Mack Horton on swimming, saving, and splurging on classic cars

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Mack Horton, Olympic swimmer and gold medallist, 24, "training, training and training" for the Tokyo Olympics in July.

While some Olympians were on the cusp of retirement when the Games were postponed last year, Horton is already setting his sights on the 2024 Games in Paris.

He spent lockdown in Melbourne, happy just to have a pool to train in.

olympic swimmer mack horton income

How difficult is it, in a career such as yours, to plan financially for the future?

It's quite difficult because as a non-professional sport we aren't employed or on a salary and quite often we just receive funding or sponsorship payments in lump sums periodically. Income is also seasonal because of the four-year Olympic cycle. It's not easy to get sponsorship, especially in Olympic sports because exposure for sponsors only really comes around once every four years. For me planning is all about saving. My family is pretty business savvy so I definitely consult them with money. It's not that hard, I just like to be conservative and take my time on decisions and really think. I have a lot of time to think about things while I'm swimming up and down in the pool.

What are some tips you've learned from others to manage income flow?

Save, save, save - particularly with such fluctuating income. It's all about having that cushion especially with such random income - one payment might not come in that you're expecting and you need to be able to make it through. Swimming is a weird sport, most of the team works in other jobs as well; that's what you have to do to fund your career. It's an ongoing battle but we're super appreciative of funding we do receive.

What was your first job?

I've never really had one. Swimming has always taken up so much of my time. I did a six-month stint at a bank to get some experience, but I don't think I did enough work to classify this as a job. They employed me as a property analyst two days a week, so it was hard to get super involved. I appreciated the experience but when so much was going on in the swimming world and I was only there for two days it was hard to sink my teeth in and feel I was able to add value. Other swimmers have cafe work or financial-type jobs. A few people are into engineering so they are dabbling in that, others are doing sports administration. I'm studying a bachelor of applied business but am now thinking of studying architecture when I finish swimming.

What's the best money advice you've received?

Probably the classic rule of thirds: save a third, invest a third, spend a third. For the investment third I've either put money into low-risk term deposits or dabbled in shares, although not much because it's risky and I don't know what I'm doing. For me it's more for learning. My discipline is good for sticking to the rule of three although I might be allocating less to investing and more to saving.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

I purchased a home around the corner from where I train.  Getting into the market early was a good investment decision and the other advantage it also saves me up to an hour and a half in commuting to multiple sessions a day so it is also an investment in recovery/performance. Anything that can make training better or make me more focused is valuable.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

I bought a catamaran a while ago but I didn't get enough use out of it and sold it at a loss. Boats are beautiful but not a good investment.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

I'm a big car guy. I bought a 1965 Land Rover which was a bit of a splurge. I love cars and it's a classic - it's a very mechanical and tactile convertible four-wheel-drive - fun to drive around town or head to the beach. It doesn't cost much in upkeep because it's so basic and you can more or less do it yourself. And, hopefully, it will appreciate in value.  I have one very nice camera which was a splurge as well.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

I'd put it into whatever was required to help me train better or to make my life easier so that I could focus on training. Investing in my performance is what I think is most valuable at the moment and will hopefully provide the biggest return. Squad fees, training camps, or equipment to train, new gym gear, supplements to help recovery, physio massage, float tanks.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

Again, I'd put it into whatever was required to help me train better, or to make my life easier so that I could focus on training. I'd do anything I could to swim faster.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

I would love to.

What's been your best money-making career move?

Swimming - and focusing on swimming.

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Julia Newbould is the managing editor of Money magazine and is one of the hosts of the Friends With Money podcast. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.