Expense Reduction Strategies Forum–We’re taking on this weekly forum as a way of exchanging ideas to help lower the cost of living. This includes expense reduction and elimination, but goes beyond, even to include lifestyle changes that may bring savings on a number of fronts. Ideas on ways to cut personal, household or business expenses are welcome!
On July 20th in this space we talked about using a diet as a way to save some money (Is Now A Good Time To Go On A Diet?). As most of us understand, typical diet plans are expensive, requiring membership in the diet program, the purchase of healthier but more expensive foods, or even the purchase of food and meals directly from the diet sponsor. But our plan actually saved money and was infinitely more basic: diet by eating less food!
In this week’s edition of the Expense Reduction Strategies Forum, I’d like to take the health/expense reduction connection to the next level. We can save money and improve health by eating less, but even greater payoffs, both financial and in the quality of our lives, can be had by going even farther, by realizing a reduction in living expenses by taking better care of our overall health.
The Cost Of Doing Nothing
The direct expense of medical care and health insurance coverage are only the most obvious costs of doing nothing. There isn’t space here to go into all of the problems with the healthcare system but it’s more complex than most of us believe. There are no easy solutions, and certainly none that will satisfy all parties. If a workable reform plan does come about, it’s best to assume that it will be both imperfect and far into the future. It’s best then to assume that primary responsibility for our healthcare rests squarely with us!
Both health insurance and direct medical expenses are generally in direct proportion to the state of our health. But our level of health has two components: uncontrollable and controllable health conditions.
There are healthcare issues, such as cancer and congenital diseases and conditions that are largely uncontrollable since there is little that can be done to prevent them.
Alternately, there’s a laundry list of conditions which are largely within our ability to control: obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, stress and accidents among them. Ignoring risk factors associated with these conditions can ultimately result in degraded health and higher expenses for both direct care and insurance coverage. Health insurance companies often charge higher premiums if you have any of these conditions, or are a heavy user of prescription drugs.
But that’s only the beginning of what it will cost. Degraded health can lead to stress (over declining health), loss of productivity and even loss of happiness. Each of these factors have direct and indirect costs associated with them.
What It Will Take
It’s crucial to understand that our health is a long term project, not unlike building a career, a business or a retirement plan. Just as bad habits can degrade health over many years, making improvements may also take years. But what is the alternative?
There are many changes you can implement which will not only improve your health, but also save you money in the process:
Diet. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s possible to implement a “diet” by reducing the amount of food you buy and consume. As a result of that effort in my family, we have been able to lower our grocery budget by an average of about 25%, and we’ve all lost weight. I myself have shed at least 15 pounds since the beginning of the year. Weight lost and money saved on groceries, a double win!
Exercise. The health benefits of exercise are covered everywhere, but in our media driven culture what isn’t always obvious is the fact that you can easily do it without spending a bunch of money on equipment or gym memberships. It costs nothing to walk a couple of miles a day, or to jog or ride a bicycle, but eventual improvements in weight, energy level, cardiovascular fitness and attitude can be substantial. How much money would you save if you could get yourself off of blood pressure medication?
Stress Reduction. So many health conditions are either caused or made worse by stress. No doubt life throws so many challenges at us so quickly that stress is inevitable. Still, some of it can be prevented. It’s doubtless that much of the stress we face is brought on by lack of balance. THAT’S something we can control. Lack of balance can be brought into our lives by spending more than we earn, packing our schedules with more activities than we can reasonably handle or by poor health habits. Identify and correct controllable sources of stress, and you can free up your mind and your time for more productive efforts.
Lower risk lifestyle. This is a category which is completely within our control. The usual suspects like smoking, drinking and drug use come to mind, but we can also add reckless driving and dangerous hobbies. It should go without saying that you can save money by eliminating or at least reducing smoking and alcohol consumption, which has also been shown to produce direct health benefits. And how much will it cost to wear your seatbelt and slow down a bit when you drive?
The Pay Off
Some of the payoff is in the form of direct expense reduction, but perhaps more significant are the financial benefits from the resulting improvements in attitude and outlook.
Cost of healthcare. Take better care of yourself and you have an excellent chance to cut down on the amount of money you spend for direct medical costs and for health insurance coverage. In and of itself this savings should provide sufficient incentive to take charge of your health.
Better productivity. It’s no secret that healthier people tend to be more productive than their less healthy coworkers. Increase your productivity and you may be more likely to keep your job in a bad economy, get a promotion in the future, or to develop the energy needed to trade up to a better paying job. Also, it may not be fair, but excessive weight and low energy level doesn’t help your image in the eyes of employers, whether in regard to promotion or hiring. Think of the career opportunities that could result just from losing a few pounds and putting a spring in your step.
Greater confidence in your future. We worry about many things in life, such as job security, saving for the future, and our children and family. But high on the list is our health. Let’s face it, how healthy we are has a strong impact not only on how long we’ll live, but on what the quality of that time will be. The better we feel about our health, the more confident we’ll be of everything else.
Sense of well being. This is probably the most under appreciated benefit of greater health. We can feel better about ourselves, move faster along the career path, and save a substantial amount of money doing so. But taken together, these advantages provide an overall sense of well being. When you feel good, you can take on just about anything.
Is any of this not worth trying?
What are some changes you’ve made or plans you’ve implemented to lower living or business expenses? What expenses have you been able to reduce? Are there any you’ve been able to eliminate entirely? Big ideas, small ideas, they’re all worth exploring.