Automate Good Habits and Create Templates - Small Steps To Health

By Larry Hayes,2014-06-17 07:23
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Automate Good Habits and Create Templates - Small Steps To Health ...

    Automate Good Habits and Create Templates

    Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP, Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management

    Karen Ensle, Ed.D., RD, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator

    Rutgers Cooperative Extension

    “We are responsible for our own life-

    No other person is or even can be.”

    Oprah Winfrey

     The great American poet Carl Sandburg once said “The time for action is now. It’s never too late to

    do something.” Have you been procrastinating on taking action to improve your health and finances? If so, there’s a simple solution to your inertia: automation. Automation is the perfect antidote for procrastination

    because it reduces the number of decisions you need to make. As David Bach, author of The Automatic Millionaire, notes “Do it once- the rest is automatic!”

    In other words, you take positive action at the outset (e.g., to choose a weight loss plan or authorize

    payroll deductions for your 401(k) retirement savings plan contributions) and then the system works for you

    without the need for continuous thought and discipline. Automated behaviors increase the likelihood of

    success because many people are simply too busy, or too undisciplined, or both, to oversee their diet and

    finances on a daily basis.

     So how do you automate good health practices? By putting them on a regular schedule or following a

    predetermined plan. Below are some examples:

Automated Health Improvement Practice Examples and Description

    Personal Exercise Routines ? Start a habit of walking 15-30 minutes on your lunch hour.

    Encourage co-workers to join you to make it more fun.

    ? Block off “dedicated time” for physical activity and consider it a

    normal part of your daily routine to exercise at this time.

    ? Combine exercise (e.g., treadmill or elliptical trainer) with

    watching your favorite television shows so you can do both


    Weight Loss Programs An example of diet automation is Weight Watchers’ POINTS?

plan where each food has a point value. People following this plan

    can eat any food they want as long as they stay within their daily

    point “budget.” Not surprisingly, nutritious foods are low in point

    values to guide users toward healthy food choices. Plan participants

    do not have to research and count food calories because the point

    plan structure effectively does this for them.

    Packaged Meal Products (e.g., Shakes) Products such as Instant Breakfast? provide portion-controlled meals and snacks. Specific products include shakes, meal bars,

    snack bars, and powders. Advantages of these “meals in a package” include convenience and clearly defined servings. A can of Slim-Fast? Rich Chocolate Royale, for example, contains 220 calories

    and a percentage of the recommended daily allowance for a number

    of essential nutrients. Disadvantages include lack of variety over time and a relatively high cost compared to a home made meal. Six

    cans of Rich Chocolate Royale cost approximately $9. This is a

    three-day supply because the Slim-Fast? weight control plan recommends eating two Slim-Fast? meals a day, along with healthy snacks, exercise, and a sensible third meal. The annual cost of two

    shakes per day would be approximately $600 (365 divided by 6 =

    61 packages per year x $9 apiece, plus sales tax).

    Routine Health Screenings The key to staying on schedule is to mark the dates for key health

    screening exams (e.g., annual physical) on your calendar so you can

    keep appointments scheduled at their recommended intervals.

    Programmed Express Workouts A number of health clubs, such as Curves For Women?, offer 30-minute circuit training workouts using a variety of hydraulic

    resistance machines. Billed as a way for clients to fit exercise into a

    busy schedule, these express workouts include stretching and

    strength training. The exercise routine is programmed in advance and users simply work their way around the circuit. There is no

    need for users to purchase any equipment or develop their own

    exercise routines. Like any health club facility, the cost of an

    express workout facility may be a challenge to some potential users. Those who use the service the most will pay the least on a cost-per-

    workout basis.

    Meal Plan Templates There are many places (e.g., dietitians, reputable nutrition Web

    sites) to get “template” menus based upon recommended dietary

    guidelines and a user’s daily caloric intake. The basic meal plan is

    already pre-configured. Then all someone has to do is choose a

    specific food (e.g., one medium fruit, or 3oz of broiled chicken or

    fish, or ? cup cereal) that fits the template menu. Meal plan templates are available from

     There are also a variety of ways to automate one’s personal finances and put saving and investing on

    automatic pilot. Financial planners often use the term “pay yourself first” (PYF) to describe a disciplined

    savings habit where savings are deposited from a worker’s gross income before the money can be spent. A

good analogy for PYF is the withholding that is done automatically for income taxes (unless you are self-

    employed and must do your own withholding). Just like the government deducts taxes from your gross

    income, you can choose to have money for saving and investing deposited as an “expense” in your household

    budget. “Think of it as a bill you owe yourself,” says the National Endowment for Financial Education?.

