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The SSHW Challenge: A Tool for Reaching New Year’s Resolutions

December 2010

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

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! This is the time when many people start thinking about resolutions to improve their lives during the following year. Losing weight, eating better, exercising, paying off debt, and saving money perennially top the list of desired changes. Where people often fail, however, is in putting actions to achieve those resolutions into daily practice. That’s where Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s online Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Challenge comes into play. It’s a tool for making progress toward your health and financial goals.

Each year, Rutgers Cooperative Extension creates a new online Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Challenge that runs for an entire year through December 31. It is not part of an official Challenge competition with prizes, but it is a way for people to track their progress and have their points tallied online and to compare themselves to others. The name of this online Challenge is "Non-Competitive Annual Personal SSHW Challenge” followed by the year that the Challenge is taking place (e.g., 2010 and 2011).

To sign up for the SSHW Challenge, go to Set up a user name and password and download a simple one-page user’s guide with instructions about how to proceed. Enroll in the Challenge title “Non-Competitive Annual Personal SSHW Challenge." Each day, boxes will appear for users to report their performance of recommended health and financial practices with a simple click of a mouse.

The SSHW Challenge is part of Small Steps to Health and Wealth™, a national Cooperative Extension program developed to motivate Americans to take action to simultaneously improve their health and personal finances. SSHW was built around a framework of 25 research-based behavior change strategies. The Challenge was originally developed in a “paper and pencil” format and is now available online. A paper tracking form can still be downloaded, however, to track daily activities before points are entered into a computer.

It has been well documented that, when people monitor their behavior and measure their how they’re doing, they are often inspired to do better and achieve positive results. Users have seven days from a specific date to enter their points (e.g., by January 8 for health and financial activities performed on January 1) so they do not have to have daily computer access to use the SSHW Challenge Web site.

The SSHW Challenge is based on the performance of ten recommended practices on a daily basis: five that involve health and nutrition and five that involve financial management. Ten points are given for performing each one for a maximum of 700 points per week. The five daily health and nutrition practices are: eat at least 4 cups of fruits and vegetables; get at least 30 minutes of exercise; drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sugar-sweetened beverages; walk 10,000 or more steps with a pedometer; and learn something new about health and nutrition.

The five daily financial management practices included in the SSHW Challenge are: save a $1 bill (or more) and/or pocket change; invest $5 or more per day (including automated retirement savings plan deposits); track money spent throughout the day; eat lunch prepared at home; and learn something new about personal finance. The latter activity, for both health and personal finances, can be accomplished by visiting Web sites, attending seminars, or by reading, listening to, or viewing media reports.

As users enter their personal data, they will see their point totals for each day of the week and for each of the ten activities described above. They’ll also see a bar graph that compares their personal progress to the average scores of everyone else who is using the Noncompetitive Challenge Web site.

Doing even one of the ten recommended daily practices is a great way to get started on the path to better health and improved financial security. The more SSHW Challenge activities that are performed by users, the better, because they’re doing more things right. Want to improve your life and keep your New Year’s resolutions in 2011? Take the Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Non-Competitive Annual Personal SSHW Challenge .