Losing Weight is Not Like Building Wealth

Losing Weight Is Not Like Building WealthIt’s been a week since Thanksgiving and our fridge is still full of left over. Mrs. RB40 really went to town this year and cooked up a huge feast. Now, she’s gone on a business trip and it’s up to me to clean up the left over. RB40Jr and my mom eat so little that they barely make a dent when we sit down for a meal. Everything is tasty so it won’t a difficult task for me, but I’ll have to pay for it with more exercise down the road.

What does losing weight have to do with building wealth? Superficially, they seem very similar. They are both all about input and output. If you use up more calories than you eat, then you’ll lose weight. It’s the same with wealth. If you use more money than you make, then you’ll be caught in a debt spiral. On the other hand, if you save and invest consistently, then your wealth will increase over time. In theory, it’s simple math, but reality is more complicated than that.

Today, I’ll share some reasons why losing weight and building wealth are not that similar. Let me know what you think in the comment section.

Age and Time

For me, the first big difference between losing weight and building wealth is time. My observation is that it gets more difficult to lose weight as you get older. The reverse is true for wealth building.

It’s a fact of life. When you’re older, it’s harder to lose weight. Your metabolism slows down about 5% every decade after 40. You also lose muscle mass steadily if you don’t hit the weight room regularly. Maintaining the same diet as you get older means you’ll gain weight. We all need to eat better and exercise more, but how many of us actually follows through? It gets tougher and tougher to lose weight as you get older.

On the other hand, wealth building gets easier with time. This is assuming you made the right choices when you were younger, of course. I started investing in my retirement accounts when I was 22 and now they are worth over $700,000. The investment compounded over the years and now it is like a locomotive. The momentum built up and it will keep going as long as I avoid foolish moves like overspending and gambling.

I think time is the biggest difference between losing weight and building wealth. If you get started early with investing, then you’ll do very well when you’re older. Losing weight? That’s much tougher as you get older.

Keeping track

To get better at something, you need to keep track of it. Nowadays, it is quite easy to track your investments, cash flow, and net worth. I can see all of that and more at my Personal Capital account in just a few minutes.

Keeping track of the calories is much tougher. I have an activity tracker to count my steps and that helps. It reminds me to walk a bit every day. However, it isn’t smart enough to track my other activities like lifting weight and playing with our kid. The food side is really hard. Even with modern apps, you need to manually enter a bunch of stuff. Who can keep track of it all? Someday, there will be an app that scan your food automatically and convert it to calories so it will be easy to keep track of. We’re not quite there yet, though. Anyway, that’s probably too much personal info to share with an app. Imagine what the HR department can do with that info…

So with current technology, it’s much easier to keep track of personal finance. Counting calories is still a tedious process that most people don’t want to deal with.

*Signup with Personal Capital to help manage your personal finance. Personal Capital has been very helpful for me and I highly recommend them.


This one is more personal. It’s not difficult for me to be on top of personal finance. I live modestly and invest diligently every month. Building wealth is easy once I’ve made it a routine. I’ve also been very lucky and our income has been relatively good for over 20 years.

Losing weight is much more difficult for me. I love eating good food and I hate portion control. If you put a big plate of delicious food in front of me, it’s pretty much impossible for me to stop eating (until I’m quite full.) That’s one reason why I don’t like going out that much. The portions are huge these days. I feel obligated to finish the food and that won’t help with my weight control.

Both losing weight and building wealth require discipline, but eating is much more difficult to control. In comparison, being frugal is easy. It’s probably psychological and everyone has different level of control.

Take a look back

Now, let’s compare how I’ve done over the last 10 years with both things.

10 years and haven't gained any weight

Wow, that’s a blast from the past. I still have that awesome orange vest, but I haven’t worn it for years. We probably should drop it off at Good Will. I still think it is pretty cool vest, but I feel a bit silly wearing it now. From this distance, I didn’t age much at all. There are a few more grey hairs, but they are not very noticeable with the buzz cut. The shade is much cooler than my old glasses. It looks like I’m a lot more relaxed in 2017, but that’s probably because the picture was taken in Cancun. As far as relaxing goes, there is no contest when it’s Portland VS Cancun.

