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One of the most common new year resolutions is to get healthier, but gym memberships,simple guide to healthy living
grocery store bills and other health-related expenses add up over time.

According to a study from sports and nutrition company My Protein,  the cost of living a healthy lifestyle can cost more than college tuition. The study surveyed 1,350 U.S. adults from 18 to 65 years old and found that the average American spends $155 each month on health and fitness. That’s $112,000 over the course of a lifetime – $13,000 more than the average tuition costs for a public, four-year college education.

Good news: there are many strategies for making nutrition and fitness more affordable. Many of these strategies boil down to having a plan, doing your research, and making small lifestyle changes that can have a big impact down the line. At The Simple Dollar, we believe healthy living doesn’t have to be at odds with living within your means. Keeping a long-term view is the key to making smart financial decisions — and healthy decisions, too!

Why prioritizing your health makes financial sense

Getting fit can actually help you save money.

There are plenty of situations in which the healthier choice and the frugal choice are one and the same. It’s true that junk foods tend to be slightly cheaper than whole foods at the grocery store (about $1.50/day less than healthier options, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health). But what if you made up that negligible cost by eating out less often? That’s a relevant question for the average American, because in 2015, spending at restaurants exceeded grocery spending in the U.S. for the first time ever. How much might you save by skipping the drive-through once a week — and what healthy foods could you buy instead?

Eating at home is a lot less expensive than eating at a restaurant, especially if you prep meals in bulk. Plus, when you cook at home, you can control what goes into your meal. You can make healthy substitutions or reduce the salt or oil. You can control portion size. In this case, cooking for yourself is both the healthiest and the thriftiest option.

Additionally, there are many direct and indirect costs associated with poor health. Being significantly overweight can increase your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, among many other conditions. Poor nutrition can cause anemia, and lack of exercise is associated with higher risk for certain cancers. Long-term, staying healthy will keep healthcare costs low — and quality of life high.

Fitness is an investment in your future.

What’s the point of being frugal? Broadly financial independence: the freedom and financial means to live life on your terms. For most people, retiring well — and even early! — is a major piece of the FI puzzle. But even if your nest egg makes retirement a breeze financially, poor health could put a damper on your Golden Years.

Everything you do today to stay healthy is an investment in your future, just like a 401K or Roth IRA. Eating well and exercising can keep many health concerns at bay, protecting your mobility and independence so you can fully enjoy your retirement.

We believe a healthy lifestyle is possible on any budget.

In this guide, we’ll cover tips, tricks, and resources that can make healthy living more affordable. Between budgeting and utilizing tools such as secured credit cards, even those who currently don’t consider themselves financially independent can afford to create a healthy lifestyle.

Armed with this information, you’ll be able to make a personalized action plan that includes:

  • Smart nutrition strategies
  • Ways to keep fitness affordable
  • Weight-loss resources for everyone

We’ll begin with simple strategies for eating well on a budget, then move on to staying fit on a budget. Ready to get started? Let’s go!

Affordable nutrition

Eat better on the cheap with these 7 simple strategies.

1. Plan your meals in advance.

Never grocery shop without a grocery list! There are many health and financial benefits to creating your meal plan — and corresponding grocery list — before you hit the supermarket.

Having a meal plan:

  • Reduces likelihood of impulse buys. 
    If you limit yourself to buying the ingredients for your planned meals, your wallet and your waistline will thank you. (Resolving to buy only the ingredients your menu calls for — including pre-planned, healthy snacks — can help you resist tempting junk food.)
  • Ensures you’ll have a healthy option ready on busy days. 
    Decision fatigue is a real thing — especially when it comes to choosing what’s for dinner. If you have healthy groceries waiting to be cooked at home, you’ll be less tempted to swing through the drive through or head to a restaurant when life gets busy.
  • Prevents waste.
    If you know the quantity of perishable items like eggs, produce, or dairy you’ll need for this week’s meals, you won’t buy too much. This will help you avoid excess groceries spoiling before you have the chance to use them.
  • Gives you control over what you’re eating. 
    Prepackaged meals aren’t just more expensive than the raw ingredients for a similar meal would be. They also tend to be loaded with bad stuff like sodium and preservatives. Similarly, when you order a meal at a restaurant, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting. Preparing meals yourself gives you the freedom to make healthy substitutions that can help you meet your fitness goals.
  • Helps you accurately budget grocery expenses.
    Meal planning can help you accurately budget out what you’ll be spending on food. If you know ahead of time how much you’ll be spending on your meals throughout the month, you can more easily see opportunities to put money into savings or pay off debt. If you use a credit card for your grocery purchases (which can help you earn rewards and build credit when used responsibly), knowing your monthly budget based on your meal plan can help you pay off expenses without interest each month.

You’ll be more likely to stick to your plan if it’s convenient. So take steps today to make things easy for future you! Start by creating several weekly meal plans to keep in your rotation (including breakfasts, lunches, dinner, and snacks). That way, you can pull a ready-made menu when it’s time to make your grocery list.

This article originally published on TheSimpleDollar.com by Chelsea Brierton

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