A year and a half ago, I was frustrated with my life. I was the heaviest I’d ever been, and no matter what I did to try to lose weight, I kept gaining weight instead. I was also frustrated with my finances. I was underemployed; the job I did work was low-paying, and I hated it. I had no idea how my husband and I would ever move out of my parents’ house or pay off our combined $117,000 of student loan debt. I was miserable and tired of feeling “stuck” –- overweight, underemployed, and buried in debt.
Fast forward to today –- I have a better-paying job that I truly enjoy, I’ve lost 35 pounds, and I’m on track for paying my loans off in three years, before the debt snowballs. Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about what losing weight and paying off debt have in common.
1. It’s hard work, and it requires sacrifice.
Losing weight isn’t easy, and neither is paying off debt. You’ll have to make some sacrifices. You might skip eating pizza the way you’d skip going on a costly vacation. Perhaps you’ll move in your parents or get another roommate, the same way you would work more exercise into your daily routine. You’ll have to invest a big chunk of your time into your goals -– you need to spend time cooking healthy meals and exercising in order to lose weight, the same way you need to spend time doing whatever you can to increase your income to pay off debt.
2. It’s easy to resent those who don’t have to make the same sacrifices.
As you begin making sacrifices to achieve your goals, you may start to resent those who don’t have to make the same sacrifices that you choose to make. You may envy your friends who eat nothing but fast food, never work out, and somehow are still thinner than you –- despite the fact that you hit the gym daily and eat a lot of kale. Similarly, when you scroll through your Facebook newsfeed, you’ll see your friends getting married, having kids, buying homes, and traveling the world. How on earth do they afford it?!?!
It’s important to remember that you can never know everything about someone. Maybe they’re blessed with good genes or rich parents, but it’s also possible that they have made some smart choices or that they’re making some bad ones that will eventually catch up with them. If they’re financing their lives with debt, they’ll hit a breaking point. On a similar note, poor diet and exercise choices can lead to all sorts of negative health consequences down the road (that might be less obvious than weight gain).
3. People often don’t understand.
Your friends — who are constantly munching on pepperoni pizza or McDonald’s cheeseburgers — may not be understanding or sympathetic when you tell them that you want to eat at a healthier restaurant. Likewise, your friends who were fortunate enough to have their parents pay for their college educations likely won’t understand the sacrifices you have to make in order to pay off your student loans. They may encourage you to loosen up your strict rules about your spending habits or your diet. Ignore them. They don’t understand, and more importantly: They don’t have to. They just need to respect your choices.
4. Your approach to achieving your goals will depend on your personality.
The formulas for weight loss and paying off debt are quite simple. For weight loss, eat fewer calories and burn off more; for paying off debt, earn more money and spend less. These strategies are universally true. However, the application of these tactics will vary from person to person. If you want to follow a whole-food, vegan diet, go for it; if you’d rather count your calories, try that. The same goes for debt; you can try reigning in your expenses with Mint, or you can set up an automatic transfer to funnel income towards debt and savings accounts.
Often, people will claim that there is only one diet that really works, or that there is one supreme method for getting out of debt. But everyone is different, and what is right for one person isn’t always right for another. I am an abstainer –- this means that I find it easier to stick to hard and fast rules. I would prefer to never eat cookies or never spend money, because I know that one cookie could easily lead to 10 cookies, and spending $10 could quickly lead to spending $100.
A moderator, on the other hand, prefers not to deprive themselves. This person can follow the traditional dieting advice of “everything is okay in moderation,” because a moderator won’t be tempted to eat 10 cookies if she has one cookie. Moderators feel restricted by intense rules and will binge-eat or go on shopping sprees if they don’t let themselves indulge moderately, once in a while. (Abstainers are more likely to binge if they do allow themselves to indulge).
5. The longer you do it, the easier it gets.
When I drastically changed my diet, it was difficult at first. I had to give up some of my favorite foods, and I started eating mostly fruits and vegetables. As for paying off debt, that wasn’t easy at first, either. I gave up living on my own, opted not to purchase a new vehicle (mine is 16 years old), and abstained from spending any money on any non-essential items. None of these practices are easy, but I’ve found that the longer you do it, the easier it gets. Your taste buds begin to adjust, and you start craving healthy foods. You feel less tempted by junk food. You get used to seeing the sum of your debt go down, and feel motivated to keep away from flash sales at the mall. You start finding ways to have fun for free (or on the cheap, at least), and you realize that you don’t need to spend money to enjoy your life and relationships.
6. It’s difficult in the short-term, but it’s worth it in the long-term.
It’s not easy to lose weight or pay off debt. If you focus on the short-term challenges, you will be tempted to give up. It’s important to focus on the end goal. It will feel amazing to be healthy and debt-free, so visualize your life when you reach that state: What will you be able to do if you lose weight or pay off all of your debt? What does your debt-free and/or healthy future look like? Focusing on the long-term benefits will help you to get through the difficult times. I’ve returned to this quote repeatedly for inspiration: “Short-term sacrifices reap long-term rewards.”
Jen is an HR & Finance professional and a frugal lifestyle blogger. Jen and her husband are paying off $117,000 of student loan debt in just three years. She writes about healthy eating on a budget, affordable wedding tips, destroying debt, and living frugally on her blog Frugal Millennial.
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