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Take the Time to Secure Your Future

January 2013

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

Happy New Year! Have you made resolutions to improve your health and/or finances in 2013? One of the reasons that New Year’s resolutions fail is that people say they can’t make room in their busy lives for daily exercise, preparing nutritious meals, developing a budget, balancing a checkbook, and other necessary activities. However, in most cases, time is exactly what is needed to successfully reach your goals.

The phrase “take the time” was used on a morning television show segment about households that were proactively reducing their debt and/or living expenses. Someone who was successful in bringing her family finances under control advised viewers to “take the time and keep focused on it [financial goal].”

Time affects health and wealth-building practices in three different ways:

  1. Time required to improve health and finances. For example, losing 10 pounds in a year requires eating 100 calories less each day or burning off 100 additional calories through daily exercise. A comparable financial example is increasing credit card payments (e.g., from 3% of the outstanding balance to 6% of the outstanding balance) to reduce both debt repayment time and total interest charges.
  2. Time deadlines for personal goals (e.g., someone’s desired time frame to lose 20 pounds or save $3,000).
  3. Time available to perform recommended practices such as exercise and financial record-keeping.

Sometimes, expert recommendations regarding recommended time commitments can sound intimidating. 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, reconciling a checkbook balance, reading a mutual fund prospectus or annual report, organizing tax receipts, and preparing written financial goals or a budget.

How do you find chunks of time to improve your health and wealth? You look for them and dedicate that time 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 exercising while watching television, for example. In other words, carve out time to achieve your goals wherever and whenever you can.

Once you’ve identified blocks of time to perform recommended health and financial practices, 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.

Taking time every day to improve your health and personal finances takes organization and determination but the results are usually 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 toward your health and wealth goals. Each small step adds to the ones before it.

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