6 Ways that Dieting and Budgeting are Exactly the Same

The definition of diet is: the act of restricting your food intake (or your intake of particular foods).  While the official meaning of budget doesn’t imply that there is a restriction of anything, those of us who have used one successfully, know otherwise. Not everyone needs to or chooses to diet.  There are also those who can work within a responsible financial realm without budgeting.  For those who are interested in either, however, here are 6 basic ways that effective dieting and budgeting are very much alike: 

1.   It really can be as simple as that.  When I need to lose weight, I know that there are two things I can do to make it happen.  I can decrease my caloric intake and increase my calorie burn.  Doing one can have profound improvements on my fitness level, but doing both is pure magic. 

Finance is exactly the same.  As our own Philip Brewer so simply states it, you can “Boost Income” or “Cut Spending.”  Do both, and you’re on your way. 

2.   You often don’t realize you need to act, until you’re in over your head.  Unless you compulsively weigh yourself every day, the addition of 3-4 pounds of body fat may go unnoticed.  The same can be said for $50 of funds that are spent but not accounted for.  It’s usually only when someone is noticeably overweight (or develops health conditions) that they choose to purposely diet.   

Likewise, many American don’t bring up a budget, unless they are in some kind of financial rehabilitation process.  Unfortunately, once it gets to this point, it is more difficult to make positive changes.  The frustration of it all can make it hard to pick up your head and start the long road towards improvement.  (But it’s still worth doing.) 

3.   Snapshot reporting is not effective.  Have you ever witnessed someone who “blew” their diet?  Maybe they went overboard with the French fries or decided that they weren’t going to stop at 1 piece of cake.  Instead of sucking it up and vowing to do better, they say “Well, I’ve already screwed up royally.  I might as well enjoy the rest of today with everything I can stuff into my mouth and start fresh tomorrow.”  This type of thinking is dangerous and untrue.  The clock doesn’t start over at midnight, allowing your body to erase all the bad calories that were consumed from the moment you realized your blunder until the next morning.  It all still counts. 

Similarly, folks who make unwise spending choices within the context of a 30-day budget month, tend to do the same thing.  “Well, I’ve already spent way too much on clothing, CD’s, dining out, etc. for the month.  I might as well spring for that handbag I’ve really been wanting because I’m going to do better next month.”  Instead of focusing on each act of spending as a singular decision, it’s lumped into a “monthly snapshot” that allows for clusters of impulsive behaviors.   

4.   Everything is not as it seems.  I don’t tell people when I’m trying to lose a few pounds or when I'm going into "maintenance mode" by keeping an eye on what I eat.  They almost always make comments on how I’m already thin or am crazy for thinking that it’s necessary.  What people don’t know is that I’m at high risk for the cholesterol caused by excess body fat.  I’ve had 3 cesarean sections in less than five years, and if I don’t keep my weight and fitness levels in check, I can experience complications from the surgeries that could leave me with limited mobility.  (Plus, I think it’s a nice gesture to want to look the best for my husband, whom I love dearly.)  When people try to diminish my health goals based on their personal situation or standards, it’s really not out of concern for me, and it can be disheartening. 

With finance, the same happens all the time.  If someone is making 3x what their neighbor is making, they might get eye rolls when budget-tightening is mentioned.  “Oh, like they have to worry.  I only wish I had as much as them.  They must be tightwads.”  What you don’t see is their medical expenses, how much it costs to send their kids to college, or what they are giving to their local church.  (Or maybe they had a previous load of bills from a messy divorce, or a gambling debt from an irresponsible relative.)  Is it ever OK to judge others for trying to be good with their money? 

5.   It can become a compulsion.  It’s not uncommon to see “calorie-counters” taking their habit too far.  When you see a friend or family member scrambling to add their lone Tic-Tac to the food log before they forget, you may have a problem to reckon with.  Budgeters can get in that rut, as well.  (When either dieting or budgeting becomes a reason for not sleeping well at night, it’s lost its effectiveness in making life better.) 

6.   It can offer so much freedom. On the flip side, there is beauty in the structure and safety that both dieting and budgeting provide.  If I know that I can live happily and healthfully on a set amount of calories (give or take a couple hundred for life’s unexpected experiences), then I can make good choices without thinking about them.  I can plan ahead for a “splurge” every now and again and not feel guilty.  I can enjoy all things in moderation. 

Money is exactly the same.  Whether you choose apples or oranges, you can experience variety and passion in the things you do daily.  They don’t have to cost too much or leave you feeling bad.  It just takes a little perseverance, practice, and patience. 

