More of Us Focused On Losing Debt Than Losing Weight

New Survey Shows Finances Trump Health

More of Us Focused On Losing Debt Than Losing Weight
January 29, 2019

Which would you rather do in 2019 – lose the spare tire around your waist or the excess debt dragging down your finances?

Americans clearly struggle with both debt and obesity. In late 2018, NerdWallet estimated the average American credit card debt at $6,929 for households with any credit card debt – part of a staggering $135,768 average including all debts (led by mortgages). Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control's most recent statistics from 2015-2016 lists America's obesity rate at just below 40% – and if you think more recent data will show improvement, fat chance (pun intended).

A new survey by finds that we'd rather have excess weight than excess debt. While 34% of Americans said losing weight was a 2019 priority, 41% said reducing debt was a higher priority. Perhaps the remaining one-quarter of Americans aren't overweight or in debt – and if they are, they don't mind being that way.

They're also more likely to be guys.

One-third of men surveyed didn't prioritize either debt reduction or weight loss for 2019, compared to 19% of women. However, for respondents who chose one of these two priorities, debt loss was the preferred choice of both men and women.

Does age make a difference? It does with respect to debt. Almost half of millennials and Generation Xers (47% each) ranked debt as their top priority. That's logical, since these two generations are in the main life stages of debt accumulation. Debt reduction was a lower priority for baby boomers (34%) and the Silent Generation (31%).

Only 29% of the younger Generation Z prioritized debt reduction – probably because, aside from student loans, they haven't acquired the debt levels of other generations. A 2018 Northwestern Mutual study found that younger millennials and Generation Z (age 18-24) averaged $22,000 in debt other than mortgages compared to $42,000 for older millennials, $39,000 for Generation X, and $36,000 for baby boomers.

Income influences priorities, as you might expect. Almost half (47%) of respondents with annual incomes of $100,000 or above prioritized weight loss, compared to 27% who prioritized debt reduction. At incomes of $75,000 or below, debt loss was a top priority.

That's logical – if you have a lower income, you have less latitude to handle excess debt and must watch spending more carefully.

According to the survey, 43% of respondents don't plan to change their health habits at all and 31% won't spend $50 to lose weight and improve their health. Only 15% are willing to spend more than $100, while 1% of respondents are willing to pay $5,000 or more.

It seems odd to correlate increased spending to weight reduction. Respondents may be thinking of controlled meal programs or personal trainers – or maybe a personal assistant to follow them around all day and swat Twinkies out of their hands.

Weight loss and debt reduction both require planning and long-term discipline to succeed. Why not try to achieve both? Make a food and exercise "budget" that parallels your financial budget. Establish an overall disciplined mindset and use positive momentum from one task to reinforce the other.

For example, try eating out less – but when you do eat out, eat half your meal and save the rest for tomorrow. Given the portion sizes of many restaurants, that's achievable and will save money without the feeling of extra sacrifice.

Maybe you aren't overweight or in debt. If so, we congratulate you. Keep up the good work. For the rest of us, why not make 2019 the year we improve our collective health – both financially and physically? May your waistline be thin and your wallet fat.

If you want to reduce your interest payments and lower your debt, join MoneyTips and use our free Debt Optimizer tool.

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