Save Up to Slim Down
It’s a multitasker’s dream scenario. But can saving cash really help shrink your waistline? Yes, according to behavioral psychologist Matt Wallaert. “Eating and spending are very similar behavioral processes in that they both are about the competition between our desires and the consequences,” he says. “Psychologists often look at the lessons learned in one domain to apply them to others.”
So why not kill two birds with one stone? These expert financial tips work for fattening up your wallet and slimming down your waistline. Ka-ching, ka-ching!
“One of the key findings with both spending and eating is that when people “break” their diet or budget, they tend to go big, figuring that they’ll just start over tomorrow because it is broken for today,” Wallaert says. Case in point: One study found that dieters who ate a single Hershey’s Kiss in the morning overate for the rest of the day, saying they had already “failed” on their diet. Don’t throw away good money after bad, Wallaert warns. “If you overspend, or overeat, each additional dollar or calorie is just making things worse.”
Take action: Next time you experience a moment of weakness, don’t let it derail you completely. Instead of giving in to an all-out shopping (or eating) spree, find a way to change gears. Put down the cookie (or those Louboutin heels) and go for a walk outside to refocus on your goals and avoid falling into a downward splurge spiral.
You can’t buy what you don’t shop for, so why tempt your willpower by spending time at the mall? While you may not be able to avoid all restaurants or stores, you can make little adjustments to your daily routine to help cut back on excess calories and spending. One study found that just moving a bowl of candy from your desk to a shelf across the room can dramatically decrease your daily intake. “Controlling your environment is critical in controlling your behavior, and we often forget just how important small changes can be,” Wallaert says.
Take action: Pinpoint a few of your trigger locations (or foods) for excess spending or overeating and avoid them. It’s straightforward, but it works! Have a friend that loves meeting for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory? Invite her over to try a new healthy recipe. You’ll save calories and cash!
Create a Tightly Sealed Budget
While tracking your spending is a good idea, if you really want to get serious about saving both money and calories, create a budget. And when it comes to staying on task, cash is king.
“Take a stack of envelopes and mark them for items you need/want to purchase—groceries, gas, entertainment, and utilities. Put an established amount of cash in each envelope and once it’s gone, it’s gone. This will make you find a way to budget and make things work,” says Amanda Gift, managing principal and vice president at Signature, a multi-family wealth management firm.
Sticking with cash can also help you make healthier choices at the grocery store. One 2010 study from Cornell found that people who paid for their purchases with credit cards were more likely to impulsively buy unhealthy items like ice cream and chips.
The same goes for calories. Getting specific about your weight-loss goal can help you determine your weekly calorie limit. Plan ahead for extra “spending” if a special event is coming up by cutting back on alternate days.
Take action: Once you’ve determined your monthly budget, spend some time on a Sunday to plan out healthy meals for the upcoming week to stay within your financial and calorie budget. (And when it’s time to hit the grocery store, bring only cash!)
Set Up a Double Rewards System
One of the best ways to stay on track with your weight loss and savings goals? Regularly reward yourself for your efforts. “Choose a credit card that offers healthy ways to redeem points,” Heckathorn suggests. “Have you always dreamed of enjoying an “exercise vacation” at a health spa where you do yoga twice a day? Choose the credit card, manage it responsibly, and you could make it happen for free.”
Take action: Look for a credit card that offers you rewards you’ll actually want to use, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. New cardholders can currently earn a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after spending $3,000 during the first three months. That translates to $500 in free travel (a Bikini boot camp, perhaps?).
Begin with the End in Mind
“Whether it’s deciding how much weight you want to lose or how much money you need to save, it helps a great deal to know where you want to end up,” says Jonathan DeYoe, a financial planner and owner of DeYoe Wealth Management. Once you know exactly where you want to go, you can create a specific step-by-step action plan to get there. For example, if you want to lose 15 pounds before your wedding in 10 months, you’ll need to lose about 1.5 pounds per month. If you want to take a $3,000 vacation one year from now, you’ll need to save $250 a month. Knowing where you’re going also helps you track your progress, DeYoe says.