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Guest's picture

#5 hits home to me. I lost 75 lbs in high school by drinking water and eating three bowls of frosted flakes a day.

On the opposite of the spectrum, I sacrificed diet to save money in college. My roommate and I managed to live on $15 a week for our food while we tried to find jobs. MMM Totino's pizza!

Guest's picture

Thank you for mentioning the judging. It can be very discouraging to those who are trying to cut back.

Your point in #4 about people judging or assuming things about you because their situations are different really ring true. Like you, I watch carefully what I eat because diabetes runs in my family, and I'm at risk for it, among other health conditions.

And the same goes for me wanting to budget so I can get out of debt. A girlfriend of mine gets upset when I don't like to go out all the time. I've tried explaining to her that I'm getting out of debt so I can get married (don't want to saddle the hubby with my debt!) but all she can see is that I make more money than she does.

Guest's picture

I can think of two really big ways that they are not the same.

1) One big meal will not sink your weight-loss plan, but buying a car or house that you shouldn't have, even if you are otherwise frugal every day, just might sink the budget for good.

2) Eating is a biological imperative. When you are hungry, your body creates hormones that have a physical effect on your brain and your judgement. You may feel that you desire the latest iPod in the same irrational way as you wanted that slice of pie, but it's really not the same thing.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks for your points.  To respond to your #2, it reminds me of some of the bigger problems that both eating irrationally and spending irrationally are indicitave of.  Craving glass, rocks, or copper pennies?  You probably have a nutritional deficiency.  Craving electronics way over your budget and stashing hundreds of designer purses you can't afford in a closet you will never open again?  Also a deficiency of sorts. (Shopping can be an addiction for many that has little to do with "needing" the items they purchase.)

Our psychological and emotional needs can come full circle with both shopping and eating habits. 

I appreciate your comments!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

This is such a timely read for me! I just made the connection in my own life between my eating and my spending, and I'm looking forward to exploring that further. I've never been great at managing my weight OR my finances, but I feel hopeful for the first time in ages.

Guest's picture

As long as you keep feeling great about what you are doing trust me things will work out. Just let it become a burden on, do it because you want to and you will be fine..

Guest's picture

Great post!

My view of diet and debt is:

Both are a problem if taken to excess . . .
Both are remedied by moderation and better choices . . .
Both can be related to an addiction . . .
Both need to be constantly managed . . .
Both are subject to "yo-yo" (up and down) results . . .
Both can impact your life positively or negatively . . .
Both can be very expensive . . .
Both can be extremely embarrassing . . .
Both are a problem in the United States . . .
Both involve work . . .

Here is my full view on this topic:

Guest's picture

I started changing the way I was eating on December 1st after seeing the book "Everything I Ate" by Tucker Anderson. Modeling my 'diet' after the book, I took a picture of everything that I was eating and posted it on a website. Rather than a food log, I could visually see the amount of food going into my gob. Being a visual person, that was helpful for me and to date I've lost 22 lbs.

Just like I look at a piece of cake or fried food and think, "Gosh, do I really need that? Do I want my friends to see that I went overboard?", the same has held over for my finances. I used to buy every electronic gadget that came out on the market. I have successfully only purchased a small camera for an upcoming trip, and have bypassed new TV's, netbook computers, a new cell phone, tons of software, etc. My mind is now wrapped around "how can I enjoy what I have" instead of "What can I do to get more?"

Julie Rains's picture

I think that discipline (control) is applicable to both dieting and personal finance. Sometimes when I read about ways that people control their money (through software programs, etc.) or weight by going to meetings, etc., my first impression is that it's an odd way of meeting their goals. But then I realize that we all have to find what works for us and stick to our plan -- as far as weight control, I weigh myself everyday, same time. That way I can't fool myself into thinking  my indulgences don't matter. Everyone has their own tricks -- I mean tools to reach their goals.  

Guest's picture

First of all I would like to give you props on this interesting post. I agree with you points but the main point is results. People can follow these ways and might make their way out; problem is the same that we have with losing wait. How many people actually continue and not give up on their diet? Yes many but not more than the people those give up on their diets. Once again Great Post

Guest's picture

I believe the same thing. Dieting is like budgeting.

You could actually save money by changing your diet. There isn't much nutritional or financial value in buying that large bag of potato chips or 12 cans of soda.

Guest's picture

It all comes down to two words: self-control and accountability. You have to decide that you are not going to let your life get out of control and you have to look for help - whether through plans,programs, or your own tracking systems that keep you accountable to the goals you want for your life. By networking with others with the same goals - saving money, making money, cooking healthy, eating healthy, you have a much greater chance at success.

Great post! The two are definitely go hand-in-hand.