    Below are ten specific financial automation strategies:

Automated Financial Improvement Practice Examples and Description

    Tax-Deferred Retirement Savings Plans Authorize payroll deductions for a tax-deferred 401(k), 403(b),

    or 457 plan. If employer matching is available, try to save at

    least the amount that will earn you the maximum employer

    match (e.g., 6% of pay). If you can afford it, try to take full

    advantage of tax-deferred accounts and contribute the maximum

    amount allowed by federal tax law. If you start a new job and

    your employer automatically enrolls you in a 401(k), don’t opt

    out. Instead, raise the low initial “default contribution rate” to

    the highest percentage of pay possible.

    If available through your employer, take advantage of Save More Tomorrow Plans

    retirement savings plans where you can sign up in advance to (Automatic Contribution Increases)

    have your tax-deferred retirement savings plan contributions

    automatically increase every time your pay increases.

Employer Credit Union Authorize payroll deductions for deposits to a credit union.

    This money can be used to save for short- and intermediate-term

    goals such as an individual retirement account (IRA) deposit or

    the down payment for a new car.

    Automatic Portfolio Re-balancing If available through your tax-deferred retirement savings plan or

    brokerage firm, sign up to have your investment portfolio

    weightings automatically reviewed and re-balanced to their

    original percentages (e.g., 60% stock, 20% bonds, 10% real

    estate, and 10% cash assets) at least once a year.

    Automatic Stock and Mutual Fund Deposits Sign up for automatic investment plans (AIPs) where you pre-

    authorize periodic debits of a bank account to purchase shares

    (e.g., $50 per month). Often, when investors sign up for an AIP,

    they are allowed to invest smaller dollar amounts than if they

    hadn’t selected this option. AIPs make investing more

    affordable for investors with small dollar amounts.

Automatic U.S. Savings Bonds Purchases Authorize payroll deductions for deposits to purchase U.S.

    savings bonds if your employer sponsors a purchase plan.

    Another automatic option is the Federal Reserve’s Treasury

    Direct plan. For more information, visit

Automated Bill-Paying To save time and money writing and mailing checks, use

    automatic bill paying for fixed expenses such as a car loan.

Automatic Checking Account to Savings Many people find that money slips through their fingers if it is in

    Account Transfers a checking account that can be accessed with checks or a debit

     card. Automatic transfers to savings can help avoid this.

Target Retirement Date Mutual Funds These are mutual funds with a future date in their title, such as

    the “Retirement 2025 Fund.” Target-date retirement funds are

    generally packaged in five or ten year increments through 2050.

    The fund invests in what it considers to be an appropriate asset

    mix for each target date and automatically adjusts the mix to a

    more conservative profile as shareholders get closer to

    retirement. Many major mutual fund companies, such as T.

    Rowe Price, Fidelity, and Vanguard offer funds of this type.

    The asset allocation weightings and fees can vary among

    investment companies, however, so a careful reading of the

    prospectus for funds you are considering is in order.

Financial Templates Financial planning maintenance tasks, such as calculating net

    worth, analyzing investment asset allocation percentages, and

    preparing a spending plan (budget) are easy to update with

    computer software programs such as Intuit’s Quicken and

    Microsoft Money. Another option for quick financial

    calculations is creating a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

    Several Microsoft Excel spreadsheet templates can be found at

Use the Automated Health and Wealth Strategies Worksheet, below, to identify planned actions. List up to

    five automated strategies that you plan to use to reach your health and wealth goals.

    Automated Health and Wealth Strategies

Health Goal Wealth Goal

1. 1.

2. 2.

3. 3.

4. 4.

5. 5.

    Action Steps


? Eat at least one meal per day by following a healthy meal template based on dietary guidelines.

? Select an automation strategy to incorporate regular physical activity into your daily routine.


? Start or increase deposits to an employer retirement savings plan or credit union via payroll deduction.

? Select an automated investment strategy for individual investment accounts (i.e., those that are not

    available through work).

? Use a computer financial template or software program to track your financial progress.


    Aschkenasy, J. (2004, Dec.). The automatic 401(k). Financial Planning, 34(12), 104-105, 125.

Bach, D. (2004). The automatic millionaire. New York: Broadway Books.

    Davis, R.J. (2004, Dec. 14). Express workouts: Gyms offer quicker routines. The Wall Street Journal, D5.

    Ensle, K., Lytle, J.G., & Collins, C. (2002). Getting to know portion sizes. Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS993.

    Franklin, M.B. (2005, March). Retire in Style. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, 59(3), 72-76.

    Investing for your future: A Cooperative Extension System basic investing home study course (2002). Ithaca, NY: Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service and

    Kim, J.J. (2005, Feb. 2). Automatic 401(k) enrollments may lasso lackadaisical savers. The Wall Street Journal, D3.

NEFE High School Financial Planning Program (2001). Greenwood Village, CO: National Endowment for

    Financial Education.

Simon, R. (2004, July 19). No more hard choices. The Wall Street Journal, R6.

Slim-Fast Products (no date). Retrieved from

Two ways to take control (2005). Retrieved from

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