Trim your bottom, increase bottom line

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Fall is officially here. Leaves are falling, stocks are falling and even corporations are falling. Maybe Chicken Little was onto something. Everything around us seems to be in a downward spiral. Well, except for those few things going up, up, up. Gas prices are flying high, food prices are skyrocketing, and, if you’re like me, even your waist size is hiking up a size or two.

Shaky markets can lead to more hours in the office, which can lead to less time for taking care of yourself physically and financially. Your hours at the gym are suddenly cut back because you’re being overworked in the office. Weekend outings usually spent shopping for healthier food options take a back seat to the convenience of drive-throughs and delivery.

2 steps to fiscal and physical fitness
  • Step 1. Resurrect your resolution
  • Step 2. Take weekly bike tours

Simultaneously, the fall season begins with a bombardment of way-too-early holiday advertisements, making you impulsively hand over your money even when there are office layoffs happening all around. And if you’re among the few lucky enough to be in a stable job situation, be aware you are most likely exchanging raises and year-end bonuses this year for better cubicle locations and title changes. As you know, having “Senior” added to your business card still doesn’t help buy presents for Junior.

So how do we grow your bottom line, without growing your bottom at the same time? With just two easy additions to your weekly routine, you can be a little bit wealthier and a little bit healthier for it. Who can say no to that?

Step 1. Resurrect your fitness resolution

OK, remember that New Year’s resolution to save money and lose weight that you forgot all about by Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Well, let’s breathe some new life into it. You’ll need to double the effort to catch up on the last 10 months, but ending the year with a bang makes starting next year with a bang that much easier.

Getting back on track is as easy as a Sunday walk. From now on, this Sunday and every Sunday going forward, you have a new task. Take a run, jog or romantic walk with your wallet to your ATM. Skip the drive in the SUV to your bank. You need to get there using your legs. Keep moving past that doughnut and coffee shop. Stride strong past those closer, more convenient, banks that aren’t yours so you can avoid those pesky ATM fees.

Get to your bank without any sort of vehicle and without stopping. Remember, you are getting on track financially and physically, so these are not times for shortcuts. The extra mile will go a long way here. I’m well aware that the first mile is probably already reminding you why you canned that resolution in the first place. But both of your bottom lines will be smiling if you keep at it throughout the rest of the year.

Now, to make up for all the unfamiliar bipedal action you are doing, we’ll combine your financial budget with this exercise. Each Sunday that you jog to the bank, pull out a predetermined amount of money. For example: $100. It’s your reward for ditching the car and getting to the bank by yourself. One hundred bucks is all you will spend for a week too, as it’s your built-in budget for lunches out and miscellaneous expenses. No need to save your receipts, write down your purchases or use your credit cards for seven days. You only have $100 to spend and it has to last you until your next Sunday stroll. That’s budgeting made easy, with a side of exercise.

Come Saturday night, spend every penny you have left in your wallet and reward yourself for a successful week. If you have $40, treat yourself and a significant other to dinner out. If you have $2 left, pay for your profligate ways by making your own meal with whatever you find in the cupboards. After a month, you’ll know exactly how much you spent: $400. No hard math necessary, just a little sweat.

In my book, “A Million Bucks by 30,” I call this the Billfold Blowout — a chance to reap some rewards while still sticking to a strict savings plan. (Yes, I did reach the million-dollar goal through a combination of living an extreme-cheapskate lifestyle and investing in everything from stocks to real estate. And honestly, I’m not pimping my book — Bankrate’s editor made me add this paragraph.)

But anyway, back to this $100 allowance idea: If you are really feeling good about yourself after a week, drop your budget to $80. Then $60. And then your pants size will be dropping right along with it. It may seem like you’re going backward by cutting your allowance. But doing this will definitely save you from being bottoms-up in any financial market.

Step 2. Take weekly pecuniary bike tours

Grab a friend or four and some bikes and start really exploring your town to expand your financial bottom line in the name of asset acquisition. Identify a fiscal theme or goal for your bike tour and hit the streets.

For instance, you could plan an “Escalating Price Open House Bike Tour” (EPOHBT 2K8 if you really want to make it sound official). This, of course, is a fun outing even if you aren’t looking to buy. Just start off hitting open houses of $100,000 homes, and then cycle your way onto $500,000 homes and then finish your Tour de Real Estate with a strong sprint to a million-dollar mansion.

But it’s not just exercising here; we are looking for deals. As strange as it seems, it’s probably the best time ever to buy real estate if you are looking for a primary residence. It’s a great market to buy a home for a long-term investment for these simple reasons:

  • You won’t get a loan unless you are absolutely qualified for it.
  • Mortgage rates are still historically low.
  • Inventories for all types of real estate are high, creating a buyer’s market.

In any market, it’s OK to throw in a lowball offer. In this market of tense sellers, though, just keep your bicycle helmet on while doing it. If you don’t come away with a good deal, you’ll at least be more fit from your two-wheeled open-house hunt.

Now if real estate is not your bag, map a Need a New Lamp Garage Sale Tour, a Birthday Present For Dad Cycling Adventure to a Police or Government Auction, or even just a Well If I’m Biking That Means I’m Not Spending Money and That’s OK With Me Grand Prix.

The point is, get your to-do list out, and then go on your bike and look for discounts. Remember, because you are on a bike, you aren’t going to come home with a bunch of junk you don’t need. The key to saving money is all about tricking yourself into situations where you can’t spend a lot of dough. (My Bankrate editor says that’s in my book, too.) These bike tours can accomplish this for you, and hopefully make your workout a little bit more enjoyable.

There you have it. Just adding these two easy tasks to your weekend activities can add to your financial bottom line while trimming your physical bottom. And the best part about it is, when you feel good, you spend less.

So why don’t you put these two weekend outings together for some tremendous synergy? You’ll need to be fit to carry that heavier wallet of yours.

Alan Corey is author of “A Million Bucks by 30: How to Overcome a Crap Job, Stingy Parents and a Useless Degree to Become a Millionaire before (or after) turning Thirty.”