Amazingly, I weight about the same as in 2007. I just checked on the scale and I’m 136 pounds today (5’4 male.) That’s really good for me because my weight usually fluctuate between 136 and 139. I’m probably less toned, though. In 2007, I was working full time and I used to go to the gym every day during lunch. Now, it is harder to get to the gym consistently especially when Junior is out of school. Working out has gotten a lot tougher as well and I don’t push myself that hard.

Wealth building

Now, let’s look at the wealth building part.

Build wealth 10 years

The last 10 years has been absolutely amazing. We saw a dip in 2008, but our wealth has been going up steadily ever since. It’s pretty crazy considering I left my engineering career in 2012 and our income dropped significantly. By that time, our wealth locomotive was already rolling and the stock market helped keep it going. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future, but I’m pretty sure our wealth will keep increasing over the long haul. We might get a dip like in 2008 soon. However, the long term trend should be similar to the current graph.

Losing weight & building wealth

So what do you think? Is losing weight similar to wealth building? Some aspects are similar, but they are really apple and orange. You can’t really compare them. Losing weight is tough for me. I just don’t have the discipline to eat less. Every year, I think it’d be great if I can go down to 130 pounds. I guess I should be happy I haven’t gained much of weight over the last 10 years.

More weight loss stories

Let me know if you have a weight loss story to share and I’ll link to it.

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
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56 thoughts on “Losing Weight is Not Like Building Wealth”

  1. Thanks for the mention Joe! Absolutely agree with your thoughts on age. Weight loss is not like wealth building in that the former gets harder with age and the latter gets easier. Hopefully I can turn the weight control part of that truism on it’s head when I reach FIRE (19 months to go!!). Spending 70 to 80 hours a week in meetings and in front of a computer does not lend itself to staying in shape!

  2. You actually look thinner and healthier in the more recent picture, even though you weigh the same! Maybe you have more muscle mass now than in 2007?
    Good comparison about building wealth and losing weight 🙂 I agree it’s harder as you get older to keep your metabolism going.
    I didn’t gain much weight with the pregnancy (20lbs) but I think that’s because I lost muscle mass because I didn’t work out as much in the 3rd trimester. Now I’m back to pre-pregnancy weight but I think I don’t have as much muscle mass as before still.

  3. I find it easier to build wealth too but this past year I have focused both on losing weight and paying off my debt at the same time and I have seen success in both. For me, they are similar in that they take being aware of the how you spend/what you eat and require close tracking. They are different in that I find it easier to not spend vs. not eat. But I am learning and moving forward on each of them. I think that is the important thing.

  4. For a long time I thought they were the same. I figured I’d start my Lazy Man and Health blog and just blog my way to perfect health. It was motivating for awhile. However, it didn’t last.

    Quite a few bloggers I know make money from their personal finance blogs. So blogging is actually helping push them to their goals. When you are blogging about health, you are probably sitting and not getting any healthier at all.

    It’s also the time and age thing that you mentioned. Instead of compound interest working for you, it’s like age is debt compounding against you.

    Not only can’t you enter calories very easily, but food labels can be wildly off according to a lot of research I’ve read. In addition, fitness trackers are often wildly off as well. Finally, even if you try to work at a calorie deficient, your body adjusts to the expectation of less food.

    Perhaps one more thing to think about is work itself. Investments in the stock markets grow on their own over time without one having to invest more time and effort. Going to the gym is something you have to set aside time for.

  5. Before having a baby, I never thought of losing weight since I maintained a good weight by eating okay and working out a lot. But since our baby was born I have gained a good amount of weight and do not have much time to workout because I have to care for the baby. Now I feel the need to drop some pounds and it feels weird to me.

  6. As a perpetually underweight waif, I never had experience with losing weight until my 30s. I DID have to learn better eating habits as I got older because I used to eat HORRIBLY as a kid and in my 20s. We used to have eating contests for fun! 🙂 Now I have an extra few pounds hanging out and I’m not sure what to do about them because like you, I love good food. The one thing I’ve learned to do that my husband hasn’t mastered yet is to stop eating when I’m full for most meals.

