How You Save is No Different Than How You Diet
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Please enjoy this guest post from personalfinanceutopia.com. Jeff, also known as Mr. Utopia in the blogosphere, is a senior financial analyst at a Fortune 50 company. A devoted husband and father, Jeff uses his “free” time to run Personal Finance Utopia where he chronicles his family’s journey to get their personal finances to an ideal place.
Scenario 1: You hop out of the shower and as you’re toweling off you catch a glimpse of yourself and your spare tire in the mirror. You shake your head in dismay and vow, “that’s it, I’ve let myself go for far too long and I’ve had enough. I’m going on a diet.”
Scenario 2: The monthly bills are due. As you tally everything up, you realize this month’s expected surplus is nonexistent. Yep, you overspent again. Rubbing your forehead and sighing, you exclaim “that’s it; I’ve let my spending get out of control for far too long. I’m never going to reach my financial goals. I’ve got to start really saving.”
How are these scenarios related? If your guess is the person in the scenarios is overweight because he or she overspent on donuts and cake then you might be partially correct! The real connection between them, however, is that how you approach your savings is very similar to how you diet.
You Have to Want It
- Savings – If you are fine with spending frivolously, then you’ll never make any changes. Only by making a conscious decision to tighten your budget will you be able to take the necessary actions to start saving. Consciously deciding isn’t quite enough though. You need a deep down drive to truly adhere to any savings aspirations. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to veer off the path.
- Diet – Before you embark on any diet, you must have the desire to slim down. If you don’t really want to become healthier, then you most certainly won’t take the steps to clean up your diet. Let’s face it, putting junk food in your body is much easier because it’s so convenient. Driving to McDonald’s or opening a bag of Doritos requires virtually no effort compared to preparing a healthy salad. Without passion, your diet is doomed before you even start.
- Savings – To truly achieve your savings goal, you’ll have to plan ahead. For most people, this equates to building a budget. Planning ahead also includes contributions to an emergency fund or to a retirement account. No matter where the emphasis of your savings target lies, you’ll need to allocate time and effort to plan accordingly. With a solid course of action, you’ll set yourself up for long term sustainability.
- Diet – If you are trying to break bad eating habits, then coordinating your meal plans is important. If you don’t adequately prepare ahead of time, you increase the chances of getting lazy at the last second and indulging. Instead, you’ve got to make sure your refrigerator and cabinets are stocked with nutritious options. Planning healthy meals out in advance and buying the ingredients beforehand helps to stay on track. By doing so, you commit ahead of time.
You must be dedicated
- Savings – You can be the most diligent saver in the world for a long duration of time. However, it only takes a moment of weakness or two to erase your savings efforts. Let’s say you’ve been sticking to your budget for a few months, but one particular day has been rough and you console yourself by buying that expensive brand name purse you’ve had your eye on for a while. Or maybe you find out your favorite musician is coming to town and you can’t resist shelling out hundreds of dollars for concert tickets. Just a few slip ups are all it takes.
- Diet – Moments of weakness are all too real when it comes to a diet. How often have you stuck to your guns only to end up caving in to temptation and consuming those cookies or stuffing your face with pizza? Don’t get me wrong, 100% compliance with a diet is generally a way to fail. In other words, there is nothing wrong with having a “cheat” meal along the way. But many of us have the “cheat” meal and still succumb to other treats. Discipline is required to stay on track with a diet. Otherwise, you likely won’t reach your ideal body weight goal.
Others Around You
- Savings – Social activities can impact your savings efforts. Left to yourself, saving is much easier. If your friends have a penchant for spending freely, then socializing with them could easily derail your savings goals. Face it, it’s much easier to succumb to their lavish ways when hanging out than for you to convince them to rein things in a bit. If it’s a good friend, then perhaps they’ll understand and the spending differences won’t cause a problem. However, you’ll still need to be diligent and constantly aware when social situations arise that could zap your bank account.
- Diet – Despite your best intentions, social pressures can derail your diet in a heartbeat. One of the easiest ways for this to happen is at work. In many offices, co-workers constantly bring in cookies, cupcakes, etc. and leave them sitting there available to all. Or perhaps everyone is going out to Friday happy hour after a tough week of work. A drink or two and the next thing you know everyone is ordering burgers and fries – including you! Overcoming these types of temptations is necessary though if you are going to accomplish your diet goals.
The desire, planning, dedication, and social skills needed to stick to a diet can be translated to how you address your savings efforts. Since you’re now aware of this overlap, you can create synergies in order to become a lean, mean, savings machine!
What do you think of the similarities between saving and dieting? What’s more difficult for you to accomplish?
