Posted On:
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: Life is a Zero-Based Budget

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A single U.S. Dollar standing up against a white background.

Wow!  It’s already March, and it’s already time for Coach Tip Tuesday again!

Last week, I had several conversations with athletes who I work with about the concept that now has become this week’s Coach Tip Tuesday: Life is a zero-based budget.

How many of you out there are familiar with the concept of a zero-based budget?  In finance, it means that your income minus your expenses equals zero.  I personally employ this concept every single month in my personal finances; every dollar that comes in has a purpose.  I pre-designate a lot of this, but as we all know, life happens.  And so that means that sometimes I need to reallocate funds.  So, perhaps one month I get sick unexpectedly and need to go to the doctor and pay for that visit plus some medications.  I am not the United States Congress, so I cannot spend money I do not have.  Therefore, those unexpected expenses need to be funded with dollars that were previously allocated to other purposes.  Maybe I need to pull it from my food budget line item.  Maybe I can tweak the budget line item that covers household supplies.  You get the idea.  But either way, at the end of the month, I have a finite amount of dollars that come in, and exactly that many dollars (not more) is how much can possibly go “out.”

Our lives are actually zero-based budgets.  How many times have you heard someone say, “There are 1,440 minutes in a day; how are you going spend them?”  Try as we might, we cannot add more minutes to a day.  We have a finite amount of minutes to “spend” on things.  And no matter what, we do spend those minutes on things; each and every one of them ends up being allocated to *something.*  If we want to have “more minutes” for something, we are actually carving those minutes away from something else, exactly as we do with dollars in my financial budgeting example.

So why the heck am I talking about this this week?  Well, I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I have had athletes tell me that they want to “do it all” or “excel at everything.”  I always have to gently remind them that while I know what this feels like (I *am* Type A, after all ;) ), we cannot possibly do it all and that that’s an unfair expectation to impose on ourselves.  Yes, indeed, we only have a finite amount of time to spend on all of the things that we have going on in our lives.

So, there are going to be times when the “budget” allows for more time to be spent on workouts, training, and athletic pursuits.  But maybe someone in your family has a crisis, and you need to spend more time with family than you planned for.  Perhaps work dumped a massive project in your lap and you need to spend more time at work.  Maybe you get sick and need to spend time healing.  Or perhaps a friend called you and needed to talk to you about a hard time that they’re going through.

All of these things are entirely worthy of your time, but the time you spend on them will not magically appear out of thin air.  This doesn’t even happen in Harry Potter!!  (Yes, indeed, Hermione herself tells us that one of natural laws of magic is that you cannot create something from nothing. ;) )  You will have you (yes, even if you don’t *want* to) re-budget/re-allocate your time and emotional resources to account for the change.  Very often, this means that the training time line item is the one that gets altered.

Let’s pretend that we have $100, and that $100 represents all of our life.  We can spend $40 on family, $25 on work, $20 on friends.  That leaves us just $15 for EVERYTHING else.  So let’s say you want to spend $20 on training goals.  You can put your remaining $15 toward that, but then you need to pull the final $5 that you need away from something else.  There isn’t ANY way around this.

So, my friends.  The next time you find yourselves frustrated with yourselves about how you aren’t “doing it all,” think of this realize that you CANNOT do it all, and that that is VERY OKAY!!  By drawing your attention to where you do “spend” your resources, you can try to budget in such a way that things are allocated in a way that brings you joy and brings those things that are most important to you into balance.

Don’t pretend to be Congress.  Be wise, and realize that there is a finite limit to ALL things, including the minutes in your life.  Here’s the best part about ALL of this, though: YOU get to decide how you will spend them.

So, how are you going to allocate your zero-based life budget?


Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at

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