If you want to feel better, you need to be fit. That doesn't just mean being physically fit but also having a healthy financial life. Being financially healthy has many of the same benefits as physical fitness. You can lower your stress level, sleep better, be energized and have more control over your future. Like getting physically fit, it does take some effort to get started. If you are feeling a little nervous about your future or just want to tone up your finances, here are the steps to getting financially fit.
Know yourself -- Take some time to sort out how you got here. This will help point out your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to money. Don't focus on outside events and forces but rather those you can control, your own actions and motivations. We all have different attitudes about money. We learned these from our parents and over a lifetime of experiences. If you are having difficulty getting started, check out the Money Habitude cards (MoneyHabitudes.com) to learn how you handle money and what it means to you.
Set SMART goals -- We need to set some targets to keep us headed where we want to go. Set a small number of Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely goals. A SMART goal might be; I want to save enough money to take a vacation to Hawaii in one year. I need to save $300 a month for the next 10 months. I will do this by going out one less night a week, tutoring one night a week and eating lunch at my desk four days a week. If it is a long-term goal, think about setting intermediate goals to keep motivated. For example, if you are working to be debt free in five years, set a timetable to erase each debt so you can celebrate successes along the way to your ultimate goal.
Get some support -- Temptation lurks everywhere. Having a partner to help you stay committed when life gets difficult is invaluable. Find a partner you can call when you feel you may stray from your plan. It can be your spouse, partner, friend or a professional. Ask them to be there and remind you why you are getting fit and the benefits.
Get a physical -- Before starting a physical fitness program, it is recommended to get a physical. This helps you avoid problems caused by overdoing it. Start your financial physical by calculating your net worth, cash flow, debt and savings ratios (how much you are paying or saving divided by your income.) Compare your numbers against others of similar income, age and situations to see how healthy you are: (Bls.gov/cex/home).
Be inspired -- It took time and bad habits to get out of shape. It will take time and effort to change habits before you see positive results. We must train hard and often, to make the new habit part of our life. Give yourself a visual boost. Create a collage made of pictures of your goals and the good things you will experience. Put it in a prominent place so you will see it throughout the day. Some people put it on their closet door, the mirror, phone or computer wallpaper -- any place that you will see it and be inspired.
Once you have set up your fitness program and made it through the first few weeks, it is easier to stay on track. But, we all have days where it is not so easy. This is where you call on your accountability partner. They cannot do the work or bail you out but they can encourage you to succeed.