So I started attending meetings of a popular weight-loss program in the fall, to finally lose that last bit of post-baby weight (does it matter that my “babies” are school-age now?). I’m sticking to the program and it’s working. But quite interestingly, our family budget is shaping up along with me!
Why? Turns out that a lot of the strategies for successful weight loss can also be applied to your finances. But maybe you already knew that.The concept had occurred to me before, but I just wasn’t ready to absorb it until now. We often EAT more than we need for many of the same reasons we SPEND more than we need: To combat stress, to alleviate sadness, to deal with boredom, or just because we’re feeling like, darn it, we deserve to treat ourselves! Sound familiar?
When I started making myself track my food choices on a daily basis, it made sense to do the same with my money. Instead of tucking an ATM or credit card receipt into my wallet and recording it in my budgeting program (I use Quicken) a week or so later, I started entering my purchases every day. This way, I always have an up-to-date snapshot of how much we’ve spent–and how much we have left–in our budget. This process works well for us because we actually do have monthly budgets for every category of our spending, from groceries to clothing to personal money for my husband and me.
This may sound basic, but it’s a cornerstone of being financially accountable. It was sooo easy to spend a little more on eating out because, well, I hadn’t entered all our receipts yet so I wasn’t exactly sure how much was left in that budget category. But we had to be pretty close, so what the heck? Let’s get pizza!
When I started really tracking our money every day, I was “reminded” that actually, we chose to grab lunch out on Saturday AND we had gotten Chinese takeout with friends Sunday night. If we opted for a pizza, we were going over our eating-out budget. Is that really what we wanted to do? Did we really want to “steal” money from another budget category, like our vacation fund? Maybe the pizza could wait, because our other money goals were important, too.
Some other strategies I’m borrowing from weight loss and applying to our wallets:
Budget a little for splurges. I wouldn’t make it through the weight-loss monotony without a few treats here and there. So I purposely “budget” my calories and make good food choices so I have room for an ice cream here and there, or a few cookies after dinner. Looking forward to those treats keeps me from feeling deprived and makes the weight-loss process bearable.
Same goes for money. We’re saving for some home remodeling projects and a big trip. But those aren’t much fun TODAY. So we make a point to have some money earmarked every week for entertainment and eating out. Those “treats” help us stay on the money-saving wagon and keep us from binging big-time.
Make strategic trade-offs: When we eat out, I’ve started opting for no-cal lemon juice on my salad. Instead, I’ll use those banked calories (interesting how many “diet” words are financial in nature!) on a little extra cheese, or a modest dessert. We use the same trade-offs in our budget. One example: We’re not excited about expensive cable TV; we just don’t watch it enough to make it worthwhile. So we stick to a fairly basic family plan. On the other hand, buying organic meat and certain organic fruit/ vegetables is important to us. So I might spend a little more on those grocery items than my neighbor would. It’s a trade-off.
Nobody can plan your budget for you. I don’t eat exactly the same foods as the other folks at my weight-loss meetings. No one tells me what kind of exercise I must do. We learn the same basic principles, but I’m training for a 5K run, while the woman next to me is an enthusiastic swimmer. Our family budgets aren’t the same, either. Even if we made the same amount of money, the swimmer and I can–and should–make individual choices about our money.
Remember how the prevailing financial advice for a long time was “quit wasting money on lattes at Starbucks” and put that money into retirement instead? I’m not quibbling with the basic wisdom, but darn it, I like my occasional Starbucks! I’d rather economize elsewhere. In other words, everyone’s budget should reflect their personal priorities. You’ll be more apt to stick with it.
By the way, I’m not the first person to make the connection between dieting and dumping debt/ saving money. Just the other day, I ran onto a great new book on this very topic: Wealth Watchers by Alice Wood. Hers is a great story of racking up both extra weight and significant debt after a debilitating brain injury. Wood lost the weight and got her finances back on track using many of the principles I’ve talked about here. Check it out. It’s not a difficult read, and it will leave you feeling like you, too, can trim your money waste (pun intended!).