Money and your healthWhat does it take to be healthy? Just consider that question and ask those around you. I’m sure they’ll give a response that includes exercise, running, eating right, spending every day and hour in the gym. I’m sure there’s one thing they won’t bring up: money. I’m not saying it takes a lot of money to get healthy! What I’m presenting to you is a sphere or health and nutrition that we often overlook: finances and money. It seems appropriate considering the season we’re in: Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and some of you will spend money on impressing the significant other. It’s also tax season where you’ll be knee-deep in receipts and W2 forms praying you’ll get a little something back from Uncle Sam. What better time of the year to get yourself fiscally fit?

I want to say this – you can be ripped, a model, have Taylor Lautner’s abs and a flat stomach and have poor financial health. Having a good grasp and understanding of your money is an integral part of any fitness program. Many of you are probably confused. ‘Antoine, what in the heck does money have to do with exercising or being fit?’ Money has EVERYTHING to do with your health! For many people, depression is something a person suffers through in private and deals with in different ways. Some deal with depression by overeating, packing on tons of weight. Others tend to abuse other substances, money being the main drug of choice. Many have unhealthy money habits including having no real idea of how much money you have to work with each month, paying exorbitant bank fees when you overdraft because you felt it was too much trouble to write down and track your spending, or spending more money than you have on foolish, frivolous crap like video games, junk food or cars you don’t need.

I’m a big fan of free advice from sources and people that have a reputation of being right. Suze Orman is one of those sources and you can watch her (or DVR her) on MSNBC Saturday nights at 9 pm and 12 am EST. You can even get her show as a podcast on iTunes for free – so you have no excuse not to listen to her great advice about getting out of debt and getting in control of your money. Another person I’ve come across is a book by Ramit Sethi titled I Will Teach You To Be Rich that’s all about looking at what you make and reorganizing your finances to pay bills on time, pay off debt quicker, save more money and even allot out money for spending on things that you want and like without having that guilt that comes with the fear of not knowing if you can truly afford it (check out my review of his book – by clicking here.). Free and valuable financial advice is even being included in magazines that you’d least expect to find it in – fashion magazines like Details (for men), Women’s Health, Men’s Health and others all included articles about getting in better financial shape.

What does this all mean or why should you care? After the past year or two, especially if you live in America, I’d hope you would care about being in tip top financial shape. Think about your money as you do your physical health. Do you want to be that guy/girl with rolls of fat jiggling around as you walk, no muscle strength, always sick and having to spend time in the doctor’s office or at home rather than being at work or doing the things you want to do? No. Would you rather be seen as an athletic fitness model envied by all or as one of Richard Simmon’s backup dancers in ‘Sweating to the Oldies’? If you have no idea or control over your money, no matter how you look on the outside, you’re the fat guy or girl everyone’s going to look down on who has no one to blame for their condition other than themselves!

We spend a lot of time worrying about money. Gay males don’t always have the healthiest relationship with money, either. We spend it to keep up with the crowd, to stay in style and to be social. Like our health, we often only worry about money when we’re in a bind or (heaven forbid) we’re truly down on our luck. I’m not talking about making sweeping changes to your money situation: I’m urging you to, just as you would do with your physical health, look at what’s going on now and figure out a way to improve and make it better. This is the start of any fitness program, whether it’s exercise, nutrition or finances, I’ve hardly seen a situation or condition that can absolutely not be improved on by doing a bit of self reflection, honest confession after assessment and then application of a program of exercises. Here’s what I suggest:

1. Look at what you make each month and figure out how to maximize that money. Many of us fail to really sit down and figure out how much we have to work with each month and how much debt we’re in. Don’t pay attention to your overall yearly salary: that’s like someone who’s trying to lose weight being told to ‘eat less’ but not being told exactly what to and what not to eat. I came across a great MSNBC article that was also mentioned in I Will Teach You To Be Rich. It’s a 60% ‘diet’ plan for your finances. Basically, you take how much money you have to work with each month (after taxes of course). Of that you break down that amount into 60% that’s going to go toward your basic expenses, 10% that’s going to go into a high-yield savings account, 10% that goes into investments (401(k) or Roth IRA), and 20% ‘fun money’ that is for anything like eating out, DVDs, music and non-essentials. Personally, I’d trim down that ‘fun money and boost the amount you’re saving or investing each month. Or, I’d split that 20% in half and designate 10% to cash that you take out of each check.