Jeff, also known as Mr. Utopia in the blogosphere, is a senior financial analyst at a Fortune 50 company. A devoted husband and father, Jeff uses his “free” time to run Personal Finance Utopia where he chronicles his family’s journey to get their personal finances to an ideal place.
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It is very true, if financial freedom is your desire you should stick to it. Let your desire drive you to attain it. There is similarities between saving and diet. It requires two words, desire and discipline. Without discipline you cannot have savings and no results to your diet as well.
Discipline is definitely key. Hopefully after developing enough discipline, both savings and diet/fitness become second nature.
Every time I start counting my calories I ask myself “why is budgeting easier for me than this?” Good post!
Ha, good point. Counting calories is more difficult than counting dollars although you might be able to count more dollars if you spent less on the calories!
Great post, Jeff! Getting in shape physically definitely has similarities to getting in shape financially and I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you have to be dedicated. Without dedication you will lose motivation far too early to see the changes you want to see.
Thanks, David. Yep, the fundamental core for being successful in both endeavors is that you must truly desire it (not just THINK you want it). If you don’t, then you’re kidding yourself.
It is actually physiologically easier to save than it is to physically diet. As you get thinner, your body fights more. Diets tend to backfire and cause you to gain more weight. With saving, the more you save (particularly with debt reduction or with higher interest investments), the easier it is to save, and spending diets can knock out high interest debt and provide more income, making it easier to save even while spending more.
Perhaps a better similarity would be getting fit. The more you exercise the easier it is to exercise.
Well, saving isn’t necessarily physiological, so I’m not sure a comparison is apt in that department. And, if I didn’t make it clear above, I wasn’t referring to unsafe or fad dieting, but rather a healthy, wholesome diet. I would also contend that, similar to gaining momentum saving, you can do the same and create synergies with your diet as well.
I think the comparison is a good one, and in both cases I think the best approaches are to automate everything you possibly can and put up as many barriers to the bad behaviors as possible. Another consideration is that it’s easier to create good habits than it is to break bad habits, so if you can focus first on creating a few positive habits that can go much further than trying to stop all of the negative ones.
Good points for sure, Matt. For both saving and dieting, you should employ whatever tactics work best to keep you on track.
I think the two are very related and I would say surrounding yourself with like minds that share similar goals is very important. It’s to easy to give up if you don’t.
Very true, Kim. Having a support network can go a very long way!
This is a great analogy! I’m a big believer in both meticulous tracking and public accountability as ways to achieve both things. Since the effects of dieting and financial recovery often happen so slowly, you often need both to stay motivated!
You’re right, effective saving and dieting are generally longer term objectives and tracking and public accountability are good ways to stay focused.
If I could only be as good at dieting as I am at saving 😉 There are a lot of similarities. For me the “cheat meals” and “cheat purchases” can be the hardest part. Once I’ve eaten a whole bag of chips, I may as well eat a piece of pie, because I’ve already “fallen off the wagon”.
I hear you on the “fallen off the wagon” syndrome. Once the flood gates are opened up, then it’s all too easy to just keep binging. It can be the same for a person who spends uncontrollably though. Once they let their guard down, then they might go on a spree.
I think dieting and saving are very similar. I think the best way it to change your lifestyle. If you change your lifestyle to one where you eat healthy foods and get regular exercise…it is no longer a diet. As dieting usually doesn’t work or if it does work, you revert back to your old weight after the diet is over. Same with saving…you have to change your mindset on money. If you think that saving money is depriving yourself and that you need to go shopping, then it will be hard to save.
Andrew, thanks. There is an important distinction between lifestyle and more temporary, shorter term efforts. I didn’t necessarily spell that out in the article perhaps because, in my own mind, I always think in terms of lifestyle.
I think there are many, many similarities between dieting and saving money. It’s mostly all psychological. I agree with Andrew it’s all about lifestyle change. You won’t be able to stick with the plan unless you change your current habits.
The psychological aspects are huge and that could work in your favor or to your detriment depending on your psychological fortitude.
I always thought the two were very similar in nature. I do agree you you have to decide what you want, not necessarily what you don’t want to finally make a change.
I guess that’s like “keep your eyes on the prize”, right? At some point in time you have to figure out what you want to accomplish and then really, really want to get there or you most likely won’t do so (whether it’s saving, dieting, or anything else).
Dedication is key. Right on with this one Holly.
Desire, dedication, planning – all key aspects!
Nice post Jeff and good to see you on Club Thrifty 🙂
So, I guess this would explain way I’m chubby and broke all the time!!
Seriously though, planning and dedication are key and those are two areas that I need work in. I get to a point where all is going well and then for some reason plans get derailed and I fall. I do get back up at times, but it seems to take longer than the previous attempts.
That being said, I will work this out and be better off for it. The experiences you go through when your down, are more valuable than when you are on top of the world…well…at least to me 🙂
Take care Jeff and all the best.
