So there I was, 6 p.m. at the gym, exactly one week after Thanksgiving. The place is buzzing. Sweat and calories flying in every direction. Up-beat music, excitement, hope, determination and people (tons and tons of people - most of whom I haven't seen before, and may not again after the second week of January) are filling up the space. For now, these optimistic exercisers have that steely gaze in their eyes that will drive them through the holidays. Soon, the pounds will begin falling off by the handful as the swimsuits they intend to wear on spring break are top of mind. (An electric blue speedo perhaps?)
For now, I am forced to walk up and down the aisles of cardio equipment while waiting for a single machine to open up. When I hit the locker room, I am lucky to get a clean towel.
This process has repeated itself every year throughout my 20+ years of going to the gym. No matter what gym, town or state I'm in, the same phenomena unfolds every single year between Thanksgiving and the second week of January. During this time, millions of Americans commit to improving their health and wellness. That day, they say, will be the first day of the rest of their (healthier) life, and this time, it will be different.
Then, it happens. Like clockwork, life gets busy and inertia raises its ugly head once again. Another year goes by and, before they know it, they're taking a third scoop of garlic smashed potatoes (with bacon of course!) at the Thanksgiving table. At the same time, talks of trying the latest low-protein, high-orange peel, 13-day cabbage and beet diet surfaces, as well as their plans to hit the gym first thing Monday morning. It's a regular Groundhog Day scenario.
I recently had my own Groundhog Day scenario, but it wasn't about improving my physical health and wellness. I took part in a research project involving one-on-one interviews with Americans of all ages and backgrounds, to hear about their retirement plans and overall financial wellness. We were searching for nuggets of insight to help us develop better education processes and savings approaches for people once they retire.
I heard a lot of familiar responses. "I have too much debt to be worrying about saving money." "We just had another kid." "I've been meaning to get to it." "I'm uncomfortable making financial decisions." "Paying off my student loans is my number one priority right now." "I'm young and have plenty of time."
One theme that seemed to surface more than usual: "I need help."
When asked why they don't take action, common responses included: "I just haven't gotten around to it." "I know I need to, but I am just super busy. Life is crazy for me right now." "I don't know how to find someone I can trust." "I don't have enough money to make it worth an advisor's time."
Any of these sound familiar? If so, here is my New Year's challenge to you: MEET WITH A FINANCIAL PROFESSIONAL. And make financial wellness a priority this year!
Start by setting up an exploratory appointment with a financial professional. Even an hour over coffee could be life changing - versus three weeks of struggling at the gym. So put down the yoga pants, skip the treadmill and throw in the towel for an hour while you focus on your financial fitness. (Chances are, it will be back to inertia, avoidance, guilt and bacon in just three short weeks anyway. An hour with an advisor could have colossal effects on the rest of your life.)
If you're not sure where to turn or who to trust, start by asking your friends and family for recommendations. In my experience, and research shows, people are quick to judge groups of people like financial professionals, lawyers and politicians, but are quick to distinguish those judgments once they find a good advisor. Trust me, they are out there. The world is full of them.
If you're concerned that you don't have enough money or that your past saving and investing decisions have fallen short, get over it. An initial conversation with financial professsional doesn't cost a dime. If you feel pressured to do something you don't want to during your first meeting, then walk away. Not every match is going to work and this shouldn't be the reason you don't seek professional advice. There is too much at stake by doing nothing.
The world is filled with empathic, trustworthy, knowledgeable and helpful financial professionals. Ask you friends. Ask your family. What's an hour of your time worth for the rest of your life?