Boosting your financial fitness
“Clear your mind of can’t.” – Samuel Johnson
With 2015 just around the corner, it seems only natural that our thoughts should turn to create change and making resolutions to “do better” next year in some way. Often those resolutions are connected to health and fitness and this might explain why gyms and fitness studios always tend to be so busy in the early part of the year. The dictionary definition of fit is, “to be healthy: sound physically and mentally” and, while we tend to use the word fitness in relation to physical well-being, I think that many of the areas we focus on when trying to improve our physical fitness can also be applied to improving our financial health:
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Create a positive relationship with money
Often, the most powerful barriers to achieving physical fitness lie in our perceptions of ourselves and the way we feel about our bodies. It doesn’t matter how clearly we understand that eating right and exercising will improve our health and help us get into shape or how many books and gadgets we buy. If deep down, we don’t believe that we can ever achieve that level of fitness or become the kind of person who is fit and healthy then our chances of success are very small because our best intentions will be sabotaged by our core beliefs. It’s exactly the same with money.
The basic principles of managing money and building wealth are very simple: pay yourself first, spend less than you earn, keep track of your money, invest wisely and give every dollar a purpose. However, if you don’t think of money in a positive way, if you don’t see yourself as a good money manager or someone who is capable of building and growing wealth then your chances of achieving financial success are very small. Creating a positive relationship with money is a key step in boosting your financial fitness.
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Make good money management a habit
People who achieve a high level of physical fitness don’t do it by committing to a series of fad diets and exercise crazes. They make fitness a habit. Working out becomes something they enjoy and so they make time for it in their daily routine. They eat foods that they enjoy which also happen to be healthy and help them achieve their fitness goals. They don’t abandon “unhealthy” food altogether, they just limit the amount they eat to the occasional treat rather than an everyday indulgence. Exercising and eating well become part of their lifestyle; something that is easy to maintain because it’s a habit, not a hassle.
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In the same way that you can make exercise a habit, you can also make good money management a habit. Start by developing a money management plan and keeping track of your spending. Set clear financial goals and then put an action plan in place that will enable you to achieve them. Don’t rein your spending in too tightly – give yourself a buffer zone to take care of unexpected expenses and make sure you incorporate some “fun money” into your budget so that you can enjoy your money too.
Cut yourself some slack
One of the things I learned very early on in goal setting is that sometimes your perceptions of what you can achieve are out of sync with the reality of what you can actually accomplish. In theory, getting to the gym or down to the treadmill in the basement for an hour every day might be reasonable but in reality, a late night, a random snowstorm or a sick child can throw off your best-laid plans in an instant. It’s just the same with finances; the best budget can be thrown off by an unexpected expense, an irresistible sale or a forgotten bill. What’s really important though, is not that you missed a workout, splurged on a night out or ate a huge piece of cheesecake but what you do next.
Rather than using it as justification for giving up (“I knew I couldn’t do this!) just acknowledge that you got (temporarily) derailed and then set the intention to get back on track. One strategy that I really like is James Clear’s, “never miss twice” mindset which means acknowledging that you might get off track once but committing not letting it happen twice in a row. This means that, rather than beating yourself up for getting off track, you commit even more strongly to doing better. For example, I might have missed a workout this morning but I definitely won’t miss tomorrow or, I might have splurged on eating out today but I’ll pack a lunch tomorrow.
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Financial fitness, like physical fitness, is a process. It takes a little time, a little research and a little commitment but once it becomes a habit, it can be a powerful tool in reducing stress and increasing wellbeing.
What could you do this week and over the next year to improve your own financial fitness? I challenge you to set some goals and see what you can accomplish!