We can still dream, though. Even if we're not world-class athletes (or even backyard-class athletes), maybe we could still find a way to celebrate our chosen field.
What If We Had Our Own Personal Finance Olympics?
The best savers would be honored and breathlessly interviewed after completing their latest, expense-busting budget. Savvy shoppers would be scored on who managed to get the best bang for the buck. Employees would compete to see who could rack up the most company benefits, with those picking up an employer match in their company retirement fund moving on to the semifinals (where they'll face off to see who can successfully max out their Roth IRA for the year).
But who would bring home the gold in the Personal Finance Olympics? Let's take a look to see what kind of savings habits would have you standing on the podium.
Bronze Medal: Savvy Saver (and Smart Spender)
What got you on the podium: You're off to a good start with your savings. You're tracking your spending, cutting unnecessary expenses out of your budget, and putting away the surplus into your savings account. When you do need to spend money, you're not afraid to bust out a coupon or two, and you take the time to research your options before you go out and buy. Impulse purchases are a thing of the past, and you've developed great savings habits that make a big impact on your bottom line over time: You brown-bagged it to work for the last year, you stopped wasting resources, and you engaged in more cheap or totally free activities like game nights, evening walks and local community events (like art walks or a summer concert series).
What will move you up in the rankings: If your savings habits are strong and you regularly stash away money every month, it's time to think about opening retirement accounts. Start with what your employer offers (like a 401k, 401b, or Simple Plan IRA). Contribute at least enough to get the match. Then consider other ways you could save for retirement and invest for your future.
Silver Medal: Eager Earner on a Multiple Goal Mission
What got you on the podium: Your budget is trim, your spending is under control, and you've been putting away money for a while now. When you realized you wanted to save more money, you took action and decided to earn more. In addition to your full-time job, you run a side business or have a few part-time gigs that you work on in the evenings and on weekends. The extra money you earned isn't spent -- it's saved!
You have a lot of big savings goals, and you know it will take hard work to achieve them. You've planned for your future by taking advantage of your company retirement plan, and you're contributing more than just the employer match. Maybe you max out your 401(k) plan ($17,500 a year), a Roth IRA ($5,500 a year) or perhaps you've added a 529 Plan to the mix.
What will move you closer to the gold? Don't settle for saving 10 percent of your income or less. If you need a new goal, consider bumping up your savings rate to 15 or 20 percent. Since you're already in the habit of saving regularly and for multiple goals, this shouldn't be too hard, especially if you avoid lifestyle inflation along the way. Start by aiming to max out your retirement accounts, then consider opening a 529 Plan for college savings or a brokerage account so you can start investing in mutual funds, stocks or ETFs.
Gold Medal: Future-Minded Investor
Congratulations, you're on the top of the savings standings! Your dedication to saving as big a percentage of your income as possible is what made this possible. You can save 25 percent of your income in your sleep, and you've set up automatic contributions to make that happen. Your ability to make the most of your money is what won you the gold.
You know that by investing your money for the long-term, you'll be able to take advantage of compound interest and grow your wealth exponentially.
You're able to save so much because you don't bother trying to keep up with the Joneses. You understand that looking rich and being wealthy are two different things; material possessions don't interest you, but your net worth sure does.
Just because you can't do a quadruple axel doesn't mean you can't win the Personal Finance Olympics! What are you waiting for? You have the wind at your back, perfect slope conditions, and the support from all your mothers and loved ones. Keep up the awesome work and keep your ultimate goal in mind: a robust emergency savings and a healthy nest egg that will continue to grow over the years, thanks to your consistent contributions. Go out there and win the gold!
Sophia Bera is a certified financial planner and the founder of Gen Y Planning. Follow her on Twitter @sophiabera.