class until 1, nap, be at the boxing gym for 5, out at 7ish, supper/homework, bed at 10 (because you’re usually exhausted).  This is it for 6 days a week.  Oh, and you can’t ever eat anything that you used to love.  Compared to this, saving an extra 5% is pretty easy!  The easiest, simplest way to get ahead in the personal finance game is simply to ignore the noise around you and focus on what you need to do in order to succeed.  Who cares that Mr. Jones down the street has a large new boat and is building a deck on his house?  Like my mom would say, “If Mr. Jones jumped off a bridge would you jump off too?!”  Having the discipline to up your income and more importantly, save a large percentage of what you do make, comes much easier to some than to others, but it is key nonetheless.

Knowledge, Planning, and Hard Work Pay Off

Some fighters are just blessed with knock out power.  They instinctively know how to torque their body into getting maximum leverage behind their fist (think Mike Tyson).  The old saying is that you can’t teach power.  The personal finance equivalent is that you can’t teach well off parents.  There will always be people that inherit money, or win a lottery.  People that are given this head start can indeed use it to their advantage and immediately slant the game of life towards themselves; however many manage to erase the advantage completely (again, think of Iron Mike).  In any case, knowledge, planning, and hard work are often enough to succeed on their own merits in both boxing and personal finance.  Having an investment plan, setting spending goals, and genuinely taking an active interest in your personal finances will pay off down the road, but we have to patient enough to wait for it.  Some fighters need to practice years before they are ready to take steps up in competition, but only with soaking up knowledge, and working hard to develop skills can the ultimately succeed.

Everyone Gets Hit Eventually

In order to succeed in boxing you need to be prepared to take a few punches no matter how good you are, and be flexible enough to “roll” with them.  In personal finance, no matter how well your budget is balanced or how diversified your income is, there is always the chance of an auto accident, your hot water heater breaking down long before it is supposed to, or trying to find full employment after being fired in a down economy.  The most successful people are often the ones that don’t panic when life hits back and are able to adapt to the situation.  This is why so many financial experts recommend establishing a solid financial cushion (aka emergency fund).

So being that personal finance and boxing share so much in common, when I hit early retirement I plan on yelling, “YO ADRIENNE…. I DID IT!”

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12 years ago

Haha! great analogies, it really does make a lot of sense. People get themselves into trouble when they forget the basics and get too far ahead of themselves, but really it is the safest way forward.

What a great post! Success with money really IS just like success in any passion worth giving our time, heart, and energy to.

Big score!! Thanks for this inspiring and authentic post!

12 years ago

Good comparisons, Teacher Man. And as with boxes, we have a limited amount of time (earning power) to be able to learn good moves and strategies.

12 years ago

I love it! Personal finance is all about staying active and disciplined – couldn’t agree more! Great comparison to emphasize it more.

Awesome post as always. PF is all about being passionate about your future and what you want out of life (it). Boxing is the same way- what do you want to get in the end and how hard are you going to work for it.

If I have learned anything from my sports training over the years, it would be endurance. Even when things are hard you can still keep plugging along. You can do it, you just have to believe and keep going.

12 years ago

Good points – much the same could be said about a number of sports of course but I guess if the 1 on 1 does it for you, that’s fine.

Boxing isn’t my favourite past time though – I would probably rate skiing even though I am crap at it! The rush of speed, poetry in motion, being alive. That’s my idea of fun. We are going in early Feb so expect a post or two from the mountain tops!

12 years ago

That was very well thought out. I now can see the relationship. Maybe I should take up boxing… HMM

12 years ago

I think your sports analogy could connect with a lot of people, especially teens. I will definitely share your words of wisdom!

12 years ago

Hey. Great post! I also boxed when I was at university (up until a year ago) and share your views on discipline. Many of my close friends are bodybuilders, which requires a similar attitude- and they are all pretty successful in all aspects of their lives. I think what we can take away from this post is that people need to dedicate themselves to more things in life and really put their heart and sole into it.

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