Thanks much, Lyle. I wholeheartedly agree that you can learn so much when you fail. But, you do have to be careful not to get trapped in a vicious, repetitive cycle. That’s what many of us do. I’m not trying to speak like I’m an expert here by any means as I’ve messed up too (and still do). I can say for sure that if you truly want to achieve a reasonable goal (and saving and having a healthy diet are definitely within that description), then no one can stop you.
Jeff, I think this is brilliant and so true. My husband and I have often talked about the similarities. You are what you eat, you are how you spend. We are living proof. For the first eight or so years of our marriage, we ate Mexican food every Friday (couple of bowls of chips, biggie burrito) and that wasn’t all – how about some sausage and cheese for dinner on Tuesday, old Atkin’s diet, anyone? Hmm…how did our pants shrink?
Same with spending – new townhome, new lamps, right? What are a few chairs and things for the walls. Well, why not fill up those empty closets some? Who likes empty shelves.
It took us the last six years to drop the pounds and climb out of the debt, but it’s so possible. We’re happier than ever and living a life we want. All it took was honesty, a plan of action and lots and lots of conversation! I’m so happy to see you making this comparison of diet to money, Jeff! What a delight!
Hey, Tammy, I’d glad you enjoyed the comparison. I’m also happy to hear that you and your husband were able to leverage the similarities and strategies in order to shed both the pounds and the debt! Those are great accomplishments and you can obviously fully relate to the message in the article. Keep it up!!
This is spot on! I lost 40 pounds about the same time I started to get my savings in check. Well, actually the dieting happened first. Now I’m getting disciplined with savings. I put about 5 pounds on in the interim, all due to the issues noted above, but am taking them back off.
That’s awesome that you’re making such progress, Meghan. Do you find that getting your savings in order is easier since you got your diet in order and lost all that weight? Are the two approaches similar?
Kind of! I just got serious with myself at the same time. Plus, if you aren’t going out to eat, you naturally save money. Although I can buy some serious salads on diets that cost $10 plus tip, so that can backfire too.
Love this comparison!
I am super fit and love to eat healthy, but saving is tough. So, I try to apply the same principles as mentioned to savings as I do to my successful diet.
Often we run into the same wall without seeing the ladder right next to the wall. We have skills (the ladder) in other areas that can be applied to difficult other areas (the wall), but we often overlook the overlap.
Great comparison today Jeff!
I like the wall/ladder analogy. That’s a great way to phrase it.
Nice post Jeff and I think you’re spot on as both are closely related in my opinion. think so much does come down to wanting it and coming up with a plan that you can work with. For me, the saving is much easier and it’s because I want it. I’ve recently changed on the other and it’s interesting to see how you can change when you want something.
Totally agree, John. If you only casually or “kind of” want something, then most likely you won’t get it unless you get lucky (and neither saving nor dieting/losing weight happens because of luck!). If you truly desire something which is realistically attainable, then nothing will permanently stop you from getting there.
Nice approach! In my case though, saving is still the easier thing to do as I haven’t managed to reach my weight goals for quite a while now. But now I might associate my savings strategy with dieting and hopefully do them both right (and not the other way around, ha!)
Good luck, C.! I’ll bet there’s surely some carryover lessons, tips, tricks, etc. that you can take from your savings effort and apply to your diet/weight goals.
wow, this is so true! I´ve never thought about how similar saving and dieting can be, even if I´ve been doing both for a long time. I do love it though when my dieting results in more savings. like now, I´m not drinking any alcohol for a month, so I´m able to save more money than usual, and since I´m trying to eat less sugary food, I buy less sweets, which means a surplus in my everyday savings:-)
It’s a bit ironic, but there’s definitely some direct synergies between saving and dieting. In my opinion, eating less sugary food is a great way to save too because sugar highs/lows make you constantly want to eat more (and thus spend more)!
My wife says I am very disciplined! I am a lifelong saver and lost 40 lbs. about 35 years ago and kept it off all these years. Diets or maintaining good health is similar to saving.
Your wife surely knows what she’s talking about. You’re an experienced veteran in both categories!
It’s so true that there are so many similarities between money and weight. These are also the two areas that many people struggle with the most. I wonder what it is in human brains that makes it so difficult for us to watch our wallet and our weight.
Good question, Daisy. I’m not a psychologist, but there’s got to be some sort of similar psychological phenomenon involved with both.
There are so many similarities between diet and saving. For both we need to have power to control our temptation. Most of the time, I fall into the trap of temptation to eat and buy sweet. So far how much I plan for it, does not work for me. Thanks for your inspirational post.
Being on diet and saving do take a lot of discipline to achieve your desired goal. It is really hard, but everything will be all worth it in the end.