Growing up, my parents taught me how important it is to save money and to make that money work for you. It seemed like such a simple concept—letting money grow exponentially over time and retiring without any worry. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve realized that it’s more complicated and challenging to implement this than it seemed to be when I was younger. Saving enough seems impossible, and the recent economic challenges have, to say the least, rearranged our collective approach for the upcoming months. It may be particularly challenging for you as a fitness entrepreneur right now, with all the other fiscal responsibilities you have, and yet there is still a need to prepare for the future.

Everyone has reasons why they don’t save. “I don’t make enough to save,”  “I have no idea how to start saving” or “I can start later. I have plenty of time.” They’re reminiscent of our clients’ excuses for why they don’t exercise. Have you ever heard people say they don’t work out because they’re not fit enough to go to the gym? This is just an excuse to avoid an uncomfortable situation—it’s a detrimental mindset that inhibits them from reaching their goals.

Whether you’re an independent contractor, you’re employed by a big-box gym or you own a fitness studio, you shouldn’t wait to start saving, even during trying times. And with financial goals, as with fitness ones, the key is to make small habit changes over time and, of course, have plenty of patience.

Prioritizing Fiscal Fitness

According to a Federal Reserve report (2018), about 40% of Americans claimed in 2017 that they would not have access to $400 in funds in the case of an emergency. Also, per this report, under 40% of nonretired adults thought their retirement saving was on track, and one-quarter had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever. A savings strategy is very important to longevity and to creating a happy and healthy life, but so many put it off or make excuses.

We assume that saving will get easier as we earn more or that we’ll start a 401(k) once we reach a certain salary. Think about the beginning of your career in comparison to now. You’re likely making more money today because of your experience, industry knowledge and increased responsibilities. Even with a higher salary or more sources of income, are you taking home more at the end of the day in savings? Most would say no.

We often promise ourselves we will begin saving once we get that next raise or once we pick up another client or class, but even when those things happen, saving doesn’t get easier. Why? It’s most likely because we find other priorities to invest in besides ourselves. For example, there’s always a new piece of equipment to purchase and, let’s face it, studio maintenance is a nonstop expense. However, your future is also a wise investment.

The Adaptation Principle and Finance

One mistake people make is managing finances based on a bank account balance. Many of us review our online banking account and make decisions based on the funds available. Managing from the bank account balance is especially risky for fitness business owners because the income is not always consistent. Perhaps you offer a New Year special for discounted packages, or you do a 6-week bootcamp or online launch with one-time enrollment. It can be deceiving to see that large sum on the screen. This money needs to last and cover routine expenses, such as rent and payroll, but also any incidentals.

Think about it this way: We teach our clients about the adaptation principle, which describes how the body acclimates to new movements to accommodate the demand placed on it. Similarly, our spending habits adapt to lifestyle changes. We find ways to spend the additional money we make and often take care of everyone and everything else first—the rent/mortgage, groceries, monthly fees, memberships, family expenses—and then (hopefully) save what is left over.

The problem is that these expenses grow alongside our income: We start buying organic, upgrading our technology, or investing in recovery techniques such as routine massage and cryotherapy sessions. Not to condemn these spending choices, which are based on individual priorities, but it’s important to realize that they can be part of a sound financial plan. You can hack your habits and invest in these things without sacrificing your future!

Automate Your Savings

In this digital age, we have instant access to the exact balance in our accounts, and spending money is more convenient than ever through autopay and subscription-based services. We barely even notice money coming out of our accounts. This enables us to prioritize spending as opposed to saving. Why is it so easy to automate our expenses but not our savings? The good news is that there’s a saving hack that will help with this, explained using the example below:

Let’s say your client has a habit of clearing his plate at every meal and eating what’s in front of him, even if he’s satisfied before finishing it all. When he goes to a buffet dinner, what advice would you give him to help control his portions?

Use a smaller plate.

The same applies to your money. Shrink your bank balance and you’ll adapt to spending less. Set up an automated transfer of funds to a savings account on a regular schedule or sock away a percentage of your sales. Ideally, you’ll set this up in a different bank, so you won’t be tempted to transfer it back. Discipline isn’t required since it will happen without you having to think about it. It also makes it harder to see the balance, so you don’t factor it into your plans and can truly set it aside until it’s needed.

By setting this up, you’re taking care of your own financial future first. You can also do this for your taxes or any other specific purpose for which you want to set aside money. What is left over will cover your expenses. Just as your lifestyle adapts to your spending, it can also adapt to your budget. This is especially important if you are self-employed or work as an independent contractor, since you are responsible as an individual for paying taxes on income and setting up a retirement account.

Compound Effect

Saving in the manner described above works for all income levels. Once you have a goal in mind, you can automatically start setting aside small amounts each day or week. Even $5 a day adds up over time. Just as we encourage our health and fitness clients to stick with small habits on a regular basis, we too can benefit from this approach with our finances. It may be uncomfortable and difficult to adopt, but it’s one of the best ways to achieve the goals you want without disrupting your lifestyle.