“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.” — H. L. Hunt
I once met with a young woman who wanted to lose weight. She knew her diet was a problem; she ate restaurant food nearly every night of the week. After our first meeting, she emailed me and said she couldn’t afford to meet with me and I never saw her again.
Based on our initial conversation, I figured she was probably spending, conservatively, about $200 a month in restaurant meals — far less than the expense of working with a nutrition money coach. Through her food choices, she was putting toward something she didn’t want and taking money away from something she did want. I thought this was sad because I don’t think she realized the choice she was making.
As with our time, our money can disappear easily leaving us wondering where it went. Unlike time, everyone has a different amount of money to spend. I would be remiss to not income acknowledge that different levels do affect an individual’s opportunities. However, there are opportunities to live healthier at every income level.
I’ve found tracking money to be a more involved task than tracking time. In my experience, it will take a few hours of researching statements and bills and several months of tracking to your money fully understand how you spend. Eventually, it becomes an ongoing process of anticipating expenses and learning how to live with less of some things in order to make room for others.
Begin by tracking every dollar that you spend. There are some great apps you can use (Spendee is my favorite) but a small spiral notebook works just as well. I found the book The Debt-Free Spending Plan by JoAnneh Nagler to be helpful in establishing a process for tracking spending and organizing a budget. (The book’s tone was a little harsh, but the content was good.) Be patient and persistent, this is not a short-term endeavor.
After the first week of tracking, what do you notice? What do you notice after a month? How much of your money is being spent on unhealthy things and what could you change to make it healthier? The change could be as small as switching from a highly sweetened $4 mocha to a $2 coffee with less sugar. You could purchase less soda, junk food or alcoholic beverages and use that money as a reward for meeting a health goal you set. You could reduce the number of restaurant meals and use the money for a gym membership, a bicycle, dance class, walking shoes, a salad spinner, kitchen wares or anything that you think will help you eat better and be more active.
You can change your spending habits to support better health. Realizing this and paying attention to your habits will help you see where you can make changes that will create better health for you in the future.
Find out how people in Portage County are being active and eating healthy by seeing their healthy lifestyle tips in the Facebook conversation at www.facebook.com/portagecountycan.
Laura Zelenak, a nutrition coach at Adventure 212 and higher education coordinator at the National Wellness Institute, is the communications officer for Portage County Can (www.portagecountycan.org), a coalition of community businesses, organizations and individuals committed to promoting healthy eating and physical activity in Portage County.