Stay the course – for financial and physical health

Getting fit is very much like keeping your finances in order. A number of us at Abu Dhabi Media have discovered this truth over the past month, during which we have been subjected to a daily regimen of intensive exercise and dietary overhaul, at Haddins Fitness’s Primal body transformation plan down at Zayed Sport City.

Discipline and staying the course have been at the heart of the gruelling four weeks the three of us from the business desk of The National have endured, but truth be told much of it has been guided not by our will power alone but more by an incentive that is given by the owner of the gym to those who sign up to the four-week course of flipping lorry tires, conducting push-ups, pull ups and other exotic exercises that few had ever heard of, such as the burpee and the bear crawl. (We have also run endlessly, even as we cut out high carbohydrate foods such as wheat, potatoes and most fruits. Some of us have even fasted intermittently from 2pm to 6am the next morning.)

But for every day we turned up, Mr Haddin has paid us half the money that the day would have cost us, ensuring that most people who signed up just turned up to make sure they got some money back at the end of the four weeks, and in doing so demonstrated the importance of staying the course however bad circumstances may have conspired to make you feel on a particular day. Unlike two of my colleagues, I turned up every single weekday for the past four weeks, ensuring that I got back half the money I had paid up front. (I also put myself in the running for a Dh10,000 prize that will be awarded to the person who has made the best progress, judged through a series of before and after mugshots, bodily measurements and physical exercise tests).

Incentive is at the heart of everything we do and the lessons learnt from four weeks of boot camp can easily be applied to financial management – even though it is a trickier thing to envisage the benefits in the long run from spending less, saving and investing more. Saving money is very much like the temptation of avoiding sugary high carbohydrates such as a slice of chocolate cake, which will give you a temporary high but set you back on the scales. Similarly, buying, say, the latest gadget made by the world’s biggest tech company may give you some fun for five minutes (if it doesn’t blow up in your face), but in the long run it will decrease the amount of money you will have available to spend on yourself in retirement. This is especially true in the UAE where pension funds are not obligatory and expats don’t save as much as they should. Here it is important not just to understand incentive but, more importantly, perhaps the power of compounding interest – how small amounts of money saved and invested wisely can grow exponentially over 20 to 30 years, as income from that investment is reinvested.

But like getting fit and staying fit, saving in the long run not only requires getting to grips with incentive, and the power of compounding but also discipline.

Just like getting up early in the morning or going to a physical activity boot camp after work, saving and investing also require the ability to stay the course come what may.

Ultimately, it would also help your pocket book, perhaps, if you didn’t pay to have someone prod you into exercising or helping you manage your money.

Mahmoud Kassem covers finance for The National.

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