Diet culture has been around for decades. As a generation of Millennials, we likely watched our Mums gag over the cabbage soup diet, cut carbs on Atkins and count points while gobbling overpriced branded cake bars on Weight Watchers. Then, we inherited the need to be on a diet for the rest of our lives, and began tackling concepts like veganism, intermittent fasting, reverse dieting before we were even out of our training bras.
Diets are just different approaches to the same scientific fact: if you take in less calories than you expend, you’ll lose weight.
The same goes for your money. If you spend less than you earn, you’ll have money left at the end of the week.
So why are we capable of dedicating our whole lives to losing those last few stubborn kilos, but incapable of committing the same amount of time and energy into our wallets?
Enter: financial dieting.
Diets hook us in by offering a simple, understandable and often regimented approach to achieving a goal. When we hear about a new way of eating that might help us slither into a smaller pair of jeans this year, we’re all ears.
So, what if we tried applying the same principle to our money?
At The Broke Generation, we’re beavering away behind the scenes to apply common diet principles to our finances, to – hopefully – come up with new ways of managing our money.
Today, we’re looking ‘points’ based diets, like Weight Watchers and Slimming World.
While these programs have evolved over the years and been adjusted to reflect new attitudes to nutrition, the basis of the diet involves attributing points or ‘syns’ to certain foods. The worse a food is for you, the more points or syns it’s valued at. Some foods are ‘free’, meaning they can be consumed in ~unlimited~ amounts without affecting the outcome of the diet. Day to day, you’ll eat things that keep you on or below your points or syns level, and enjoy some ‘free’ foods, meaning they don’t carry any point or syn value.
So how does this apply to our finances?
Ok, let’s say you make $800 a week.
Of course, you’re a functioning human being with a job and a life. There are some things you’ll just have to spend money on.
These are things like transport, rent/mortgage and bills and food.
Although, not all food is made equal. One week you’re living financially lean and eating rice and beans, the next week you’re buying a tub of $12 nut butter and black rice so pure it’s made with the tears of newborn African monkeys.
When calculating your ‘essential’ food spend, write out a list of 7 modest days of eating, assuming you eat every meal homemade. Don’t go too cheap, just think of 7 days worth of food that you’d buy on a ~normal~ week. Then tot up how much this would generally cost you in the supermarket.
So let’s say your rent is $200 a week, your bills (incl. utilities, phone, internet etc.) work out to be $50 a week, and you spend $40 a week on travel to/from work. Then, your week of home cooked meals add up to about $80.
Let’s call these expenditures our ‘free’ items. We can spend what we need to on these, as they’re probably non-negotiable (at least in the short term).
Calculating your ‘points’ or ‘syns’
Decide how much of your remaining $430 you want to have available for spending. This will depend on your savings goals.
Let’s say you want to put $250 away into savings accounts or into paying down debt, and have $180 to spend for the week.
Over 7 days, that’s $25.70 per day.
So, you’ve got about 25 ‘points’ per day to use on whatever you like. Much like dieting, some people save their points or syns until the evening and have a bowl of ice cream. Some like to spread them throughout the day to enjoy cream in their coffee, or add sauce to their meal. The same goes for your spending. Sometimes might want to spend your daily points on a coffee and a pastry, and pick up a few treats in the supermarket on the way home from work. Some weeks you might prefer to live on the line Monday-Thursday, and save up your 25 points a day until the weekend, when you buy a $60 dress, spend $40 on dinner with the girls and $40 on cocktails at a bar afterwards.
Like Weight Watchers or Slimming World, you’ve got your base spending, and then your ‘points’ or ‘syns’, to dip into for whatever you choose. By approaching each day with a set number of points, you’re encouraging yourself to ‘save up’ points (dollars) throughout the week, valuing the things you enjoy more. If you just set out on a Monday with $180 for the whole week, you risk going all-in too early.
Whether you use cash or card is up to you, but try to get into the habit of feeding yourself that money each day, rather than all at once. Whether it’s a morning transfer into your everyday account, or whether you withdraw it in cash, get into the habit of physically ‘having’ it each day.
Ever been on a diet and found you get on a roll in the first few weeks of seeing results? Suddenly that 2kg loss is helping you make better food choices because you want to keep achieving. It’s the same with your money. Some days you naturally won’t spend anywhere near your limit, meaning you’ve succeeded, and have more money left over for later in the week – yaasss! It’s these small wins that fire up that desire to succeed, and power you through with determination not to break your streak.
Noticing behaviours like this can help you succeed with your finances. Have you tried Weight Watchers for your wallet or another diet concept? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your experience!