Are you financially fat or are you financially fit?
A guest post from a 40-something year old who left his retirement planning for almost-too-late. He’s now looking at his financial fitness.
Not too long ago I was overweight.
I really didn’t like my stomach and spent a lot of time breathing in so that no-one would notice it. But people noticed because I wasn’t only overweight, I was also in bad-shape. The problem with having a fat stomach is that I thought I was doomed to keep it. I think I believed I was supposed to be fat because I was over forty!
My fat tummy (or ‘boep’ as some call it) was also a ‘vicious cycle’ – because I was fat, I didn’t (or couldn’t) exercise. Because I didn’t exercise, I kept getting fatter. I also found out that as my stomach grew larger, my body was doing some crazy stuff, and helping itself to get fatter.
It wasn’t only that I was eating too much, it was also that I was eating the wrong things.
Losing the weight
And then I saw Duncan. Duncan was a big guy and only a few months previously he was much fatter than I was. When I saw him again he was slim and looked quite fit. He never told me his secret but just seeing him unlocked something in me. If Duncan could lose weight (and pretty quickly), so could I.
I ended up doing a rather radical no-carb diet for a few weeks, I weaned myself off bread, pasta and other carbohydrates that I had grown to love (and abuse). I cut out sugar. Within months I lost more than 25 Kilograms. I had done no real exercise but as I lost the weight I found that I had more energy and I wanted to exercise. I set some exercise targets each week and I was off. Within months I looked, and felt, like a new person. I was (physically) a new person.
Please don’t assume that I am judging you if you are overweight. I do understand that my weight, my build, my genes are personal. The things that work for me, might not work for you.
Just like my finances.
From financially fat to fit
But there are some principles here. If I eat too much of the wrong stuff and I don’t exercise, I am probably not going to get healthier. If I keep spending everything I earn, I will never have enough to save and invest.
I started to realise that I had become ‘financially fat’ and I didn’t like where I had arrived or where I was headed. For many years I really did believe that I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t save. But I continued to ‘consume’. Consumer debt became the high-carb staple in my life. I regularly spent money to buy things I couldn’t really afford (and didn’t need). Sometimes binge-eating/spending, just to feel better. Consumer debt came in the guise of long-term contracts for cellphones, credit cards and online subscriptions.
And then I saw ‘Duncan’ – I saw people who had been in the same financial position as I was, who had made real progress. It isn’t always easy to see these things (unlike a fat stomach, fat debt is often easier to hide).
But I realised that I must lose the fat so that I can build up some energy and get into shape. And so that’s what I’m doing.
I am now on a quest to get out of debt so that I can start saving and investing. Debt is the ‘boep’, the ‘fat’. Debt is the thing that makes me so tired I can’t move, I can’t exercise. I want to be healthy though, and financially fit!
The pathway to debt
It isn’t just the consumption that we need to look at, it is the pathway to that consumption.
Often, I wonder why, when I was in my twenties and thirties, I wasn’t saving more. I think it had a lot to do with time and my concept of time and I don’t think that I truly believed I was going to get old enough to retire. I also think that I convinced myself that I would find a ‘winner’, that one idea, business or product that was going to make millions! It’s quite remarkable that my high-carb, low exercise lifestyle was an exact mirror of my financial life. I became sedentary and I just cruised along, trying to just make it through.
No plan. High consumption. Low mobility. Ignoring reality.
I am aware that I am not the same as everyone else, we all have our own problems, but I have learnt some interesting lessons from my weight-loss and my lifestyle changes, which apply equally to my financial life.
Get rid of the fat tummy!
Get rid of bad-debt.
Bad-debt is dead weight that saps your energy. It will convince you that you can’t save, and you can’t invest. Getting rid of a fat tummy takes time, discipline and consistency. You won’t kill your bad-debt by doing nothing. You won’t get rid of the bad-debt by being casual, paying the minimum and continually spending money you don’t have. Get rid of the bad-debt.
Change your diet!
You can’t lose a fat tummy by eating sugar. You can’t kill debt by spending. It is really that simple. Stop being a consumer, stop your consumer-debt lifestyle. Perhaps it is something as simple as no longer buying food with your credit card. There are things that you are consuming that you must remove from your consumer diet. Identify them. Take them off the menu.
Exercise isn’t just good for weight-loss, it is also great for increasing your energy levels. When you set goals and keep them, you build confidence. When you start seeing a small dent in your debt, you may become addicted, you may start enjoying the discipline because you see the difference you can make. You will want to move faster, and you will want to speed up the process of killing that bad-debt. Moving financially includes planning, budgets, goals and spend-tracking. Find the financial gym-equipment that gets you moving and gets you on the path to become financially fit.
Watch the triggers!
There are things that make us eat more. There are things that make us spend more. Identify your triggers.
Perhaps you must stop going to the Shopping Centre on the weekends. Perhaps you need to go shopping with a list. Going out with certain people may also encourage excessive spending. There are people and things that will encourage you to spend more. Find those triggers and own them (you can keep your friends, just find ways to manage the spending).
There is a natural result
If you get rid of the tummy, you start watching your diet and you keep moving, the natural result is that you become lean, you become fitter, you gain energy. Financially this will also happen. You will move from being a consumer with high-levels of debt, to a saver and to an investor. It is a natural progression. It really is up to you.
As an aside, many people who saw my weight-loss assumed it was quick and easy. They didn’t see the discipline or the self-control. They saw the result. Do the same for yourself, work at the things you know you can do, do not be discouraged by those around you. There is a financially lean and fit person within you.
You can do it.
After all that writing, I’m off to eat a chocolate now. LOL. Kidding 🙂