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A Different Kind of Budget

We’re now one week into 2012! How are your resolutions going? If you’re like many Americans, you’ve vowed to lose weight and get in shape this year. Even though these goals are closely related (it’s a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone kind of resolution), they can still be overwhelming. As it turns out, sticking to an exercise plan is not unlike sticking to a financial budget.

I’m borrowing an idea from Pat Croce here. Croce is an icon in the physical therapy and business worlds. He’s an entrepreneur, writer, and TV personality. He’s a former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and recently opened a pirate-themed museum. But what first drew me to his advice was his business savvy. As a physical therapist, he grew a chain of 40 physical therapy centers and later sold it for $40 million. As the saying goes, not too shabby.

As Croce asserts (I’m adapting his ideas here), fitness can be achieved by following three steps:
1. Analyze, 2. Commit, 3. Schedule.

1. Analyze: When creating a financial budget, you analyze what you have to work with – your income and your bills – and you identify areas in which you can trim spending and increase savings. Exercise is much the same. Your fitness program should begin with a trip to your doctor to analyze what you have to work with, i.e. your cholesterol, resting heart rate, blood pressure, body fat percentage, etc. Then you identify areas that you can improve in, such as lowering your cholesterol and your blood pressure. Rather than just saying, “I want to lose 15 lbs,” this approach gives you many areas to succeed in. That way, if those 15 lbs. are coming off a little slower than you’d like, you can look at your new lower resting heart rate and improved blood pressure as markers that you are healthier and heading in the right direction.

2. Commit: A budget won’t work unless you commit to following it. A fitness program is the same way. Current guidelines suggest that adults need 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week (for those of you doing the math, this means at least four days each week). To accomplish this, you need to commit to two hours of weekly exercise. Considering there are 168 hours each week, this should be relatively simple (it amounts to only about 1% of your time). But if you don’t prioritize it, those two hours will seem as impossible to find as an extra 70 hours. Without legitimate commitment, success is impossible.

3. Schedule: Many aspects of our financial lives are decidedly inflexible. For example, that credit card bill is due on the 6th, not “sometime around the 6th.” If your payment is late, you get late fees. While I do advocate for a certain amount of flexibility in work-outs (it helps keep it fun and prevents burn-out), you also have to be honest with yourself. If you know that you easily find excuses to skip exercise, you might need to schedule your workouts with the same “no choice” quality that bill due-dates have. Write it on your calendar and put reminders in your smart phone. That way, you won’t be able to schedule other commitments at the same time.

Achieving fitness already requires hard work, so why complicate it any more than we need to? Follow these three steps for physical (and financial) success this new year. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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