Monday, July 20, 2009

It's Possible to be a Healthy Cheapskate

There was an article today in The Boston Globe about how the recession is causing people to slide into unhealthy habits...

"Fattening foods are cheaper and easier to find than healthier fare. People are working longer hours for less pay, taking second jobs to make up lost earnings, and struggling to maintain a gym membership - or all three. Worrying about work translates into wider waistlines, it turns out, mostly for people who are already overweight. Oh, and losing sleep, too? That’ll add on the pounds, as well."

It is a sad fact that the poor in our country tend not to be malnourished, but over-nourished... the cheapest food that's readily available to most people is full of empty calories. It requires some education in nutrition to make good choices that are also inexpensive. I'm no expert in health or anything, but I read a lot about nutrition and exercise and I try to make good choices for me and my family.

In my couponing and grocery shopping adventures, I've had to turn down many good deals that were for processed foods that were just plain unhealthy. (Even though my kids eat boxed mac n' cheese once in a while, we usually eat meals from scratch that are based around vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat. ) I try to tell myself- just because it's cheap, doesn't mean we should eat it! And I don't buy it just to donate to the food pantry- because, as the article points out, the people using the food pantry are the ones suffering the most. They don't need unhealthy food either!

So how do cheapskates stay healthy? A nutrition professor recommends :

"... filling the shopping cart with fresh fruits and vegetables when they are in season or on sale, and heading to the frozen vegetables aisle otherwise. Meat, fish, or poultry should be in 3-ounce portions and whole grains should make up the rest of a well-balanced varied diet."

I would add to that:
  • Make home-cooked meals all the time. Much to my kids' chagrin, I make a really big deal of making sure we don't need to get takeout unless we plan it in advance as a special treat. Plan out what you're going to eat each week, and if you know that you will be busy on certain nights, plan around that. Make double batches of meals and freeze them. Eat leftovers. If you're out and about at dinnertime, pack a picnic.
  • Drink tap water. It's (practically) free, and if your water is gross, use a filter! My kids have juice only once a day, and I like to add a little splash of juice to my H20, but otherwise we drink lots of water.
  • Eat breakfast every day. Studies prove that it really helps with maintaining a healthy weight, and it can be one of the least expensive meals of the day.
  • Eat less. Think before you eat- are you eating because you're bored, or because it's 3 o'clock and you always have a snack at 3 o'clock? Only eat when you're hungry, and stop eating when you're full!

The article also has suggestions on saving money on exercise, by signing up for group classes at the gym rather than using a personal trainer. That still sounds pretty expensive to me! I know people have a lot of different ways they try to stay fit. Personally, I have found that exercise videos/DVD's fit into my lifestyle as a working mom very well- I have stuck with the exercise habit for about 8 years that way. When I have a spare half hour or so, I pop in a DVD and get my workout done- I don't need to go anywhere and I don't need a lot of special equipment (and the equipment that you do need, you can usually pick up used from Craigslist, Freecycle, yard sales, or Play it Again Sports.) I spend very little money on my workout habit- I will occasionally pick up a used DVD or two from, and there is a local discount store that often has DVD's marked down for just a couple of dollars. Another great thing about workout videos- you don't need fancy workout clothes because you're not working out in public! I do my workouts in my jammies.

My husband has always sworn by going to the gym- he says you can't get a "real workout" at home. The gym he goes to is $20 a month, which isn't bad, if you go. Lately, though, it's been harder and harder for him to get himself out the door and to the gym, so he's been wanting to develop a home workout program for himself too. I've been keeping my eyes open for some used workout equipment for him- he needs much bigger weights than I do, and a weight bench, and he likes to use an elliptical at the gym. If we can find a used one for $200 or less and we cancel the gym membership, it will pay for itself in 10 months!

Walking is also great exercise and it's free.. The thing I love about walking is that it's so multi-purpose. You get exercise, fresh air, you get to see what's going on around the neighborhood and say "hi" to your neighbors. We have a dog, so giving her a walk gives her the exercise she needs too, and keeps her happy. When you walk with your family or friends, you can socialize, and when you're alone, it's a nice time to be quiet and think, or listen to music, or books on tape, or whatever. We live in the middle of nowhere, so we couldn't walk to do errands, but if you live near civilization, you could even get some errands done on your walk.

I don't think the media is doing anyone any favors by making it sound like it's really hard and expensive to exercise and eat right. It's all about making health a priority, and making good choices. Exercising helps to relieve stress and helps you to sleep better, which in turn fosters overall health. And with obesity being a huge risk factor for lots of medical conditions, being healthy saves you lots of money in the long run.

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