By Steve Repak, CFP®
Too many people are overweight, out of shape, and have too much debt. If this sounds like you, take heart. There is hope and if you follow the five steps I am about to lay out for you, you will be able to change your situation for the better. The way to start is to pull out a sheet of paper and write down how you got in your predicament and three reasons why it is important to you to change it.
Understand that you didn’t get into your predicament overnight, so you can’t expect to turn it around overnight. Sometimes the truth hurts, but its what we need to hear before we are motivated to take that first step.
STEP 1: Do Something Different
You are probably thinking that it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that one out but the truth is that it is impossible to change what is going on in your life without doing things differently. Keep in mind that the hardest step is the first step! Many personal trainers tell their clients that the hardest weight to push when you finally decide to get into shape is the front door to the gym. The same is true with getting out of debt. It might not be as easy as opening a door but it is as easy as pulling out a Tupperware bowl, filling it with water, putting in your credit cards and then placing it in the freezer. Take action and make a commitment to yourself, and the toughest part will be behind you.
Step 2: Less is better
To lose weight, you need to start eating fewer calories than you are burning and it doesn’t get any easier than that. Once again this is not rocket science. Most people have no idea how many calories they are taking in. To change this, you will start tracking what you are eating by keeping a calorie log or a food journal. Each time you eat, you will write it down in your journal. When you start writing down everything you eat, you will eat less. Think about it…do you really want to write down in your journal that you ate an entire carton of rocky road in a single sitting? Knowing you will be writing this down helps hold you accountable for making better decisions. The same thinking also works for your debt. The reason people have debt is that they spend more money than they make. You know what you take home each week but the key is to know how much are you spending. To help you figure this out, you should keep a spending journal. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, so if you are honest about recording all of your expenditures you will uncover wasteful and unnecessary spending and you will discover that you will start spending less.
Step 3: Change your priorities
You spend your money and your time on things that are important to you. Ask yourself if feeling and looking better is truly more important to you than that second helping of macaroni and cheese or another 30 minutes of television at night. If getting into better shape is important to you, you have to make it a priority, and this just boils down to making better choices. Instead of eating dessert, choose to go for a walk after supper. It’s no different when it comes to money. If your priority is to get out of debt, you need to start making better choices when it comes to your money. To help you make better choices you need understand the difference between your wants and your needs. Shelter is a need, but a 4000 square foot McMansion is a want. Food is a need but prime rib is a want. Only when you start making wise choices with your money will you have the ability to get out of debt. A great tip to keep you focused on the three reasons you identified at the beginning of this journey is to list them on a sticky note and place them on your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator, or anywhere you look often. It might sound silly but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Step 4: Incorporate some discipline
Getting into shape whether it is better physical shape or better financial shape will require some discipline on your part. Many people associate discipline with pain. Discipline doesn’t have to be painful if you can focus on the future prize instead of the present sacrifice. It’s mind over matter. To lose weight will require discipline. Choosing between eating an entire pizza or a salad with reduced fat dressing is a no brainer but it takes discipline to make that choice. That same type of discipline is needed to get out of debt. The reason people have a difficult time with debt is because of life’s emergencies. These could be the car tires that need replacing or maybe the hot water heater that doesn’t make hot water. To prepare for these life’s emergencies you need to be a disciplined saver. Your goal is to put at least 5 – 10% of your paycheck into a separate account that you will not touch unless in case of an emergency.
Step 5: Follow a Plan
There are three phases to planning. Phase 1. Determine your goals. Phase 2. Conduct an initial assessment. Phase 3. Develop a strategy to get you from your initial assessment to your ultimate goal. Your plan needs to be in writing. There are several studies that show that people who write their plans down have a higher probability of meeting their goals. In addition, your plan needs to be measurable, realistic and flexible. A realistic weight reduction plan would be to lose 2-3 lbs a week until you reach your desired weight. Developing a plan to get out of debt will work the same way. Phase 1. Your goal is to get out of debt. Phase 2. You will note who you owe, how much you owe, the interest rate, and the payment. Phase 3. Pick the strategy of either paying more towards the debt with the highest interest rate or more towards the debt with the lowest balance. A great website to put a get of of debt plan in writing is www.powerpay.org. The key is to have a plan, write it down and follow it.
Each day you put off the inevitable the harder and longer it will take to reach your goals. No matter if it is this summer or next, if it is 5 pounds or 50 pounds, or $5,000 or $50,0000, the numbers are not as important. What matters most is for you to start doing things differently, by remembering that less is better, changing your priorities and start showing some self discipline, and once you have put your plan into action you will find out that you can accomplish anything that you put your mind to.
About the Author
Steve Repak is a certified financial planner, Army veteran, motivational speaker, consultant and author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training For Your Money. For more information, please visit, www.DollarsAndUncommonSense.com.