Happy new financially sustainable year! With a new year come new beginnings, new opportunities and it is also the time for new year’s resolutions. Some people love them and some people don’t like them at all. Personally I am one of those who love them! There are however one fact we all know about new year’s resolutions, we are not very likely to succeed and statistics indicate that the majority who makes a new year’s resolution will fail (and I don’t think this was a surprise to anyone). Even though I fall into the category of the failing majority, and I still haven’t managed to do a full pull up which was my new year’s resolution 10 years ago, I still love them! I do not think that my past failures should influence my future hopes.
With all the excitement and hope for the new year it is also easy to get carried away, and the question is, do we start spending money on things we are statistically more likely to fail than succeed with? Looking at it that way, new year’s resolutions are a kind of gambling. It is not a horrible kind of gambling because the prize is self improvement, your success rate often depends on self discipline which you can influence and the probability to win is higher than at a casino. It actually does not sound bad at all, but it still doesn’t justify all the money we start spending on our resolutions. What we want to do and should aim for is to minimize the money we bet on ourselves while maximizing the chances of success.
Let us take a look at three of the top new year’s resolutions and how we can use finances as a tool to increase our success rate.
1. Lose Weight/Get Fit
We all know what the most common thing to do to get started with this resolution is, get a gym card! But is that really the best way to do it? Financially speaking, no. First of all, if you didn’t exercise much until now it is unlikely that the magic of 1st of January will keep you motivated long term to go to the gym. As you are reading this, 1st of January has already passed and maybe you already got your gym card and there is absolutely no reason to feel bad about it. Getting the gym card is not a problem but it becomes a problem when you stop going to the gym and keep paying for the gym card, which is not unusual. When getting a gym card it is therefore very important to track yourself and set up a criteria of when to cancel your gym card. How much are you willing to pay per workout? Divide the monthly cost with the price you are willing to pay per workout and you will get the number of times you need to go to the gym per month. You can use the tracking as a motivation to go to the gym, but if you do not manage to fulfill this goal over a period of two months you should then cancel the card. Of course you also have to take into consideration the circumstances, if you are out of town for a longer period it is unrealistic to go to the gym. But be honest with yourself if it really was because of extraordinary circumstances or if you just found an excuse not to go.
If you did not get your gym card yet or if the gym did not work out for you, do not give up on your resolution just yet! There are tons of financially sustainable ways to get fit and do exercise, more precisely, there are tons of ways to do it completely for free. You should not underestimate the power of your own body weight, with only my body weight and a rubber band I managed to lose 7 kg over the period of six months (the food also played a big role in this, but I did have my occasional half litre of ice cream, or cookies with milk, yes, I am cursed with a sweet tooth..). Unfortunately losing weight was not my new year’s resolution that year.
What you want to do is to start exercising by using free or low cost alternatives in order to build the habit of exercising. Once you have managed to keep it up for three months you can invest in the gym card and use it as a reward for your hard work and also a motivation to keep up with the hard work until then. The gym card becomes a short term goal as a step on the way on your one year resolution. Instead of buying the gym card hoping that you will feel equally motivated throughout the year you have now built the habit of exercising and decreased the risk of losing motivation at the gym and wasting money.
Another risk of overspending on this resolution is the classic “I’ll buy these cool workout outfits to start my new fit life”. It is fun with new nice looking workout clothes, but it is not cheap and it is not so much fun anymore when the money you spent on the clothes end up in the wardrobe the rest of the year. Just like with the gym card, reverse the strategy and use the workout outfits as a reward and motivation to keep going. Set up a goal of going to the gym 20 times for example before you can get your first nice outfit. When you start exercising just get what you absolutely need to get started and look for the budget brands like H&M for example, if they would end up lying around in the wardrobe you have at least not spent a fortune. If you are doing exercise at home it is even better because it doesn’t matter what you are wearing, perfect time to use all those old t-shirts that should not be seen in public.
2. Eating healthy
A rule of thumb when you start to eat healthier is that your food costs should decrease. Of course, if you have lack of nutrition because you are not eating enough it is crucial to increase your spendings for food. If you are anything like me on the other hand and eat too big portions and too much sweets because it is just so incredibly delicious, it will decrease your costs significantly when you adapt to healthier food.
In the world we are living in today many of the easily accessible food options taste great but unfortunately lacks nutrition and do more harm than good to ourselves. The health industry is aware of this and capitalizes on it, you can therefore see tons of diets and special super healthy food which has the double price because it says healthy on the package. But we do not need to spend money on all these methods or branded healthy foods, we just need to go back to basics.
There are many great reasons to eat healthier, when you get the right nutrition you feel stronger, more alert, better immune system.. the list just keeps going. Even though all of the mentioned reasons are very important it is not always enough to keep us motivated. To increase our chances to succeed let’s add finances to the motivation! When we want to achieve a great goal your source of motivation can be however silly or insignificant as you want as long as it helps you to achieve an important goal.
The easiest way to work with this is to set up a food budget and do whatever it takes do to achieve it. I have noticed a strong correlation between decreasing my food expenditures and eating healthier, cutting down on unhealthy eating habits becomes a side effect of a strict food budget. What happens is that I go to the supermarket, I look at the very delicious ice cream, I realize that it is quite a lot of money that goes from my food budget and it has almost no nutrition and not contributing to my need to eat. In order to fulfill my other goal of saving money I have no choice but to put it back. Finance can once again be a great motivation to keep yourself on track. On top of the desire to eat better you add the desire to save more money and your unhealthy habits has to go through two layers of motivation.
To cut your food costs there are two easy ways that also leads to healthier eating habits, cook your own food and portion control. Eating out is expensive, and the food is usually not the best in health aspects since they often add fat and salt to enhance the food experience and we want neither of them in excess. The second step is portion control, if you eat two portions per meal you also double your food costs. Portion control is not easy when you love food, I know the struggle, and the times I actually manage to do portion control are when I am saving money and therefore try to divide the food over as many days as possible to decrease the food costs. If I would eat too much I don’t see all the food I should not be eating, I see all the money I’m spending extra on only one meal that is stopping me from achieving my savings goal.
3. Quit smoking
I wanted to write a short comment on this, not because of the high risk of wasting money, but because of the huge opportunity to save money. Smoking is bad for many reasons and on top of that it is very expensive. It is money invested in self destruction, and that is not something we want to invest the money we worked hard for. It is, however, a very complex process to quit smoking, and as I am not a smoker I cannot talk about how it is or how to do it. But I do want to encourage you to add finances to boost your motivation.
You are already in the habit of spending the money you do for smoking and this is a great opportunity to start saving money while spending less on smoking. Take this opportunity to set up a saving goal for something that matters, something you have always wanted and that will keep you motivated. Make the saving progress visible for yourself. You can set up a separate savings account where you put your cigarette money or you can make it physical by putting it in a piggy bank, preferably a transparent piggy bank so you can see the progress. Every day when you go to the store you make the active choice if you are going to spend the money on cigarettes or put it in your piggy bank/bank account that instead will be invested in your dream. The money you save represents how far you have come to achieve your goal and this can be very rewarding to see how it keeps adding on.
The more layers of motivation you add the more likely you are to succeed with your new year’s resolution. Add finance as one layer not only to boost motivation but also control the money that is involved. I am really excited about the new year and I am excited to start on my own new year’s resolution. What will be your new year’s resolution for 2017? How can you add finances as a strategy to boost motivation and possibly save more money on the way? I will go one more year to achieve my one full pull up, and I commit to this being the last year I do this new year’s resolution!