    I think it’s harder than building wealth because I can sit on my butt and manage money all day. Managing my weight involves getting up and moving around 😉

    There is something about muscle burning more fat to compare to compound interest but it doesn’t work without constant maintenance, I don’t think. Then again, you could compare the strength of habits: not overeating, choosing more good foods than bad, working out regularly, and so on.

    • It’s tough when your metabolism changes that much. I haven’t mastered when to stop eating yet. Mrs. RB40 is much better than I am.
      Building wealth is a much more sedentary activity. 🙂

  7. Joe…another great blog contribution. Weight and finance. Oh yeah!

    I like that graph of net worth history. Exactly what we all need to see and hear. Too bad real life economics is not taught in high school and then again in college (repeated). My Economics 101 course in college was the worst and most boring course I ever took.

    As for weight control, I finally got it when I watched a documentary called “Forks Over Knives”. A plant based diet most of the time, so I don’t really worry about too much weight as the salads, once or twice a day, take care of weight control. Unfortunately, it never gets easier. I enjoy my early eighties with a selection of mostly healthy food, starting off with a Trader Joe’s Chocolate Almond Bizcotti, and home brewed coffee. That way I’ve got my sweet tooth satisfied. The rest of the day is pretty healthy with salads and fruit and nuts.

    I’m off to work at Costco as part of my three months on, nine months off, routine for later retirement. I’m competing against 20-40 year olds and I gotta say…it’s a challenge but very rewarding. So I am working eight hour days, just like everybody else. The pace can be frantic when on the front end, helping to box the groceries and stuff. Good food and good health make it all possible. And…I wish I had really, really, paid attention to the miracle of compounding at an early age. Cheers!

    • I’ve heard about Forks over knives, but I haven’t seen it. I’ll see if the library has it.
      It has to be tough competing with younger folks. It’s a good idea to keep working, though. A lot of people really go downhill once they stop working completely. Have a great holiday!

  8. Good points! I’ve thought about all the ways they are similar, but you make a good case for the differences as well. I’ve been on a weight loss journey myself for the holidays in anticipation of my upcoming 3rd decade!
    So far it is a success, I’ve lost 6 pounds the first 2 weeks, which is about on track for 21 pounds in 7 weeks. Can I maintain it and hit my ultimate goal? We will see in a month…
    Also, wow CONGRATS on the net worth! Beautiful little mountain you’ve created in the past decade. I’m at the very bottom waving up at you jealously. 🙂

  9. This whole losing weight thing is new to me. In the past I was always trying to gain weight…. what a difference a few decades makes!

    Good job maintaining your weight over the years! The hardest part for me is getting outside when the weather is so miserable in the PNW this time of year.

    • Yeah, that’s what happens when we get older. It’s no fun.
      I’m complaining a lot more this year about the weather. I don’t think I’m going to make it over the long haul in Portland. We’ll try to stick with it until RB40Jr is done with high school and then try to find an affordable sunnier location. It’s only November…

  10. One thing that most people ignore with weight loss is that as you reduce your calorie intake your metabolism goes down, making it harder to lose weight. It’s like the exact opposite of compound interest! In well-designed clinical trials, only about 5-10% of people are able to lose a significant amount of weight, and almost none of them are able to keep it off for five years, because our bodies are very adept at maintaining weight. Personally, I think our society would be wise to let go of our obsession about weight and focus instead on health, which is not the same thing even though we often think it is.

    • Whoa, I didn’t think of that. I guess that’s why it’s better to not focus on weight and try to reduce body fat percentage instead. Build muscle and it’ll help your metabolism. Great point.

  11. I think weight control and wealth growth are both a matter of discipline over time. To me, however, they have significant differences. You don’t get wealthy on your own, with just a savings account. Wealth growth depends on a number of external factors beyond your control: the performance of the public markets, changes in the quality or desirability of the neighborhood where your rental property is located, etc. Weight control, however, is entirely within your control. No one puts your food in your mouth but you. It’s true that we are continuing to learn more about how food acts on the body (160 calories of soda and 160 calories of nuts are NOT the same thing!); but, that’s just a matter of choosing to educate yourself about nutrition, just as you may choose to invest your time, energy and money in wealth books, seminars, and other materials. Thanks for the post!

    • That’s a great point about external forces. I’ll add that to the main post. The bull market gave everyone a huge boost over the last 10 years. The next 10 years will be a lot more difficult, I’m sure.

