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Financing Your Fitness: Taking Care of Your Body for Less
Updated: July 16, 2018 |
Taylor Kovar, CFP

Healthy Habits Non-Millionaires Can Start Following Today

Life has no shortage of conflicts and hurdles. No matter how well things are going, it’s never hard to find a new problem to dwell on. Some of these struggles can be dealt with easily, others linger for years and constantly nag us.

Unfortunately, a lot of conflicts arise because of the choices we make. Since you can’t be a glutton and have everything you want, sometimes you need to pick and choose. For most of us, money factors into these decisions. With only so much to spend, you can only commit to so many actions and purchases.

Somewhere along the way, our physical health becomes part of this either/or scenario. With limited hours in the day and so many unavoidable expenses, people have decided that taking care of your body can occasionally be lumped in with other non-essentials. I’ve been guilty of this behavior myself, even though I know how foolish it is to put my physical well-being on the back burner.

If your busy schedule and extenuating circumstances have replaced exercise with emailing and cheap healthy food with Happy Meals, now is the time to make a change. Age has no patience, and if you want to enjoy your life to the fullest, you need to start working on your fitness before serious health problems arrive. If you develop healthy routines now, you can keep feeling young while the date on your birth certificate recedes further and further into the past. More importantly, your kids are likely to follow your example – positive object lessons, whether about finance or staying healthy, are some of the greatest gifts you can give the next generation.

Funding Your Physique

The best place to start is with everyone’s favorite excuse: money. A lot of healthy habits come with a significant price tag, as physical fitness and body image have created a massive exercise industry. It’s kind of funny when you think about it: imagine traveling back in time and trying to explain a treadmill to someone from the 19th century. It would be a confusing conversation that would almost certainly end with the old-timer asking, “so you pay thousands of dollars just to walk without going anywhere?”

And the answer is yes. We pay lots and lots of money to lose weight and stay healthy, and if that’s what it takes, you should at least consider spending that money. You might expect me to say those dollars would serve you better in a retirement account, but if you’re at an unhealthy weight and need to start taking care of your body, I would much rather you invest in improving your health. Money can only go so far when your health is at stake, and avoidable medical problems can potentially make all your retirement planning count for nothing anyway.

But this matter goes deeper than buying a treadmill or an exercise bike. How you spend your dollars will likely determine whether or not you actually develop the healthy routine you’re aiming for. Here are three words you should think about before and after swiping your card to pay for something fitness related:

  • Incentive
  • Shame
  • Excuses

Let’s talk about incentivizing. Nothing is more important when it comes to building healthy habits than being motivated to do so. If I could eat french fries and pie for every meal and maintain low cholesterol and 10 percent body fat, you would have a tough time motivating me to learn about cheap, healthy meals. If you don’t have a good reason to change your routine, you can’t realistically expect that routine to change.

When it comes to exercise, results usually deliver the most inspiration for people to keep at it. Unfortunately, it takes over a month for people to see noticeable changes after they start a new workout routine. So, while waiting for the results to come in, many people use financial incentives to keep putting in the work.

If you’ve paid for six weeks of spin classes or personal training sessions, you’ll likely be more motivated to stay active during those six weeks. Who knows what will happen when that time period ends and you have to pay again, but for that initial period you’ll hopefully try to get the most out of what you paid for.

Next on the list is shame, and this feeling can work both ways. In some cases, feeling guilty about ignoring your health will drive you to do better. Conversely, some people become paralyzed by their shame, turning away from whatever ignites that feeling and ignoring it instead of dealing with it. For those who feel bad about either not exercising or not being able to afford a fancy gym membership, you need to dig deep and figure out a new approach.

It’s impossible to just ignore these feelings and plow ahead, so you have to unpack them and get at the root causes. Do you feel ashamed because of the amount you’re spending when you could be looking into free workout plans? Are you bashful about taking fitness classes with other people? Is it the fear of failure that keeps you from trying?

Shame can never be a reason to give up on your physical health. It’s completely understandable how embarrassment can cause a person to quit, but you’ll never hear the story of someone who felt bad about their body, started working out, got healthier, and then regretted doing so. It’s hard and requires a massive amount of grit, but powering through the discomfort and challenging yourself leads to rewards and results.

When it comes to the financial side of fitness, nothing causes more trouble than excuses. You’re absolutely right not to overspend on a gym membership or an exercise bike. But if you’re putting all your earnings toward hefty car payments and designer clothes instead, you’ve got some prioritizing to do: the cost of gas cannot be the reason you stop working out.

Perhaps the bigger problem with these excuses is when people lie to themselves. Because you pay for a gym membership, you excuse yourself from any criticism regarding your workout routine, even if you only go to the gym once a month and spend most of that visiting the juice bar. Think of how many gym franchises there are in the nation; do you think everyone with a membership is there multiple days a week? Not a chance. These companies make an absolute killing off of people who sign up for recurring billing and then never set foot on an elliptical or lift a dumbell.

Life presents plenty of good excuses for not getting things done, so you can’t allow yourself to make up new ones. If you refuse to exercise without a gym membership, find a way to pay for it. If you spend $60 each month for gym-going privileges and don’t remember where said gym is located, cancel that membership and buy yourself some new running shoes. You know what excuses you tend to fall back on; stop encouraging that behavior and let the best version of yourself take charge.

