This isn't the first time I've made money comparisons to the weight loss journey.
I've been gradually researching IRAs. I know I need to do SOMETHING about my savings. I have no 401(k) options. Savings accounts earn terrible interest rates. (I honestly remember having a Wells Fargo account when I was in my teens that earned 5%, not the weak sub-1% offered these days.)
A few months ago, I went to a site to calculate how much I need to try to save up. It came up with almost $1 million if I retired at 70. That number blindsided me. There was just no way I was ever going to manage to save that much. The amount I'd have to sock away weekly was unreasonable.
Does that sound familiar at all?
How many of us have looked at our starting weight and an ideal weight from a table, calculated the difference between them, and been blindsided by the number? How many of us have had a goal date by which we wanted to lose a set number of pounds, only to discover we'd have to lose 3-5 pounds a week to get there?
I have to be honest. One of the reasons I originally set my SP goal to 160 had nothing to do with a reasonable and healthy weight. It had to do with the difference between saying I had 90-95 pounds to lose and saying I have 100 pounds to lose. Saying 100 just seemed too big. When I went to the goal page, I used the automatic calculator and didn't even look at the expected date to reach it. I didn't want to know how long it was expected to take.
What do we do when something is too much for us to confront? Often we avoid it. We let other things distract us. We don't get started, or we start then quit, because it's just too much and after a little early success we can feel how long it will be.
Last month, I did finally get up my nerve again and start digging some more, trying different scenarios. Cleaning through all my papers reminded me that unless Social Security collapses, I will have at least something other than what I can manage to save. I started planning last week to talk to an account rep at my bank to ask some questions.
And then today something really opened my eyes.
With the Kindle Fire, I often check the "Top 100 Free" ebooks and "buy" many of them. If I don't like them, I just delete them and no loss. Otherwise, I have a vast selection to pick from. Today I finished one and started another randomly (literally flicked the carousel a couple times and tapped one). It happens to be on saving for retirement without living like a pauper.
Like so many books on the topic, it starts with the point about how far along I could be if I'm in my 20s and I start now with some small amount weekly, such as $25.
Oh, yay. What good does that do me? I'm 43. I have a whopping $400 in a generic savings account, all added just this year.
But then it gave an example of someone who was in their early 50s. And the lightbulb went on.
How does putting this off longer help?!
Every single day I put this off is yet another day I'm not making progress.
Sure, I can be upset that I don't already have $200,000 sitting around growing ... but I can't go backwards. I have several choices:
1) I start now. I open an IRA, I set up automatic deposits. I let it grow for 25 years. Figure I put in $400 from my savings, add $15 a week, never changing. In 25 years I'd have put in around $20,000 and potentially have close to $50,000 (assuming a "low" return of 7%)
2) I delay it. In 5 years I start to really feel the pressure, so I start then. Same numbers, but 5 years less ... and I could be just barely past $30,000 instead of nearly $50,000!
3) I put it off indefinitely, never feeling the time is right. The $400 stays in my savings account. Maybe I'm smart enough to add $15 a week and not withdraw anything. I earn 0.85% interest. In 25 years I'll have put in around $20,000 and have a little over $22,000.
4) I don't just put it off. I give up on trying to save. Maybe I leave the $400 in savings just because. Woohoo, I have almost $500 after 25 years.
5) I give up completely and just spend my money freely. Why bother with a savings account that doesn't earn much? I spend it. Oh, hey, credit! I spend up and build crazy amounts of debt because it's easier than confronting my money issues. In 25 years, I owe $50,000 and have no savings and no income other than Social Security. Hope I like being homeless.
Well, DUH! Looked at like that, of course I want to take the first choice.
And yet ... I've gotten to this point because I delayed, put it off, gave up, and even sabotaged myself in years past. I've lived every single other choice.
Whenever I look at $50,000 versus $200,000 it makes me want to just delay more. How completely STUPID is that? Start now and I'll have $50,000 versus $30,000. NEITHER choice, NO choice I could possibly make will give me that $200,000 I could have had with better choices earlier.
Now, let's look at each of those choices translated to weight loss:
1) We start now. We make a few lifestyle changes. We find habits we can live with. We build on those bit by bit. In 10 years we are at or close to our ideal weight, perhaps more fit than we've ever been in our life, and we don't even have to think about many of the healthy habits - they're automatic. We might never be as physically fit as we could have been if we'd never gained the weight in the first place, but we're in great condition all things considered.
2) We delay it. In 5 years we realize we've put on another 15 pounds and REALLY need to do something. Our blood pressure has shot up, we have adult-onset diabetes, and it hurts more to move around. But, hey, at least we listen NOW. In 10 years, we've finally dropped most of the excess weight, but those extra 5 years overweight/obese did a number on our arteries and our joints.
3) We put it off indefinitely. Every once in a while we panic a little as we realize we put on another 5 pounds and briefly go through a spurt of trying to lose by one diet or another. We never consider changing our lifestyle - we just need to lose a few quick pounds. In 10 years, if we're lucky, we weigh a little less. Not enough to address the issues, but at least we did something.
4) We don't just put it off. We give up on ourselves. There's a few good habits we do half-heartedly, maybe, most notably when we want to fool ourselves into thinking we're trying. But for the most part we ignore the mirror, avoid pictures, and just hope that somehow magically one day we'll find a spell and be skinnier. In 10 years, we've added another 20 pounds and are even more overwhelmed by how long it would take to lose and how much work, which we don't think we can do.
5) We give up completely and figure we're already such an obese mess it makes no difference. We might as well eat whatever we want. We're killing ourselves, but at least we won't care about our weight if we do. In 10 years, if we're still alive, we've packed on another 100 pounds, our bodies are crippled by the weight, we're just one mass of health risks, one tick away from a heart attack or losing a leg.
Why would ANYONE ever choose the last option? The first choice will get us there fastest. We may not be there already, we may not be there at the end of 2012, but the first choice WILL get us there.
MORAL OF THE STORY?
In every moment from today forward, don't let the length of the journey scare you. The first choice WILL get you there. The first choice will give you the greatest chance at a healthier, fitter future and as many years as possible in that condition!
If you gain a pound or feel like you've failed in some way, think about whether the choices you are tempted to make in that moment will GUARANTEE you gain even more. If that's not the result you want, don't make those choices!