Resolution #3: Get your finances under control!

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First of all, Happy New Year!

This is probably the most difficult of the new year’s resolution series for me (not directly mental health related), but I think maybe one of the most important- finances. I think along with losing weight (blog #3 in this series), getting out of debt and getting finances under control is a frequently made resolution. There are so many apps out there that it is difficult to know where to start in terms of reviews.

A first step, an app which you probably already have is the app for your own bank. A lot of these online services have bill pay, the ability to input upcoming bills, and make budgets. However, if you feel you need something else, consider one of the other apps.

I like Mint (www.mint.com), which is free. I used to use Quicken, which I loved, and Quicken is mostly replaced now by Mint. Mint can sync with your bank, credit cards, investments, and give you an up-to-date idea of your finances. You get a free credit score with them, and the app will help you make budgets and financial goals. You can get emails and notifications when you are behind in your goals, or over your budget. It can be hard to plan forward, however, with Quicken, because though it does have the ability to input expenses which have not cleared your bank, it isn’t always the best at recognizing the expense once it does clear- creating a double entry. Also, you have to be a little vigilant about making sure that your expenses are going in the right budget categories, though it mostly gets them correct. There is an Apple Watch version, too.

If you’re planning to use the Dave Ramsey method of financial management, but want to use your ATM card still, I found You Need A Budget to be very helpful (www.youneedabudget.com). The apps are free, but they sync to the desktop version, which is $50 per year. This one lends itself to the idea of the envelopes of cash earmarked for a specific purpose very well, and also syncs to your bank. The YNAB on-line bulletin board community is very active/helpful, and their customer service was quite good. A friend who paid off all his debt through the Dave Ramsey method also sings the praises of this app as well. There are free classes (budgeting, debt reduction, etc) via their website and I think this app has more of an educational angle, so if you’re clueless where to start, this can be a good place, along with bankrate.com, to get some information. There’s no Apple Watch app.

If you’re interested in trying to get control of your finances, but prefer the low-tech method, I also like the templates from www.vertex42.com. They have some great forms to use for budgeting and money management. When I need a calendar or spreadsheet for budgeting, this is usually my first stop.

I’m interested in what other people use for financial management- let me know in the comments below! There are so many apps, I would love your input!

Resolution #1: Lose weight!

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In the first blog of this series, we talked about writing better resolutions, which are specific, measurable, timed, and have a “why.” In the second blog of the series, we talked about ways to be more accountable in your goals, and general goal tracking apps. The remaining blogs of the series will review apps for specific goals.

I think the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. Not surprisingly, the iTunes store is flooded with calorie trackers! I’d like to narrow it down.

  1. Fitbit (www.fitbit.com): free app. If you have a fitbit, this is a no-brainer. The app has evolved a lot since I bought my Fitbit One a few years ago, with it’s oh-so-stylish belt clip. It tracks activity, sleep, food, hydration…Most people who use this app seem to love it since the upgrades, but there were a few complaints about being buggy. I used it when I had a fitbit and was very pleased with it. I also used the desktop version with no problems.
  2. Weight Watchers (www.weightwatchers.com): app free, requires subscription. This is probably the program I recommend the most often as a physician since it has good science behind it, as well as the meeting accountability. However, I’ve used just the online version ($3.84 per week) and felt that it was no different than any other tracker- it’s the meeting that makes the difference. Since I used this last, they have a one on one coaching program, that’s around $10 per week with the app that I probably would do instead. I have to be up front- I found the points confusing, and felt irritated with “I have four points left- what can I eat with four points” because I’m so used to eating in terms of calories and the points system was not intuitive for me. There is an apple watch version.
  3. Lose it! (www.loseit.com): app free, $4.99 for premium that adds more content, meal planning and better integration for health problems like diabetes. This is the classic app, the one that you read articles about “I lost 10 lbs using an app.” They’ve kept improving it since then, with great tools to help you lose weight. However, the integration with other apps isn’t as good as some other apps (for instance, I use FitStar for my workouts, and it doesn’t integrate with this app, so I would have to manually input my workout into Lose it!). On the other hand, adding meals is a pleasure, and it suggests calorie targets for each meal. As you input meals, it adjusts the targets- for instance, if you exceed your target for lunch, it reduces lunch and dinner accordingly. Brilliant. It has groups built into the app. There is also an apple watch version. Syncs with with the fitbit and the Nike Run Club (an app I really like that doesn’t sync to that many calorie counters).
  4. Calorie Counter and Fitness Tracker by myFitnessPal (myfitnesspal.com): free app, premium content $9.99 which includes no ads, ability to change macronutrients, etc. Has there ever been a worse name change from MyFitnessPal (short, catchy) to this long, drawn out name? I’ve been using this app, partly because it integrates with so many other apps and my apple watch. It also syncs to the fitbit, but not the Nike Run Club. Has a nice community dash board for encouragement from friends, and challenges. The online version is good, too, if you want to input food from your laptop.

