It’s the first day of a brand new year, and all over the country, people are getting a start on their New Year’s resolutions. Many are likely tackling one or both of the twin bogeys of modern American life: Lose Weight and Get Out of Debt. The more I deal with both of them in my life, the more I’ve come to see them as identical””perhaps even conjoined””twins. Consider:
“¢ Both are budgeting issues: the challenge is to wisely allocate our money and calories.
“¢ Each is ruled by a simple formula: Spend Less than You Earn, and Eat Less than You Burn.
“¢ We are susceptible to binge and purge cycles in both.
“¢ Emotional stress can trigger both overeating and overspending.
“¢ You can’t go cold turkey from either money or food.
“¢ There are similar shame issues involved in talking about problems with both.
“¢ There are multi-billion dollar industries built on promising us a easy, quick solutions: lotteries, investment schemes, Lose 20 Pounds in 2 Weeks!
“¢ True progress comes from small changes consistently applied over time.
“¢ Commercial advertising has a largely negative effect on both weight and wallets.
Some of our choices impact both: for instance, the daily designer coffee drink that costs $5 and 500 calories. If you have such a habit, consider yourself lucky: with one change, you can gain ground on two fronts. Sometimes, we’re offered choices that force a trade-off between the two goals: maxing out a credit card to buy exercise equipment, or buying cheaper, less healthy food to conform to a strict budget. (As I type this, a perfect example presents itself: a commercial on TV is offering me a spandex sausage casing to force my chubby self into, to give the appearance of “instant weight loss!” I can spend 50 real dollars to lose 30 pretend pounds? What a deal!)
Given the many ways our weight and money habits intertwine, I find it useful to tackle them with the same tools and approaches.
“¢ Know your numbers: track what you spend and what you eat, and get a handle on where your money goes out and where calories come in. Then look for ways to cut both.
“¢ Little things add up. This can work for you or against you””the interest compounding on money saved, or fattening effect of a daily can of soda.
“¢ Make changes you can live with, literally. Unless you enjoy yo-yo dieting and debt, you need to get in the mindset that you’re creating a new way to live, not adopting a short-term program that you’ll abandon once you reach your goal.
“¢ You can live with bigger changes that you imagine, if you take it in stages. Start with a small change, and when it feels natural, stretch it, and then stretch it again.
“¢ Set specific goals, both short- and long-term. Celebrate intermediate milestones to keep yourself motivated.
“¢ Learn to delay gratification.
“¢ Take the long view: whether you’re trying to lose 100 pounds or save up $100,000, it’s not going to happen overnight. But it will happen, if you keep at it. As my doctor said to me at my last check-up, “What you weigh in the next two or three years isn’t as important as what you weigh over the next 30 years.”
“¢ Perhaps the most important point of all: Start Now. Start the minute you decide to do it. Don’t wait for some arbitrary future point (January first, Monday morning, next month, next year, after I design the perfect plan, when I’m 40, when things settle down, once I get a new job, etc.) NOW is not only the best time to make a change for the better, it’s the only time you have. If you’re waiting for some magical time to get started, all you’re really doing is wasting a series of nows, and you’ll never get them back again. I would love to be 100 pounds lighter and thousands of dollars richer right now, but unfortunately, I wasted the years and years of nows that could have gotten that for me. I can’t be there today, but I can do the things today that will get me there someday. And so can you.