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What Losing Weight Taught Me About Saving Money

There is a natural parallel between losing weight and saving money.

For the past several months, CB has been on a weight loss journey. In the middle of January, I joined him. True, we want to look good for the wedding (because there’s nothing like having your appearance captured by pictures that will last forever to give you a kick in the pants), but more importantly we want to establish good eating habits and exercise habits to carry us far beyond the Big Day. CB lost 50 pounds in eight months, going from a 38-inch waist to a 32-inch waist. I had a modest-sounding-but-still-signficant-to-me 6 pound weight loss, trimming an inch around my waist.

Watching CB lose weight and then working at it myself, I realized that there are so many lessons that losing weight have taught me about saving money.

1. It’s about understanding the numbers AND taking action.

bestdietplan What Losing Weight Taught Me About Saving Money

Losing weight and saving money are math problems. To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit – eat fewer calories than what your body needs to maintain its current weight. To save money, you need to spend fewer dollars than you earn. Both cases can be boiled down to a case of simple arithmatic: dollars in vs. dollars out, calories in vs. calories out.

But THEN you throw in human behavior, and it just all goes out the window! Plenty of people understand that eating unhealthily and sitting all day will encourage weight gain, just as plenty of people understand that if you spend more than you make, you will run into debt. But as anyone as ever tried to lose weight or save money (*raises hand*) would tell you, it’s one thing to know the math. It’s another thing to make the not-so-fun decisions (choosing an apple over a chocolate muffin, trading a loft apartment for room in someone else’s house) that will allow you to achieve the desired results.

2. You can’t out-train a bad diet, and you can’t out-earn bad spending.

dietvsexercise What Losing Weight Taught Me About Saving Moneyearningvsspending What Losing Weight Taught Me About Saving MoneyWatch this video on why you CANNOT out-train a bad diet <—- one guys runs at a pace of 11 miles per hour and burns 40 calories in a few minutes. In the same amount of time, his buddy consumes almost 1,000 calories in pizza and soda. In the same way, I’d say that you can’t out-earn bad spending. Of course, if you are rich like Bill Gates is, it is quite difficult to imagine how you can ever spend all that money if you just kept a portion of your wealth in income-producing investments. On the other hand, we’ve all heard stories of some very wealthy people – professional athletes, Hollywood stars, famous photographers, etc. – who have to live in reduced circumstances because they spent beyond their means.

Making a high income is important, it’s one side of the equation. But it’d be pretty darn difficult to earn enough money to support a life of indiscriminate spending. Focusing on earning without examining your expenses is akin to trying to lose weight while filling your diet with sugary drinks and fried foods. When I saw that video, I felt a lightbulb switch on…. which brings me to the 3rd lesson I’ve learned.

3. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

If you want to lose weight, you need to measure what you are eating. If you want to save money, you need to measure how much you are spending. Trying to lose weight and save money means that you are by definition changing the status quo – so you HAVE to do something differently in order to see results. Your current diet isn’t working. Your current spending isn’t working. Otherwise, you would have already gotten the results that you wanted.

CB and I both track our calories. He does it on a piece of paper, I do it with the app MyFitnessPal. Once I started seeing results with MyFitnessPal, I realized that I needed to do the same thing with my finances. I’ve tried out several expense tracking applications recommended by readers, and for now I’ve been entering my data into iXpenseIt – but I’m open to other suggestions! Measuring my progress allows me to 1. stop deluding myself on how much I am really eating or spending, and 2. show me where I am going overboard. Incidentally, it’s the same with both expenses & calories: eating out… coincidence? I think not!

4. Know what’s worth it, and what isn’t.

We all have limited resources – calorie-wise or dollar-wise – so it’s important to figure out what purchases or meals are “worth it.” After almost two months of paying attention to my diet, I have developed a repetoire of meals that I know are worth the giant caloric intake: fried chicken over oily sticky rice from my favorite Thai takeout (800-1,000 calories), flourless chocolate tort from the Capital Grille (734 calories), curry ramen at the local noodle house (650-700 calories), scones that CB’s sister makes (300 calories per scone, but I always eat 2-3 in a sitting!), etc. I also know what ISN’T worth the extra calories, so I don’t eat those foods.

When it comes to spending, I am working on the same mentality. Tango lessons for $15 a pop is worth it to me, buying 2 e-books for that same price is not. I have enough lotions to keep me moisturized for a year, so even though the new bottle is on sale, I am not going to buy it. All that money I’ve saved can go towards something that I really want, that is really worth my dollars – things like travel, retirement accounts, facials, etc. By spend money on what is important to you, and ruthlessly cutting expenses on all the rest, you’ll be able to gain more enjoyment from your dollars AND prepare for a financially sound future.

5. Plan ahead and build in a cushion (and when you slip up, get back on track).

We won’t eat perfectly 100% of the time and we won’t spend perfectly 100% of the time. By planning ahead and building a cushion, however, I can mitigate the impact of a bad diet decision or unexpected expense. So when I know I am going to spend Friday night with a giant bowl of the delicious chicken mentioned above, I try to shave a hundred calories off every day in the beginning of the week. When I know I have to pay for tuition deposits in a few months, I try harder to squirrel some more nickels so that when the day comes, the bill wouldn’t be such a shocker. (But I think it still will be).

