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Take the Time for Health and Wealth

September 2010

Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Want to improve your health and personal finances? Take the Time! In other words, make room in your busy life for daily exercise, nutritious meals, and health screening exams. The phrase “take the time” was also used on a recent television segment about households reducing their living expenses. Someone who was interviewed for being successful in bringing family finances under control advised viewers to “take the time and keep focused on it.”

Time affects health and wealth in three different ways:

  1. The time required to improve health and finances. For example, losing 10 pounds in a year requires e burning off 100 additional calories through daily exercise, which takes time. A comparable financial example is increasing credit card payments to reduce debt repayment time and interest charges.
  2. Time deadlines for personal goals (e.g., someone’s time frame to lose 20 pounds or save $3,000).
  3. Time available to perform recommended practices such as exercise and financial record-keeping.
Finding time every day to improve health and finances takes determination but the results are well worth the effort. Daily progress builds upon itself, just like compound interest. If you do something consistently, at least 5 times a week, you will make steady progress. Each small step adds to the ones before it and serves as a cornerstone for steps that come later.

A common reason given for inattention to health and personal finances is “lack of time.” People hear that they need to exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day and automatically say “I’m too busy.” Fitness experts say, however, that you can accumulate those minutes throughout the day in 10 to 15 minute “chunks” of time. Gradual progress is also fine for financial maintenance tasks such as calculating net worth, requesting free credit reports, and preparing written financial goals and budgets.

How do you find chunks of time to improve your health and wealth? You look for them and dedicate them to making daily progress. There are 1,440 minutes in a day or 144 ten-minute chunks of time. Subtract about 7 hours for sleep and that leaves 100. Another way to “find time” is “smart multi-tasking.” Read a mutual fund prospectus or exercise while watching television, for example. Carve out time wherever you can.

Once you’ve identified blocks of time to perform health and financial activities, do two more things to improve both aspects of your life: automate and self-monitor. Automation eliminates the need to decide to do something. You just do it on a regular schedule or it gets done automatically. Examples are exercising regularly every morning and having part of your pay deducted for 401(k) plan contributions. Self-monitoring (e.g., wearing a pedometer and calculating net worth annually) involves tracking progress over time. When people measure or monitor their behavior, they are often inspired to do better.

For additional information about small steps that you can take to improve your health and finances, visit the main Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ website. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Take the time!