I love sport. I love playing it and I generally love watching it. I publicly confess to brushing aside a sneaky tear during big moments such as Cathy Freeman’s 400-metre win, Sally Pearson’s hurdle victories and the Australian netballers’ triumphant celebrations over our Kiwi rivals.

There is just something about an elite athlete training hard, overcoming injury and then mentally pushing through any obstacles to win. It’s also perhaps why I love football movies of any kind. And yes, a sneaky tear embarrassingly escapes during these occasionally too.

What I do know through my many years of playing sport, from listening to athletes or reading about them, is that training, eating well, a great mindset and the right coach play such a big part, but at the end of the day it’s what happens on the field or the track that will lose or win a race or a game. And often that comes down to what happens at the very end.

Whether it’s the last few kilometres in a marathon, the last quarter of a game or the split second over a finish line it is so important to finish well. Otherwise you could have trained wonderfully, eaten well, had a great mindset going into the game and performed beautifully but in those final minutes if you don’t end well then really it’s all for nothing.

I mean, can you imagine Sally Pearson arriving at the last hurdle and deciding it was simply too high and too hard? Or Cathy Freeman running the last hundred metres and deciding it hurt too much? Or Jessica Fox lying down in her kayak at the final gate because she’s too worn out?

Now I’m sure they were all incredibly tired and they would have loved the opportunity to stop, but it was more important to finish well and to give their all. Yet stopping and having a lie down before we arrive at the finishing line is precisely what many of us are doing with our finances this time of year.

Let’s say you’ve had a fairly good year. You’ve worked out goals, you’ve put in place budgets, you’ve tracked spending, you’ve paid off your credit card debts and you might have a savings buffer in your accounts. Fantastic!

So you arrive at December or at the Boxing Day sales and you decide to reward yourself for having had an outstanding year. Or you decide to splurge a little extra on Christmas this year, because you can. And somehow that splurging and shopping and spending ends up undoing all the great work from your year and you end up feeling defeated and slipping back into a whole lot of bad habits.

That’s like running a great race but then stopping at the last hurdle.

Now I love a good sale and buying presents for others, so I’m certainly not advocating that you sit at home, do nothing, buy nothing and act like the Grinch. However I am suggesting that you make sure you are conscious of your spending this holiday season and you put plans in place to make sure you enjoy it both now and when your credit card statement arrives in late January.

What I know from watching and playing sport is that athletes always go into a race or a game with a strategy. And generally that strategy encompasses the moment they start the race to the moment they finish. That’s because they understand the mental toughness it takes to finish a race well or to win a game.

So my question to you as we reach the final moments in this year is what financial strategies are you going to put in place to make sure you end your race well?

Perhaps your strategy will include writing down every person you’re buying for and keeping track of how much you’re spending using free apps such as Evernote or Santa’s Bag. Perhaps it’s working out how much you’re going to spend over the Boxing Day and January sales and then tracking it using the MoneySmart app or Xero to make sure you stick to your limit.

Or perhaps it’s about simply buying everything online so you’re not tempted to purchase more as you walk past something shiny at the shops. Whatever you do, make sure you have a plan to finish well.

The most incredible moments in sport often happen at the end of the race. The elation on the face of the winner, the embraces of team-mates winning a grand final or the marathon runner who has finished miles behind everyone else but still stumbles over the finishing line determined to finish to a standing ovation from the crowd.

Whether you feel like you’ve won your financial race this year or you’re stumbling broken over the finish line, why not choose today to finish this year well and put half an hour aside this week to create a strategy so that you do.

Then make sure you celebrate your financial victory over a glass of bubbles, a cider or a green smoothie on New Year’s Eve and acknowledge the fact that no matter what type of year you had, at least you chose to finish well.

Posted by Melissa Browne – Money Manager on 5th December, 2014