I recently joined Weight Watchers in an effort to finally shed the 20-plus pounds I gained after having a baby. After becoming immersed in weight loss research and advice, I realized that many of the tools and strategies people use to lose weight also apply to shedding debt and increasing savings.
Learning to resist temptation, for example, is just as important for lowering your credit card debt as it is for losing weight. So is altering your environment so that you’re less likely to make choices you’ll regret.
I recently started keeping chocolate on a higher shelf so that it’s a bigger pain for me to reach for it and have started keeping a bowl of tangerines within easy reach in my home office.
It’s essentially the same strategy I used this year when I was overspending on my credit card. After repeatedly overcharging online, I started making it harder to use my credit cards by keeping my purse in an inconvenient spot in my front door coat closet and deactivated one-click shopping.
I have a tendency to splurge on impulse – both with money and with less-than-healthy treats – so I’ve focused much of my weight-loss efforts on small behavioral tweaks that can be applied to any goal that requires self-control.
In addition, I’ve started putting into practice six weight-loss strategies that anyone can use to trim credit card spending and rein in debt:
1. Keep a journal.
Since starting Weight Watchers, I’ve begun tracking what I eat every day. It’s not only helped me be more mindful of my choices; it’s also helped me see how often I was picking less-than-healthy options.
Personal finance experts recommend that consumers keep spending journals for much the same reason. You’d be surprised by how accountable a journal can make you feel – especially if you use it regularly.
2. Do a gut check.
Many weight loss experts recommend that people think carefully about the reasons they’re overeating. For example, some people eat out of boredom, while others eat to feel better when they’re struggling with difficult emotions.
The same holds true for spending. I have a tendency to spend when I’m feeling anxious and will sometimes reach for pastries and other feel-good foods for the same reason. Identifying these tendencies has helped me redirect myself and make better financial – and diet – choices.
3. Limit your consumption.
In general, you typically need to eat less to lose weight, just as you need to spend less to reduce your card balances. This is easier said than done, but it helps to reframe how you look at and value the items you’ve been consuming.
For example, I’ve found it easier to limit spending when I focus on the non-materialistic aspects of my life, such as my family or spiritual concerns. Similarly, I’ve found it effective to swap out food-based treats for treats that don’t cost me any Weight Watchers SmartPoints, such as taking a walk outside.
4. Increase your output.
I’ve also started exercising more in an effort to improve my physical health and maintain any weight loss gains I’ve made. Research has shown that exercise alone usually isn’t enough to help you reach your weight loss goals, but it can help – particularly if you work out regularly.
Similarly, paying down debt without curbing your overspending won’t lead to a $0 balance. But if you aggressively increase the amount you pay each month, you will reach your goal more quickly.
5. Reward yourself for healthy choices.
A number of studies have found that financial incentives can also be useful for encouraging people to lose weight. Rewarding yourself for meeting a goal may help as well.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or shed debt, treating yourself when you’ve overcome a hurdle could help you stay motivated over time – especially if you have a long journey ahead of you. Your card issuer may also be willing to reward you – either with a credit limit increase that helps your credit score or better rewards.
The Citi Double Cash card, for example, awards cardholders 2 percent cash back when they pay in full. Similarly, the Journey Student Rewards card awards cardholders 1.25 percent cash back when they pay their bills on time.
6. Make it stick.
To lose weight and keep it off, experts also recommend that you change your lifestyle permanently, rather than blast fat with a temporary diet. But to make those changes stick, you may be more successful if you slow down your weight loss journey and try to make modest, sustainable changes in the way you eat and live.
If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to stick with it.
The same goes for modifying your financial habits. If you reduce your spending slowly and allow yourself to occasionally splurge, you’re less likely to feel deprived and more likely to change your spending habits for good.
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