Saturday, December 15, 2012

Balancing the Checkbook

I always get carried away over the Holidays. I have a huge extended family including lots of wonderful, adorable nieces and nephews, so Christmas gift buying and travel can be expensive.  Every year, I have to make a budget and stick with it over the Holidays or I will be paying for it until July.

The same concept holds with how I eat. I have to budget, just like with my finances. And just like with my bank account, if I overdo it, the repercussions will last for quite a while. Budgeting my diet is something that I do all the time.

I have written before about how I track everything that I eat, and I am careful to track EVERYTHING and to be honest about it. Before I started this habit (and even as I attempted to get the hang of it), it seemed like a huge monotonous pain in the behind.  Now that I am in the habit, I cannot imagine being successful without doing it. Put into perspective, it makes sense, I would not think of going out and spending money without tracking how much I was spending. I need to balance my checkbook. If I don't track how much money is going into my bank account and how much is coming out, I will most certainly be in for a very unpleasant surprise (very likely when I 'm at the front of a line at a busy store with my luck). My bank account always empties much faster than I would prefer.  I learned at a very young age that I absolutely cannot track these things in my head because I tend think wishfully about how much money is actually in my bank account. Small, forgettable purchases add up, and pretty soon I'd be running on empty without realizing it.  Thus, attempting to successfully do my finances without writing everything down would be ludicrous and it would end badly. Obviously. So, why would I treat budgeting my diet any differently? It's just as simple (and, at times, as frustrating) as budgeting my money. It has to be done, even when it isn't pretty and even when it isn't fun. If I do not track what I eat, small, forgettable snacks can add up without my realizing it and lead to unpleasant surprises on the scale or when I try to button my pants.

Each day, I wake up with a specific, set number of calories "in the bank," I generally know what I am going to eat, and how many calories I am going to "spend" on my regular meals and snacks throughout the day. These are the bills I have to pay to be healthy. I have to spend calories on fruit and veggies and on protein and carbs in the appropriate proportions.  I can start my calorie budget, just like I do on a regular basis with my paycheck when I calculate my bills, with the calories I know that I need to "spend" on meals and snacks. Then I have an idea where I stand. I'm usually "overdrawn" by a few calories - generally this is not a huge deal. My calorie budget is under what I need to maintain because I'm still trying to lose a little weight, so a couple hundred calories once in a while isn't the end of the world.  That said, I try to exercise every day.  My calorie budget usually looks fine once I put the calories I plan to "earn" through my daily planned exercise into my calculation.  I usually have a few calories to spare after all of this. This way I know how calories I have left over to "spend" throughout the day on, for example, one of the cookies at the office or a piece of cake for desert. When it comes to these extras and treats, I will only eat what I love. If I am going to treat myself and "spend" the calories, it better be beyond good. No more fast food, no more mediocre deserts or ordinary candies. If I am going to spend calories, it needs to be extraordinary... I need to love it or I'll leave it.

Calorie budgeting also works if I am going to have a huge Holiday meal or if I know that I am going out to a restaurant. I just go with lower calorie meals and make sure that my snacks are lower calorie fruit and veggies on the day I'm going to the restaurant, or the week before I know I'm going to have a high calorie day or two due to the holidays or another event. I'll also make sure that I get a couple of heavy exercise days in to bank calories around these days.  This is the same kind of thing I do with my finances before the Holidays or before I go on vacation, I save and plan for the financing.

"Balancing the checkbook" with my diet took some getting used to, but it has worked well for me.

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