Too Late To Get Your Financial Game On?

My sister: making 60 look pretty good.

“there’s not much point now”

A neighbour of mine used to work with a bank, and recently, I confessed to her my lack of knowledge when it came to investments. I have only a vague understanding of terms like “securities”, “stocks”, “bonds”, “mutual funds” . . . and I feel badly about it. “I’d like to learn more,” I told her, “but there’s not much point now.” I have a pension to count on, but my husband, who is self-employed, has little in the way of retirement savings – and we’re in our 50s. What difference could an increased understanding of these things make for us now? “Exactly,” she said in agreement.

I remember thinking in a similar way when my sister Elly started to get serious about tennis – at age 40. Why was she devoting so much energy to it? Wasn’t it a bit late for her to be taking such a keen interest in a sport? Well, my thoughts at the time were proven wrong this past summer when Elly, now aged 60, went to Montreal to play in the National Senior Masters Tennis Championships. She placed 6th in Canada for her age group.

When I asked her if she would allow me to feature her in this post, she graciously agreed, though she was uncertain about how her tennis could possibly be linked to my personal finances.

Describe your early experience with tennis?

When I was young, I was aware of tennis through Dad’s enthusiasm for the game, but I only picked up a racquet a couple of times in the summer – just enough to learn that tennis was a frustrating sport, much harder than it looked, not my thing.

At 40, a friend and I decided to take it up together. We were both into fitness and could run down just about every ball, but we were lacking in the sport-specific skills required to keep the ball in play. Instead of a frustration, somehow it became a challenge to tackle. We both felt the same way. Working on something new as a team brought an element of fun to the process.

I’ll never forget the day I was first asked to play with the  “club members” in my community. To me, these were the serious players. I held them up on a pedestal. They knew the game. I felt unworthy and scared. I knew nothing about playing games, using strategy, winning points.

I jumped in. I learned. People were encouraging and friendly. Tennis became a positive physical and mental focus for me as well as a means of connection to new friends and community.

I’m 60 now and I’m still enjoying the process of learning this game, challenging myself and expanding my tennis community. I win, I lose, sometimes the outcome feels like it matters a lot, sometimes not so much. I’m a competitive creature, always have been, but at this stage of the game I can honestly say it’s much more about the process than the result.

Describe your progression to more competitive tennis.

I never really had the goal of taking tennis up seriously. Things just snowballed. I started playing tournaments when someone told me that the best way to improve as a player was to enter tournaments.  I was amazed at how tight and nervous I would get at these events, and I was determined to beat this debilitating feeling. The best way to get over the nervousness of playing competitively was to play in as many tournaments as possible.

At local tournaments, I would talk to people who played at the provincial level. With their encouragement and my own curiosity, I found myself giving it a try. A few months later, my doubles partner, her husband and I set a goal to work together to prepare for senior national competition. I don’t think I ever would have travelled to Montreal for Nationals this summer without the camaraderie and encouragement of these friends. It was a team effort. There was a sense of commitment to the sport and to the group.

Every time I stepped into something new; league play, local tournaments, provincial tournaments, even national tournaments, I felt the same sense of fear and unworthiness that I felt that first day I played with club members in my local community, but there was always a sense of excitement and daring that went with it as well.

What have been some highlights of your tennis experience? 

In general, a highlight would be the sense of connection and belonging in a tennis community that continues to grow for me. It was obviously a real highlight to go to Nationals this summer. Almost everyone at the Nationals had been playing competitively for a long time. Most had competed as Juniors when they were in their teens and twenties.  Then there’s the fact that I simply love the game, and I get such satisfaction out of mastering higher levels of skill. Specifically, I think of a match that I played against a woman who is much better and much more experienced than I am. She’s been a life-long player. I went into the match with a great attitude. I decided to have fun, go for it, and try to get a game or two off her. I played the best tennis I’ve ever played. I learned the importance of mindset. Too much expectation and pressure can really wreak havoc on your ability to play your best tennis.

Did you ever encounter the attitude I had about why you were playing so seriously at your age?

