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Controlling your weight, and your finances

Kai Ryssdal Jan 2, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: This is, for a lot of people, a time to re-consider their lives. Take a step back and do more of the good stuff and less of the bad. New Year’s resolutions, of course. We’ve all done ’em, with varying degrees of success.

Among the most popular things people decide to do? Lose weight, and get their finances in order. And, says financial planner Robert Brokamp, those two things are more alike than you’d think.

Robert, good to have to with us.

Robert Brokamp: Pleasure to be here.

Ryssdal: So listen, there’s a little cognitive dissonance here: You get paid to help people take care of their money, but we’re talking about weight loss? Help me out.

Brokamp: Yeah, absolutely. Actually there’s a lot in common there between money management and blubber management. I think it’s probably the same neuro pathways in your brain in terms of wanting to consume something and then having some regret about it later.

Ryssdal: So how did this epiphany come to you, if I could use a seasonally appropriate phrase?

Brokamp: It of course started with me gaining too much weight and realizing probably about 18 months ago or so that if I don’t do something about it, I have to buy a whole new wardrobe, so that set off alarm bells in the financial part of my brain as well the ego part of my brain. So I said, I’ve got to lose some weight.

Ryssdal: All right, first I want the numbers — how much did you weigh?

Brokamp: I weighed about 205 — so not horrible, I didn’t look horribly overweight but it definitely would have required new pants.

Ryssdal: And what’d you do?

Brokamp: Well the thing I did was the smart thing you’re supposed to, which is just make small modifications to my habits so that it would be sustainable. But I found that it actually didn’t really do enough for me; I ate a little less, exercised a little more, but I only lost a few pounds. So the real dilemma I had was ‘do you go extreme?’ And it’s same with finances as well, that I think actually a period of going very extreme for a while will show you enough progress to provide the motivation you need to keep going.

Ryssdal: Well much as you can go extreme with dieting to a point, you will eventually have a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia — not that I know what that’s like at all. And you will also financially go out and spend $350 on a pair of sunglasses.

Brokamp: Right, absolutely. And to be quite honest, at some point, you should go back to a point where you allow yourself to do those every once in a while. But hopefully you’ve made so much progress that you don’t want to give it all back, so that time when you have that tub of Ben and Jerry’s or you go out and buy those sunglasses, you say, ‘OK I just did this one little slip-up,’ or ‘it was already in my budget so I can do that, but now I’m going to get back to habits that are healthier for me physically and financially.’

Ryssdal: Is there a, I guess the phrase is ‘public accountability mechanism’ that might help?

Brokamp: There are several ways of doing this actually, and there are several websites like Fatbet.net, where you —

Ryssdal: Wait I’m sorry — Fatbet.net?

Brokamp: Fatbet.net. Yeah, absolutely. And then there was a great book called “Willpower” written by a New York Times columnist and a psychologist and they talked about the public humiliation diet of a guy named Drew Magary who would tweet his weight everyday. And now there is a site called Tweet What You Spend, so you sort of get out there and say, ‘Listen, I am going to lose weight or I am going to get my budget in line, and I’m going to tell all of you what I’m eating and what I’m spending so you can help me stay in line here.’

Ryssdal: My father, were he listening to this right now, would say, ‘you know what, both of these, while there may be some connections — it’s fundamentally about willpower.’

Brokamp: Absolutely. It’s actually — it operates like a muscle in that if you use it a lot at one point, it’ll tire itself out. But you are gradually building up sort of a resistance to it. So you use that in some ways in that you don’t go shopping or go to the grocery store if you are tired or upset or anything like that, because you’ve already worn out your willpower. But you make little changes so that you can build up new habits so over the long-term, you actually have more willpower.

Ryssdal: Yeah. You’re a financial professional so I’ll guess your spending habits are fine — how’s your weight, man? How are you doing?

Brokamp: I’m about 180 right now.

Ryssdal: Good!

Brokamp: And I did actually have to buy a new wardrobe, except this time it was to buy pants with a smaller waistline instead of a bigger waistline.

Ryssdal: There you go.

Brokamp: So I’m doing all right.

Ryssdal: Good for you. Happy new year, man.

Brokamp: Thank you, you too.

Ryssdal: Robert Brokamp, he’s a certified financial planner and he’s a senior adviser at the Motley Fool. Robert, thanks a lot.

Brokamp: Great to be here.

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