  12. I think most things in life center on discipline. I think there are some similarities and some differences. However, if a person is truly committed to saving or dieting, they will most likely succeed.
    I have certainly failed to reach my financial goals at times, but that is all a part of life. I simply find another way to make it happen. The same is with weight. As I get older, I find new ways to challenge myself to lose weight. Great post!

  13. I disagree on some of your points.

    Age and Time – I think you raise valid points but ultimately got this one wrong.

    Over time I’d argue that it DOESN’T get easier for the average person to build wealth. In fact, as people go through life, there’s this lovely thing called lifestyle inflation that creeps up on folks that make it much more difficult, just like it’s more difficult to lose weight if you start later.

    Add to the fact that typically folks will have more expenses (kids, homes, bigger homes, college for kids, etc.) and I think that you need to actually try harder to build wealth as time goes on. There’s an exception if you start early, but that’d be akin to maintaining a healthy weight and diet all along; it makes the later years easier. I think these are incredibly similar. The later you start, the more difficult it is.

    Discipline – IMO this is too personal to make sweeping assumptions. Your going out to eat conundrum is a food quantity issue for you, but I’d see that as a monetary issue (not wanting to spend the money) for why I dislike going out generally speaking. I never feel obligated to finish food; that’s why they have To Go boxes.

    I’ve got a feeling that being frugal is incredibly difficult for some people. Consider yourself lucky (financially) that you’re wired this way. 🙂

    I think overall there are more similarities than there are differences. It’s interesting for sure to hear your perspective!

    • Thanks for pointing these out. You’re probably right about the average person. Our readers aren’t average, though. Most of us started investing when we were young and didn’t let lifestyle inflation get out of control. It’s definitely more difficult if you start late.
      I hate To go boxes. 🙂 I think it’s cultural. We were raised to finish our food. Which I was terrible at when I was a super skinny kid.

  14. All great reasons! Losing weight for me is harder than building wealth too. I just can’t say no to food in a way that’s getting embarrassing and less forgiving as the years roll on. Calorie counting is also a science and chore to do. I was eating those little smokies and saw 5 little smokies equaled 180 calories! 5 little weenies!!? 🙁 🙁

    • The calories are ridiculous. Those 5 smokies equal an hour+ on the treadmill. I always thought there is something wrong with the math, but I guess it’s true…

  15. There are some definite similarities as well as differences. I’d agree wholeheartedly with the observation that wealth building gets easier with time while weight / diet / health gets harder. I remember when I first started my journey to financial independence, I was overwhelmed if I saw my Net Worth grow by a few hundred dollars. Now, if it’s not unusual to see it grow by several thousand each month. (Of course, the strong market has helped with that!)

    • Wealth building is such a slow process. It’s just like a locomotive. It takes time to get going, but once it does, it has a lot of momentum. The beginning is tough.

  16. I think they are both similar in that they both take discipline. You definitely have the wealth building down.

    You can eat as much as you want. It just sounds like you are eating the wrong things. I have 5 meals a day, I’m in my late forties, I’m 5’6” and weigh 122. I just eliminate, sugar, processed foods, packaged foods, etc… just like wealth building, takes time and discipline. Just remember, the larger you are, the more your heart has to pump the blood through your body. Once you get in the habit of eating healthy, it’s easy.

    • Your weight is great. Nice job.
      I don’t eat much processed food. It’s the main meals that give me trouble. I just eat a bit too much. Also, Mrs. RB40 isn’t supportive at all. She loves carb and cooks a lot of carb ladden dishes. Getting fit is tough.

      • Thx,

        That one is tough if your significant other isn’t on board. I think we are the opposite, my wife is on board with the eating healthy, exercise but not the early retirement thing. Of course she is already retired, so I’m the one counting every dollar that is spent in the household.

  17. Buildng wealth is so much simpler to me! Maybe it just that the habits are easier to automate. I pick an expense or a IRA once and automate them. I finally hired a personal trainer and it’s helping. 🙂 I had a weight goal for 2017, and just a month left!

    • I’m not a big fan of personal trainer. My body and situation is somewhat unique and they don’t understand what I need to do. I hope it works out for you. Good luck!

