I’ve written several blogs, both for the Financial Planning Association and others comparing financial services to the diet & health industry. It’s where fiscal meets fitness, if you will. Today, I have another take that deals with the dreaded “maintenance” portion of any good diet or personal financial plan.

Several years ago, as a recent college grad, I was out of the practice of doing anything physical and had become overweight. I was unhappy and desperate to reverse the trend. I quickly found a diet that promised to melt away the pounds. I’ll spare you the details, but a fast 60 pound loss became 70 gained. Next, a shake-based program through a weight loss center sponsored by a local hospital got my attention. Another 70 pound weight loss came and went like the passing of the tides. This yo-yo effect, according to my doctor, was even worse for me than staying overweight. After a few more years of struggle, I decided enough was enough.

An investment plan can be very similar. You lock into one trend for a while and then, disappointed in the results, switch to the next fad of the moment. And, just like your physical health, the results of yo-yo investing are more damaging to your fiscal health than picking an even imperfect plan and sticking with it through thick and thin.

Fiscally and physically, slow, smart and simple always seems to win the race. Physically, we know that eating less and exercising more are the keys to success. Similarly in investing, having a plan, keeping costs low and buying when prices are low and selling when prices are high are the keys to long term success.

My two initial runs at weight loss took a lot of work. Chasing investment returns and the latest planning trends can too. You might save tooth and nail to finally pay off that credit card debt or reach that important goal. What occurs next, however, is almost more important than meeting the initial goal. How do you maintain the habit?

My weight didn’t come back overnight. Neither do bad financial habits. You celebrate. You buy that one item as a reward for all your efforts. It feels good and can even be healthy. It’s the next three, four or ten rewards that get us into trouble. Unfortunately, like maintaining healthy eating and exercise habits, personal finance and the path to making consistently smart decisions about your money is a marathon, not a sprint. Once you’re on track, it takes patience, determination and discipline to stay there.

I know, I know. Those are everyone’s three favorite things. Mine too! Hey, I said maintaining physical and financial health was similar, not easy.

I eventually found a way to set new eating and exercise habits. Slowly but surely, those habits replaced bad ones. Little by little, the weight came off. Since 2010, I’m proud to say I’ve lost 90+ pounds and have seen over the last several years that these habits are here to stay.

What goals are you trying to achieve? Are you looking for the quick fix or are you constructing long term changes to your habits that will provide less instant gratification and more long terms success? The results, both to our waistlines and our wallets, can be profound.

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