A neighbor recently confided that she had just paid off the last of her substantial debt.
“I can’t tell you what a relief it is,” she said. “It’s like having my life back again. All that time I was living under the crushing pressure, and now I’m free. I don’t know how things got so out of control. I feel so good now, where before I felt terrible. But it was so much work to get out of debt. We really had to exercise restraint and discipline.”
Another friend who had moved away recently returned for a visit — about 200 pounds lighter. When I told her how great she looked, she said, “It’s great. I have my life back. I was so out of control and I felt horrible all of the time. Now I feel great. But it was so hard to do. I had to work so hard to lose that weight.”
Of course, I was happy for both of them. Getting control of your finances and losing weight are both hard, similar goals. But I had to wonder: How did these people let things get so far out of control that they had to exert so much energy to dig themselves out? If it feels so good to be thin or debt free, why did they let themselves get into that position? It seems to me that the goal should be to avoid these problems in the first place so that you don’t have to work so hard to get back to “good.”
We assume that people who stay thin or out of debt must be lucky, blessed with good genes, or have some other supernatural power. In reality, these people are controlled and disciplined enough to constantly manage and evaluate their situations to remain thin or out of debt. It’s not a miracle, it’s hard work and they work at it because they know that the alternative it to spend a lot of time and energy digging out of that deep hole. It’s energy they’d rather expend on prevention than on starting over.
The second question that came to mind was: Now that they’ve expended all this energy to get back to normal, how long will they be able to stay that way? Will they be able to maintain their new lifestyles, or will they fall off the bandwagon and back into fat or debt? Being thin and debt free have one thing in common: They require constant management. If you have never been overweight or have recently lost weight, you have to exert constant effort to stay that way. The same goes for staying out of debt and financially healthy. You can find plenty of suggestions for how to lose weight or get out of debt, but it’s harder to find ways to manage these conditions once you achieve them (or to manage an already ideal situation and prevent yourself from gaining weight or getting into debt in the first place).
People who stay thin or debt free all their lives apply some very similar tactics to help them manage their weight and finances. If you’ve ever wondered how people remain thin or debt free, here are the management techniques they use.
Continue to do what has worked up to this point: This one sounds easy, but it’s the hardest thing to do. If you have been on a certain diet or budget and it has gotten or kept you thin or out of debt, stick with it. You cannot allow yourself to get to a place where you say, “Now I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to stick with that diet or spending plan. I can eat or spend without fear of the consequences.” That is the path to losing control and getting into (or back into) trouble. If it’s worked up to this point there’s a reason, so keep at it.
Maintain healthy habits: When trying to maintain weight, you have to keep up the habits of exercising regularly, eating foods that are good for you, and watching calories. When you’re trying to maintain a good financial lifestyle, you have to keep up the healthy habits of tracking your spending, managing your accounts, paying bills promptly, and refraining from overspending and shopping recklessly. You can’t allow yourself to settle for less than ideal habits, or to let your good habits slip away.
Know and avoid your triggers: People trying to maintain their weight have to be aware of what leads them to overeat; whether it’s stress, certain trigger foods, social occasions or restaurants, and stay away from it (or at least be aware of the situation so they can get out if it becomes uncontrollable). People trying to maintain their finances have to know what triggers spending. Maybe it’s shoes or clothes, holidays, electronics, toys, video games, or DVD’s. Whatever it is, you have to know about it so you can stay away from it or be vigilant about keeping spending under control.
Monitor your weight/finances regularly: If you’re trying to maintain your weight, you should weigh yourself often so that you can identify a couple of extra pounds before they become 10, 20, or 30 extra pounds. If you’re trying to maintain your finances, you have to monitor your financial health regularly so that you can nip any overspending before it becomes debt. Sometimes you’ll slip and spend too much on something. If you’re aware of it you can trim back in other areas and control the problem. If you don’t track your finances regularly, those little overspending episodes can quickly become big time debt.
Be consistent all of the time: No cheating, no “It’s just this once,” “It’s a holiday,” “I’m on vacation,” or “It’s my birthday” excuses. Whether it’s your weight or your finances, you cannot allow yourself to give in to excuses to overeat or overspend. If you find an excuse today, you’ll be more likely to find another excuse tomorrow. Before you know it, those excuses have added 20 pounds to your waistline or $2,000 to your debt load.
Get support when you need it: Maintaining both weight and finance sometimes requires support. Sometimes you need help from someone who has been through what you’re struggling with, someone who can just listen when you need to vent, or provide you with a distraction form eating or spending. Going it alone makes it that much harder to stick to your resolve. Form a good support group to help you along the way.
Maintaining your weight or your finances sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But the work spent on maintenance is nothing compared to dieting or digging yourself out of a big debt hole. Once you get used to the discipline and responsibility required of you, it becomes second nature and you can maintain a debt free lifestyle without much conscious effort. It’s far preferable to maintain a good situation than to let yourself slide into a hole that will require months or years of intensive effort to climb out of. You feel relief when you lose weight or get out of debt and that’s a great, one-time high. But it’s a far better high to live every day without the worry or stress that comes from being overweight or deeply in debt. Work hard to maintain your good situation and don’t allow yourself to get into a bad situation.