Good greens: Healthy finances can be as simple – and as challenging – as healthy eating.
There's a whole industry built around weight loss. Really, it's not rocket science that you need to put less food in and move more, and yet billions of dollars are being made helping people lose weight. And if you offer a magic cream or a magic pill then there is even more money to be made.
I believe part of the reason for this industry's success is that losing weight might seem simple but there's emotion, denial and a whole lot more besides that surrounds why people are choosing not to lose weight. Plus, it's kind of hard. There's willpower, effort and accountability involved and it's easier to sit on the couch watching TV with takeaway food on a cold Thursday night than it is to go to the gym. That's why if there's a magic pill, an easy solution or a celebrity diet it's on the front page of weekly magazines and selling out online within weeks.
Yes it might seem simple. Put less in your mouth and move about more. The problem is that a lifetime of bad habits can be hard to break. The older we get and the more weight that sneaks on the tougher it is to shift and the less likely we are to do something about it. Which is why an industry exists to help us lose weight as well as lightening our wallets.
The same is true of our finances. When it comes to money it really shouldn't be that hard. Spend less than you earn, save a percentage and invest in things that will provide for your retirement. Again it's really not rocket science. Yet many of us are either putting it off or trying not to think about our finances and hoping we'll find a magic pill or person later on that will save us from our financial situation.
The problem is the odds of winning lotto or marrying a wealthy prince or princess is millions to one and we need to look to ourselves, to come to our own financial rescue. There is a movement at the moment among many people to simplify and to go back to the basics. When it comes to our finances the best things we can do are often the simplest. I think it really comes down to a few basic steps.
Know what you want. Just because you're supposed to get married, have two kids, a house in the suburbs and retire to the beach doesn't mean you have to do that. It starts with knowing what you want out of life. With weight loss not everyone's goal is to be a size eight and our financial goals shouldn't all be the same either. It's your life so know what you want from your life, so you can make a financial plan for how you get there.
Know where you are now. With weight loss it's all about knowing how much you weigh now, so you know what your starting position is. With finances it's the same. If you don't acknowledge your current situation in terms of income, debt, bills and expenses, then you can't possibly work out what you need to do to get where you want to go. Both instances can be eye-opening and confronting, but facing up to where you currently are is the first step.
Know where you want to go. This should be a series of smaller goals and a bigger overarching goal. Perhaps it's a family holiday within two years as a smaller goal and the overarching goal is retiring by 60 with the annual equivalent income of $50,000 per year. The important thing is it should be specific and measurable.
Make a plan. This is all about not crossing your fingers and hoping it will happen. Instead, it's starting where you are and using what you have. It might mean reducing the excess of both things and activities that you're doing because you think you should be, or it might mean adding things that might cost like household help so you can spend time earning more money. To go back to basics, the plan should be to spend less than you earn and to save part of your income that goes towards assets for your retirement. Your plan may be wildly different to your next door neighbour's, but as long as it's going to get you to where you want to go then it really doesn't matter what anyone else is doing.
Just do it. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It's the same with saving and finances. It might seem like slow steps and very little progress, but financial management is often a marathon not a sprint and it's about choosing each day to invest in your financial future.
Aristotle said we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit. It's the same for anything that's hard to achieve. I'm not sure anyone loves budgets or choosing long-term pleasure over short-term gratification but until they invent a magic pill for creating wealth, then it's back to the basics.
Melissa Browne is an accountant, adviser, author and shoe addict.