By FPA member Eric Toya, CFP®
Last Updated: February 21, 2011
Every January, millions of us begin the New Year with a very familiar set of resolutions: Lose weight, save money. Both goals are surprisingly elusive (thus their annual reappearance in our resolutions) in that they are simple in rule but by no means easy in execution. For example, eat less junk, more healthy foods, and exercise more are simple rules that have a high chance of success, but are easier said than done.
The same goes for saving more money. “Spend less than you make, live within your means” is a simple rule that will work more often than not, but again, easier said than done.
Then there are those who make it look easy. We all know somebody who can seemingly eat anything at any time, and still never gains a pound. Those “naturally slim” people infuriate the rest of us for whom the aroma of fresh baked brownies packs about two inches on our backside. Similarly, there are those for whom saving money seems to come easy. It’s not that they were born to a big trust fund or make an NBA player’s income, but they seem to have little difficulty living within their means, whatever that may be. Of course, the “naturally slim” is more readily apparent than the “natural savers” given that good savers tend to be discreet.
A recent article in Prevention Magazine sheds some light on the secrets of the naturally slim. It turns out that many of those secrets can be applied to natural savers.
1. They choose satisfied over stuffed.
On a fullness scale of 1-10, slim folks stop eating at 6 or 7, while we, soft in the middle types, keep on going until we have reached a 8 or 9, otherwise known as "Thanksgiving full."
Certainly, a fullness level of "1" is not acceptable. You need a certain amount of sustenance for basic health and survival. The "natural" part of this is that slim people (I'm told) do not feel deprived. They stop at 6 or 7 because that is the point at which they are satisfied. They don't desire to be 8 or 9 full. Thanksgiving full, for them, is uncomfortable and ultimately not a happy place.
Likewise, you can't simply decide to not buy anything. You need food, clothes, shelter and transportation. However, you don't need to go all the way to 8 or 9 on the scale of "providing" for yourself and your family. It's an exercise in wants versus needs. A 4-5 satisfies your needs, 6-7 will do so comfortably. Your wants are being indulged in the 8-9 range, and in either case, you're just in the land of excess at a 10.
2. They realize hunger isn't an emergency.
In the land of the soft in the middle, we see hunger as a condition to be cured. A fear of hunger may lead to a tendency to overeat. Slim folks realize that hunger pangs come and go.
This is essentially the urgency with which you indulge the wants or needs from above. Think of it this way. Once in a while I look at my closet and think, "I need some new dressy shirts." I can rush out to the mall and satiate that "need," or I can wait. I can keep wearing the perfectly fine shirts that I currently own.
A good rule is to delay any major or discretionary purchases by at least one week. If, after that time, you still feel that this is a purchase that you can afford and is a high enough priority then by all means, indulge. But remember, aim for a fullness level of 6-7, not Thanksgiving full.
3. They don't use food to cure the blues.
"It's not that thin women are immune to emotional eating," says Kara Gallagher, Ph.D., a weight loss expert based in Louisville. "But they tend to recognize when they're doing it and stop."
I remember when I was living in my first apartment. It was an exciting time, but difficult and sometimes confusing all the same. I worked across the street from a mall, and would wander over more often than necessary. One day, when I got home from work, by way of the mall, with some useless kitchen gizmo, it hit me as I showed my roommate, "hey dude, check out what I got." "That's cool dude. Are you really gonna use that?" The answer was yes, but once, twice at most.
If you’re looking for some retail therapy, instead call a friend. Go for a walk, even if you hit the mall together, at least having someone with you may serve as a form of accountability. Just be sure not to call that friend who says, “that looks so great on you, you should definitely get it!” to everything you walk past.
4. They eat more fruit.
Skinny women, on average, have one more serving of fruit and eat more fiber and less fat per day than overweight people.
Okay, so this one doesn’t apply apples to apples, but the message is clear: Fit people make healthy choices. Similarly, good savers make choices that are good for their financial health. I would equate eating the proper recommended portions of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis to allocating an appropriate percentage of your income to saving and investing.
For those not eating from the produce section, finding ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet may be a challenge. But once you have made it habit, it is not only easy, but difficult to imagine otherwise. Likewise, for someone who is not saving, it may seem an overwhelming challenge to save on a regular basis. However, if you start small and make it routine, it becomes easier, and even difficult to imagine not saving regularly.
5. They're creatures of habit.
“Thin people have what I call a food groove — the majority of their meals consist of well-planned staples," says Judith S. Beck, Ph.D., author of the Beck Diet Solution."There are a few surprises thrown in, but for the most part, their diets are fairly predictable.”
The thing about consumption is that, unless you change things up, there's sort of a natural limit. For example, if you are Jim Tressel, Head Football Coach of The Ohio State University Buckeyes, you wear sweater vests. And that's pretty much all you wear. Well, how many sweater vests do you need? However, if you are a fashionista or a foodie, always showing off your latest duds or having to try a hip new place for dinner and drinks, your budget for both categories is sure to go up. Predictable consumption makes for predictable budgeting.
Nobody is suggesting that you need to rush out and buy the same sweater in thirty different colors. However you may consider why it is important to you to always have the newest and trendiest, whether that means clothes, cars, electronics or food.
6. They have a self control gene.
Low levels of restraint was found to be tied to weight gain.
The relationship to being an effective saver should be fairly obvious. Sometimes, it boils down to good old fashioned will power. However, you have to know yourself. If you are someone who lacks the self control gene, you have to find a way to create structure for yourself. Diets and budgets don’t work for everyone, but the structure may be a good alternative to trying to force will power where it may not already be.
7. They're movers and shakers.
Slim people are on their feet an extra 2 1/2 hours per day. This is not necessarily concerted exercise, rather just being up and about. Try a reality check. "Studies have shown that people often overestimate how active they really are," says Gallagher. Most people actually spend 16 to 20 hours a day just sitting.
A reality check is a good idea for your spending as well. If you typically have more month left at the end of your money and find yourself wondering where it all went, try writing it all down for at least one month. You may be surprised at how quickly the “little things” add up.
8. They sleep well.
Skinny people snooze two more hours per week, compared with overweight people. Researchers theorize that a lack of shut-eye is linked to lower levels of appetite-suppressing hormones and higher levels of the appetite-boosting hormone.
Similarly, a well rested mind and body may be better prepared to make appropriate decisions around money. If nothing else, the appetite suppressing and boosting hormones mentioned in the article are likely to impact your appetite to spend just as it does your appetite to eat.
Another way to look at it, keep your money in control, and you will sleep better. Or at least your sleep problems won't be due to money.
FPA member Eric S. Toya, CFP®, is Vice President of Wealth Management for Trovena, LLC in Redondo Beach, Calif. Eric graduated from the University of Southern California with a BS in Finance and Accounting and is a current member of the FPA Los Angeles Chapter Board of Directors. Eric has been quoted in national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.