Woman writing on blank page Employees need a plan for their finances, just like they need a diet and exercise plan to stay physically healthy. (Photo: iStock)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my physical well-being over the years, it’s this: There are no shortcuts. There is no fad diet that will make me feel better. There is no innovative workout that will magically transform my body. No, physical well-being is all about persistence, commitment and long-term planning.

Does that sound eerily similar to any other topic in the benefits world?

I’ve been working in the financial well-being world now for three years, and I see many parallels between that and physical well-being. Take Neal for example, one of my first participants. We worked on a lot of things, and it took a while to see them produce significant results. Recently, he has started to observe the full impact of all those little changes. His life now is hardly recognizable from where he started. He achieved his goals, not by one magic moment, but thanks to many persistent steps forward.

Related: 3 ways to approach employees about financial well-being

Here are four parallels that I see between physical and financial well-being:

1. Education powers decision-making

When it comes to your diet, one thing most health and wellness professionals will tell you is to start tracking what you eat. As part of that process, you also may carefully read food labels. Why? Because we all need to get smarter about the food we put in our body. It is the fuel that drives us daily. Even that simple piece of education can go a long way toward powering decisions about what we eat, and, in turn, how healthy we can become. In order to make good decisions, we need to have good information.

I noted in a previous BenefitsPRO article, education is key to supporting employees in their financial goals. For example, managing debt is a common concern of many employees. More specifically, they sometimes just don’t know how to escape from it. So, we developed educational resources as part of our MoneySteps program to address that. And, it seems to be working! A recent survey showed that 80 percent of our program participants said their confidence improved relating to managing debt after taking one of our online classes! Simple education can go a long ways toward powering financial decision-making.

2. Long-term planning is the key

When it comes to our physical health, we know sustained change is required. There are no overnight success stories. Building endurance, both physically and financially, takes time. Strengthening muscle requires consistent effort. So does losing weight. Having a clear plan of attack is absolutely paramount to success. This is why personal trainers and health coaches exist!

Employees need a plan for their finances, just like they need that diet and exercise plan to stay physically healthy. Many could start by implementing a simple budget. Tracking spending each month and then formulating a plan for how and where to spend your money—and, more importantly, how to save—is a great first step. Commitment to a budget keeps you on track and working towards specific financial goals—everything from building an emergency fund to paying down debt and saving for a home. A solid financial plan also makes the process less overwhelming because instead of trying to do it all, it’s broken out into steps that make it approachable and realistic based on your specific situation and goals.

3. Build a process

Now, how do we achieve our goals? My strategy with participants has been to focus on what they can do every day to move towards their goal. For example, a goal to lose weight might be to start with taking the stairs instead of the elevator. If you’re trying to save $1,000, let’s start with the first dollar. Because if you can save $1, you can save $2. Maybe you want to pack a lunch once a week or wash your car by hand. Choose a tactic that you can live with and even enjoy. That way, you’re always building momentum towards the goal. And once you reach it, if you keep those new habits, you can achieve beyond it. When you eventually look back on the process, much like Neal did, you might be surprised at how much more you achieved than you ever dreamed possible.

4. Practice discipline

Finally, physical well-being requires immense discipline. And with discipline, comes intentionality. There are always temptations—that piece of chocolate cake, or that cheeseburger you’ve been craving. But, with an actionable plan, an enjoyable process, and a better understanding of your physical health, it becomes easier to say no to that chocolate brownie or fast food visit. With financial well-being, discipline is an absolute must. By being intentional and disciplined about how you spend and save, you are making a commitment to your financial future. Straying from the plan is breaking a promise to yourself. The key is staying true to the process and knowing it might get difficult, but that it is all part of the journey.

There are so many parallels between managing your physical and financial well-being. Many of the lessons and best practices employees have learned when managing their physical health can be applied to managing their financial health, too. Most importantly, create a plan and stick to it. Education is key along the way—learning basic financial terminology and understanding how certain financial tools work. But having the fortitude to stay the course is ultimately what will help employees achieve their financial goals for the long run.

Peter Waitzman is a senior financial coach for the MoneySteps financial wellbeing program.

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