Despite our best plans, though, we make mistakes and veer off track… because life happens. The important thing is to not let a bad day turn into a bad week, and a bad week turn into a bad month, and so on. When I was in Las Vegas, all my discipline went out the window and I enjoyed far more culinary delights than I should have. But when I came back from that trip, I told myself, “OK, now you have to get back on track!” And I did. When I was visiting all these business schools during interview season, I didn’t always choose the cheapest flights or car rentals. I chose convenience, and that was OK. But now that I have more time to look for flights for my honeymoon and other trips, I take longer to search for deals and make my purchases.

6. It’s not a quick fix, it’s a way of life.

One night, CB came to me with a mournful look on his face and said, “you know, I’ll have to eat like this for the rest of my life.” I looked at him and said, “me too. But that’s OK. We have to make healthy eating a lifestyle. It’s GOOD for us!” (the truth is at that moment I was really, really craving a giant piece of chocolate fudge). When I think back to how and what we used to eat, I realized that that’s not a sustainable way of eating. We had no concept of moderation, we underestimated the calories in our foods and overestimated the calories burned through exercise, we ate whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, and usually what we wanted were NOT salads or grilled veggies. This new phase in our life isn’t a short-term fix. It has to be for life.

The truth is we can’t eat whatever we want – unless you are one of those rare souls who truly prefer tofu over fried chicken – and we can’t buy whatever we want. Nothing you do will change those facts. If you try to deny it, you are only going to dig a deeper hole for yourself, in terms of bad debt or bad health, or both.

7. Don’t just rely on sheer willpower, figure out a system instead.

Willpower is a limited resource, in fact, studies have shown that when we expand willpower on certain things, other goals fall by the wayside. That means if you are trying hard to save money, you may be lackadaisical with eating healthy. That’s why it’s helpful to figure out a system that will help you make the right decisions, WITHOUT using your limited reservoir of self-discipline. When it comes to finances, it’s paying yourself first. When it comes to losing weight, it might be putting gym clothes in your car (check), stocking your fridge with low-calorie treats for when you get a sugar craving (and by you, I mean me), and making the decision NOT to go out to eat instead of relying on your self-discipline to order the lite dishes.

8. When you see results, all the hard work will be worth it.

This one’s self-explanatory.icon wink What Losing Weight Taught Me About Saving MoneyWhen we look at our retirement accounts or reminisce about the trips we have taken, I don’t think about the clothes I didn’t buy or the restaurants I didn’t go to, and I don’t miss the luxury apartment that I visited but never leased. I bet CB doesn’t mind that he got an old Honda for $4,000 instead of a new Acura for $24,000. And when we see how we look, and feel, now, we don’t miss the fact that we can only eat my beloved Thai fried chicken once a month instead of twice a week. The results are worth it.

Have you found similiarities between losing weight and saving money? Which one is harder? (and if there’s anything you learned from this post… it’s that I have an addiction to fried chicken).

This post has been featured as an Editor’s Pick in Carnival of Personal Finance

  • Daisy - I totally saw this parallel too when I was losing weight last year. It’s huge and glaring. I found though, that weight loss was expensive, haha. ReplyCancel

  • Kaye - Great post! I've realized this comparison as well but you did a great job of summarizing it and putting it all together in one place. I'm sharing this post in my Round Up post this weekend! ReplyCancel

  • BrokeElizabeth - Those are some great parallels… hmm, I had never realized that so many habits needed for weight loss were similar to those needed for responsible financial behavior. Interesting! I'm really starting to recognize the importance of #3 to spending wisely. ReplyCancel

  • hithatsmybike - GREAT post.

    That said I'm always trying to out-earn my spending haha so far so good ReplyCancel

  • Modest Money - Very interesting post. I had never really considered how similar losing weight and saving money truly are. It all comes down to self discipline and changing your mindset. You have to train yourself to think that the sacrifices are worthwhile. In both circumstances, it is easy to make a slip based on impulsive behavior. You just have to become accountable for your actions and realize the consequences of your actions. ReplyCancel

  • Katherine - Fantastic post! I loved the parallel you did between exercising for 5 minutes and eating 800 calories in 5 minutes – so true about spending as well, as long as you are consuming more than you make…you won't be losing any weight/saving any money. Well done! ReplyCancel

  • ShoppingtoSaving - SO TRUE. I remember getting my finances in check and then getting myself back into shape wasn't so hard after that. There is such a similarity and it is so so so so true. If you can conquer one, you can definitely conquer the other. I find that getting your finances in check also relates to a lot of things in life. ReplyCancel

  • krantcents - I see the similarities, but it is in the details. You set a goal, monitor your progress and change your effort to reach your goal. ReplyCancel

  • Julie@Freedom48 - Those parallels are so true. If we're disciplined and doing well in one aspect of life, it's so much easier to be disciplined in another area. ReplyCancel

  • Kari @SBBD - There's a definitely parallel that's pretty obvious to a fellow dieter/saver. Overall I'd say that loosing weight is actually harder for me then saving money. For some reason I have more discipline with my money they with my food. Gotta get back into my jogging routine. If I can save I can jog ;-) ReplyCancel

  • Tie the Money Knot - Great post. I can see similarities, in that the common denominator is self-discipline.

