Was your New Year’s resolution to lose weight and save money? Me, too! Sort of.
As the New Year marches on, I’m in the mood to rant about the difficulty of losing weight. We’re all told that a pound equals 3,500 calories. As long as you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. All you have to do is eat less and exercise more! But that isn’t how it works, is it?
Losing weight is hard, and most people fail. Anyone who has tried to eat less and exercise more has dealt with such catch-22’s as water weight, muscle build and metabolic changes. The relationship between calories in and calories out isn’t as easy as it looks on paper. Let’s face it: If losing weight were easy, Weight Watchers would be out of business.
But saving money is a little different.
We know the math for money. It’s hard and literal. Your earnings equal the amount invested times the rate of return. Allow the money earned to stay in the account, and you get earnings on your earnings. Nice, huh?
Sure, some investments lose money some years, but some types are safe (such as an insured bank account). Others tend to have a enough of a return over the long run to compensate you for the years when returns are lower than expected – and you cannot lose more money than you invest.
Weight loss, on the other hand, can be fleeting, and too often, people gain back more weight than they lost after the diet is over.
Free money is out there. Last night, I found a quarter on the ground. I’ll put it in a change jar; once a year I take all the accumulated change to the bank and put it into my kid’s college fund. When have you ever had a mysterious weight loss that was not due to a medical problem and that stuck around?
Never, that’s when. Free money comes from good things: rebates, 401(k) matches and change found on laundry day. Free weight loss is almost always due to an illness, and there’s nothing good about that.
Free money also accumulates when you find a way to save money on something you don’t care about. For example, if your teeth are just fine after using half as much toothpaste as you usually do, you have now saved 50% on the cost of toothpaste for the rest of your life. And, in fact, you may be able to save money while losing weight, helping both goals along.
Money goals are easy to measure. If your goal is to save $6,000 for an emergency fund, you know that you are $2,000 short if you have $4,000 saved. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you know where you stand on that, too. But if your goal is a longer life? More energy? Better health? These are difficult to quantify, so it is also difficult to know how you’re doing. If you lose weight, will you live longer? What about if you didn’t lose weight, but you did start exercising more? You won’t know if you extended your life until the very end. Even numbers that are more measurable don’t offer the daily feedback that you can get from looking at your bank account. You can’t check your cholesterol every morning to see how you’re doing on the LDL numbers.
I know, I get it. Almost all of us could stand to exercise more and eat more fruits and vegetables. Those are good things, no matter what happens to your weight. Don’t jeopardize your health just because I’m being cranky.
But, if you’ve been going to the gym and cutting out the alcohol and watching the scale stay stuck, you may want to concentrate a little more on the “saving money” goal. You’ll get some nice positive feedback, one quarter at a time.
Photo by smokedsalmon, freedigitalphotos.net.