You may be wondering how your physical and financial health have any connection whatsoever.
A few years back, after a routine checkup, my doctor had some bad news: My cholesterol and blood sugar levels were on the high end, and I was pre-diabetic. While I was only in my late 20s at the time, this news shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. I loathed exercise, and mainly subsisted on quesadillas and instant noodles.
What’s funny is how someone like me, who, for the most part, is pretty disciplined with her financial habits, can be drastically different when it comes to physical health. And as I’ve worked on improving my health, I’ve discovered quite a few parallels between financial and physical health, and how to go about improving them:
Find Your Way In Through Fun
When I started working on bettering my diet and exercise habits, I had trouble with exercise. In fact, I hated it. I dreaded running up and down the stairs near my house. At first, I would be gung-ho and workout five days a week. Fast forward to a few weeks, and I would exhaust myself, get discouraged, and quit altogether.
Part of the reason why I was relatively good with my money was because I found ways to make it enjoyable. I approached frugality as a fun game in being resourceful. There were always ways to save money. What’s more, I felt a burst of motivation after tracking my progress through money management apps and checking my bank accounts.
It was only until I tried things I actually enjoyed doing that I stuck to being active: biking, hiking, yoga, and water aerobics, to name a few. So if you’re trying to improve your financial fitness, figure out what might be relatively fun. Maybe you’re nerdy about creating a spending plan using a spreadsheet, or coming up with ways to do something for less money.
Or you might be excellent at earning more money. Take on a side hustle, or put on your negotiation hat and ask for a raise at work. Whether it’s spending less, saving more, or boosting earnings, play to your strengths to improve your money situation.
Physical and Financial Health Can Be Emotional
For the longest time, I had a printout of healthy eating tips tacked to the wall. It included a diagram of “healthy plate” along with basic guidelines for eating well. And while I knew full well the rules for healthy living, practicing them was another story.
I’ve often caved in to junk food cravings, especially when I’ve felt tired, bored or anxious. I also tended to overindulge during social events.
The same goes for money. We’ve heard time and again to save for an emergency fund, and not to carry a balance on our credit card. All too often decisions with money are frequently rooted in emotions. A lot of us don’t make rational choices when it comes to finances.
In part, that’s because money, just like food, has an emotional aspect. We make impulse buys for the temporary feel-good rush when we’re bored, anxious, depressed, and lonely. Or we might go into debt to help a loved one who is experiencing some trouble.
We have to make room for these splurges or bad decisions. If I anticipate eating poorly, for instance, during the holidays or while on road trips, I’ll make sure I balance it with eating healthy or exercising. If I trip up and spend too much money, I’ll aim to cut back for a bit so I can replenish my splurge fund.
Expect to Lapse
My friend Jen had some great advice about the road to physical well-being: you’ll no doubt encounter good cycles and bad ones. There will be times when you’re on the ball with eating clean and getting regular exercise. And there will be times when you’re prone to junk food and lounging on the couch.
Despite trying various diets and signing up for fitness classes, there will be times when I return to old habits. It’s no different with money: sometimes you’ll be on top of your goals and spending within your means, and other times you’ll want to just spend with abandon and slack off.
The goal? Reduce the time in between lapses. So let’s say you fall off the horse with your financial habits for a month. The next time it happens, aim to get back into, say, saving mode or monitoring your spending within two weeks.
It Gets Easier Once You Experience Results
Whether you’re working toward being more physically fit or having a more robust emergency fund (or anything else that takes commitment, grit, and perseverance), it’s the results that are the sweet meat of any endeavor.
As a longtime money nerd, being on top of my finances has equated to not stressing out when hit by an unexpected expense or out of work. It also means I have more options. I don’t have to worry about carrying a balance on my credit card because I’ve saved for big-ticket purchases.
After eating healthier, I realized my normal state had been feeling groggy and low-energy from tuna melts and cheesy fries. Nowadays, eating well and working out regularly makes me feel energized, stronger, and more clear-headed.
Similarly, if you’ve never experienced financial fitness, you might think that living hand to mouth and being chronically stressed about money is the norm. It’s only when you see the freedom and emotional well-being that comes from being on top of your money situation that you’ll have an easier time exerting willpower and sticking to it.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
For most of my adult life, I was “skinny fat”. You know, when you’re thin so people assume you’re in relatively good physical shape. However, because of my struggles with diet, I was unhealthy on the inside.
When it comes to financial wellness, there are those who seem to be doing well financially: They go on trips and have nice things, and have no problem paying for their share of the restaurant bill. But when you pull back the hood, they might be deep in debt, or barely covering their bills.
It’s important to have compassion for others and for yourself. A sad truth: I used to harshly judge those who didn’t have their financial act together. But it’s not that easy. When I struggle with compassion, I remember how hard it is for me to take care of my body.
Achieving financial and physical health is a long game. I’ve been a money nerd since I was a teenager. It’s safe to say that it ultimately took me decades to practice sound financial habits.
I’m proud to say last year my lab work revealed my blood sugar and cholesterol levels were in normal ranges. It took a long time:about seven years.
The parallels between physical and financial health are many. Whether it’s food, fitness or money, knowing the basic rules versus combating your deep-seated habits are two completely separate things. Understanding how they’re similar, having compassion for yourself and knowing it’s a long game can help you discover ways to improve your financial well-being.
What other connections do you think link physical and financial health? Let us know in the comments!
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