New program takes 'small steps'

-A A +A
By The Staff

Every New Year's Eve, millions of Americans resolve to get healthier (e.g., quit smoking and lose weight) and wealthier (e.g., increase savings and reduce debt). This is not surprising because health and personal finance "issues" (people don't have problems anymore ... they have "issues") affect millions of Americans.

Major societal problems that have been widely reported in recent years include an increasing incidence of diabetes, more overweight and obese adults and children, low household savings rates, and high household debt. Many people are overweight, have few financial resources and are looking for a way to both live healthier lives and achieve financial security.

Life doesn't have to be this way: living in fear of developing a catastrophic illness, experiencing financial ruin, or both. Almost everyone, except for the most desperately ill and poor, can do something to improve their health and finances.

So why don't we?

One reason is that self-improvement goals often seem so insurmountable. For example, lose 50 pounds and save a million dollars for retirement. Who wouldn't be afraid to get started? That's why the "small steps" approach is so useful. Anything you do to improve your health and/or accumulate wealth is a step in the right direction.

No step is too small to get started and you can never be too early or too late.

The Small Steps to Health and Wealth Program provides a detailed description of 25 "small steps" that readers can take to improve their health and increase their wealth simultaneously. Just think of it, you'll be doing two things at once, "dovetailing," "multi-tasking" ... whatever you want to call it.

Time is a key factor because poor health and financial behaviors generally take time to reach crisis proportions. It also takes time to reverse the damage by a change to more positive habits.

A health example is gaining weight. On average, Americans gain a half-pound to a pound a year. A typical man gains 18 pounds from age 20 to 50 and women gain about 26 pounds. It takes an excess of about 3,500 calories to gain a pound.

Break that down further and you'll see that 100 extra calories per day will add about 10 pounds a year (100 calories x 7 days x 5 weeks = 3,500 calories x 10 five-week periods in a year). The good news is that losing 10 pounds in a year can be as easy as eating 100 calories less each day for a year.

A financial example is Americans' increasingly larger debt balances. Many households have a permanent revolving credit card balance that has been dubbed "perma-debt." Perma-debt never goes away and, in fact, will increase every year if you're in the habit of charging more each month than you repay. Not only do you have the unpaid balance with which to contend but increasingly higher finance charges as outstanding balances rise.

The good news is that small, positive steps make a difference. For example, add a dollar a day extra to the minimum payment due on a 17 percent credit card with a $5,000 balance and minimum payments of 2 percent of the outstanding balance. You'll save 30 years of payments and $7,624 in interest.

My 2009 Home column is a self-study taken from "Small Steps to Health and Wealth" by O'Neil and Ensle. You can purchase the entire workbook at the Taylor County Extension Office for $10 while supplies last. Or, you may choose to follow these articles, getting the forms and checklists from our Web site at http://ces.ca.uky.edu/taylor/fcs or by visiting the Extension Office at 1143 S. Columbia Ave. You may also call us at 465-4511 to receive them in the mail or by e-mail.

Knowledge leads to better decisions. Once a behavior becomes automated, you don't have to think about it again.

- Becky Nash is the Taylor County Cooperative Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences. Contact her at rnash@email.uky.edu.