Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension
Want to improve your health and personal finances? Meet yourself halfway, step down to change, kick it up a notch, and live “the power of 10.” What do these phrases have in common? They are among the 25 behavior change strategies contained within the Cooperative Extension system’s new personal wellness program, Small Steps to Health and Wealth™. Information on each of the recommended Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ (SSHW) strategies can be found online (see njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw). Printed workbooks are also available at www.nraes.org.
“Meet yourself halfway” simply means scaling back a current practice by at least half to improve your health and personal finances. For example, eating half of a deli sandwich a day instead of a whole one or buying two lottery tickets instead of five and saving the difference. Over time, even small changes like these can add up to produce significant results. For example, save $1 a day, plus pocket change, and you should have over $500 saved after a year. Cut out 100 calories per day (or work them off with additional exercise) and you’ll lose about 10 pounds a year later.
“Step down to change” means finding lower calorie alternatives for meals, beverages, and snacks and lower dollar cost alternatives for household expenses, instead of cutting out an item completely. For example, you could eat pretzels or unbuttered popcorn instead of regular potato chips or fried snack foods. A financial example is buying gently used clothing from a consignment shop instead of paying full price at a department store.
Borrowing a phrase from Food Network chef Emeril Lagasse, “Kick it up a notch” means ramping up an already positive health or financial management behavior. For example, if you already exercise 20 minutes a day, make it 30 or 40 minutes. If you’re saving 3% of your salary in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, make it 4% or 5%. Increasing savings plan contributions is easiest to do when your salary increases or a major expense, such as child care or car loan payments, end.
The “Live the power of 10” strategy means following health and financial recommendations that use the number 10 (or multiples of 10). Whether it’s shedding 10 pounds, exercising in 10-minute increments, walking 10,000 steps a day, saving 10% of gross income, or reducing debt by $10 a day, “10” and derivatives of 10 are strong motivators if the magnitude of their impact is fully appreciated. You can lose 10 pounds a year by eating 100 calories less per day. Similarly, there are positive effects by making small financial changes. Pay $1 a day ($30 a month) more than the minimum due on a 17% interest credit card with a $5,000 balance and you’ll save $7,624!
Visit the Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Web site, or purchase a copy of the book, and make plans to improve your health and increase your wealth. Review the 25 strategies and pick out the 3 or 4 that will work best for you. Then develop a personal action plan to use these strategies to achieve your health or financial goals. For example, you might decide to “step down” by eating carrot sticks as a snack instead of nacho chips. Or you might decide to deposit $100 monthly into a mutual fund instead of $50.
Remember that small changes do make a difference and that any changes you make to improve your health and increase your wealth are better than doing. What you think about, you bring about.
Decide what you want to accomplish, develop a plan, and get to work. Later, you’ll be glad that you did.