We spend too much energy managing the minutia in our budgets (and our lives). We’d reach our goals more quickly and with less stress by making some simple (not necessarily easy) structural changes to our lives.
Let me give you a non-budgeting example to make the point:
Between 2004 and 2012, I gained 40 pounds. On my journey from 175 to 215, I remember at least two significant weight loss periods (early 2005 and early 2010). Neither stuck.
Why? Because I didn’t make any structural changes to my life. These were high energy, high focus, unsustainable bursts of effort. They gave quick results, but added stress and tedium to my life.
In the last year, I’ve lost 25 pounds, and it didn’t feel like work. Rather than losing weight through a hyper-structured, detailed workout program and diet, I made basic structural changes to my life:
1. I started sleeping more, specifically by going to bed earlier.
2. I started walking to work.
3. I stopped eating out at lunch.
(All three qualified by “most of the time.”)
I’m no dietician or exercise scientist, but here’s how I think these structural changes impacted my weight:
Rather than burning zero calories while driving to work and consuming 1,000 to 1,200 calories at lunch, I started burning 500 to 600 calories per day on my walking commute and eating 500 to 600 calories during a brown bag lunch.
Net result? 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day gone from my life.
Ironically, the decision to walk to work wasn’t meant to create weight loss. I was looking for some time alone, outside, to unwind from work and get a little sun. Brown bagging my lunch was a natural consequence of walking to work – there aren’t many restaurants within walking distance of the office.
One basic structural change – walking instead of driving – triggered a small domino effect that has dramatically improved my life.
If you’re struggling financially, take a step back and think about structural problems that might be dragging you down, and how you could solve them.
- If you find yourself chronically falling back into credit card debt, maybe the structural problem is having a credit card at all. The structural solution would be cutting up the credit cards for good.
- If you’d like to pay off your debts more quickly, make a structural change by increasing your monthly payments and forcing the rest of the budget to adapt.
- Same principle for your retirement savings: bump your automatically monthly savings and let the rest of the budget adjust itself around your new structural priority.
- If your budget is always tight in spite of your best efforts at frugality, your structural problem may be too little income. Create a two to five year plan for earning more.
Improving your life’s basic structures doesn’t ensure success – you’ll still need discipline, focus, and persistence. There’s a bakery 50 yards from my office whose owners would be only too happy to help me get right back to 215 pounds.
But if we make the right foundational choices, we just might succeed in spite of ourselves. :)
I realize many people’s circumstances don’t allow for such simple weight loss – or financial gain. Heck, after dropping 25 lbs I’ve plateaued at 190. This post is only meant to inspire introspection.