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Stretching Strategies for Health and Wealth

January 2016

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

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ (SSHW) program encourages people to make positive behavior changes to simultaneously improve their health and personal finances. Find information about SSHW on the NJAES website, including monthly health and personal finance messages, such as this one, and the entire 132-page SSHW workbook, which is available for free downloading.

Note the emphasis on the words “small steps” in the program title. This is significant because “little changes” can really make a difference over time. For example, 100 fewer calories eaten per day translates into 10 pounds of annual weight loss and $20 a week of savings grows to over $1,000 over a year. One of the small changes that people can make to improve their health and finances is to “stretch” food and beverages so that they simultaneously consume fewer calories and buy things less frequently, thereby saving money. Below are four examples:

  • Water Down Juices - Mix them with water in a 50/50 or 2:1 juice to water ratio depending on personal preference. Not only will you cut calories according to the mixing proportion that you select (there are 112 calories in 8 oz. of orange juice and 107 calories in 8 oz. of apple juice), but you’ll buy juice less frequently. If you purchase 52 fewer cartons of juice at a cost of $3 each, that’s $156 in savings over the course of a year. An 8-oz. glass of OJ has almost 2.5 times the sugar as a typical piece of fruit!
  • Stretch Wine and Cocktails - Let’s say you’re going out to dinner at a restaurant with friends. Order one drink, instead of several, along with a large cup of ice. Your drink will last a lot longer with the ice to refill it and you won’t need to order another one, again saving calories (a 5 oz. glass of wine has 100 calories) as well as reducing the chance of a DWI. Assuming everybody pays for only what they consume, you’ll save money by buying one drink instead of several. If someone elects not to purchase 104 glasses of wine (two a week) at a cost of $6 apiece at a restaurant, that’s $624! For even more savings, you could, of course, order free and zero-calorie tap water with a lemon or lime. You can also “ice down” beverages consumed at home to stretch out your supply, similar to the juice example above. Another suggestion is paying children $1 for drinking water, instead of soda, at restaurants. Like the above examples, the calorie and cost differential savings (e.g., $2.50 for a soda versus $1 payment) can be substantial over time and you are fostering a positive lifetime habit.
  • Bring Home Leftovers - Many restaurants and work cafeterias serve very large portions. When eating out, bring your own plastic containers (it’s more environmentally friendly than taking home Styrofoam) and take half to two-thirds of your meal (depending on the portion size) home for future meals. Again, you’ll save a significant number of calories by spacing out a 1,000 + calorie food portion over several meals, especially when you request that sauces be served “on the side.” Assuming someone eats out once a week and takes enough food home for two additional meals, that adds up to104 meals that don’t need to be purchased because food from a restaurant or cafeteria is already available. At a conservative estimated cost of $4 per meal, that’s $416 in annual savings.
  • Split an Entrée or Dessert - Another way to avoid eating large food portions is for two people to split the calories and cost of an entrée or dessert. Even including restaurant “plate charges” for shared food, the cost savings can be substantial compared to the cost of ordering two separate meals. In addition, two people eat a half portion instead of a full one, thereby halving the calories. This strategy especially works well when you are traveling and taking food home, or even to a hotel room, is not an option. Follow this strategy 52 times a year and save $15 and you’ve saved $780 annually. Another good choice is ordering smaller size and lower cost half-size portions when eating out or using appetizers as a meal.

There are many relationships between health and personal finances including the fact that decisions made in one area of your life (e.g., eating patterns) can affect the other (e.g., food and beverage expenses). This article has identified potential annual cost savings of almost $2,000 from four “stretching” strategies that affect both calories consumed and dollars spent. Perhaps you can think of others.

Want to lose weight and save money? You may not need to look any further than your refrigerator.