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How I Use the Four Rules to Hit My Health Goals

This post was written in collaboration with our friends at Lose It! —an app I’ve been using for years. While I budget my dollars with YNAB, I use Lose It! to budget my calories and hit my health goals.

We have so many new YNABers these days, I feel the need to introduce myself. 

Hi, I’m Jesse and approximately 100 years ago (or 16, whatever) I was newly married, trying to finish school, and desperate to make the most of our (very little) money. Through some trial and error and a lot of time with spreadsheets, I developed a system that really worked for us. Turns out we weren’t the only ones who needed a budget and here we are today. 

You can read the whole story in the book (and you'll see how a donut helped make YNAB what it is today).  

I love our app, our tech, our classes—but ultimately, I think You Need A Budget has worked for so many people because of one simple reason: increased awareness. You track every dollar, so you know where every dollar goes.

I completely understand that this level of detail is a big shift for some people. I’ve been tracking every dollar I spent since I was a teenager. Not that long ago, at my parents’ house, I found old notebooks where I just recorded every single transaction. $3.55 here. $5.63 there. I recognize now that this is not entirely normal, but it’s just how my brain works, and it always made sense to me. 

The more information I have, the better decisions I can make. The more control I have, the more likely I am to end up where I want to be. It’s true for finances, your diet, or your time. More awareness = more control = more success. 

More awareness = more control = more success

It being January and all, I imagine I’m not the only one with shiny new healthy eating goals. I was thinking about how similar my approach is to fitness. For years, I’ve used Lose It!, and it’s like YNAB, but for calories instead of dollars. Every day, I have my calories “to be budgeted,” and then I make a plan for how to spend those calories. I track everything and adjust as I go. 

It’s the Four Rules! Whether dollars or calories, it makes no difference. Increased awareness leads to better decision-making, and it snowballs in the very best way. 

Let’s look at the Four Rules, but applied to your diet instead of your dollars. 

Rule One: Give Every Dollar A Job 

Essentially, Rule One is about making a plan. When we teach people to budget we want them to make a plan before they spend any money, and it works the same with what you eat. If I want to set a calorie goal of 2,000 calories a day, and I have an eggs benedict before I make the plan, the day may already be a wash. If I’m going out to dinner with friends, I budget for a lighter breakfast and heavier dinner. Start with your goal, make a plan, and then start eating according to the plan. 

Rule Two: Embrace Your True Expenses 

Rule Two is all about thinking ahead and planning for things that are outside of your day-to-day rhythms (but you still know they’re coming!). If I put a little bit aside every month for Christmas, come December I’ll have a chunk of money saved up and it won’t be stressful. It’s really not that different from my diet. If I know we’re going on vacation or a big holiday meal is coming up, I might want to adjust accordingly, so that I can enjoy these special events without derailing my progress altogether. All it really takes is a little thinking ahead and working it into the larger plan. Done and done. 

Rule Three: Roll With The Punches

Ah, my favorite—Rule Three. Because no matter how great the plan is or how dedicated you are, things come up. Life happens, so I figure we should plan for that. Rule Three means that when something unexpected happens or I don’t execute the plan as I thought I would, I don’t need to give up or feel guilty. I just adjust the plan and keep going. I’ll never be perfect—and I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to keep going.

If I’m being intentional about every choice and if I'm tracking things so I’m really aware of what I’m doing, I’ll be making progress. Forward motion is the name of the game, people. Just keep going. 

Rule Four: Age Your Money 

As you make better spending decisions, you’ll be able to save for future expenses and have some margin. Rule Four is about living on money that you earned more than 30 days ago. When you get to this sweet spot, you’ve broken the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. Suddenly, everything is easier and less stressful. 

When you apply Rule Four to your health goals, picture this: those daily wins add up to bigger victories (say you’ve been cutting calories and the scale finally drops, or you’ve been eating more protein and you get a new PR on your bench press). You won’t always feel like your bank account or your body is improving every day, but if you stick with it, you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. I love that part. 

I don't need to be perfect. I just need to keep going.

So, whatever your goals are, consider how to apply some version of the Four Rules. You’ll make a plan. You’ll think ahead. You’ll roll with the punches that life throws at you, knowing that flexibility is just part of long-term success. And you’ll keep doing it, until it’s just a built-in habit. And that, my friend, is how to make your goals happen.

I wish you all kinds of total control over new areas of your life in 2020! Here’s to a decade of self-improvement, growth, and celebrating the goals we crushed! 

Want to gain total control of your diet? Check out Lose It! and get biceps like Jesse. Just kidding, we can’t guarantee the biceps.

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How I Use the Four Rules to Hit My Health Goals