I haven’t had the “why?” question. Once you are in a community of people who are passionate about the same thing, the focus is “normal”. Everybody’s doing it. I’m no different. We’re all getting older. We know our limitations physically but we still want to be the best we can be. And we’re so much smarter than we were when we were 20!

My attitude towards competing now is different from the attitude I had about competitive sports in my youth. I’m pretty grounded in the reality that I’m 60 years old, and there’s a limit to the energy and strength I have at my disposal on any given day. All I have to do is watch the 20 and 30 year olds play to know that that ship has sailed. It’s about fun first and foremost, then fitness, learning and positive challenge. If I win some matches along the way or if I notice improvement in my play,  I’m grateful and it spurs me on to put myself out there again and again.

Connection to my personal finances? 
I told my neighbour that there wasn’t much point for me to learn about investments at my age. She agreed with me. And in my readings of personal finance blogs, I often come across the attitude that by a certain age, there’s not much point in trying to turn your finances around. I remember reading in the comments section of one blog, “You’re not screwed until you’re in your forties or fifties.”
Elly is able to realize that “that ship has sailed” when she considers the possibilities for tennis players in their 20s and 30s. And I realize the same thing when I consider the early financial freedom that awaits those who have money smarts at a young age. But look at what my sister has gained! Extreme physical fitness. The satisfaction of mastery. Confidence that results from overcoming fear. Meaningful community. Amazing opportunities to travel and experience elite levels of competition.
So I take back what I said to my neighbour. I’m going to learn about investments. While it’s too late for my husband and I to retire in our 30s or 40s, it’s not too late for us to achieve a high level of financial fitness. I look forward to overcoming my fear of the unknown, to a growing confidence, a sense of satisfaction. I already know that there is a supportive community out there to coach us towards mastery, and I believe that amazing opportunities lie before us. Who knows what we can achieve? It’s time to get our game on!

Have you ever had the attitude that “It’s too late” when it comes to your personal finances? Do you know anyone who has made remarkable achievements despite starting “late”? Your comments are welcome.

24 comments on “Too Late To Get Your Financial Game On?

  1. WOW!! AWESOME post, Ruth, and your sister looks great!! I feel this way about my personal health/appearance. I really want to step up my game and look great, feel great and be healthy, even more so as I age. There’s no reason we need to give up on any goal just because we’ve reached a certain age. I remember reading about a gal who started running in her 60’s and eventually in her 70’s she did the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. What a woman!

  2. I think that comment may have been to a post of mine! I disagreed with it at the time and still do. You guys are doing great, and you’re going to be just fine in retirement — maybe not driving gold Cadillacs, but just fine. And yes, you’ve got time to learn a little about stocks etc. It doesn’t take much. A year ago I was totally ignorant, and now I’m just knowledgable enough to know that you don’t actually have to know that much. I read enough to realize that index funds were the way to go, with the key being keeping enough in cash that you can cover yourself for a while when the market takes a dive.

    1. And I was thinking, “How likely is it that anyone will recognize what comment I’m talking about?” You are right C. I understand where the person who said it is coming from. Of course it is way better to start young. But “screwed” if you start in your 40s or 50s? That’s not a message I would want to spread – and it just isn’t true. People in their 40s and 50s who feel “screwed” need to know that. We’re living proof! I was 49 when we started our journey out of debt, and we’ve completely altered our financial trajectory in 3 years. We’ll alter it some more in the years ahead : )
      (“I’m just knowledgable enough to know that you don’t actually have to know that much.” I like that!)

  3. I’ve learned a lot in a short time regarding finances, stocks, IRA’s, and how to plan for retirement. It was all self taught, and absorbed from discussions with my wife and from reading a lot of blogs. 🙂 The point is, I was really ignorant about all of this a couple of years ago, and earlier this year I met with a financial advisor solo (free consult) and I held my own with him in regards to knowing what we were talking about. I even got to correct him about a couple of things because we aren’t eligible for them, and he should have known that… 🙂 It felt great!

    The point is, it’s never too late to learn anything and especially regarding finances, they’re applicable ALL thru life. Great post, and I hope to get back to tennis when time permits, it’s so much fun!

