In the last few weeks I have been practicing what I like to refer to as a “frugal diet.” It really isn’t a diet at all, at least not in the traditional sense. No, this is much more informal. I still eat what I want to for the most part, but do have a couple rules such as not eating anything processed, watching my sodium intake and limiting myself to only a couple “treats” each week. I also stop eating when I have had enough – something that is hard to retrain when you are accustomed to eating until you’re stuffed.
During these last few weeks of experimenting with new eating habits we have also been working to pay off debt at a fever pitch. I quickly discovered something – it is hard to focus on both goals, at least it is for me.
While the correlation between weight gain and the accumulation of debt is fairly obvious (it’s all about excesses) doing battle on both fronts is downright hard to do! Heck, working towards any two large goals simultaneously is difficult, but for some reason losing weight and paying off debt are particularly difficult because they involve changing habits.
Unfortunately, the two goals of weight loss and debt repayment also compete with each other in many ways. For instance, imagine a scale with weight loss on one side and debt repayment on the other. As we begin to do things that are healthy, such as eat more nutritious foods, join a gym, buy walking/running shoes, etc. we tend to increase spending, which lessens the amount of money to use towards debt repayment.
On the other hand, if we focus our attention on debt repayment and start eating cheap, unhealthy food, canceling gym memberships and working extra hours to increase income, our health starts to suffer. You see the dilemma.
So how does one work on losing weight and paying off debt at the same time? There are three basic approaches I have found that work well. One of these might work more for me than for you, or you may find some combination of the three to be most successful. As individuals, we each have a different tolerance for change, various amounts of willpower, resources, etc. So go with the plan that generates the most results for you with the least amount of pain.
The Cold Turkey Approach
Those who go “cold turkey” immediately toss everything bad from their pantry, their refrigerator, and their wallet. They cut up credit cards, immediately convert to a cash envelope budget system, and cancel all forms of entertainment from their spending plan.
Similarly, these same people immediately eliminate everything “bad” from their diets – including all their favorites foods. Rather than practicing moderation, they practice elimination – as in getting rid of anything they believe is off limits.
The problem with this approach is that the new habits are most difficult to maintain. Suddenly removing all fun from your diet and your wallet often creates a feeling of resentment as your body tends to turn on itself with increased cravings for all those things you eliminated.
One or the Other
If you are like me and it seems impossible to pull off successfully losing weight while paying down debts, pick one or the other and stick with it. If you can, simply “tread water” with one plan while focusing your energy on the other. If you decide to try to lose weight, debt repayment may slow as you invest in your health for a period to get a jumpstart on weight loss.
If you decide to pay off your debt first, it may mean that you won’t be ready for the pool by summer, but at least your budget will be lean and mean. At a minimum, try to avoid gaining weight, something many people do when their health is not a top priority – believe me, I am the perfect example of this phenomenon.
This is the approach that works best for me. I have found that by simply reducing the bad things I eat, and amount that I spend, I can lose weight and pay down debt balances. Both goals tend to take longer with this approach, but because they are running concurrently I should arrive at my goal weight and debt freedom at just about the same time!
Rather than going cold turkey, or giving preference to one goal over the other, I simply reduce the frequency of one or two bad habits keeping me from achieving both goals. Here are two revised bad habits I had for each goal:
Revised Eating Habits
- Limit myself to one soda per day (diet). I used to drink two or three sodas a day – sometimes more. By limiting myself to one soda, a diet soda, I am reducing the number of liquid calories while still enjoying a soda with dinner.
- Late-night snacks must include a protein, and be less than 200 calories. I am a bit of a night owl. The problem with staying up too late is that you get hungry. It wasn’t uncommon to find me parked in front of the computer sipping a cold Coca Cola and munching on a bag chips late at night. Instead, I now eat a small snack properly proportioned with protein and only a few carbs.
Revised Spending Habits
- Reduce magazine subscriptions/purchases. I have let all but two magazine subscriptions go, and I rarely purchase one at newsstand. Magazines used to be a weakness for me, but now I look forward to the two that arrive by mail, and occasionally I’ll pick up a third one while browsing the bookstore.
- One meal out per week. This one could really belong in both categories. Eating out less helps your waistline and your wallet, as restaurant food is often unhealthy and overly expensive. For the most part we eat in, but we do make it a point to venture out once a week for a meal out as a family.
The bad news is that there does in fact appear to be a correlation between weight gain and debt accumulation. The good news is that there is a correlation between weight loss and debt reduction. The same shift in habits for one goal also works for the other, but neither goal is necessarily easy to accomplish. However, with proper motivation and discipline, it is possible to make improvements to both your health and your wallet.