Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP® Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension
Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year to improve your health and personal finances and already give up? If so, don’t despair. There is a better way to change…take the time to prepare properly. Lay all your obstacles out on the table and try to overcome them, set a realistic start date (e.g., automatic investing in a 401(k) retirement savings plan) or quit date (e.g., smoking), and then “just do it” (take action). Notice that the “just do it” part is listed last. That is because, Nike marketing slogan aside, these words alone are usually not enough to motivate people to change, unless they are already about to do so and just need a little pep talk. Change never begins with action. Rather, it requires awareness of a better way to live, a firm commitment to change, and a plan of action. So what’s stopping you from making positive changes? List your obstacles. For example, if you’ve had difficulty starting an exercise program, what is holding you back? Is it long work hours, an extreme commute, difficulty finding 30 minutes of free time, weather, lack of social support, or uncertainty about what exercises are best? Part of the process of preparing to change is to reappraise the situation. Try to find at least one realistic solution for each obstacle. The same reappraisal process can be done with your personal finances. For example, what are your barriers to saving? Is it a high debt load, lack of automatic savings opportunities, overspending, or uncertainty about where to put your money? Some good ways to overcome the latter obstacle might be to attend a company employee benefit seminar or request written information about savings plan options. According to the book Changing For Good, “Setting a time frame is critical for behavior change. Choosing a date to begin can help prevent both premature action and prolonged procrastination.” The authors advise “If you are truly ready for action, choose a date within the next month to capitalize on your decision-making momentum.” If you continue to delay a change, it is a sign that you are in the contemplation stage (i.e., just thinking about taking action) rather than the preparation stage (i.e., developing a firm, detailed plan of action). Changing For Good also advises self-changers to go public with their commitment to change. In other words, tell others about your plans. This increases accountability because others are “looking over your shoulder.” Fear of the embarrassment of failing can be a powerful motivator to stay on track. In addition, by sharing their plans to change, self-changers may be able to enlist the support of family and friends who might otherwise undermine their efforts. It is not too late to develop a plan to improve your life in 2008 and take action to implement it. For additional personal finance information from Rutgers Cooperative Extension, visit our Money and Investing website and Investing for Your Future basic investing home study course at www.investing.rutgers.edu. The latter is a nationally recognized 11-unit publication with dozens of worksheets and suggested action steps at the end of each section. For information on health finance topics, visit our Financial Aspects of Health and Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ websites. You can also order a copy of the Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ workbook through the publisher at www.nraes.org. The bottom line is that, when there is a will to change, there is a way. Remember, “where attention goes, energy flows, and results show.” Stated another way, what you think about, you bring about. Today can be a day of new beginnings to improve your health and increase your wealth. Best wishes for success.