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Health and Wealth Tips for a New Year

January 2011

Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Most New Year’s Resolutions involve health and money. Lose 20 pounds, for example, or save $50 a week. Most people think of health and wealth as “separate” goals but, in fact, both aspects of life are closely related. Want to be healthy and wealthy? Consider these 12 steps:

Build “Health Capital”
Health is a financial asset, just like stocks and bonds. It decreases the odds of costly medical bills today and/or later in life. Eat nutritious meals, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and manage stress. Without good health, you can’t earn an income and build wealth. One study found that older workers with chronic health problems accumulated less than half the wealth of healthier peers.

Don’t Burn Your Money
Quit smoking or don’t start. An average pack of cigarettes costs $6. Multiply $6 by 365 days and you could save $2,190 a year, plus interest (not to mention all the positive health effects!). Invest $2,190 in a mutual fund averaging 7% and you’ll have $138,515 in 25 years.

Junk the “Junk Food”
Just cut it out: soda, fast food, fatty pastries, chips…you know the drill. Not only will you lose weight (trimming 100 calories a day = 10 pounds of annual weight loss), but you’ll pocket the savings. Save $7 a day on “empty calorie” foods and drinks and you’ll have over $2,500 in a year.

Half-Size Food Portions
Instead of eating 4 cookies a day, eat two. Bring half a meal home from restaurants and eat less at home. Getting two meals from one can save hundreds of dollars (and thousands of calories) annually. For example, saving $3 a day by “doubling up” results in savings of over $1,000 a year

Get With a Program
Enroll in a workplace wellness program with financial incentives, if available. Studies have found that people who are paid to lose weight or quit smoking are often more successful behavior changers than those who are not. In addition, you’ll receive cash, gift cards, or other rewards and/or reduce health insurance premiums.

Restrict Yourself
People are more successful savers when they “pay themselves first” and automatically deposit money from their paycheck into a savings account. Examples of health “restrictions” are portion-controlled frozen foods and asking for sauces and salad dressings “on the side.”

Stay Fit to Work
Maintaining good health increases the odds of being productive and working as long as you want to instead of retiring because you have to (e.g., disability). This can translate into thousands of dollars at retirement. One study compared retiring at age 60 due to poor health with working (and saving) until 65. The difference: $14,300 in annual income from increased savings and delayed cash withdrawals.

Sweat the Small Stuff
“Little” things matter! Healthy habits that save big bucks over time include washing your hands frequently (especially before handling food) to avoid the expense of flu and cold treatments and flossing your teeth to help prevent periodontal disease.

Do Something Every Day
Improve your health and finances with small daily activities that produce results over time. Review the Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ Challenge Web site for specific ideas (e.g., exercise 30 minutes and track expenses). Ramp up already positive behaviors such as walking more steps each day and increasing the percentage of your pay in 401(k) plan savings.

Make Prevention a Priority
This includes annual physicals, screening exams (e.g., mammograms), immunizations, and regular dental check ups, all of which can help avoid high-cost medical expenses later. To save money, take advantage of free or low-cost worksite or public health services (e.g., flu shots and health fairs)

Don’t Sacrifice Health for Wealth
The greatest wealth is health. Don’t pursue financial success at the expense of your health. A lifestyle of eating “on the run,” inadequate sleep, inactivity, and 60+ hour work weeks has a way of catching up with people. You’ll likely pay the price in medical bills and/or lost productivity. Make the time for healthy meals, sleep, relaxation, and exercise.

Think Positively
Studies have shown that the personality trait of optimism is positively associated with health and wealth. When people expect good things to happen, they work toward their goals by taking action. Examples include exercising regularly and saving money. What we think about, we often bring about and positive thoughts can lead to positive results.