It’s true: good health really does save money.
A Towers Watson survey in 2012 noted that employee wellness programs saved employers an average of $100 in health care costs per worker. So if you’re going to get healthy, do it the smart way and make well-researched spending decisions throughout the year. Here are a few tips at the starting line.
Do a little heavy lifting with your budget first. Whatever your goals, check your overall finances to see what bad health behaviors might be costing you now in terms of immediate everyday costs or long-term impact on medical bills. You might find that a successful fitness plan can return hundreds of dollars—and possibly thousands—to your budget.
Pick a workout you like. If you loved swimming or jogging as a kid, such sports might be a good place to restart your fitness regimen. Restart your fitness habits modestly but consistently with activities you like. If they require a facility, test it out for a few days to comparison-shop. If they’re offering specials, read the fine print carefully and try to stay away from long-term membership commitments if you can.
Don’t overlook your community.
Check out taxpayer-supported facilities and activities you’re already paying for in your community to see what they offer.
Community centers are great resources for inexpensive or free classes. You might be surprised how many free public tennis courts, swimming facilities and other recreational spaces are available in your city or town. Also, take advantage of any regional, state or national parks that are near you. There’s no greater motivation to stay active than getting outside.
You’ve seen them when walking or driving past a park or other locations around town: people who run together, walk together or dance together. Joining a fitness group doesn’t have to cost any money at all; you might make new friends, and you’ll hopefully challenge and keep each other motivated.
You don’t need all the latest gear. Unless you need specific clothes or equipment for protection or safety, raid your closet to save on your fitness plan. Keep it cheap, and focus on improving your health. Consider setting workout milestones, and reward yourself with a new purchase after hitting your goals.
Adjust your commute.
If you have access to public transportation, take the bus or train more often; you’ll automatically walk more to and from your destinations. If you do drive, park at the farthest end of the lot to add a short, cost-free workout into your daily schedule.
Prepare your own meals.
Working out is important to getting healthy, but eating properly can help you achieve results faster. One of the most effective ways to improve a diet—and save money while doing it—is resolving to prepare more meals at home (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/calculators/lunch). Also, commit to selecting more healthful options whether you are at home or dining out. There are almost limitless resources in libraries and online to learn about quick, healthy food preparation and smart food shopping.
Bottom line: Working out on a budget doesn’t always require added expenses. There are many inexpensive or free options to meet both health and financial goals in your neighborhood, at work and many other places.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs.