Let’s get physical. Oops, I mean financial!

Jacqueline Guzman Jun 25, 2012

You can go to a gym to work out your body. Now, if only you could go to a gym to work out your money.

More than half of American employees believe they’re physically fit, according to a new survey from Principal Financial Group.

But less than a third of Americans say that they’re financially healthy.

The group got these results by polling 1,135 workers from small and mid-sized businesses.

“Health and wealth really impact each other,” says Karen Murrell. She’s the co-author of “You and Your Money: A No Stress Guide to Becoming Financially Fit.”

We all know both obesity and financial hardship are increasing in America. And with medical studies showing links between financial instability and high levels of stress or insomnia, she adds, “consumers should do all they can to tackle both.”

So, it’s equally important to trim down your waistline and fatten up your bank account.

Still, a lot of people don’t check their bank statements as regularly as they check their weight.

“Physical health is easily quantifiable by checking blood pressure or stepping on a scale,” says Luke Vandermillen, vice president of Principal Financial’s retirement and investment services.

Financial health, in contrast, is trickier to measure and seek help for. “But it impacts things like adequate retirement savings or emergency funds.”

The people in the study were aware that working out and staying healthy can actually be a way to put money in the bank. Around 84 percent of the people in Principal’s survey said staying healthy now is an investment for their financial future, because they won’t have to worry about the high cost of health care when they’re older.

“Those individuals will likely be more healthy when they reach retirement,” Vandermillen told us. That means they will be able to spend more on things they enjoy.

But before you go and spend a ton of money on a new gym membership, experts say it’s important to keep both your health and wealth in check.

Start thinking of managing your financial life as you would your Nike + GPS app, or that treadmill readout you’re such a slave to.

A financial plan, like a workout plan, means confronting the numbers without flinching.

The experts say that the easiest way to start is to write your expected income, expenses and investments on paper (or an Excel spreadsheet, for the nerds out there).

You should be able to see what you’re making and spending and if there’s any cushion for an emergency fund. Include long term goals for cutting back on credit card use and paying off debt.

“The list doesn’t have to be long or complicated,” says Brad Wasserman, owner of Wasserman Wealth Management.

You may need a planner, though — someone like the financial version of a personal trainer, forcing you to drop and give them 20.

I asked Karen Murrell how to pull it off. She suggests sitting with a credit counselor/financial adviser from a nonprofit counseling service. He or she can help you work out the perfect plan to get you back in tip-top shape.

Just as with a gym, financial planning won’t work if you don’t get inside the door first.

“The tough part is starting to turn it all around,” Murrell says.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.