Stay Focused on Your Own Spending, Not the Other Person’s

The CrossFit Park City gym is right across the parking lot from my office. I used to love going there early in the morning to get my daily dose of intensity and to spend time with other people dedicated to the same thing. But a few years ago, I made a mistake. Instead of staying focused on my goals, I got a little too focused on beating other people, and I injured my shoulder.

After a few years of wandering in the wilderness of unstructured exercise, I wondered if it was time to go back to CrossFit. My shoulder felt fine, and I knew that if I paid for my exercise, I’d most certainly go. Also, because of the built-in community, I would get a text the night before a 5:30 a.m. workout to make sure I planned to come. What I needed was the healthy accountability minus the stupid competition.

Wondering if such a thing was possible, I called Chris Spealler. In addition to running CrossFit Park City, Chris is a superstar in the CrossFit community. He competed in the first six CrossFit Games and is often thought of as one of CrossFit’s leading ambassadors. He’s also an amazing guy.

Chris reminded me that the coaches at CrossFit were committed to helping me reach my goals. But they couldn’t help me avoid reinjuring my shoulder if I didn’t tell them about it. Once they understood my limitations, the workouts could be adapted to my abilities.

My first time back, another coach told me that Chris had called to let her know I was coming. Acting on Chris’ advice, I told her I had a problem with knowing the difference between working hard and working stupid. With a knowing nod, she told me, “I’ll keep an eye on you.”

This small tweak in my perspective completely changed my experience for the better. I get the healthy accountability I need, but I’ve stopped my not-so-healthy behavior of competing against other people’s goals. Because I’ve gotten clear about my purpose, I’m once again doing something I love without hurting myself in the process.

I’ve thought about this lesson a lot over the last few weeks. So many money conversations circle around the often unspoken reality that we’re locked in unhealthy competition with other people. We can’t seem to help ourselves, even though our neighbor’s business isn’t our business. So we end up using a measuring stick we think matters but that actually has nothing to do with our goals.

I believe we should take full advantage of healthy accountability, but we need to learn to recognize when it crosses the line. For instance, tracking your monthly expenses is a great way to create accountability. But the goal is to focus on your own spending, not that your friend just bought a new car. How other people spend has nothing to do with your financial health.

Maybe you do need to save for a big purchase like a house or a car. If so, don’t get sidetracked by someone telling you about a low down payment offer at the bank or dealership. You know what numbers work for you. Sticking with your savings plan will prevent you from experiencing the financial version of tearing your shoulder. And trust me, you don’t ever want that to happen.

This commentary originally appeared August 17 on NYTimes.com

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Carl Richards, CFP®

Carl Richards is the creator of the weekly Sketch Guy column in The New York Times and is a columnist for Morningstar Advisor. Carl has also been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Planning, Marketplace Money, The Leonard Lopate Show, Oprah.com and Forbes.com. His simple but meaningful sketches served as the foundation for his first book, "The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money."

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