The Money Diet

Diets have a time and a place in life. I think, generally speaking, diets are grossly mismanaged concepts. So too, when we draw the parallel between dieting and money management in this post. Dieting is short term and I think what most of us are looking for is ultimately a bit longer term. Let’s get in to it.

All Diets Fail

I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar years back by a phenomenal, cutting edge dietician. He said something that stuck out in my mind that I remember to this day: “Every diet fails.” He was promoting lifestyle change, not a harsh, sudden elimination of all foods you love so you can drop ten pounds. Not eating bark and drinking charcoal dust shakes every day to drop pounds. He was drawing the distinction of short versus long term results and at the time it changed the way I looked at health.

I’ve seen it so many times – people will spend a month in misery with a diet that cuts out all carbs, a diet that only allows you to drink juice or lemonade and maple syrup… all of these things have a proper place in life, absolutely, but I believe that often times people use them for the entirely wrong purpose. The pattern looks something like the following:

    1. I notice I’m ten pounds overweight
    2. I diet pretty hardcore to lose the ten pounds
    3. During the diet I am miserable, but it’s only for X days so it’s okay
    4. I achieve my goal weight
    5. Time passes and I repeat steps one through four

That is not lasting change. That is a horrendous cycle that is endlessly frustrating! Nobody wants that, do they? What the dietician was saying was that far too often people live through that cycle their entire lives never thinking anything different, never even noticing. What he was proposing was not “dieting”, what he was suggesting instead was lifestyle change. Changing the way you live your life permanently so that the changes you incorporate will be lasting. This must be done in your financial life as well, to exact lasting change.

From One Lifestyle To Another

When one begins a diet, regardless of the intensity, by definition immediate change to one’s lifestyle is happening. Igniting this change and making this change permanent in your life are two different things. The same goes for money management. Let’s draw our parallel. I’m irresponsible with money but I’ve found a widget (I’ve always loved the ‘widget’ example) that I really want. I want it bad. This widget, though, costs some serious cash. I want it now. What must I do? I must save money to buy this widget. I hunker down for the next sixty days, pinch pennies and save money and finally go out and buy my widget.

When this is all said and done, what do I have? I have my widget, I have proven to myself that I can get by while having more fiscal discipline (by not eating out as much, cutting out other luxuries et cetera) and more than likely, I have my old spending habits back. This attitude, this way of thinking, this way of life is good for today, but is terrible for tomorrow. Instant starvation mode can help drop a few pounds very quickly but it’s pretty much common sense that’s not the healthiest, best way to do things to exact lasting change in one’s life.

What we’re proposing here is the elimination of having to undertake that sudden starvation mode. When that widget does come along, you’ve been living your life in such a way that either you already have the money set aside in a dedicated ‘fun money’ fund, or you’ll still have to delay for a bit to acquire it but the immediate changes in your spending habits will not be as harsh.

The way you treat your finances should be consistent over time, much like the way you eat and treat your body. It’s simply not necessary to live an incredibly extreme lifestyle to maintain good health. You’re allowed to indulge from time to time, but over time things should remain consistent. The same with finance. Executing a very small handful of principles in your life will assure that you’re living a healthy financial lifestyle, not partaking in a temporary fiscal diet.

Long term, people! Always remember that what may be best right now may indeed prove to be detrimental to tomorrow.

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