How to Spring Clean Your Budget: Start With Your Health

How getting – and staying – fit and healthy can help get your budget on track for the long run.

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It’s a common misconception that it costs more to eat healthy and be active than it does to simply be a couch potato. While it’s true that certain healthy habits require some investment up front, such as a nice pair of running shoes or a gym membership, the buck often stops there. In the long run, healthy living can actually save money. Indeed, the two go hand in hand: One habit shared by people successful in both weight loss and personal finance is long-term motivation, meaning a focus on progress and cumulative results rather than quick fixes. Here’s how getting – and staying – fit and healthy can help to get your budget on track for the long run. 

You’ll be sick less 

People who exercise regularly get sick less often than those who do not, and people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables get sick less than those who do not. What about people who do both? They get sick less often than those who do only one or neither. 

Getting and staying fit is good for your immune system, then, and that’s good for your wallet. If you don’t get sick, you don’t have to take time off work. This can mean more of your time off goes toward vacation, and it can mean bigger paychecks or less time spent playing catch-up. Staying healthy means you’re at your best at work, ready to jump in with the right idea at the right time, in a position to get ahead. 

Not being sick comes with a variety of other financial benefits, such as not having to shell out for medications. Whether for over-the-counter cold medicines or prescription antibiotics, paying for drugs when you’re sick is just one more inconvenience. Not only that, if you do have an illness requiring prescription drugs, that means you’ll also be paying a doctor’s bill or worse – a hospital bill.

[Read: My Apology Letter to the Insurance Companies.]

You’ll spend less on food 

You’ve likely heard the excuse that eating healthy costs more, and hopefully you recognized it as just that – an excuse. Groceries for healthy meals do tend to cost more than groceries for less healthy meals – by about $1.50 per day, according to recent Harvard research. The study looked at grocery prices, and used a Mediterranean diet as the exemplary “healthy” diet, which includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and nuts.

However, the study adjusted costs for a 2,000-calorie diet across the board when calculating healthy and unhealthy meal options. This helped the Harvard researchers make their point that a change in food policy is needed so that eating healthy isn’t cost-prohibitive – but it doesn’t exactly reflect the real world. In most cases, people at unhealthily high weights eat more calories, and in many cases they eat a lot more. This is because junk foods (those with a high energy density) are less filling than nutrient-rich foods (with a low energy density), resulting in more hunger and more eating later, and creating a cycle of overeating. The Harvard researchers note that, when adjusted for actual intake, the difference in grocery cost was insignificant, and that while healthy foods cost more per calorie, they didn’t necessarily cost more per meal. This is a clear case of quality over quantity. 

Further, independent research demonstrates that people who regularly exercise and eat a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains are less likely to consume empty calories from fast food or soda. While grocery costs may be insignificant, the costs of additional unhealthy eating patterns are not.

[Read: 10 Tips for Saving Money on a Plant-Based Diet.]

You’ll spend less on clothes 

People who maintain a consistent weight maintain a consistent wardrobe, whereas someone who fluctuates in weight may waste money on similar clothes in a number of sizes. For example, you might concede you need to replace your 32-inch-waist jeans with a 33-inch waist, but maybe then it’s a 34, and soon after a 36 – and once you reach the big-and-tall end of the spectrum, clothes can cost a few bucks more. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that if you are overweight you should just stay there, to keep from having to buy new clothes. Quite the opposite: If you were to go down a size or two and then maintain your weight through a consistent exercise program and healthy diet, you could save money by having your larger clothes tailored to your new size.

[Read: Diet Success Stories: Dieters Reveal How They Hit Their Target Body Weight.]

You could save money on transportation 

One of the most common excuses for not exercising is lack of time – some people just perceive their lives to be too busy to fit it in. This is also a favorite of healthy-lifestyle advocates because it’s easy to debunk. The disparity comes down to priorities: Those who have made a commitment to fitness find ways to squeeze activity into their daily lives, no matter how busy they are. This may mean walking or biking for transportation instead of using a car or public transit. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 80 percent of American adults don’t get the recommended amount of exercise – so why not get in your exercise on the way to work? 

Indeed, more and more people are opting to get to work using the power of their own bodies, and the benefits are numerous. Not only are people healthier in areas where biking and walking are more common, but pedestrian and biker fatalities are also lower. Biking and walking for transport reduces street congestion and pollution, and in places where traffic is bad, it can reduce commute time as well. 

Of course, the first place you’ll feel the difference from biking or walking is in your healthier body, but the second may just be in your healthier bank account. The typical family spends 29 percent of its annual income on transportation – around $10,000 per year. This figure includes the costs of owning a car and having insurance, but most of it is from the cost of fuel.

[Read: 14 Simple Ways to Be Happier and Healthier in 2014.]