Financial and Physical Peace

I’ve been listening to and reading the writings of financial talk show host and author Dave Ramsey recently, and it has really struck me how many of the things he says about financial responsibility and freedom correlate to fat loss and fitness as well. I’m in decent shape both financially and physically thanks in equal parts to a no-frills, frugal upbringing, a series of smart, informed choices in money and lifestyle, and a decent amount of self-motivation, but I wouldn’t say that I have reached my ultimate goals in either arena yet.

At various times, in my own sometimes hard core, sometimes laid-back way, I have come close to being completely debt-free or reaching that elusive 15% body fat/130 lbs. I’ve even hung out at both of those milestones for a few months at a time…. But then something always comes up–a $1000 car repair that had to go back on a credit card because I didn’t have an emergency fund yet, a big crunch at work that derailed my workouts, an unexpected out-of-state wedding that set me back both financially and fitness-wise–and I am back to trying to reach that $0 debt baseline and 16% body fat again instead of being able to move forward by SAVING up for emergencies and actually training to IMPROVE performance.

On the occasions I’ve actually reached both goals, they didn’t stick for more than a few months because I hadn’t completely changed all of my old ways. I’ve never fully fallen back into stupidity, but I keep giving myself too much leeway with impulse gadget/book/software/game purchases, “cleanish” or downright bad food choices, and inconsistent workouts before I’d maintained my financial and physical statuses for a stable three month minimum. I’ve had too much of a “Yay! I’ve reached my goal! Now I can let up!” attitude, when I really should have been saying, “Yay! I’ve reached my goal! Let me get used to maintaining this for another 6 months to make sure I have enough savings to withstand the next unexpected car repair and that I have a grasp of how much I should eat and work out to keep my physique the way I like it before I start easing up on everything all at once.”

Ramsey says that you must live like no one else (meaning working your butt off and doing without the frills for a while) now so you can LIVE like no one else (meaning financially secure and enjoying all of those things you sacrificed before…but without debt this time) later.

I think this rationale can and should be applied to fat loss. What it boils down to is that neither financial freedom nor a lean, fit physique is achieved without hard work, sacrifice, and a willingness to go against the American norm. (This last item shouldn’t trouble you overly much since the “norm” these days is fat and broke!)

You have to just suck it up now–give up those extraneous goodies that everyone else enjoys, bust your ass at the gym, and stick to your caloric budget as tightly as you would stick to a monetary budget–if you want to get physically debt-free. Our physical debt is comprised of all of those extra pounds of fat we carry, and in order to get rid of this fat debt we need to do what I have already done in my personal finances: Stop acquiring more debt, or, in more specific terms, stop consuming more excess calories than we need each day. Seriously, how can we expect to get out of physical debt if we are not willing to cut out the extra expenses in the form of unnecessary, frivolous calories? Our exercise income–the hours we devote to pushing and pulling heavy chunks of iron and killing our legs and lungs with intervals and cardio each week–is just being squandered if we don’t plan, track, and budget the calories we take in as well.

I liken the common pattern of hitting 100% of your workouts while failing or refusing to control food intake to the financial no-no of making the minimum payments on your credit card debt while continuing to rack up more charges.

Sure, you will get out of debt…but it will take you 30 years!

To further flesh out this finance/fitness analogy, Ramsey also says that if you do “poor people” stuff, you will be poor, but if you do “rich people” stuff, you will be rich. So let’s apply this to fitness now. If you do fluffy people stuff, you will be fluffy. If you do fit people stuff, you will be fit. In other words, model your behavior after that of those who have achieved what you want to achieve and stop allowing the behavior and comments of folks who clearly don’t have their shit together.

Fluffy people stuff:
– Getting little or no vigorous exercise (Sorry…a once a week yoga DVD and “toning” with 2 lb weights is not going to cut it here.)
– Drinking calorie-laden beverages like loaded lattes and sodas instead of water
– Dining out on outrageous portions and foods too high in sugar and fat
– Avoiding fresh fruits and vegetables
– Not planning healthy meals
– Refusing to learn the rudiments of weight control. (Knowing your ballpark maintenance calories for your level of daily activity would be a good start…)
– Unwillingness to delay gratification
– Sticking to the same exercise routine even after it is no longer challenging
– Making excuses: I’m too tired/busy to exercise. I’m a picky eater. I have bad genetics. This is too hard.
– Heading to the gym without a plan for the next hour, let alone the next 4 weeks