Budgeting for exercise is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. You’ll encounter plenty of roadblocks as you try to make it happen, so figure out how to motivate yourself and do your best to persevere.

Healthy Meals on a Budget

Salmon is very healthy. It also tends to be pretty expensive. This is true of so many things, including organic vegetables, grass-fed beef, and natural beverages. How’s a person supposed to develop healthy habits when it costs a fortune to eat food that’s good for you?!

Essentially, you’re looking at one of three options when it comes to food. You can bite the bullet and spend a significant amount of money on the healthiest choices; you can put in a little more time picking out ingredients and making homemade healthy meals on a budget; you can continue buying cheap, processed food and hope your metabolism never slows down.

Since option three isn’t really an option, and option one contradicts the “on a budget” in the headline, let’s work with option two – spend a little extra time shopping and cooking so you can save some money and still eat well. I can’t tell you exactly what to eat because I don’t know what you like – more importantly, what you’re allergic to – so I’ll lay out some general framework and you choose what makes sense for your lifestyle.

To start, here’s the true story of a friend and his wife who went on a strict eating budget after quitting their jobs and moving to a small coastal town in Northern California. Without going hungry or eating horribly, the two of them spent about $10/day on food. They would shop on Monday for the entire week, picking out whatever meat was on sale – whole chicken or packages of ground turkey – and then supplementing that with rice, potatoes, eggs, beans, and a bunch of different vegetables.

Maintaining this diet forced them into a certain amount of portion control. But that’s something we should strive for anyway. My friend said the hardest part was breaking old habits, but once they got into the swing of things and found recipes for cheap, healthy meals they liked, it turned into a fun challenge. For nearly a year he and his wife kept their grocery spending under $300 a month, and got in better physical shape in the process. You’ll soon notice that we all like the foods we’re used to and you can certainly learn to like new ones. Training your kids to like healthy, economical food is indeed possible and will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

The point is, you don’t get to use food or money as an excuse for not implementing healthy habits. Everyone can eat better, it’s whether or not we choose to do so. If money is tight, you’ll have to find healthy recipes that call for inexpensive ingredients. If times are good, you can spend a little extra money to buy quality produce and meats.

Changing your diet is tough. If you’ve ever cut out a certain food, like carbs or sugar, your body immediately lets you know something’s missing. However, once you settle into a new eating plan and your system adjusts, you quickly start to see and feel the positive changes. The struggle takes mental fortitude and some financial rearranging, but the benefits of healthy eating are 100% worthwhile.

Embracing Cheap or Free Workout Plans

I’m not a personal trainer. I want to get that established early so you don’t read this section expecting a free workout plan that will have you looking like an Olympic swimmer in a couple of months.

Since my advice comes from the financial side, this section is less about how to take care of your body and more about finding the right exercise program to fit your lifestyle. If you’re 65 and looking to lose weight, your routine will be very different than someone who’s 28 and wants to get back in shape after having a baby. Be discerning and think about how these three factors fit into your specific situation:

  • Time
  • Accessibility
  • Cost

As I hinted at earlier in my hypothetical treadmill story, it’s a little silly that we pay for exercise. Our bodies are capable of doing great things, but the need to be comfortable has a lot of us spending all our time in cars and behind desks. Since we don’t get exercise through regular activity, we have to make time for some sort of fitness training, and finding the right type of training at the right hour of the day is difficult for a lot of people.

If you work from eight or nine in the morning until six or seven at night, lifting weights on either side of that workday is a tall order. Going for a run before the sun comes up is great if you can do it, but some of us stay glued to our beds until it’s almost time to go to work. Does this sound like your typical day? If so, I can empathize. I cannot, however, give you a pass from exercising. You have to find a way.

When the workday is too long or too exhausting to exercise before or after, you have to make time during. Most people struggle with this, but everyone has the capacity to make it happen; it just depends on what is accessible to you. You can start small, climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking a few blocks from work and getting in some extra steps each day. If you have a little extra money or your employer is willing to fund your efforts, you might be able to get a treadmill or a bike for the office and do cardio while making phone calls.

For those with a little more schedule flexibility, healthy habits are best formed by finding something you can stick to. If you try running and hate it, it’s time to look into biking or swimming or pilates. If you live in an area with hiking trails, see if that kind of cheap exercise floats your boat. The hardest part is usually developing the routine, so that should be your focus. Sample different workout programs and classes for as long as it takes to find something you like and can keep doing consistently.

While you search for an activity you enjoy, try to be conscious of the cost without getting discouraged. You might love a spin class that’s outside your price range; all that means is you have to find a cheaper class, save more money or buy an inexpensive bicycle. People are very adept at finding reasons why it’s impossible for them to exercise, and those reasons never hold water. You can afford to prioritize your health and you do have the time. As hard as it might be to convince yourself, it really is that simple.

Take a break from thinking about savings, retirement, assets, and earnings, and instead check in with the legs that walk you around and the heart that keeps you alive. You need a body far more than you need money, and physical bankruptcy is a lot more problematic than the financial version. Try to introduce new healthy routines to your lifestyle and see which ones stick. When you feel better about your physical health, other aspects of your life will start looking a lot better as well.

Make it happen!

Taylor & Megan Kovar

The Money Couple


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