To lower your bill at the grocery store, you pick crackers over cantaloupe. You skip the copay and delay a doctor visit until that annoying cough has turned into a should-you-go-to-the-ER illness. You cancel your gym membership because the monthly bill is stressing you out more than your love handles.
Making the healthiest choice isn’t always (or even often) the cheapest choice. One-third of adults say their finances keep them from living a healthy lifestyle. But while you might be saving money in the short-term by skimping on produce or workouts or even medical care, your health could be suffering long-term.
“Being healthy physically and healthy financially aren’t mutually exclusive,” says Randy Carver, a chartered retirement planning counselor and author of Optimize Me: The Guide to Better Health, Wealth & Happiness.
In fact, the two are more linked than many people realize. “Taking care of yourself may make you more productive,” says Carver. That makes it easier to balance an evening class with your full-time job or work extra hours to get noticed for a promotion—both moves that could mean a bigger paycheck down the road. Being more productive could also mean you have the energy to stretch your current paycheck even farther, whether that’s by bargain hunting for the best groceries on the weekend or having the stamina to pore over your budget once a month instead of zoning out to “Game of Thrones.”
If the short-term payoff isn’t enough to motivate you, think long-term, suggests Carver. “There’s no question that if you’re healthier, you’ll spend less money, particularly later in life,” he says. “In retirement, the biggest expense that people face is health care.”
Thinking of health and wealth as an either-or proposition is a losing proposition no matter which option you pick. “The answer isn’t to pick one, but to find ways to be healthy and still save money,” says Carver.
Here are three ways to trim the fat from your budget, so you have enough green left over each month for self-care:
- Say “goodbye” to your vices. Worried about how you’re going to cover your vitamins, but still shelling out for cigarettes? Stop. Ditto to other pricey bad habits, like excessive drinking or late-night sugar binges. If curbing a pricey bad habit on your own feels overwhelming, talk to your doctor about (free!) national cessation programs. Not only will kicking a vice improve your health, it will also save you money that you can put toward better habits. (So about that gym membership…)
- Rock the grocery store. You skimp on groceries to save some cash, then swing through the drive thru when the cupboard runs bare. Sound familiar? Cooking and eating at home is the proven best way to stretch a budget and eat healthier. To get started, take a peek at Good and Cheap. Food researcher Leanne Brown wrote the cookbook for health-minded people on very tight budgets—most of the recipes fit into a food budget of just $4 a day.
- Get creative with workouts. If you’ve scrutinized your cash flow and just can’t justify a monthly gym membership, it’s time to get creative. Can you bike to work (and save on commuting costs in the process)? Or trade your coffee break for an afternoon walk? Are there free or donation-based yoga classes in your town? Could you squeeze a Netflix subscription into your budget so you can sweat to workout videos in your living room?