How to Whip Your Finances and Health Into Better Shape (At the Same Time!)
If you’ve heard personal finance advice that recommends eliminating expenses like gym memberships or organic foods as a way to save money or dig out of debt, don’t panic. You likely don’t have to choose between your financial fitness and your health. In fact, one study of college students published in the American Journal of Health Promotion concluded, “Every dimension of health was impacted significantly by lower levels of financial health.”
If you’re ready to improve your finances as well as your physical health, try these five tips to get your mind, body and wallet into better shape, simultaneously.
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1. Make Up Your Mind
Sally Anne Carroll, founder of Whole Life Strategies Coaching, says that there are usually underlying patterns that inform how people handle different parts of their lives — including finances and health. “When you take conscious control of (and action in) one area of your life, it can spill over to other areas,” says Carroll. “Whether improving your health or your finances, the first step is always taking stock of where you are now. This means being honest, but it also means getting curious about that instead of beating yourself up.”
To better align your current beliefs with your values, Carroll says these questions can help determine in which direction to head:
- Where would I rather be instead?
- What’s my ideal situation for the future?
- Why is that important to me?
- When do I want that result?
“It’s a mind shift that — once you make it — is a lifestyle shift. It’s the same as reframing moving your body as self-care time instead of a chore. It changes how you are being and the standards you have for yourself,” says Carroll.
2. Set Specific and Measurable Goals
How much debt do you want to eliminate? Exactly what type of health change do you want to make? Without a clear vision for what you want to accomplish, it can be difficult to get there. “Having clear goals will help you stay focused and motivated. Keep in mind that your decisions need to be based on the bigger picture, so you can live a fuller and healthier life,” says Patricia Young, a certified professional and holistic coach and founder of Inner Prosperity Academy. “When you feel that it’s hard to stay motivated, remember why you set your goals in the first place.”
Once you’ve defined that big goal — like losing 20 pounds, ditching processed foods for good or paying off all your student loan debt — define small, measurable steps that will take you to your first of many clearly defined milestones. If your big goal is weight loss, going to the gym six times over the next two weeks, or replacing one packaged snack you’d normally eat with a piece of fresh fruit, may be your first milestone to work toward. In the case of your student loans, you may set a goal to find room in your budget to pay an extra $200 to your two highest interest student loans for the next four months.
Depending on what you want to achieve, there will likely be many small milestones you set, measure and achieve along the way — all helping keep you on the path to your big goal.
3. Stick to Your Plan
If your goal is to pack your lunch with nutritious whole foods instead of buying a calorie-laden lunch at the corner deli every day, preparation is key. Designate one day of the week (like Sunday night) to prepare for a week of success. If you’ve portioned and packaged a week’s worth of overnight oats and Mason jar salads that you can easily toss into your lunch bag each morning, you’ll be far less likely to cave when you’re faced with stress, hunger and peer pressure from coworkers.
The same logic applies to your ability to make intentional financial choices that align with your budget and your financial goals. Before you go to the grocery or meet your friends for your weekly happy hour, make a list of exactly how much money you can afford to spend, and on what items. Assign an amount you can spend on each, calculate the total amount you’ll spend based on that plan and commit to that limit.
Don’t trust yourself not to veer from your list or splurge with a credit or debit card? Carry only as much cash as you plan to spend. Just as you cannot eat cookies that aren’t in your pantry, you can’t spend money that’s not in your wallet.
4. Track Your Habits
It can be difficult to be objective about the cumulative impact of your health or financial habits without having metrics that track the impact of the many small decisions you make over the course of a day. “Tracking your finances and health brings awareness to the habits you’ve had and is very helpful to create change in life. It will help you stay focused and accountable for your progress,” says Young. “Track your health habits with apps like MyFitnessPal; I’ve had clients use it to stay focused and measure progress. Track your finance habits with apps like Mint or Spending Tracker.”
5. Celebrate Your progress
Once you reach a financial or health milestone you’ve set, take a moment to be proud of yourself for a job well done. Maybe choose an inexpensive, healthy indulgence that doesn’t set you back from your goal — and yet allows you to celebrate your hard work. “This is a way in which you collect evidence that you can achieve what you desire, and it will help you build your confidence,” says Young.
Whether your treat of choice is a manicure, a trip to a yoga studio or an evening out at your favorite tapas bar, let yourself have a “cheat day” every now and then. Then start fresh on reaching that next milestone the next morning.
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