Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tightwad Tuesday: The Healthy Wallet and the Healthy Heart

Alternately titled: How budgeting is like dieting

(except I despise the word "dieting" because it implies a short term fix to reach a long term goal. Not do-able in my book, which is why I prefer the words "healthy lifestyle". Long term. ok, moving on.)

In light of a post earlier on this week, I thought I'd jot down a few things I've realized lately. Over the past, oh, two months (a little less) as I've been taking a good long look at the nutritional lifestyle here at the Hnosko's household. I've noticed that many of the principles of healthy eating I'm trying to re-integrate also apply (quite directly) to healthy spending. Or, to rephrase that, the principles of healthy, long-term weight management, may be more similar to the principles of healthy, long-term financial stewardship than I ever knew.

If you're reading this then you probably already know that I'm not writing any of this down to make anyone believe "I've arrived", or that I in any way "have it all figured out" when it comes to saving/spending/etc. Keeping track of these "ah-ha" moments in writing though, helps me better identify ways in which I can improve - so, that said, here's what I've come to find...
  • Everything in Moderation.
I've found that if I go about weight loss in a stringent, many-things-are-off-limits kind of way, I fail. Why? Because it is human nature (or, my nature anyway) to want what I cannot have. Aside from that, once the weight loss transformation is complete, staying away from those no-no's completely will be all-but impossible - I'll have to re-integrate them somehow and there's a good chance I won't do so with moderation. Similarly, if we go about budgeting in such a way that whole categories of spending are "off limits", we won't last. Deprivation will always win.

There are two ways we've tackled this in our family. First, we re-defined "deprived". Five years ago I would have told you that never being able to go out to eat was depriving because hey, we work hard, we've earned a simple $7 burger and fries. Today, with our goals what they are, that same $7 burger and fries are a luxury, and no longer something I feel "deprived of". By re-defining the things we feel like we've "earned", we have less of a desire to spend on things we don't need, and more of a desire to work toward the long-term goals whose way is paved by healthy financial decisions

Second, we started giving ourselves *gasp* spending money. It may sound counter productive, but giving ourselves each $20 a week to do with what we choose was liberating. Coffee with a friend? yes. Frozen yogurt downtown? Sure. But when it's gone, it's gone. Like Dave Ramsay, we call it our "blow money".

What I've learned: don't define my value by what I do and purchase/spend money on. Give myself wiggle room, and respect its given boundaries of moderation.

  • When I cheat, I'm not cheating the budget/diet, I'm cheating myself
Because I chose to lose weight with the new Weight-Watchers program, I was given a "daily points allowance". In addition to that, I was also given a "weekly allowance" to do with what I chose. Those points were mine to use or lose. There were enough of extra points to have a slice of cheesecake one night a week, or enough to eat a slightly larger portion a few dinners out of the week. Although I was rarely low on points, there were days when I would peek in my refrigerator and pick something up between thumb and forefinger and slip it into my mouth. Without "paying" the points for it. Without writing it down. It was cheating. Why cheating feels so good I'll never know, because when it comes down to it YOU'RE CHEATING YOURSELF, not the dumb diet.

Same goes with our budget. When we overspend to get something we want but haven't planned for, we aren't cheating our budget, we're cheating ourselves out of the goals we previously set. When I stand in target (a place I only go when I have a coupon in hand, or a prescription to pick up, because I know it's a dangerous place for me) and rummage through the dollar isle for "deals" I've got no blow money left for, I'm not cheating the system, I'm cheating myself.

What I've learned: Plan my meals/budget realistically, and then be honest, and stick to them.

  • Tomorrow is a new day: Today's/yesterday's slips-ups are NO EXCUSE for giving up or otherwise putting things off.
Everyone goofs up. Everyone has weak moments. In healthy living those moments look like the reception at aunt myrtle's wedding where you had three pieces of triple chocolate cake. That one weak moment starts a chain of poor choices that catepault you towards a bucketload of negative self-talk, which ultimately causes you to think this whole "healthy lifestyle thing" pointless, and impossible goal to achieve.

In healthy spending the same is true: past financial goof-ups shouldn't be the cause for refusing to try today. Sure, mistakes made in the past may have carved a HUGE hole, and that hole may be very difficult to get out of, but it makes no sense to allow that hole to keep you from trying. We've all got to start somewhere, and today is as good a time as any.

What I've learned: The moment when a mistake is made (be it diet or budget related) is the very moment for reflection and re-grouping - not for throwing in the towel

  • Discipline, Obedience, Wisdom and Prudence aren't just for biblical scholars anymore
If reading through the first few chapters of Proverbs has taught me anything at all, it's that discipline, obedience, and prudence are the keys to wisdom. King Solomon, the biblically acclaimed "wisest man who ever lived", makes that very clear. Laziness, short-cuts, and excuses will rarely harbor value, and rarely yield positive long term results.

This goes for healthy living, as well as healthy spending. Crash diets rarely work long term because they focus only on immediate change, not long term transformation. Similarly, strict but short-term financial plans don't have a good track record for long term success. I would surmise that the reason for this is the lack of time and effort spent treating these as lifestyle changes. I'm no expert on ANY of this, but it seems to me the changes (be they budget or diet oriented) which can conceivably be maintained over a lifetime, are the changes that yield maintainable results.

What I've learned: I live in a world where being disciplined is only valued and rewarded in the short term. But in order to reach my goals, and be an example to my children, I have to swim upstream; I have to maintain a lifestyle of discipline, of moderation; a lifestyle that seeks and follows long-term wisdom instead of short-term fun and folly.

So, that's what's been rolling between my ears over the past two weeks. I guess my real question in all of this is why does being disciplined have to be so difficult? I mean, if you're a believer like I am then you no-doubt know that a disciplined life is what we're called to, but why does it have to be so counter-culture. Any thoughts?

1 comment:

Chelsie Hardy said...

I like all that stuff rolling around between your ears. :) We are on the Ramsey plan, too, and while difficult, it's exhillerating knowing that we have control of our finances, by spending every dollar "on paper on pupose," and that we're getting out of debt, little by little, because we're making "lifestyle changes." It's true what you said about cutting something completely out of your diet/budget makes said diet/budget harder to stick with. I do better when I let myself have a scoop of ice cream (instead of 4) or $10 blow money (instead of saying no to all fun coffee/lunch/movie things). Thanks for posting this. Makes me feel better knowing we're not the only ones on a budget being deprived. ;)