Fit people stuff (also see Kelli Calabrese’s 10 Things Every Fit Person Does):
– Exercising with full focus and intensity at least 3 times a week with a combination of resistance training and cardiovascular exercise
– Drinking at least 64 oz. of water or green tea each day
– Packing one’s own meals or selecting restaurant meals that fit within the guidelines of one’s plan (and taking half of it home for tomorrow)
– Consuming at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
– Planning and bulk-prepping one’s meals for the week
– Knowing how to read nutrition labels and tracking how many calories go in and out.
– Ability to delay taste bud gratification now in order to enjoy looking and feeling like a million bucks later
– Changing exercise routines on purpose to keep one’s body from adapting and stagnating
– Making it to all of one’s workouts, rain or shine
– Setting goals and planning workouts

The final lesson I took away from Ramsey’s writing is something he calls attacking debt with gazelle intensity. This is his way of saying that you can’t go in half-heartedly (or half-assed) and expect to succeed in the fight against debt. If you aren’t 100% focused on achieving your goal, you might get awful close, but you will not reach it because something will always come up to derail you. There’s no meandering your way to either financial freedom or 15% body fat. You need to have a solid plan, and you need to commit to it without deviation.

I have been close, as I said, to achieving both my financial and fitness goals for a while now, but I have not fully reached either one yet. Financially, it seems that every time I knock out the credit card balances and start putting money aside for an emergency fund, something always comes up that wipes out my nascent non-retirement savings fund and encroaches back into my credit card balance again. I have also not really felt the same drive that took me through my first two Body-for-Life challenges in several years. On the fitness front, I have focused for 4-8 weeks at a time, but it’s too easy to fall prey to the “I’m in better shape than most women already. I can afford these fries and a few skipped workouts. I deserve a reward for all of my hard work. I’m still ahead of the game.” As a result, I’ve just been running in place since I hit my 30s.

(Well, I guess my retirement accounts have been growing at a decent rate, but I have never quite managed to set aside six months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund.)

So today, December 3, 2007, is the official start of financial and fitness Gazelle Mode for yours truly.

I have 10 pounds of fat debt and $18,194 of non-mortgage debt (primarily comprised of a $1000 credit card balance, $2150 on the HELOC used to pay for a new A/C system this June, the $4150 remaining on the 3-year, 6.0% car loan for my used 2002 Camry, and a $11,000 student loan for Chris’s MBA) to dump, and I can’t wait to kick it all to the curb.

For the physical debt, I am going to attack with four more weeks of Shapeshift followed by eight weeks of Turbulence Training workouts (2K3 and 2K4 from the main TT for Fat Loss manual). More importantly, I am going to return to strict food logging and clean eating until I reach goal. Eyeing portion size and estimating intake might be fine and dandy for maintaining at 20% body fat, but to get extraordinary results I MUST track my food as closely as I track my spending. It’s time to stop eating up more caloric debt while I’m in the process of cutting.

For the financial debt, Chris and I are going to give Ramsey’s Debt Snowball method a try, starting with the smallest debt, the credit card bill. That one will be paid off in January, as will the next highest debt, the HELOC. My car loan is next (with a scheduled pay off in October 2008), and then all of the excess payments will be thrown at Chris’s student loan. Once that is paid off, we will be clear of everything except the house payment, and we’ll finally be able to flesh out the emergency fund to $10,000. My conservative estimate puts our debt-free date at July 1, 2009 and the completion of the $10k fund at March 1, 2010, or 27 months from now if we continue to fund our retirement accounts at our current rates (12% for Chris and close to 20% for me) instead of halting further contributions until the debt is paid off.

I am still debating whether I am ready to take the step of temporarily suspending retirement contributions in order to direct the funds towards debt repayment and funding our emergency savings account recommended in Ramsey’s Baby Steps to Financial Peace. I’ve been faithfully socking away the max IRA contribution every year since I was 21, and I actually feel a little panicky at the thought of not contributing anything at all to retirement for a year.

I’ve run the numbers and doing so would get us debt-free with $10,000 in emergency savings by April 1, 2009, nearly one year sooner than if we continue to fund our retirement accounts, so maybe….

3 thoughts on “Financial and Physical Peace

  1. Love Dave Ramsey’s Stuff!! My wife and I will be debt-free in March!!!

    I love the parallel you’ve made between fitness and finances. I’m in a play this year and didn’t realize how far I’d let myself go until I saw a video review of our rehearsal. Who added padding to my wardrobe? Oh… it was me. :em44:

    Thanks for the insight.

  2. James – Congratulations on your debt-dumping progress! I am determined to try Ramsey’s plan, too, and with some hard work my husband and I will be out of debt late next year. :em55:

  3. Maggie, this is a great post. I love the Dave Ramsey comparisons. His advocating of responsibility is applicable to so many things in life.

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