Cash … why? Because cash is definitely more effective in teaching you about money than credit cards or debit cards. How many times have you walked into a store saying you only needed X and have come out with Y, Z and a ton of other things just because you were putting it on a card and felt you had it covered? A great way to trim your budget is actually to go on a cash diet! Pay for your groceries with cash, go to Target with cash, to the mall … leave your cards (even your debit cards) in the car or better yet, at home. Paying with cash of course limits what you can or can’t buy. You’ll realize that the debit card allowed you to buy things you really didn’t need in the first place. Plus, if you’re using a credit card to buy everything and using no cash at all, you’re being foolish. Credit cards come with interest rates, cash doesn’t. Pay with cash, you’re done. Pay with a credit card and you could be paying for those seemingly small purchases for months or years to come. The best way to use credit cards is to use them to buy something and pay them off instantly in full. This way you can build up your credit score and you’re not paying interest as you’ve paid the card off straight away. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a credit card at all, because you definitely should for credit score reasons, but be mindful and responsible with the card. If you don’t have a card, you can apply for credit card no credit as it’s likely you won’t have developed a strong credit score without a credit card.

2. Get out of credit card debt. As I was getting into my whole fitness and health craze in 2008, I was also getting into a financial health craze. A lot of my money was going into a credit card I’d gotten to pay for a computer I purchased in 2006. That wasn’t a bad buy since I still have that computer and it’s been THE best computer I’ve ever had (it’s a Mac, of course). But … like many, I ended up putting other things on the card. Concert tickets, a washer and dryer, car repairs, to make a payment on student loans. A small balance soon ballooned and I had that feeling that many do with credit card debt: “I’m NEVER going to be able to pay all of this off!” I listened to Suze Orman who suggested doubling-up on the minimum due. All I have to say is that as of today, I have no credit card debt and despite with many say, I doubt I’ll be getting a credit card again because most innocent credit card users end up with ridiculous interest rates and throwing money away. I’ve found that for those things that do require a credit card, usually I can use my debit card. And while I try to limit my debit card use, at least if the money on those isn’t there, it’s not there! Again, if you’re using your debit card you just have to be sure the money is in your account so you won’t run into any overdraft fees.

Knowing when to limit your spending and learning to save can sometimes be quite difficult. Some people go so far into their overdraft, that they feel like they have no choice but to look into taking out a loan in order to repay any outstanding finances. If you are in this current situation and you feel like you have gone down every other avenue, you could look into something like apply with Cashfloat to help get you on the right track into sorting out your finances. It may seem difficult at first, but it does get better.

3. Learn to save some of your money! What’s struck me about the past two years is how it’s revealed the financial health of so many people. Saving money for your retirement and being well aware of things like Key Equity Release while you’re in your 20s and 30s is crucial for financial health. Part of your physical health is not having to worry yourself to death. Worrying creates stress, stress causes your body to work harder, thus aging you before your time. Stress also prevents you from sleeping and sleeping is key to health because that’s when your body repairs itself! So you see, if you’re in constant fear or worrying about your money, you’re literally killing yourself. Part of eliminating the stress that money can have is by replacing it with the soothing, comforting knowledge that you have money. Designate part of your monthly earnings to savings. Check with your local credit union (because those are better than big banks and offer a better interest rate in most cases) or with an online bank like ING Direct (http://home.ingdirect.com/) and setup a savings account. Plan on funneling money into it every month. Even if you can only afford $20, that’s $240 over the course of a year and over 5 years that’s $1,200. But of course, AIM HIGHER. I say go for $100 a month (do this by re-organizing your budget as explained above). Think about it – $100 a month is $1,200 saved in a year and $6,000 over the course of 5 years.

