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5 Personal Finance Lessons From “The Biggest Loser”

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Ever since 2004, viewers have loved the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser. Now in its tenth season, the show revolves around a simple concept: overweight contestants compete for a $250,000 grand prize by striving to lose the most body fat by the end of the season. Unlike other reality shows, there’s no politics or favoritism. The scales don’t lie, and the winner is, very simply, the biggest loser.

At a time when we tend to set goals for the new year, there’s something to be said about extracting some strageties and principles that help The Biggest Loser contestants succeed¬†– and apply them to money management. Who knows, following the tips below might help you achieve not only your fitness, health¬†and weight-loss New Year’s resolutions, but your financial ones, as well.

Adopt Modest Goals Early On

When you weigh 400 pounds, losing a mere ten of them might not sound very significant. Yet participants on The Biggest Loser know that weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. By losing weight in ten- or twenty-pound increments, contestants gradually build up the confidence and motivation to keep moving. Those who condemn themselves as failures for not immediately losing tons of weight inevitably wind up losing the contest – and giving up.

Many people make similar mistakes when they begin overhauling their financial lives. Unhappy with their current position, they make unrealistically large commitments like “cut my expenses in half.” Noble as this goal may be, it is virtually impossible to make such a drastic change with no momentum behind you. It’s better to set more reasonable targets (say, eating out one less day per week) and string together a series of small victories before attempting massive changes.

Measure Progress

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There is no uncertainty about who is making progress on The Biggest Loser. No matter what a contestant says, the truth is always laid bare when they step on the scale. Fail to weigh in at a certain target, and you risk being eliminated from the show completely. This serves as a powerful motivator to put in the needed work and dietary changes in the weeks before weigh-in.

Those struggling to get their finances in order need to measure progress as well. Vague goals like “saving more money” or “spending less” are unhelpful because they don’t set clear expectations. Does tossing a stray $5 into your ING Direct account really mean you’ve achieved your goal of “saving more money?” No – for financial progress to be made, it must be measured. Set specific, numeric goals in areas of improvement – for example, saving an extra $50 per week, or cutting your grocery bill by 15%.

Be Held Accountable

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It might seem like the biggest reason for contestants to lose weigh is the $250,000 prize offered to the biggest loser. Yet perhaps an even larger motivator is the fact that millions of people are watching them every single week. Accountability is a key ingredient when it comes to achieving difficult goals. Very simply, we are more likely to follow through on something if we know others are paying attention to us.

Use this principle to your advantage when it comes to personal finance. Instead of keeping your goals a secret, publicize them. Tell your friends and family about the positive changes you intend to make. Go into detail about all of the new, more disciplined behaviors they can expect to see. This way, you (like The Biggest Loser contestants) have an audience to avoid letting down.

Have Personal Discipline

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Despite all the advantages of being on a highly-rated cable TV series, each season’s biggest loser wins by putting in a ton of hard work. Besides complying with a new calorie-starved diet, contestants are put through a strenuous exercise regimen of up to six hours per day. Kai Hibbard, a Season 3 finalist, reports that participating in the show led her to develop an eating disorder that remains to this day. Whether you think the show goes to extremes or not, it shows that losing lots of weight requires lots of work – and personal discipline.

Balancing a checkbook isn’t as hard as losing 200 pounds, but personal commitment is just as critical. It’s easy to read about getting your money in order and vow to make changes. To follow through, you’ll need discipline to resist the poor choices that landed you in this predicament and stay on your new path.

Keep a Positive Attitude

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That said, there’s a fine line between having personal discipline and beating yourself up. Each season’s biggest loser has their moments of self-doubt. But overall, they find ways to celebrate their progress and keep moving. It could hardly be any other way. When your goal is to lose hundreds of pounds, there’s simply no time for self-pity given all the work that needs to be done.

Sadly, self-pity leads many to fail at achieving their financial goals. Rather than getting down to work, these people are preoccupied with scapegoating “the system”, comparing themselves to others or finding reasons to flounder. Take a cue from The Biggest Loser and stop the blame game. Truth be told, it makes no difference at all why you aren’t succeeding financially – all that matters are the best steps forward and how to take them.