Diet books. Fitness apps. Live-streamed exercise classes. They all tell you the same thing: Maintaining good physical health requires discipline and adherence to a few simple habits, such as eating wisely, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. But did you know that the same basic formula can also apply to achieving and managing financial fitness? If you're looking to shed some unwanted financial fat and build a potentially healthy financial future, all you need is a good attitude, a little bit of dedication, and a solid plan to get you on track.
Priority One: Be Smart About It!
Just as maintaining a food diary may help you determine if you are eating healthy meals and snacks, the same strategy can help you become a more self-aware -- and better -- spender. That's why it's so important to keep track of your actual spending and to see how it matches up against your ideal household budget.
Next on the Agenda: Cut the Fat!
Accumulating debt -- particularly high-interest credit card debt -- is like gaining a few extra pounds: It's often easier (and more enjoyable) to do than to undo. But on a positive note, achieving success in your attempts to lose a bit of weight or reduce the amount of money you owe can be an incredibly satisfying and rewarding experience.
So how can you begin tightening your financial belt? Start by making a pledge to use credit cards only in emergencies or to make big-ticket purchases you intend to pay off immediately.
If you find it difficult to make more than the minimum monthly payments on your credit cards, then you should probably consider consolidating your debt by transferring the balances to a single account that offers a low interest rate.
Keep in mind, however, that there is such a thing as "good debt." For example, taking out a home equity loan or line of credit to pay for household improvements or to consolidate high interest credit card debt or to pay for large purchases can be a possible option and is still one type of loan that allows you to deduct the interest on your income taxes.
A Constant Goal: Peace of Mind
Once you get in the habit of making better spending decisions and minimizing your debt, your work is not done. In fact, budgeting and getting a handle on your debt are just the beginning of being financially fit.
Just keep in mind that while identifying a plan of action is easy to do, you shouldn't be too hard on yourself if you don't see the desired results overnight. After all, a couple of quick trips to the gym won't give you the body of an Olympic athlete. And it may take more than a few weeks of smarter spending before your financial well-being shows signs of long-lasting improvement.
So be patient, stay focused, and let yourself feel good about doing the right thing one day at a time. In the end, the tremendous satisfaction and accomplishment of being financially fit might stretch even beyond your checkbook or savings account.