In January of 2017, I started on a journey to pay off about $28k of the almost $60k in debt I had at the time—a mix of credit cards, a car loan, and a home equity loan—by October 2018 (22 months).
I thought my goal was brilliantly ambitious until I started to listening to Dave Ramsey and realized I could do so much better. By March 2017, I had reassessed and set myself a new, even more brilliantly ambitious goal: all of my non-mortgage debt, including my remaining $32k in student loans, by April 2018 (16 months).
I made the last payment on my student loans—$1,956.48—on May 4th, 2018 (close enough to April that I am calling it a win). You can learn how I did it here.
Right now, I want to talk about another goal I set for myself at the same time and the progress I have made on it (or lack of progress, to be honest), and what I am going to do about it.
Financial Independence and Health
My health has been on my mind for a while now, so when I came across this article titled “Financial Advisors Must Talk to Clients About Health” it immediately caught my eye. Here are two snippets that stuck with me:
“By outlining how better health can reduce annual medical expenses and the benefits of investing these savings to address future needs, advisors can show clients an additional path to a longer and more financially stable retirement.”
And for the more math-inclined,
“To put this in context, if a 45-year-old with high blood pressure takes steps to manage his condition and works with an advisor to invest the average out-of-pocket annual savings, he could increase his life expectancy by several years and accumulate approximately $100,000 in additional retirement savings by age 65.”
As this article—and common sense—make clear, financial independence and health cannot be separated, and planning for a great retirement must include taking steps to remain as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.
Since January, 2017, I have done a bang-up job doing what I need to do to build a nest egg to support me in retirement. What has been lacking is doing what I need to do to ensure my knees, hips, heart, and everything else will also be able to support me in retirement. And that needs to change.
One of the Few Fads I’ve Been Out in Front Of
As trends go, being an obese child was one I was out in front on: I have been overweight since I was five.
The Catholic school I went to offered either morning or afternoon kindergarten and I was in the afternoon class. My dad worked second shift and I would wake him up after Captain Kangaroo ended and we would hang out until it was time for him to take me to school.
Often, we would go to Steak & Shake for breakfast and then stop by a convenient store owned by one of his friends to grab a snack I could take with me. My dad would let me pick out anything I wanted. Not surprisingly, what I wanted was chocolate bars and snack cakes.
Since that time, I have never not been overweight although my weight has fluctuated some. In January 2017, when I started my debt-free journey, I was about 30 pounds below my heaviest but about 45 pounds heavier than I had been when my brother died in 2012 and about 95 pounds over my ideal weight.
To address this, I set as a goal to adopt a ketogenic, low carb/high fat diet, thinking that would be the solution.
Keto—Good, But No Silver Bullet
The good news is that, in many ways, eating keto has been a game changer for me. I cannot recall ever having a better relationship with food. Keto enabled me to get off the crazy roller coaster of cravings and binge eating I had been on for most of my life. I also really like the foods I can eat, which cannot be said about some of the foods other diets steered me toward.
And I did lose weight: in 2017, I lost just over 30 pounds and I’ve been able to keep it off with relative ease.
But keto hasn’t been the magic bullet I had hoped for. My weight loss has stalled since last fall and, while I am so much better at stopping eating when I am full, I still overeat on occasion.
Excelling at Excuses When It Comes to Exercise
During my recent physical, my doctor told me he was pleased that I had lost weight but wanted me to keep going and asked about how much exercise I was getting. I showed him my FitBit and told him I almost always meet my step goal—which is true. In response, he pointed out that number of steps is great but if I am not getting my heart rate up, it isn’t that beneficial.
He is right, of course. And it wasn’t as if I didn’t know that before he said it. But can I just hate for a moment that he said it?
Over the last 16 months, I have perfected the art of making excuses for not working out. Some have been because of my debt-free journey, such as “I don’t have money for classes or to work with a trainer” and even “I need to work on my blog and don’t have time to exercise.”
Even as I make them, I know they are lame. What’s the point of being financially independent—or even building my blog—if I am too sick to enjoy it or not around to see it help my readers achieve their goals?
Health Is Harder than Money
Health is harder than money, no question. I will take an Excel spreadsheet and running two side hustles in addition to my full-time job any day over the complexities of balancing caloric intake, a slowing metabolism, and interval training.
Unfortunately, if there was a time in my life when I could get away with ignoring my health it has long since passed. I don’t really have a choice anymore. It’s time for me to harness the intense focus I have relied on to retire my debt to improve my health.
What’s My Plan?
Knowing that I need to focus on my health and executing a successful strategy are two different things. While I have never been one to shy away from hard work, I am dreading what I will need to do to get back into shape. That’s why my plan for at least the first three-five months is to work with a trainer.
Now that I don’t have any debt, I will have enough to cover the cost of a trainer at least once a week even after maxing out my workplace retirement account and HSA. I don’t know if I will continue using a trainer after my initial re-entry into the land of the physically active but I think it likely. Without one, I fear I will quickly go back to merely walking on a treadmill while watching re-runs of House Hunters.
In addition to my training session, I will incorporate at least two additional rigorous workouts each week. And, I will continue to meet my daily step goal.
On the food side, I am sticking with Keto but want to be more conscious of portion size.
Finally, I am going to prioritize getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night. I have not been good at this but have a new motivation: while the test results from my physical were almost all in the normal ranges, there were a few related to inflammation that were high. Losing more weight and exercising should help with this, but I am also convinced that getting more sleep will too.
Should You Expect Regular Updates? Maybe
I may or may not provide regularly updates on my progress. In my mind, my weight has always been a personal failing so sharing anything about it—both the good and the bad—is really hard for me. I do want this time to be different, however, if for no other reason than I really, really want to have both a financially secure and and healthy retirement.