My choice: If you’re willing to spend the money and go to meetings, I’d choose Weight Watchers. If you have a fitbit, the fitbit app is worth using since you can track sleep in that app, but as far as I know, not other apps. However, you can use the fitbit with all of the other trackers here, and if sleep is not important to track for you, I like all of the other food trackers better. I think in the end, it comes down to what apps you are using for exercise, and whether the calorie counter is compatible. I’m impressed enough with Lose It! to consider switching, and inputting my fit star calories separately, but I also have a community built up in myFitnessPal.

What apps are you using?

Hit your goals!

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In the first blog of this series, we talked about writing better resolutions, which are specific, measurable, timed, and have a “why.” You can find that blog here.

Now that you have a set of resolutions, how do we troubleshoot flagging resolutions? I think the more accountability, the better.

  • Review your goals DAILY. Another  way is to set up an accountability system. Post them where you can see them.
  • Another person can help keep you accountable- find a friend to workout with, for instance.
  • Similar to this would be to find a group to meet with, like Weight Watchers meetings if you’re trying to lose weight, or a book club if you’re trying to read more. Even a Facebook group can help, but you have to find some way to get yourself to post weekly, at least, in the group. Starting a smaller group with friends who will check in on each other might work well if you’re concerned about blowing off the check-in.
  • I set timers in todoist, which remind me to check into my fitness program, and check in with a group that I keep up with. The act of checking off the boxes is rewarding in itself for me, and this helps the habit become self-perpetuating.
  • Stickk (www.stickk.com) is a different way to keep to your goals, and uses proven methods to help. You choose a goal, put up an agreed amount of money to be given to charity (and you can pick a cause you don’t agree with, so if you quit, you’re giving money to a group you really don’t like!), find a “referee” and start working on your goal! This would be a goal tracker and motivator all in one.

What apps are there for goal setting? A ton! The best one is the one you’ll stick with. Among the most popular:

  1. Strides (www.stridesapp.com): Free app for basic, $4.99 for premium version. This is the one I use on my iPhone, and really like it. I think it is simple to set up, and simple to use. You set your goals, and then click “yes” or “no” daily. It tracks your progress, and can prompt you to keep up with your goal. There is also an apple watch app. I have the free version and have not needed the premium yet.
  2. Today (https://neybox.com/today/): free app, $4.99 for premium version. Beautiful to look at, similar to Strides but no apple watch app as of this writing.
  3. Streaks (http://streaksapp.com): $3.99. Simple, chic layout. Same concept as the other two habit trackers above.
  4. Any task tracker: Do you need a habit tracker? I use one for ease and to see the consecutive days I have performed the habit, but really, I could use todoist if I were not interested in seeing consecutive days.

What task tracker do you use? What resolutions are you planning to make?

The New Year’s Resolution series

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This is the first of a series on New Year’s Resolutions. My intention is to start with making more effective New Year’s Resolutions, troubleshoot why they might not have worked in the past, and how we can get better at tracking and achieving them. Then, I’m hoping to do blogs on common resolutions themselves (lose weight, run, get out of debt, etc), and the apps and techniques which could help.

Why write about New Year’s Resolutions? This is the time when everyone has a clean slate, and is thinking about making changes anyway. The best reason for me is that I believe in the power we all have to change our lives in a thoughtful way. As a psychiatrist, it is such an incredible privilege to help patients help themselves in changing their lives!

Let’s talk about what makes a good resolution.

  • A resolution is written down, and you review it frequently.
  • You have multiple important reasons for wanting to achieve these resolutions, and you’ve written those down as well.
  • The resolution is measurable and well-defined.
  • You have a way of monitoring the resolution.
  • You know the next step.
  • You don’t have too many resolutions you can’t really keep track of more than 2 or 3 at a time. That’s not to say you don’t have more, but you’re concentrating on only a few at the time.
  • How will you be accountable for your goal?

Here’s an example. Instead of “lose weight,” I will choose a target carefully. Here’s where the well-defined part comes in: do I really want to lose weight, or be more fit, or both? Might I better define this as “fit in my size eight Lucky Jeans” or some fitness goal? What is a healthy, obtainable weight, and does my goal align with this in the first place?

Starting resolution: I will lose weight.

Optimized resolution: I will lose 10 lbs by April 1, 2017.

1.   Why: because I want to look my best, demonstrate a healthy lifestyle for my kids, and         not get diabetes.

2.   Measure: Using the Lose It! app, weighing myself one time per week. I will participate in an online group for weight loss and post my progress weekly.

3.   How: Logging foods with a 500 kcal deficit daily, exercise three times per week, reducing junky carbs and eating 5 servings of vegetables daily.

4.   Next Step: Download Lose it! App.

You can see why this would be a more powerful resolution. For more resources for goal setting, I like Michael Hyatt’s website, the Asian Efficiency Website, and the 7 Habits for Highly Effective People  by Stephen Covey is very helpful!

Please join me next time for tips on troubleshooting goals, and what apps to use to track your new resolutions!