Ex-NFL player and financial expert: Just like football, reaching your financial goals is 'a game of inches'

Jedidiah Collins, a former NFL player and certified financial planner, says that the most important lesson he learned in the pros also applies to your personal finances.

Jedidiah Collins.
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For more than a decade, Jedidiah Collins lived and breathed football. Now, Collins — who spent eight years in the NFL — is taking what he learned on the field and applying it to the world of personal finance as a certified financial planner, author, and podcast host.

One of the most powerful lessons Collins says he learned during his time in the pros is that success comes incrementally — and that applies to all facets of life, not just football.

"I have truly taken to heart all of these thoughts and things I used in the football world and I use them in my personal and professional life," he says. And perhaps the most pertinent and applicable advice is summed up as such: Financial success, like success on the field, is "a game of inches."

'Steal an inch a day'

Setting goals is paramount to reaching financial success, Collins says, and you need to define what "success" means to you before you can actually strive to achieve it. Your financial goals can be both long- and short-term. They might include big ones like saving up an emergency fund, buying a car or home, being able to pay for a child's college tuition, along with smaller ones like having enough money to take your spouse out to a nice dinner once per month or going on a vacation.

Once you know what you're aiming for, you can decide which financial tools or vehicles you want or should use to attain them. For example, if your goal is to be able to retire at age 65, you're going to want to make the most of tax-advantaged accounts, like IRAs and 401(k)s, as well as their Roth counterparts

But the key, as Collins says, is to focus on making incremental progress towards reaching these goals. Odds are good that you don't make enough money to be able to save up for an entire 20% down payment for a house with just a few paychecks. It's likely going to take the average person months or even years to save up the money. But if you keep your goal in mind and employ some simple strategies and habits to help you stay on track, you should be able to reach it.

It's these small bits of incremental progress that Collins refers to as financial "inches."

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Ask yourself, he says: "What is an inch in terms of money? What is a small measurement that will add up to a great sum over time?" An "inch," he says, can be as small as $1. But if you're able to take $1 a day and put in savings or contribute it towards your retirement, with time, those "inches" will aggregate, and before you know it, you can measure your success in "feet" and "yards."

For example, if you invested $1 per day for your child from birth onward, it would amount to roughly $13,000 by the time they turned 18, assuming a 7% annual return.

Make it a goal, Collins says, to "steal an inch each day." 

"If you can steal inches in your money and inches in your career, you will be able to separate yourself and reach your goals," he says.

Tips for 'stealing inches'

As for how you can go about "stealing inches," Collins and other experts say there are a few quick and easy things you can do to get started:

  • Revisit your budget. You may be able to find unessential expenses in your budget that you can cut, which may be able to save you a few dollars here and there. Even small cuts can make a difference — like canceling an unused gym membership or a subscription service you've long forgotten about. Remember, it's all about stealing "inches," and every dollar put to better use can benefit you in the long run.
  • Set up automatic transfers. Many experts will tell you that the easiest (and perhaps least painful) way to increase your savings rate is to set up automatic transfers, which will take money from your paycheck and automatically contribute it to an account of your choice. It's also a good idea to open that account at a different bank, putting your savings further out of reach and therefore, not as easy to access.
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  • Save early and often. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to reach your financial goal — whatever it may be — is to start saving right away and make a regular habit of it. The sooner you start, the more time your money will have to compound and grow. This, in effect, may help you reach your goals sooner than you may have anticipated.

Remember: Everyone has different financial or career-related goals, so "victory" for you will not necessarily look the same as it will for someone else. The important thing, Collins says, is to define your goal, work towards it, and have the discipline to keep "marching down the field."

"A Super Bowl victory looks different for everybody," he says. 

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