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Continued: Paydirt: Obesity of our spending and our bodies

  • Article by: KARA MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 11, 2009 - 1:30 PM

John Hanselman knew that too many steak dinners with clients and too little exercise were adding inches to his waistline.

A 2003 divorce and a 2007 bankruptcy due to investing in a retail golf store that failed added to the stress-induced pounds. Busy juggling his work as a financial planner and raising four children, he ignored the fact that his 40-inch-waist pants were on the tight side. That is, until he tipped the scales at 280 and his doctor put him on cholesterol and high blood pressure medication -- at age 37.

That was in April 2008. Today Hanselman weighs less than 200 pounds, no longer needs the medications and competes in bodybuilding championships. So what does this have to do with money?

Overeating and overspending often go hand-in hand. After all, our society makes it easy. Grabbing a calorie-laden extra-value meal is easier than planning a healthful lunch to take to work. Buying on credit is easier than saving up for a purchase. Our economic system almost came crashing down thanks to too much greed, too much risk and living too large.

"It's the obesity of our minds of wanting more, more, more, more," Hanselman exclaimed.

How did he lose this mind-set and nearly 100 pounds? He got serious about his health and sought expert advice.

For years, Hanselman, the president of Two Rivers Advisors in Blaine, ignored his deteriorating health and expanding waistline. He likens this behavior to homeowners who took out interest-only mortgages for pricey homes and investors who know they aren't saving enough to maintain their lifestyle but say, "I don't want to be concerned about it now, I'll be OK," he said. It wasn't until his doctor told him he needed to change his behavior or risk premature death that he focused on changing.

He held himself accountable

When Hanselman decided to get serious about his health, he didn't want to be like the average 401(k) investor who randomly decides which mutual funds to pick or who asks his co-worker about asset allocation. Hanselman hired a nutritionist so he'd know the foods and portion sizes that would help him reach his goal, much as you'd hire a financial planner to select appropriate investment choices.

He also wanted someone holding him accountable. He wrote down everything he ate in a spreadsheet and e-mailed it to his nutritionist. Sound similar to the tedious-but-effective method of tracking your spending to find budget leaks?

Do-it-yourselfers don't need to hire a financial expert to get out of debt or revamp retirement goals. A spouse or a close friend can hold you accountable. Or you can head online to websites such as smartypig.com or stickk.com and share your goals with cyberspace.

But to stay motivated, you have to come up with reachable milestones. Instead of trying to save up a bunch of money and then invest it, Hanselman suggests putting a small amount of money into an emergency savings account or retirement plan every other week. Or make larger-than-the-minimum payments on your credit card with the smallest balance so you can see progress toward paying it off.

As we're heading into the holiday season, many of us are planning to spend less. And who doesn't vow to eat fewer Christmas cookies? But research from marketing professor Kathleen Vohs has found that exerting self-control in more than one area at a time is difficult.

Give your self-control some time

"Your ability to control your behaviors is like a precious resource," said the marketing professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. "There's not going to be enough to go around.''

That doesn't mean you can't say "no" to a cookie and "no" to spending more than $50 on Grandma's gift. But you don't want to leave a holiday buffet and head straight to the shopping mall. You need to give your self-control time to rejuvenate by spreading out activities that will tax your willpower.

Another strategy is to formulate what Vohs calls "behavioral intentions."

"It's realizing the situations and contingencies that might show up in that circumstance. So if you're at the mall, you'd say 'If it's over $50, then I cannot buy it' [or] 'If I've already spent $100, then I have to leave,'" she said.

If you've lost weight or improved your financial health, then you should tell us how. Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293 or kmcguire@startribune.com. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kablog.

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