Some of the same strategies that can help you improve your health can also help with your finances, experts say.
“When Americans every year come up with their top goals, they’re usually in two buckets,” says certified public accountant David Almonte, a member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission. “Make more money [and] save more money, or get in shape and eat healthier.”
Reaching your goals in either area requires honesty, discipline, and a commitment to prioritizing future needs over immediate gratification. And you can apply what works for fitness to finance, too. “I remember a client saying to me, ‘I don’t understand money but I’ve trained for a marathon, so I get this,’” says Shannon McLay, founder of New York’s Financial Gym, a financial advice firm that takes a fitness-inspired approach.
These five fitness tips can help you crush your financial goals:
Nicole Hulley, a certified fitness trainer at Equinox Greenwich Avenue in New York, says she encourages clients to get specific with their goals, and to focus on ones they’re excited to hit. A client focused on having more energy to play with his kids, for example, will be more inspired than one with the vague goal of “getting healthy.”
“Making a list of how you expect your life to be improved due to these actions is how you will be able to continue your motivations once it gets challenging,” she says.
Similarly, don’t just tell yourself to put away more money. Set an amount you want to save and decide what you’re energized to save for. It could be an emergency fund to help you get by if you lose your job, or it could be a trip to Tahiti. Or both!
When prioritizing fitness, you often have to make sacrifices: You may adjust your sleep schedule to get to the gym, or scale back on sweets. Instead of focusing on that loss of freedom, trainers encourage clients to think about the positive effects they see (do your arms look stronger?) and are working toward (hello, six-pack).
That mind-set works well for staying on track with financial goals, too. Think not about what you’re losing but on what you hope to gain. “It’s not like, ‘I can’t go out because I’m depriving myself,’ it’s ‘I can’t go out because I’m going to Italy this summer,’” McLay says.
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Making progress takes time, and it’s easy to get frustrated when you don’t see dramatic results. Breaking down your grand plans into smaller steps, and then tracking your progress, can help keep your confidence up, because you can see what you’re accomplishing.
Don’t ask too much of yourself all at once. Sometimes people come to the gym for only 15 minutes at a time, and that’s still a win, because they’re making fitness a part of their routine. “It’s the smallest, most easily implemented step that begins the building process,” McLay says.
“If you have a goal to bench 250 pounds, you don’t just walk into the gym, put 250 pounds on the bar, and start benching,” Almonte says. Change “requires consistency over a period of time, and hard work.”
Address your financial goals, like paying off debt, the same way: by starting with small steps that can become small victories. “My wife and I used a whiteboard to visualize our student loan debt,” Almonte says. “I put a total number of how much debt we had. … Every month, I’d update it.” That whiteboard helped them keep going because it let them see and applaud their progress.
Find the strategies and tools that work for you, instead of trying to stick to a plan that it turns out you don’t like. “If someone told me, ‘You have to do burpees all day long,’ that’s not going to work,” says McLay. She uses an indoor bike to keep her moving instead.
McLay has her financial planning clients create splurge accounts so they have some flexibility to experiment. “Some people will go on a purge, like a no-spend month, but the next month they will go the other way. It’s not sustainable.” Try different strategies to figure out what actually works with your personality.
Make small changes where possible first, too, she says, before you make a bigger lifestyle adjustment, so that you don’t commit to an overhaul until you’re sure it’s the kind you’ll find sustainable.
Writing down what you’re doing each day can provide a reality check if you need help understanding why your runs aren’t getting faster. Hulley suggests looking at the bigger picture to identify opportunities for growth. “With fitness, where are the hours in the day that could be tweaked to match your goals?” she says.
Budgeting provides the same check for your finances. You may think you know where your money goes, but if you look at the data you may be surprised. Track your spending so you can get a more accurate sense of what your patterns are, and then you’ll have a better chance of actually changing them.
McLay says that everybody can get financially healthy, regardless of how much money they make. “The stories can start sad, but they don’t end sad,” she says. “It’s transformative when you put a plan together and you start doing it.”