  18. Joe I’m struggling with this weight loss/health thing just like you. just wondering if you would consider running a weight loss challenge for the group in 2018. If your willing I’m in!
    Bottom line it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve managed to save over the years if you don’t have your health.

    • You’re right about health. Money doesn’t matter if you’re not healthy. You need both for a happy life. I’m not sure if I’m up for a weight loss challenge. I’ll think about it. 🙂

    • Mike Drak:

      I will help you lose weight. When we meet again at the Keg Mansion Steakhouse in Toronto in April, I will eat your steak as well as mine. You get to pay for both, however. I will also drink the whole bottle of Mollydooker Boxer Shiraz. You get to pay for that too.

  19. Great post and I think the two do have some things in common, mainly discipline as you stated. I’m fortunate in that most of my interests and hobbies are outdoor sports, so I find weight control easy as I’m always active. In other words, I don’t consider working out “another thing” I have to find time for. It occupies the same time-block as “hobbies” or even “relax time” on my shedule since I find running relaxing.

  20. Losing weight & building wealth = both sure ways to a happier, healthier future.
    Drop all dairy (it’s addicting!), too much sugar, wheat (wheat belly!) and watch the pounds drop off w/o any exercise. Plus more energy to make more money-ha,ha.

      • Wow, I have never heard of that. I’ll check it out. I don’t eat a lot of dairy so it’s not a big problem for me. Mrs. RB40 loves cheese, though.

        • There is a really good book that is out that talks about. Worth checking out.

          The book is called, “The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy”

      • The two addictive ingredients in dairy are -casein and lactose (a sugar). So if you crave ice cream, especially before bedtime, that is why.

  21. I woke up today to an awesome post about weight loss and wealth building, and saw that I got a shout-out from Joe. Will I be able to stop smiling today? Thank you, Joe! Woot woot! *happy dance* *smiley face*

    I have thought about the similarities between weight loss and debt payoff. But the comparison between weight loss and wealth building is a fascinating angle!

    I could eat whatever I wanted when I was in college and didn’t gain weight. Now I just feel like a balloon that can get inflated anytime. @[email protected] Mr. FAF is also trying to shed 15 lbs. He updates me on his weight everyday.

    Best of luck with the food and the weight loss!! ^.^

    • Weight loss and debt pay off is probably more comparable. They are both about cutting something out.
      You guys are still young. The weight issue only gets tougher as we age. 🙁

  22. Don’t hate me but I’ve had an easier time losing weight as I got older. Food was more of a crutch for me when I was younger. It held some power over me that it no longer has now.

    Have you ever read any of Brian Wansink’s books or watched his talks? Mindless Eating is a very interesting read and he’s got a bunch of YouTube videos.

    I think you’re doing great with your weight. If you build a little more muscle you’ll use calories more effectively.

  23. Joe, I like the way you lay it out. It is kind of an analogy in reverse. Like you, I’m finding it harder to work out as I get older. It beats me up more and takes longer to recover. On the other hand, with all the years of experience, I like to believe I have become a better saver and investor. Those processes have become easier for me. Tom

    • I’m heading out to the gym now and I’m not looking forward to it. I did a light leg workout yesterday and my knees are still aching. When you get older, the weak spots become the limiter. My elbows aren’t in great shape either.

  24. I agree that there are similarities and differences. As you pointed out, the impact of age is a key difference. If you earn or burn less than you need, you will lose weight and build wealth. The two are also intertwined. If you lose weight and stay healthy you may need less medical care helping to retain your wealth.

  25. Dang Joe 136 pounds is pretty darn small. How tall are you?

    I agree with you that the analogy can fall apart pretty quickly. It more serves as an easy way to get certain points across. The biggest difference is the lack of compounding. In fact, like you said your returns diminish over time. A person can lose the first 5-10 pounds pretty easily but it is always the last 5 pounds that is tough.

    If you want some extra tips I just wrote one about the basics of fat loss that most folks mess up.

    • I’m 5’4. 136 lbs is normal according to the BMI chart, but a bit on the higher side of normal. It’d be great if I can go down to 130.
      You’re right about the first few pounds. It’s almost the opposite of compounding. I’ll add your link to the main post. Thanks!


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