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Your Health May Determine Your Wealth

July 2010

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

“Your health may determine your wealth.” These words appear in Who’s Afraid to Be a Millionaire?, a book by financial journalist Kelvin Boston. Boston, host of the national PBS series Money Wise, wrote about relationships between emotional attitudes, physical health, and financial success.

Physical capital is a person’s ability to earn a living and make investments. Healthy people often have long life expectancies, which gives their investments time to grow. “Longevity nurtures prosperity,” explains Boston, who notes that good health gives you more time for compound interest to build wealth. Conversely, those in poor health often experience the wealth-draining effects of disability, sickness, and death, including high medical expenses, lost earnings, and reduced productivity.

One factor, in particular, can erode physical capital: the economic impact of preventable or treatable illness. Examples include hypertension, diabetes, and overweight and obesity. Boston states “good health is the best investment you can make and that “too many people imperil their physical capital by refusing to incorporate healthier changes into their daily lives.” He urges readers to protect their physical capital by safeguarding their health and balancing work and play. It is a mistake to get so busy earning money that health maintenance is ignored.

Time is a crucial component in wealth accumulation. People who are healthy generally live longer than those with health “issues.” Boston notes that “having a shorter life span means that less healthy people have less time to earn money, provide for their families, and increase their net worth.” People with longer life expectancies, on the other hand, have more years of compound interest on their side.

Health and wealth are linked in many ways as explained in our Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ website. Choose a healthy lifestyle and you will improve your odds of becoming a millionaire according to the book Getting Rich in America: 8 Simple Rules. What to do? Boston advises the following: get regular checkups, quit smoking, lose weight, exercise regularly, and reduce dietary fat and cholesterol.

There’s no better example of the wealth-building effects of a long and healthy life than the story of a retired northern New Jersey teacher who gave nearly $1 million to local organizations and charities in her will in the early 1990s. Her story was noteworthy, not just because of her generosity, but because she was able to accumulate an estate of more than $3 million on a relatively modest teacher’s salary. She was literally “the millionairess next door” and nobody in her community knew it.

In retrospect, the story was not as unbelievable as it first seemed. First, she was, by all accounts, an astute investor who bought and held quality stocks. She also saved for retirement in a tax-deferred 403(b) savings plan. Finally, she died at age 91 and had seven decades of compound interest as an investor. Had she lived until only 65 or 70, a shorter life span would have substantially reduced her fortune and charitable bequests.

Want to become a millionaire? Take good care of yourself. That’s right…eat right, exercise regularly, and get regular check-ups and screening exams. By doing so, you’ll increase the odds of living a long and healthy life. Couple good health habits with regular investment deposits, tax advantaged retirement savings accounts, and compound interest, and you’ll be well on your way to a financially secure future.