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The Friends You Keep

20131109_095843My relationship with the gym is an on-again/off-again affair. Three times a week I lift weights and during the frigid NE Wisconsin winter I also run on the treadmill a time or two each week. It isn’t cheap. I consider my gym membership, which covers Mrs. Accountant and me, a luxury and a spending splurge which sets me back about $800 per year.

Over the years I belonged to three gyms. The first gym went out of business and for several years I avoided costly gym memberships. Then an injury required either expensive physical therapy or a more formalized and regular workout schedule. It was a painful injury. I ruptured several tendons in my right bicep when I was butchering chickens. (Now you have another nugget of trivia on me.)

At first I thought I blew out the rotator cuff because I could not lift 5 pounds with my right arm. A visit to the doctor put that notion to rest. The bicep was another issue. That sucker hurt. A few sessions with the physical therapist quickly drew me to the conclusion I would need to take matters into my own hands if I were to heal in this lifetime.

I joined a gym and started down the road to recovery. There was only one problem; my left side was doing better than the right and it was throwing my body out of kilter. I needed help so I decided it was time to bring in a professional.

Size Matters

Picking the right personal trainer takes time and research. For me, I knew my trainer would be a different choice if I were healthy. I also wanted a trainer Mrs. A would consider using to deal with a medical issue she had. I looked around the gym, watching each trainer as they worked with clients and exercised personally.

My first inclination was to hire a male trainer built like a brick shithouse. That is the direction I wanted to go; I wanted more muscle mass. In the end I decided a female trainer with good muscle was the correct choice. Over the course of a year she was able to rebalance my body while helping me complete the bicep healing process.

The gym with my trainer was cheap and crowded. There were a lot of young adults running around the place with hormone issues. I started calling the place a meat market without the alcohol. The trainer, along with the gym, and I parted company. I moved to an adult gym that cost slightly more, but offered a much better atmosphere, was cleaner, and less crowded. (I also pick up new clients there on a regular basis.)

Monkey See, Monkey Do

I noticed at the old gym and the new that trainers generally turned their clients into what they were. Very thin trainers encouraged a diet designed for a slim figure. I also noticed heavily muscled trainers worked their clients in that direction. The gym is like any other place of social gathering. People congregate based on who they are. The old guys stick with the old guys for the most part while young people hung out with other young people.

But it goes a lot further. Overweight people tended to congregate; skinny people hung together as a group; and the no-necks would chat between lifting sets of 16 tons. As an observer of people I notice these things. But knowing something does not prevent me from falling into the same pattern.

While I work through my lifting routine there is plenty of recovery time between sets to talk. The people who talk to me generally are people with more muscle mass. I am far from skinny due to eating too much crappy food, but I have reasonable muscle mass. The heavy people and well as the skinny rarely speak with me. Sometimes I initiate a conversation, but I act the same way everyone else does; I talk with people in my cohort. Even when I talk with the ladies, they generally are the stronger women around the gym.

There are plenty of studies available on the internet discussing this phenomenon. I’ll let you do your own search if you want to read more on the subject.

Wealthy Friends

The gym is an obvious place to see humans acting the way humans normally do. It is part fitness, part mating ritual. The least egotistical person in the place still wants people to see them looking good and getting better. I must confess I am quite a specimen to behold; only modesty forbids me from bragging about it.

The same effect I see at the gym I see at the office and at the mall (were I to ever go to the mall). Wealthy people tend to stick together and people with spending problems wander in groups, too. We all have a visual of a group of overweight people with one person among them skinny as a rail. It is the exception to the rules and also is a strong indicator someone in the group has worms. Truth is the skinny guy will revert to the norm if he sticks with the group long enough as the habits of the group wear off on him.

Your spending habits will also be challenged by your piers. Friends who need a pry bar to separate them from their money have similar friends. Study after study leads to the same conclusion. Do your own internet search. When your friends spend like drunken sailors it will affect your spending habits. You might not spend at the same level as the drunken sailors of your group, but you will start spending more than you normally would.

Growing Apart

Many years ago I met a real estate agent who became a client. He sold me my first home. We shared a common bond of interest in investing in real estate. There were a few notable differences. I was cautious in my property purchases and was tight with my money when it came to personal spending. My real estate agent friend was not. He paid full price on any property he wanted regardless the situation; he also spent money like crazy; money in his hands was like water through a sieve with him. A few years later we parted ways. He was upset I would not spend lavishly so when I refused to go along he decided he needed a different accountant. He was right.

At the office I had a small IT firm handle all the office technology needs. The owner and I became close (not bosom buddies or anything, but we talked a lot). He also spent money like it was a disease to be excised from his wallet. Before long we also parted ways. We had nothing in common.

rednecks-with-gunsChoose Wisely

If you want to be wealthy, have wealthy friends. You will look, talk, act, and share the same economic class with your friends. I might suggest you find a tax professional who shares your financial values since the advice they give is something you might want to use and where they stand financially makes a difference. There is no surprise when Bill Gates and Warren Buffett became fast friends even when Gates did not think he would ever like Buffett. Gates discovered they had a lot more in common than he first thought so they grew closer together.

The same happens to you. If you join a group for the wrong reasons (there is a cute girl in the group (I know how you guys do things)) remember you will slowly transform into the norm of that group. Make sure you are happy with that result.

People search out people similar to them or people they want to be like. I chum with frugal people who find pleasure and value in things that do not require spending money. I will spend when appropriate and even splurge now and again; think of my gym membership.

If you want to lose weight, find a thin and fit trainer; if you want to bulk up, find a muscle bound trainer; if you want to retire early, snuggle up to people who have done it or are in the process of doing so. The people around you have an outsized affect on your behavior. Take a saint and put him in prison and you create a better criminal where one did not exist before. Take a poor man and surround him with thrifty business people and before long the poor man will learn how to earn, save, and invest.

You can ruin a good man (or a good woman) by putting them with the wrong company. Fortunately, most of us get to choose who we socialize with on a regular basis. When you are thrust into an uncomfortable situation with people unlike you, you need to be extra vigilant so you don’t destroy your personal plans. Family and co-workers frequently fall into this pattern. My parents consider my frugal ways a disgrace to the family. So, I am a disgrace; I can live with that (and the full bank account).

It may sound cold, but your choice in a life mate will have a profound impact on your happiness. If you want to save, invest, and retire early while your significant other never saw a sale she didn’t like you have real problems on your hands. I never dated much. You can count all the young ladies I dated on one hand with fingers left over. I had no desire to spread my wild oats. What I wanted was someone I could spend my entire life with happily.

The search process took time. In the end I found Mrs. A. On our second date I pulled her to the side and we spent hours talking about our values. I knew before the night was over she would be my wife forever; we just had too many values in common.

We choose our mate by appearance too often. Guys, if you think she is hot now, wait a while; time will take care of that. We all grow old. The hot, vibrant young body of your lover will age. What is on the inside is what will keep the fire raging for decades and decades. Look for a life mate with commonality. Appearance is only important to a point. Not everyone can be as lucky as me to find a hot young lady who never seems to age, doesn’t like to spend, and shares my values. You’ll have to settle for someone just like you.