Coming up with resolutions for 2012 was depressingly easy—I just changed the date on top of my 2011 list. After going gangbusters for a number of months with eating less, exercising consistently and getting out of debt, I lost focus somewhere in the heat of the summer and that was pretty much that. So this year I decided to take a (hopefully!) more fail-safe approach and go digital. My goal: to find some cyberbuddies to keep me on the straight and narrow.
I started by lurking in several online social networks where anonymous groups of like-minded goal setters were trying to lose weight. Instead of chitchat about parenting and politics, the talk is all about diets and workouts. The photos aren't of kids and pets, they're Befores and Afters.
After a week or so spent getting a feel for the groups' vibes, gathering tips and trying the tracking tools, I was ready to "weigh in." Once I did, I was quickly lauded with points, trophies and congratulations.
Encouraged and feeling a little competitive, I joined a weight-loss challenge and laced up my running shoes. Within days, my own previously private nutrition and exercise goals had become part of my public (but still anonymous) online identity. And when I stepped on the wireless scale (bodytrace.com, $80), I got to hold myself accountable—my small success was instantly posted to my virtual profile. Backtracking now will cause my online identity to lose face.
On a roll, I decided to tackle getting out of debt, using the Goals and Budget features at Mint.com. This service connects to all my bank accounts and credit cards and categorizes all my spending, so I can see where my money goes and come up with a plan to pay down outstanding balances. Setting a budget is an important step, but Mint goes one better by monitoring my spending and actually comparing it to my spending targets. So now if I drop $300 at Costco and exceed my grocery budget, Mint alerts me via text message right away.
It's pretty easy to ignore a text, though. For real accountability, I went to CreditSesame.com. The site gathered up my credit report and the balances on all my credit cards and loans in seconds. Then it rated my financial health. I was relieved to be offered a Good Credit badge. (I'm not as badly off as I thought!) But then it waved the Credit Guru badge and suggested a few steps I could take to get it. For some reason, I then wanted it with manic determination. Having my eye on that prize makes me take notice—and, more important, put stuff back on the shelves while I'm shopping—when Mint warns me I'm overspending. I recently passed up an amazing deal on a pair of shoes that were a bargain but not in my budget. That's progress.
Free goal-setting help abounds on the Internet—visit the Family Tech blog at FamilyCircle.com for info on additional options.
SparkPeople.com — Diet plans, online and mobile tracking tools and inspiration galore.
— Buying a wireless scale (starting at $80) for weigh-ins eliminates fudging the numbers.
Noom Weight Loss for Android — The means to track a walk or run with your phone's GPS, plus a nutrition tracker.
Mint.com — Budget and track your hard-earned cash, and get a text or e-mail if you blow it.
— Turns the task of improving your credit rating into a game. Corny, but it's working for me.
— A new site that offers points (for saving cash and paying down debt) that you can use to play the SaveUp lottery and win prizes.
Originally published in the January 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.