Take action: Take a look at your specific end goal and deadline, and then do the math. Calculate exactly how much money or weight you’ll need to save or shed on a monthly basis to help keep yourself accountable during the process.
Do an Annual Spending Review
If you’ve noticed your bank account is a little low (and your pants are a bit tighter), it may be time for an annual review of your spending habits. “Pay close attention to your annual spending report. These year-end reports are often ignored by credit card users, but they can actually tell you a lot about the type of lifestyle you live,” says Joshua Heckathorn, blogger and CEO of Creditnet.com, a site that offers unbiased reviews of credit cards and credit report products for consumers. “Review them closely to make sure you’re not spending a large percentage of your annual spend eating out, which could be one of the main reasons why you’re having trouble shedding those last few pounds.”
Take action: Schedule an annual personal inventory check. Pick a date you’ll remember (like your birthday) and spend a few minutes reviewing important info like your credit report or annual spending report from your credit card company. Look for patterns in your spending habits that directly relate to your waistline—drinks out with clients and late-night dinners with friends—and come up with realistic strategies to scale back for the upcoming year. Consider meeting clients or friends for a boutique fitness class or coffee instead of cocktails.
Don’t Go to Extremes
As anyone who has ever tried to stay on a liquid cleanse can attest, switching from excessive habits to extreme restraint overnight can be a recipe for disaster.
“The quickest way to lose steam when working on a budget or trying a diet is to try extreme forms of behavioral change,” Wallaert says. “While it occasionally works for highly motivated people, the vast majority of people simply return to their old ways because they set themselves on a program of behaviors that they can’t possibly keep up.”
Take action: Accept that permanent change doesn’t happen overnight. Start with small, simple steps (swap your afternoon vanilla latte for home brewed coffee) that gradually move you closer towards your goals.
Paying top dollar for a gym membership each month? Take a good look at how often you’re actually using it (Be honest!). If you aren’t hitting the gym regularly, you aren’t doing your body—or your wallet—any favors, says Kimberly Horn, a certified financial planner for Mission Wealth Management. There are plenty of other ways to get in a good workout without the gym, so don’t waste your money paying for something you aren’t using! Running outside, doing bodyweight exercises like pushups and planks, or jumping rope at the park are all free and effective ways to stay fit, Horn says.
Take action: Figure out the real reason you’ve been avoiding the gym. Do you love it but never have time to go? Try scheduling your weekly workouts like you do for an important meeting to make your time and money count. But if you prefer working out at home or outdoors (and do so regularly), your gym membership may not be necessary. Ask about your gym’s policies to see if you can cancel (or at least freeze) your membership without penalty.
Pay Yourself First
“It’s important to save at least 10 percent of your earnings,” says Jim Martin, a financial advisor for the New River Financial Group. The same idea applies to your well-being—take care of yourself first so that you have enough energy to give to everyone else. Make exercise, sleep, and eating well a priority and find ways to automate healthy habits as often as possible.
Take action: Open up a 401k (especially if your employer matches it) or a ROTH IRA and automatically have 10 percent of every paycheck deposited into your account. And when it comes to your body, make your health top priority. It may seem like other responsibilities are more important, but if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not going to perform your best at work, at home, or in the gym (when you finally drag yourself there). Taking time to exercise, de-stress, and rejuvenate is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Saving money (and losing weight) requires dedication and consistency over time. Of course you won’t always be perfect and you might slip up every now and then, but understanding that your plan is a long-term goal will help you maintain realistic expectations and stick with it, says Casey Bond, a financial expert and managing editor for GoBankingRates.com.
Take action: If you get frustrated by not seeing major changes, try the snapshot technique: Every three months, take a screenshot of your bank account balance (be sure to leave out sensitive private information), and a full-body pic of yourself. It may be harder to recognize on a day-to-day basis, but the proof is in the pictures.