According to The New York Sun, some Yale professors are using the threat of losing money as incentive to stay on weight-loss programs. One professor tried the approach himself, promising to pay a friend $1,000 for each week in which he didn't lose at least one pound. He lost 10 pounds in short order, without forfeiting any money. (This isn't exactly a new idea; author John Bear suggested a similar approach in his book, The Blackmail Diet.)

This clever way to lose weight could also be applied to our finances. It's basically motivating us to do something we'd rather put off. And let's face it -- taking care of our money is, oddly enough, something many people would rather not do.(I recently wrote about how many people would prefer a colonoscopy to discussing estate planning.)

What we need to do
Making annual IRA contributions is only one of the many important tasks we put off. In our IRA Center, you can learn all about the power of traditional and Roth IRAs. Roth IRAs even let you withdraw funds in retirement tax-free!

Imagine if you'd invested in some great stocks that averaged 12% growth over 25 years in your IRA. That kind of rate could turn $60,000 into more than a million dollars. And don't scoff that 12% growth is unattainable. These 10-year growth rates for some well-known names argue otherwise:

  • Bed Bath & Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY): 13.8%
  • General Dynamics (NYSE:GD): 17.4%
  • Deere (NYSE:DE): 14.0%
  • Nike (NYSE:NKE): 12.1%
  • Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM): 16.9%

Of course, not all well-known companies are slam dunks. Over the past decade, Disney (NYSE:DIS) stock has averaged just 2% per year.

In other areas of retirement saving, many people aren't contributing as much as possible to their 401(k) plans. (A comfortable retirement should be incentive enough, but it often isn't.) Plenty of us let funds accumulate in our bank accounts, earning paltry interest, while we put off selecting solid long-term investments. If you're still in your 40s or 50s, for example, you have decades ahead of you. Aside from an emergency fund, you shouldn't stockpile lots of moola in low-interest short-term investments when you could be earning 10% or more, on average, in stocks or mutual funds.

There's no shortage of money tasks we should be addressing. As we get older, we might start looking into annuities and other ways of creating income streams in retirement. Then there's insurance -- many of us are putting off looking into long-term care insurance and updating our homeowner insurance. Those of us with children should be planning how we'll pay for college.

Designing the deal
Why not let the Yale professors' approach work for you? Draft a binding contract with a close friend or relative, promising to pay them $500 for each week that you don't cross one thing off your financial to-do list. Make the alternative to doing what you need to do so awful that you'll just have to get your ducks in a row. You might alternatively promise to donate a certain sum to charity if you don't complete your goals.

Get help
Yale's pound-shedding professors are creating a Web site that should soon be able to help you, at stickK.com. There, a designated party will be able to report on your progress; if you fail, a preset sum will be charged to your credit card and donated to charity.

You'll likely need other help, though, to actually fulfill your retirement planning and other financial goals. The Fool can help! Take advantage of a free 30-day trial of our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service, which serves up valuable retirement info in easily managed chunks each month. A free trial will give you full access to all past issues, including editor Robert Brokamp's suggestions for promising stocks and mutual funds for the long haul.  

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Yum! Brands. Bed, Bath & Beyond is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor and Inside Value recommendation. Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.