I say save and caution those who confuse saving with investing. The reason so many people were rocked hard by the stock market issue is because instead of saving, they invested all of their money. We’re told to invest because that’s the only way you’ll make big money! Ha. If you have time on your hands, save and you could be better off. Think about it. Save $100 per month, starting at age 25 and in 20 years you’ll have $24,000. By the time you have that much, you can diversify (a favorite word of financial gurus) by splitting some of that money up and sticking in a CD, a Roth IRA (those have high interest rates) or investing some of it in a life-cycle fund. The point is that a savings account keeps your money safe and sound. Invest it in the stock market all at once and sure, you may have an awesome year and make tons of money but then we could (and I’m sure we will) have another incident like 2008, leaving you weeping at how little money you suddenly have. Then I bet you’d be inclined to pull-out of the stock market all together which is foolish because you’ve just wasted your money and are missing out on the recovery gains. Savings account also allow your money to be liquid, meaning you’ll be able to take it out without penalty or taxes when an emergency should arise and that’s why it’s key to save and not spend your money foolishly.

4. Invest, but do so wisely. Though the stock market is volatile and unsteady, there is a way to invest without having to worry about losing all of your money. One simple way is to fund your 401(k) plan. If you’re self-employed or working for a company that doesn’t offer one, no fear! Invest in a Roth IRA. Every smart financial guru will tell you to do this. Any foolish one who’s more interested in their gains than your financial security will tell you that Roth IRAs are a waste of time and your money would be so much better off being managed by them or a brokerage firm and invested in mutual funds and stocks. Again, take control of your (financial) health and get hip to Roth IRAs. Basically, you put money into it and interest compounds on it. When you have a lot of money in your Roth, you can then turn around and invest it (in a CD or life-cycle fund) so that it’ll make even more money. You want to invest in your Roth every month. Put in $100 or whatever you can afford. With this, since it’s money that you’ve already paid taxes on, when you retire at 60 or 70 something and start withdrawing money, you won’t have to worry about paying taxes on it. Again, EVERYONE, even if you have a 401(k), should have a Roth IRA. Everyone should put money into it each month. Sure, it’ll mean spending less on those things you want right now in some cases but wouldn’t you rather have tons of money in the future when you’re friends are strapped for cash? Yeah, thought so.

5. Find a bank without unnecessary fees. I’ll have to say this – I’m not a fan of a lot of the ‘big’ banks. How stupid and ridiculous have they gotten since the economy has taken a nose dive? Do they really seem to care about their customers? Not really. Like credit card companies, they seem bent on making as much money from you as they can. They tell you that in order to have a savings account with a mediocre interest rate, they must keep a minimum of $500 or so dollars in your account that can never be touched! And it’s YOUR money! Or they charge you an arm and a leg when you overdraft. Or the so-called ‘free’ checking account comes with a monthly maintenance fee. Again, this is why I suggest looking into your local credit union, neighborhood bank or online bank. These banks, unlike the ‘big’ banks that don’t give a crap about you but love holding your money hostage, actually put customers first! A lot of their accounts come with little to no maintenance fees, non-existent minimum balances that you can’t touch and again, far better customer service should you need help. They also offer car loans, Roth IRA accounts and other perks and it’ll make your life so much easier when dealing with them. Save money and your budget by finding a bank that offers accounts that aren’t going to cost you money. In addition to this you could take advantage of a site like PromoCodeWatch.com to help you save money in other areas, as it offers discounts in a variety of products.

These are very basic suggestions but by taking some advice, you could easily pack on some financial muscle. Saving money for your future or at least better managing the money you have coming in each month is going to help you spend better, save more and feel more confident in yourself money-wise. Believe me: weakness in one area of your life reflects and taints all other areas. Don’t try to front or put on a show of having money or being rich when you can’t even pay your bills or student loans on time. Get honest with yourself, just as you would your health and appearance. Don’t like the double chin, the bad posture, the lack of definition and muscle? Do something about it! Getting in shape financially is easier than you think. It just takes you honestly looking at your situation, taking note of what’s not working, admitting you’re flawed and improving upon it.

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