Last week I faced the one of the scariest things a woman in her 20s can face; my skinny jeans no longer comfortably buttoned. I know, I know it’s even difficult to write about. So faithful readers, I have decided to go on one of those horrible diets people occasionally talk about.

You may be thinking Um, Marina this is a financial column not a nutritional one. Drop some finance knowledge on us! you’re very right, but here is where it all connects: As I have kick started my diet this past week, I realized that dieting draws many parallels to budgeting.

Visualize a Specific Number

Many people want to lose weight yet don’t have a specific goal set in mind. I find that it’s best to have a figure to focus on, for example mine is my college weight: 120 lbs.

Same goes with budgeting: Are you trying to spend better? Are you trying to save up for a new car? It doesn’t matter — set a specific number. I, for example, would like to save up at least $12,000 in my emergency fund for 2011-12.

Calculate Your Intake

I’ll be honest, I am not losing weight and I am not saving. Meaning my diet and budget are both at levels where there is more expenditure than there should be. But in order to first calculate how many calories I need to cut out or money I need to put away, I need to figure out how much I am putting in.

For both, it is a good idea to keep a detailed journal. For your diet it’s good to track the calories you are consuming and for your budget it’s good to track how much your spending.

Cut Back

The next part is where the life formation takes place. After using a smartphone app (yeah I took the easy way out) I calculated I would have to cut out 500 calories a day in order to hit my goal weight.

In order to hit my savings goal over the next year I would have to save $1,000 a month (duh). This would mean after my bills were paid and my rent was covered, I would have a little over $400 for groceries and unexpected things like dinner with a friend, or birthday presents (excluding the $1,000 I am putting into savings). A very doable goal.

Give yourself Leeway 

Diets fail when you aren’t forgiving. So what if you had one cookie? It doesn’t mean you should give up your entire diet. Give yourself days to mess up. I like to cut out 400 calories everyday by adding exercise, that way if I do go out with friends or have dessert I don’t feel bad. Same should apply to your budget.

Maybe one month I will have $1,300 left over, that doesn’t mean I should go out and “celebrate” with the extra $300 I didn’t spend. Instead, it’s better to take that money and put it into your savings goal. That way when the holidays come around, or you have an unplanned event that needs funding you will be prepared without taking steps backwards.

Tips and Tricks

It’s surprising how closely diets and budgets match up. One thing I have tried to be more conscientious about is what I put into my body. Do I really need that third (or first) handful of chocolate covered espresso beans?

Do I really need to spend $5 on a coffee when I have a perfectly good coffee at home? I guess the big problem falls into impulses. People eat for a multitude of reasons, and rarely out of pure hunger. I find the same goes for spending. People often spend to satisfy an emotion instead of out of necessity.

I did find that tracking my spending as well as every food I put in my mouth makes me much more conscientious of the unnecessary decisions I am making. Try it for a week to see if there are any changes in your habits.

If we could just shift the satisfaction from eating and spending, maybe we would be a little thinner and our wallets a little fatter.

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  • Julie Gaudet

    A great parallel… these are great tips for both of society’s top resolutions.  Money management is often complicated but the reality is it comes down to a few simple items done over and over!