I have been a health coach for a weight loss program for the last 3+ years, and I’ve learned so much from my patients
about paying off debt.
That sounds kinda odd. It’s not like my patients are all financial advisors trading money advice for weight loss tips. But I have learned a lot about goal setting and staying motivated throughout the journey, what ever the goal may be. Though the topics are completely different, I’ve found a few similarities between the processes of losing weight and paying off debt:
1. Goal setting. Setting a goal without an action plan is just a wish.
I help my patients set SMART goals with actionable steps to attain their goals. We think through any potential obstacles and strategize ways to deal with them. I ask them to visualize what reaching the goal will look like and to have a clear definition of what needs to be accomplished.
Rick and I set the goal to pay off our student loans in 2 years. We knew how much money we would have to pay each month, and we knew the specific date when we would reach our goal. We also thought about what we need to do each month in order to stay on track such as: budget, limit eating out, give plasma, and use what we have first before buying. I often imagine how it’ll feel once we are debt-free. We talk about how we’ll use the “extra” money we’ll make each month.
2. It has to be a lifestyle change. If a person follows the diet plan to lose weight, and then goes back to old eating habits, he or she will end up gaining the weight back.
Similarly, if I work hard to pay off our student loan debt, and then go back to old ways of shopping without a list, forgetting about the budget, and eating out when ever I want, I will go back to letting money control me. I will still have to be smart about my purchases and stick to many of my frugal habits.
3. Outside support is crucial for overcoming obstacles. Our society is not always supportive of making nutritious decisions. (Gotta love those Wisconsin cheese curds and beer, right? And no Friday night’s complete without a fish fry.) Unhealthy food is in-your-face advertised, quick, easy, inexpensive and tastes good. So it’s easy to make unhealthy decisions, and choosing more healthful, wholesome foods can require more effort.
But it’s totally possible, especially if you have a great support system. For my weight loss patients this might include: family members, friends with a similar vision, counselors, Facebook groups, additional health coaches, apps, and their doctor. When you fill your environment with supportive, positive people, you’re setting yourself up for success. Granted, each individual is responsible for his/her own decisions, but creating a supportive environment sure helps a lot.
I have found support in my husband, family members and friends as well as the online financial blogging community as we pursue our financial goals. Our society isn’t really on board with saving money and paying off debt. Usually, it wants us to buy and have more, regardless of what we can actually afford. So I set up my environment for success. Close family members and friends know we’re working on paying off our student loans and are supportive of finding inexpensive ways to spend time together. It helps to talk to other people to get their advice and ideas about saving money, or just for some positive reassurance that we’re headed in the right direction.
4. Life happens, and you have to keep going. Medical bills, car trouble, unexpected house expenses. Donuts in the break room, forgetting to pack healthy food, plateaus. We plan and strategize as much as we can, but sometimes we slip up or life gets in the way. We have to learn from the experience and figure out how to deal with it in the future. Setbacks happen, and we just have to keep going.
5. Stay motivated. As with weight loss, debt repayment starts off fast, then motivation fades, and it becomes a lot harder to stick with the plan. My weight loss patients have found outside support, tracked their progress, set up mini rewards, and created visuals of what reaching their weight loss goal will look like. Many of these things have also helped me stay motivated while paying off debt .
6. There’s no shame in the journey. There are all kinds of reasons why people are in debt or have extra weight they need to lose. Judging and shaming helps no one. We should be proud of how far we’ve come, and we can’t let anyone deter us from reaching our goals.