I have a confession to make: I am more than a couple of pounds overweight. In fact, I've fought a weight battle my entire adult life. Every so often I get sick and tired of the way I look and feel and then do something about it, but I'm the classic yo-yo dieter--and on every pass the low weight gets higher. Of course, aging doesn't help with that, and the last couple of times I've tried to lose weight I've given up in disgust after a few weeks because the scale wasn't moving, at least not fast enough.
This time, I'm trying something different--no I'm not going gluten free, low carb or following any of the trendy diets of the day. I'm sticking to the old-fashioned eat less and exercise more plan. We are taking my daughter's Girl Scout troop to New York City next summer and I don't want to be miserable walking through the city with the girls. What am I doing differently? I'm only getting on the scale every other month.
Instead of worrying about the PRODUCT--the weight loss, I'm worrying about the PROCESS--controlling my eating and getting my body moving. If I limit my calories and exercise regularly, I will lose weight. Some week's I'll lose more than others, and realistically, some weeks I'll be going places or doing things that involve eating and usually broiled fish and steamed vegetables aren't what I want (if they are even available). I'm in this for the long haul and I'm not going to eat only grilled chicken breasts for the next year.
After limiting my calories and increasing my exercise for two months, I lost 15 pounds. I'm hoping for 10 more pounds when I get on the scale six weeks from now. After two months, if I've done what I'm supposed to do (followed the process) I should see noticeable weight loss, which is reinforcing.
So why am I writing about weight loss on a financial blog? It struck me that saving money is much like losing weight. You give up what you want today in hopes of a better future. You have a lot of competing interests--should you put that money in the bank, or buy the new toy? However, the bottom line is that if you don't do what you are supposed to do, you'll pay the price, and if you do, you'll reap the rewards.
There are bloggers out there who pride themselves in spending almost no money. They live in small houses, rarely eat out, drive old cars and only buy secondhand clothes--and save a huge percentage of their paychecks. Their goal is to amass as much money as quickly as possible so they can retire and spend the rest of their lives doing what they want to do. If that is their goal, they are welcome to it.
In much the same way, there are people who always watch every bite that goes in their mouth. They never eat a dessert that is not unadorned fresh fruit. They work out over an hour a day every day. They look great, and if it is worth it to them, they are welcome to it.
But what about the rest of us? The ones who want to spend some of our money today, because we know we aren't guaranteed tomorrow? The ones who want their chicken fried, or their sweet potatoes with praline crunch on top? Hopefully we realize and accept the cost of what we are doing.
Back to what we were talking about earlier. The process of investing for the future involves spending less than you earn and investing the difference. When the stock market is blowing and going, and you are watching your net worth go up all the time, staying motivated is easier than when the market is in a downturn and, despite investing more money, the value of the account goes down. In a similar way, it is easy to stay motivated on the weight loss journey when the weather is great outside, you have lots of time to exercise and a friend to join you, and harder when you are rushing and grab fast food for lunch and skip the exercise due to bad weather.
In both cases, the trick is to remember the process and accept that there will be short-term setbacks. Find a check-in period that works for you. Weighing weekly was too much for me--I got discouraged too quickly. On the other hand, I have no trouble checking in weekly with my investments, even when they are going down.
You also need to find a process that works for you. Some people swear by the fad diet of the week and others religiously write down everything they eat, weighing it and computing calories. I've tried that, and for me, it doesn't work--it feel constrained, and I hate paperwork. I have some "go-to" breakfasts and lunches for which the calories are either on the box or easy to compute. For supper I just watch m portion size. It is working for me.
In the same way, some people create and stick to elaborate budgets that give a job to every dollar. That would drive me nuts. Overall our lifestyle is lower than our paychecks can afford. A certain percent of our paychecks goes into savings before it hits our bank account. Once that's taken care of, the rest is available for spending. Some months we spend more than others and once a certain amount has built up in the checking account it gets invested. We set up a process that, if followed, allows us to achieve our goals.
With both weight loss and saving money, if you take care of the process, if you do what you are supposed to do, the product, the end result, will take care of itself.