Your Expensive Hobby Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Budget

Justin WallerNews

Training for a triathlon is an expensive hobby. It can be really hard to get started and, in some situations, you can spend A LOT of money on something you may not even like. Just because you can spend thousands of dollars on gear doesn’t mean that you should.

Before you try to establish any kind of budget for your hobby, you should first think about your goals. 

Are you trying to find a fun way to be active outside with swimming, cycling and running? 

Great. 

Are you looking to win your age group and compete at the national or professional level? 

Awesome, you can do that, too, though you might want to set your goals a little lower to make sure that you like the sport before you envision yourself atop the competition podiums.

Do you already have a background in one aspect of triathlon and want to diversify your training? Or are you starting from scratch, without a background in any of the disciplines? Either way, you can do it. It is good to recognize your current position and what you want to accomplish.

Find Equipment That’s Right For You

Once you have decided to train for a triathlon, the bike you ride is one of the biggest decisions.  Here is a great article from Triathlon magazine that will help you understand the two primary starting points for triathlon bicycles https://triathlonmagazine.ca/feature/road-bike-or-tri-bike/

After riding a road bike for a couple seasons, I bought my first “TT/Tri” bike used from a man who had bought it as a cruiser bike. His friend told him that the bike was a great deal, so he bought it. He used it for about six months and came to the conclusion that he couldn’t comfortably ride the thing. He realized that he was looking for something completely different.

I think it is simultaneously sad and awesome when I scan a site like bikeexchange.com. You can see close to a thousand nearly new Time Trial bikes from across the globe.  You can see all these bikes vying for your attention, only to realize that many of those bikes were purchased by someone who didn’t really know what they wanted when they bought it. 

This creates an opportunity for you WHEN you know what you want. Until then, if you get started with a basic road bike, you can build a lot of fitness, learn about all the great equipment that is out there, and budget accordingly.

I suggest starting with a basic road bike. Add some clip-on aero bars when you are comfortable and get out there and train. Do a couple of races and see what you think.

In my opinion, most Sprint and Olympic distances age group athletes would be better served by staying on a road bike they are comfortable riding than progressing to a tri bike right away. 

Once you are ready for an upgrade in speed and distance, then you could consider a bike with a TT/Trial setup.

Either way, don’t break the bank with your purchase. Whether you are single or married, young or old, chances are that you have more important financial obligations than picking up a new hobby, especially a hobby that has the potential to crater even the largest savings accounts.

I suggest spending no more than 10% of your disposable income on hobby expenses. This is only a guideline, but it is a good place to start. Ultimately, you’ll need to establish a budget and decide how you want to spend your funds. 

If you like the sport, you will be able to do it for years or possibly decades. You will have plenty of time to work your way into great equipment if that is what you want to do.

If you think about all the stuff you can spend money on as it relates to triathlon, the list is quite long. Here are a couple of examples:

Phase 1 – New to the sport

Equipment

  • Swimming clothes
    • For the gentlemen, a quality pair of tri-shorts can be a great multi-sport option
    • For the ladies, please recognize that if you are new to swimming for time/distance, you should probably consider investing in a quality swim suit that keeps you comfortable and allows you a lot of flexibility to move in the water.  You can certainly start swimming with a fancy bikini, but you may soon realize that you need more support when swimming for distance.
  • Wet suit
    • Entry-level wetsuits are great for open water (not to be used in a pool if you can avoid it).  
    • There is a meaningful difference between triathlon wetsuits and any other type i.e. scuba etc.  Shoulder flexibility is important and if you are new to swimming in open water, a little bit of buoyancy for your legs can be helpful. Xterra wetsuits are a great place to start as they have entry-level through pro-level wetsuits.
  • Goggles
  • Helmet – a quality cycling helmet is important. If you don’t have a bicycle helmet already, I recommend talking with your Local Bike Shop about getting one that fits well and will be comfortable.  
  • Basic Road Bike
  • Cycling Shoes
  • Cycling fix-it kit (tubes, etc)
  • Running Shoes

Additional Costs

You can race a local sprint distance event for $100 or less. If you register in advance, many races will give you a discount. However, entries for an Iron Distance race can easily reach $800. This is why I recommend starting with local events. Even 5k/10k races can be great if you set it up the right way.

*Tip: If you find yourself flogging all your buddies at the local 10k, try staging your bike at the race start and riding for a bit before you run. You need to have a secure place to protect your bike while you are out running, but I guarantee that if your local runs are too easy, throwing in a bike ride before the run will bring back the challenge.

Phase 2 – I like this and I want to get better

Equipment

  • Better wetsuit
  • Entry-level/Mid Grade TT Bike
  • Running Shoes

Additional Costs

  • Hiring a coach
  • Entry fees
  • Nutrition program
  • Travel expenses for races

Gradually build your arsenal of gear as your resources permit. It is always easy to spend more on gear. Once you buy that “one” thing, there is always another “thing” behind it. Buying things doesn’t really make you happier. Instead, invest in quality gear that makes you comfortable and increases your enjoyment of your sport.

If you could benefit from a financial coach that can help you navigate the triathlon of your financial life, we should talk! Click here to schedule a 30-minute (virtual) conversation to discuss your unique situation, learn more about Waller Financial and determine if we’re a good match

Please keep in mind that triathlon can be a dangerous sport and your safety should be your first priority. For example, if you are not comfortable swimming in open water, start swimming with a group or a buddy, stay close to the shore and work your way up as you get more comfortable.  Please be safe out there!