I wasn’t much skinnier than most 15 year olds, but I felt like the smallest kid in the world.
I hated feeling skinny. Part of it had to do with the fact that many of my friends were athletes--strong, agile, and muscular. I was none of these things. And so I committed to making a change.
I bought muscle building magazines, created exercise routines, became a member of World’s Gym...and oh yeah, the protein powder. I bought a GINORMOUS tub of protein powder. Which is really where this short story begins.
I can’t help but draw some life lessons from this experience. And like many of life’s lessons, they can apply to our financial lives too. The same goes for my oversized tub of protein powder and the misguided dream of no longer being a high school weakling.
Black Cherry-Flavored Protein Powder? REALLY?!
You have to realize first that these were the early days of protein drinks. Health shakes by today’s standards are the very nectar of the gods compared to protein drinks in 1995. Chalky, gritty, disgusting.
But that didn’t stop me. When I purchased my protein powder, I visited the local supplement store and scanned the isles for the flavor that “sounded” the best. I love black cherry soda, so naturally I gravitated to...black cherry-flavored protein powder!
“The Truth Shall Make You Free”...and Get You Pummelled
To make matters worse, drinking protein became my little secret. I had older brothers, and their discovery of this would have (in my mind) been the end of me. I would have been mocked to oblivion. It was one thing to go to a public gym, but no one could know I was actually trying to build muscle and drinking disgusting protein powder to do it (ah, the mind of a 15-year old).
To conceal the truth, I mixed my protein drinks in my bedroom. The instructions said to “mix well in water or milk.” Mixing in milk had the potential for one of my eight siblings to catch me suspiciously swiping milk regularly, whereas water was more easily concealed. Mixing in a blender upstairs would be a dead giveaway. I would mix in my bedroom.
In the confines of my room with a cup half full of water, I added large scoops of protein and stirred it together. There are no words for the disgusting, lumpy concoction that ran down my throat, but after one attempt to guzzle it down (nose plugged) I swore to never drink it again.
What financial lessons can be learned from this experience? I can think of two.
Unacceptable Paths to Success
In hindsight, my path to muscle building was unacceptable. It was hidden, costly, and very unpleasant. I would have been much better off involving one of my athletic friends for moral support and finding some more flavorful protein options.
Are you on an unacceptable path to financial success? Here are two examples I’ve seen:
You know you should save more at your young age so your wealth can compound more quickly, but you continually justify your “now” expenses (eating out, vacations, shopping) while putting off your savings (IRA or a company 401k plan) that will pay off down the road.
Old student loans are staring you in the face, and you have no plan to eliminate them. Rather than address them with a simple plan to pay them off with automatic payments, you push the issue off to next month and instead browse your Facebook feed for an hour.
Ask yourself: How long do you plan to gag down nasty protein powder (or unacceptable financial choices) before deciding to make some changes?
Deploying the Wrong Tool
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to build muscle. It’s a worthy aim for some teens. For me, however, I put a tool to work (black cherry protein powder) to accomplish a job that it was rather poor at doing. It would give me a protein kick, but at the cost of almost vomiting it back up again.
Eating double cheeseburgers and milkshakes from McDonalds for my post-workout protein boost would have tasted A LOT better and still given me a great amount of protein (And come on--it’s McDonalds!)
I see people sometimes deploying the wrong kind of financial tool to build wealth. Most of the time it’s by no fault of their own. Perhaps they’ve been innocently misinformed by a friend or family member. These “wrong tools” can take on many forms:
- Contributing $1,000 a month to a life insurance policy but contributing nothing to tax-deductible, tax-deferred retirement savings in an IRA or 401k plan.
- Putting all of your retirement savings into the stocks of one or two companies, exposing your portfolio to an extremely high risk of loss.
- Looking at your home as your best investment and carrying a subsequently high mortgage, leaving you house poor.
In the financial world, there are a wide variety of tools at your disposal for building and protecting your future. The reality is there aren’t a lot of completely “wrong” tools (though they certainly exist), but good tools are often used incorrectly or not at all.
I hope sharing my experience as a high school wannabe bodybuilder has been instructive. As you consider your own paths to take and financial tools to deploy, try to identify those that will truly have the best outcomes for you--5, 10, 50 years down the road. I think you’ll be better off even if you find yourself like me--now a 37-year old "weakling"! :)