To improve your finances, take lessons from the fitness industry. Set goals, splurge occasionally, pay yourself first, and automate where you can.
Confession: I’m a recovering junk food binger. I also rarely exercised. I’d often huff and puff up short flights of stairs.
So it wasn’t a huge surprise when, a few years ago, I learned I had high cholesterol and pre-diabetes—and I’ve been struggling with it ever since.
After many cycles of going on a drastic healthy lifestyle kick, then relapsing into my old ways, I finally made the decision to change for good.
While I’m still adjusting, I’ve gotten better at maintaining a good diet and exercising regularly. How? I’ve adapted my solid financial wellness habits to my physical health behaviors—it turns out there are many similarities between the two.
Here’s what’s working for me:
Starting with Easy Wins
Do what comes easy first, then tackle the tough stuff. Just like cutting back on what doesn’t add value to your life, you can do the same with eating and exercise preferences. Love savory snacks, but are blasé about sweets? Nix the cookies and cakes, then slowly wean yourself off chips.
At the same time, experiment with different healthy snacks to see what you do like, then eat more of it. For instance, I love strawberries, and hummus and cucumbers, so when I started phasing out junk food, those were my go-to snacks. As I found more healthy snacks to nosh on, it became easier not to reach for the cheesy puffs at the supermarket.
Paying Yourself First
A key part of sound financial wellness includes prioritizing money toward your goals, whether saving for retirement or a dream vacation, or making home renovations. We all know how awful it can feel for a month to go by without making much progress on what you really value.
I’ve discovered the same goes for physical health. By loading up on healthy food early in my day, I make sure I’m getting proper nutrition. I’ve also implemented a “greens first” policy, meaning I’ll eat my veggies first, then everything else on my plate. And you know what’s interesting? Not only have I felt more satisfied, I also don’t crave the filler stuff as much.
Similar to savings goals and bill payments, you can automate your eating and exercise habits. OK, this may come off as super boring, but I pretty much eat the same thing every day: green smoothie for breakfast, a salad with chicken for lunch, and a light dinner, usually with some protein and greens.
The same goes for exercise. While it can be difficult to set aside time to work out, I try to get my exercise in every morning several times a week. I go to the pool or on a short hike the same time each week.
Changing Your Mindset
While doing the work is one thing, what really helped me stick to healthy habits was changing my mindset from deprivation to abundance. I went from feeling like I was missing out on the deliciousness of fatty, sweet foods to realizing how groggy I’d feel after eating some loaded fries.
And just like how I’ve adopted a frugal, minimalist lifestyle, I’ve found there’s abundance in making healthy food choices. As for exercise, there are plenty of fun ways to burn calories besides running on a treadmill for half an hour. When I changed my mindset, I no longer felt like I was missing out. I realized I didn’t need to eat junk to be happy. In fact, these days I’m generally in a much better mood and have more energy.
Planning for Splurges and Deviations
The hardest thing to do, both with your money and body, is sticking to your plan when you want to let loose. Case in point: With money, I tend to spend carelessly when we have out-of-town visitors, go on vacation, are super busy with work, or are stressed out. The same goes for my healthy food and exercise regiment. When I’m on vacation, it’s really hard to pick the garden salad when the bacon cheeseburger with fries looks amazing.
So instead of pretending I’ll never touch another slice of chocolate cake again, I plan around these indulgences. For instance, if I know I’m going out for Korean BBQ for a friend’s birthday later in the week, I’ll make a point to eat extra healthy the rest of the time.
I also pick my battles. Just like how I choose to spend money on the things that make me happiest, if I’m going to a friends’ gathering where there will most likely be store-bought goodies, I may eat beforehand. But if I am going to a wedding where there will delicious eats that would please the most selective gourmands, I’ll “budget” to eat whatever I please.
Working hard toward being physically healthy for the last six months has made me more empathetic toward those trying to change their money habits. When I remind myself that I’ve been working on having a healthy relationship with money for about 15 years, I know I’m on the right track to creating long-lasting habits toward physical health.
Jackie Lam is the creator of Cheapsters, where she helps freelancers get by in the gig economy. She lives in L.A., where she is on the perpetual hunt for the perfect breakfast burrito.
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