2018 is proving to be an eventful year for the Fetching Freedom Family. Three weddings of close friends and family and we are on track to be officially financially independent in mere months, you guys, a full year ahead of our original schedule and before my 29th birthday, even after putting a year’s salary into our newly minted Donor-Advised Fund.
Not to mention I will be a speaker at FinCon (affiliate link for tickets, though they have community passes too), attending the inaugural Cents Positive retreat (sold out, but sign up for their list serv for details on the scholarships), taking an eight week sabbatical (including three weeks in and around the beautiful Acadia National Park in Maine), and I’m on track to lose over 50 pounds this year (bringing me down 67 from my highest weight over the last two years)!
Unlike frugality and personal finance, healthy habits do not come naturally to me. Losing weight with diet and exercise always sounded reductionist and didn’t seem to apply to me. Vegetables were my friends, after all, and red meat was never part of my diet; if I already ate my greens, how could I possibly lose weight? Plus running is just awful. I’d rather have some extra weight than have to go for a run every day. I don’t eat any different from my friends, and they’re not overweight. It’s obviously just the way I am, right? (Spoiler Alert: wrong!)
It took unknowingly gaining 30 pounds in a year (and, okay, the Secret Eaters TV series if I’m being honest) to really get me to make a conscious change, and in the journey I’ve realized there are an insane number of parallels to personal finance and the journey to financial independence.
It Comes Easily to Some
There are some people that are just naturally thin (or naturally whatever the beauty standard of the day is), just like there are some people who are just frugal by default. In order to be really fit, financially or otherwise, you will have to work for it, but it’s undeniable that some people have a bit of an easier go of it. For me, frugality comes easily, but I will always have thunder thighs.
You are not doomed, even if you aren’t naturally thin, or weren’t born into upper middle class white picket fence suburbia. We just need to do our best with the hands we were dealt (and help others if we’re able).
Weight loss and personal finance are both just input/output systems. If you burn more calories than you consume, you’re going to lose weight. If you spend more than you make, you will go into debt. The real magic in tracking calories or spending doesn’t come from solving a simple equation, but simply forcing yourself to confront your choices.
Even though we started our financial journey in a good place with no debt and some savings, we were able to cut out hundreds of dollars of spending in eating out each month that we don’t miss. “Track your spending” is my first piece of advice for any friend that asks. In my small sample size, everyone has $200-$1000 per month that they had no idea they were spending, and that’s just for the largest budget sleeper agent item each.
Despite knowing how well the simple act of tracking spending worked for savings, I’d never really tracked calories. I was worried that counting calories would bring me down the dietland rabbit hole, making me destined to regain, and more, in mere months.* The thing is, I’m not “on a diet,” I’m just being more mindful of what I consume.
The act of breaking out of habit and questioning *by itself* will yield changes. The great thing is you don’t need to track every day or every month to get results. Once you have a fairly good routine, checking in every once in a while can keep you on track.
Restricting Can Backfire
You know what makes you really crave something? Being told you can’t have it. Crash diets do work, but they’re not sustainable. Telling yourself “no” for days, weeks, or months at a time make you more likely to say “YES” and overindulge, be it via Gruyere or Gucci.
One interesting observation over the past few years.
The people who recommend going all out, scorched earth on your non-mortgage debt repayment have often only been in or only will be in debt for 6-24 months.
A marathon runner has different strategies than a sprinter.
— Veronika | Debts To Riches (@DebtsToRiches) July 16, 2018
There are no “quick fixes” for long-term financial and physical (not to mention mental!) wellbeing. It takes time, effort, and being able to work with yourself and your limitations.
Personalization is Important
The best plan for me is likely not the best plan for you. And that’s okay.
You will not see me joining my workplace running group at noon in the heat of the summer for the following reasons: (A) The sun is my nemesis (B) I hate running (C) My knees no likey impact (D) Ugh, showering at work.
I *do* like walking with Fergus and listening to a great audiobook at twilight, Zumba, and weight lifting after a 1200 meter sprint on the rowing machine. The absolute best exercise is the kind you actually enjoy.
The same principle applies to personal finance; the best way to save money is to stop spending it on things you don’t care about. My friend Russell from RisdomFI and Nick True from Mapped Out Money just did a great couple of videos talking both about rejecting spending on “normal” things and getting disproportianate value on purchases that really matter to you, even if others think you’re crazy.
Even common nutritional “truths” need to be personalized. You know what blew my mind last week? Scientifically proven trends that different people react to the same foods in different ways. I’m not talking the “blood type diet” or other pseudoscience fads. This is something more complicated and trackable (thought sadly not that actionable for the public right now, as it’s…you know what, just watch the TED Talk and let me know if your mind was as blown as mine).
It’s Not Really About the Numbers
You could be right in line with a normal BMI but live on your couch and only eat twelve twinkies each day. You could also have millions in the bank and be absolutely miserable because seeing a psychiatrist “costs too much.”
The numbers of weight and savings are just numbers. They’re convenient to track, but they shouldn’t be the end goal. If you think everything in your life will be perfect if only you could quit your job and retire or if only you were model-esque, you’re simply wrong.
The other day, I bought an adorable fair trade cotton dress that I rock at my current weight. It cost $82. It’s very possible that I will be too small for it this time next year. But you know what? It brings me joy, and I’m not about to wait until I reach some arbitrary number before I can spend money on myself (plus, you know, alterations are a thing).
It’s all about balance and priorities.
Money (even debt) is about priorities. And you can prioritize more than one thing at the same time. This is why I aggressively pay off debt and still go on vacations. It’s OKAY not to prioritize extreme debt payoff over everything. #balance
— Wise Mind Money | Emilie (@wisemindmoney) July 16, 2018
If we were worried about reaching financial freedom as quickly as possible, we wouldn’t have gone scuba diving with my 80-year-old grandparents (twice!). If I wanted to lose weight as quickly as possible, I could simply not eat anything for a few months, be constantly hungry and tired, and do serious damage to my long-term health and wellbeing.
I don’t want to reach my “goal weight.” I want to have more energy, prolong my life, and give my knees a chance to live past 60.
I don’t want to retire as young as I possibly can. I want to give myself the freedom to pursue my passions and travel, while also giving back to my community.
~What is it that you really want?~
If you like the mashup of personal finance and fitness, check out the fitness challenge series Mr. SmartFI ran over the month of June, wherein a bunch of money nerds, including myself, set and mostly achieved weight loss goals (and of course compared it to personal finance).
*This isn’t a fully unjustified fear, as a preoccupation with calories and weight is one of the main signs of an eating disorder. If you have a history of disordered eating, do not undergo a tracking system or change anything without first consulting a professional. If you or anyone you know starts exhibiting any of these signs, call the National Eating Disorders hotline now.