    For me, it was easy to save and keep weight off when younger. Getting older, it's not as easy to do each – but saving is actually easier than keeping weight off. I have to work harder now on fitness than before. So, some things can change over time! ReplyCancel

  • Get Rich Point - I liked your analysis. It seems that you try to see things from a different perspective or may be, through practice, your perspective has changed. Under both circumstances it is really good to be able to analyse things in this way. I should admit one thing ; though I came for financial advice to your site but I got a free gift with it :

    " 8 Points to Remember If You Want To Lose Weight. "

    Thanks. ReplyCancel

  • The Happy Homeowner - LOVE the stick figures…haha! Congrats on being picked up by The Consumerist ;) ReplyCancel

  • Weight Loss and Saving Money | In Cashflow We Trust - [...] enjoyed an article by Well Heeled called What Losing Weight Taught Me About Saving Money. For me, this topic has been top of mind. I’m in the process of a regular exercise program [...]ReplyCancel

  • Learning To Save Money Is Like Learning To Lose Weight | living-4-less-coupons.com - [...] Well Heeled Blog explains the connection she found in these key aspects of well-being: [...]ReplyCancel

  • jeweliette23 - I'm one of the fortunate few who have never had to worry about losing weight, so I'd say saving money is ALOT harder for me. This was a great post, I was able to run a parallel with shopping which is my personal vice. I know that it's worth more in the long run to pay myself than to get new clothes or accessories. But it's so hard! xP ReplyCancel

  • MissHenessy - I agree with your post. Self discipline and knowing the consequences are the key for losing weight and saving money. Nice post. Thank you for sharing. ReplyCancel

  • Laura Vanderkam - There are some parallels. On the issue of out-earning bad-spending, or out-burning bad eating, I think that at certain times, you certainly can. When I was training for a marathon while I still had a nursing baby, I literally could eat anything I wanted and I was still losing weight. I'd eat a meal and then eat again an hour later. The trouble is that you can't keep this up forever. As soon as I ran the marathon and then dialed down the training, I'd lost a good sense of what a proper meal looked like. And so the weight started coming on. With celebrities and athletes, the problem is that while they're at their peak earning, they really can spend whatever. A $100 million portfolio goes up and down a million a day easy. That's hard to spend! But eventually, you pass your peak earnings because no one cares about your films or you get injured or whatever, and then you have trouble dialing it back down. ReplyCancel

  • PKamp3 @ DQYDJ - Yeah – there's no real shortcut (okay, I get it, surgery perhaps qualifies or the lottery) to fitness financially or physically – it takes planning, dedications, and lots of smart decisions over a long period of time. It also means you get to look back at something and realize how far you've come (watching the scale and the mirror? Same as watching your debt and your balances!)

    … Not to mention staying dedicated means that when you 'cheat' it means all the more due to the rarity. A perfect comparison! ReplyCancel

  • Learning To Save Money Is Like Learning To Lose Weight | My Blog - [...] Well Heeled Blog explains a tie she found in these pivotal aspects of well-being: [...]ReplyCancel

  • Weekly Update 6 | Evolving Personal Finance - [...] Heeled Blog wrote a great post paralleling how to succeed in personal finance with how to succeed in weight loss.  The analogy between budgeting and calorie-counting is very close.  I would LOVE this post if I [...]ReplyCancel

  • Virginia@fishoil - What a great site. I have struggled with weight loss for years; but have managed to take off 43 pounds so I know how difficult it can be. No way to make it easy and quick. Just have to keep plugging along. ReplyCancel

  • The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Daylight Savings Time Edition | The Simple Dollar - [...] What Losing Weight Taught Me About Saving Money They actually function in the same way: small sacrifices lead to a life change. (@ well heeled) [...]ReplyCancel

  • belowhermeans - "You can't manage what you don't measure." I like that a lot. ReplyCancel

  • Well Heeled Blog – Best of the Best Blogger Series - [...] character to know and to follow. A few of my favorite posts from WH include Do We Need a Prenup?, What Losing Money Taught Me About Saving Money and Income, Goals and What’s [...]ReplyCancel

  • Why Losing Weight is Good | Personal Publishing - [...] these joints carry thus decreasing ? if not eliminating ? the pain of one who has osteoarthritis. Why Losing Weight is Good There is a great benefit acquired from losing weight. Though losing weight… The following are a few of the remarkable advantages from losing those excess weight. Weight loss [...]ReplyCancel

  • Benjina - Wow! that's such awesome post. To be honest I'm the one who always fail on diet since I'm a sugar addicted :p after reading your post I think I'll give it a try! thank you for sharing!! ReplyCancel

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