There are two important numbers I keep track of in my life—my calories in MyFitnessPal and my expenditures in my budget spreadsheet.
I know, I know, it’s a little neurotic, but I’ve found that doing so allows me to see patterns and figure out my weaknesses. By reviewing my “data,” I’ve made several insights, and fortunately, a lot of them apply to both weight loss and personal finance.
If cash is coming out of your wallet or food is going into your mouth, it deserves some consideration. Be deliberate with your actions and aware of the consequences. In short, turn off the autopilot.
Don’t stuff your face in front of the TV; sit at the table with family and have a nice home-cooked meal. Likewise, if you’re going to splurge at the mall, get something that will either serve a useful purpose or bring you joy.
Recalibrate Your Minimum
What’s the most amount of money you can spend without thinking about it? $3.89 on a latte? $19.99 on a new game? And what’s the highest amount of calories you can eat without adding it to Weight Watchers or MyFitnessPal? Is it one potato chip? A bite of a brownie?
Whatever your limit is, it’s probably too high. Even if it seems like a small amount of money or calories at the time, once you make several of these decisions, they’ll add up. You can’t round everything down to zero.
Put the Brakes On
Whenever you want to eat that giant slice of cake, or blow a few hundred on the latest gadget, put the brakes on. Give yourself time to examine your motivations and if you still want it once the waiting period is up, you can have it.
With food, it can take twenty minutes to digest, so that’s the minimum amount of time you should wait to get seconds or dessert. If you’re really craving something, try extending this time and distracting yourself with a walk or a game. If you still need a snack after that, you must be genuinely hungry.
As for spending, add desired items to a wishlist and put off buying them for a few days. If you notice yourself missing the item during that time, you can buy it. However, most of the time you’ll realize your tastes have changed or you’ll forget why you “needed” it in the first place.
Spend on Things that Matter
A new study showed that you don’t necessarily have to track calories to lose weight; you just have to eat better, wholesome foods. Instead of refined sugars and greasy, processed chips, you should eat lean meat with lots of veggies.
In the same way, spend your money on things that matter to you and are high quality. You trade a lot of time for this money and you should spend it on things that deserve it. Think about family vacations, cultural experiences, charitable donations, and other wholesome experiences that bring joy to your life. These are things that won’t end up in a junk box in your closet.
Like calories, you only have a certain amount of money you can spend in a given time period. Choose wisely.
It’s Not about Deprivation
Instead of obsessing over the foods you “can’t” eat, be grateful for the foods you can. Think of how good you feel after eating chicken and steamed carrots versus a pint of lo mein. Think of the satisfaction you get when a new recipe turns out successfully. Focus your life on the positive things you like about your new lifestyle instead of viewing it as constant deprivation.
In the same way, your personal finance experience should not be alternating stretches of self-enforced poverty and wild spending sprees. Instead of constantly adding things to your wishlist and dreaming about all the stuff you could have, let it go. You already have a ton of stuff—how much joy is it currently bringing you?
You can either spend all your money chasing a fantasy “want,” or change your standards and choose to want less. In doing so, you’ll have more.
There’s No Quick Fix
Contrary to the majority of the ads on the internet, there are no quick fixes to lose weight or get out of debt. It’s a long struggle and involves an overall change in the way you look at life.
You can spend years diligently working and saving, but if you slip up one day and dump your entire savings account into the latest item from QVC, none of that matters. Personal finance is ongoing. Unless you win the lottery, you’re going to have to watch your spending and be frugal for the rest of your life.
Likewise, there’s no end to eating well and exercising. Even if you hit that magical number on the scale, you’ll have to keep eating broccoli every night to help maintain it. For weight loss and personal finance, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul.
What other similarities are there? Leave your answer in the comments.