    1. It’s great to know that after only a couple of years, you’ve gone from knowing almost nothing about investments to being able to hold your own with a financial advisor. I always used to steer clear of blogs about investments – or at least blank out through the parts about investing – but I’m starting to pay more attention now. The learning curve has begun!

  4. I don’t think it’s ever too late to improve your personal situation, whether it be finance, health, work, or anything else that’s very important. As long as you’re above ground, you have the opportunity to make positive changes. Your post did a great job of highlighting this.

    1. Thank you, Money Beagle! And since life spans are steadily increasing, we all stand a pretty good chance of remaining above ground for 8, 9, or even 10 decades. So positive changes are never a waste.

  5. Ruth, I love this post! It’s never too late to get better at something. I’ve had times in recent years, particularly with my health, where I’ve felt like it was hopeless, and I’ve turned it around and made great improvements. Am I able to play tennis? Not exactly (not even close!), but I can do more than I was able to do 2 years ago. A positive attitude goes a long way, so believe that you can learn it, and you will.

    1. Thank you Gary! I do believe that I can learn. I also believe and hope that your health will continue to improve. How wonderful that you can do more now than you could 2 years ago! In another 2 years, I bet you’ll be saying, “I can do more now than I was able to do 6 years ago.” I wish you all the best with your health – both physical and financial.

  6. This post is totally awesome and as a sidenote, is inspiring me to want to take up tennis! My dad loved tennis and when I was little, he signed me up for tennis lessons but it wasn’t my thing and I stopped going. I have regretted it ever since and that was 30-odd years ago! Your sister is definitely inspiring me to think about taking it up! 🙂

    And I think it is awesome that you are going to delve into the whole investing thing! I think it is GREAT what you are doing!!! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Mackenzie : ) Maybe you felt about tennis the way my sister did when she was younger – frustrated and just not interested. Perhaps for both of you, the maturity that came with the years made tennis more appealing. I hope that you will take it up : ) ANd thanks for the encouragement regarding my plans to tackle this whole unknown world of investment.

  7. You and your sister are both role models. I love that you both let go of the age myth. I’ve seen 90 year olds with more going on upstairs than some 20 year olds. Great way to tie your interests together with a pretty little bow. And I loved your podcast! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Kay. So you think it was a “pretty little bow”, do you? My sister had no idea how her tennis connected to our debt – and then she liked the “bow” too : ) Looking forward to reading the first of your new series!

    1. All the best to you, Brian. You are definitely in the midst of a turning point – exciting and scary at the same time. I wish you very well in your studies, and I look forward to seeing what this will all lead to.

  8. Great interview and thoughtful analogy. Agreed that it is never too late to start investing and get your financial game on. While it is clearly better to start as early as possible – taking maximum advantage of time and compound interest – there is always value in learning something new and improving one’s self, whether that be fiscally, physically, spiritually or mentally … or all four!

    1. That’s right, James. Add to that the fact that this generation has the potential to live longer, healthier lives than previous generations. So the compound interest magic might just happen for those of us who start later too.

  9. Great job Elly and I can relate to this so much!! I didn’t star playing beach volleyball until I was 38 (although no one, including myself discouraged me because of my age), and realized that if you are passionate about something you can get good at it. I also agree that entering tournaments is a great way to up your game, and learn to deal with pressure. I let that pressure get to me the first couple years, but now I’ve learned to have more fun with the game and relax. Congrats on everything you have achieved! You look amazing!

  10. Beach Volleyball! That sounds and looks like a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll try that too. I’ll need a coach …. interested? 🙂
    All the best to you in your game. Have fun out there!

  11. Awesome post and perspective! I just turned 27 a couple days ago, but I still find myself saying “it’s too late” on some things. Maybe it’s just a built in excuse? Makes it easier to not try instead of try and fail.

    A couple months ago I just started playing tennis again after a several year hiatus. Need surgery on my shoulder and hip from prior injuries, but I hope to get back into it and hopefully start playing “competitively” again. There’s something about a community that goes well beyond a particular sport.

    1. “Maybe it’s just a built in excuse?” Good insight there, Luke! I wish you well in your return to tennis. Community makes everything so much richer – I’m with you there. Shoulder and hip surgeries are no small deal though, so take care.

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