Times are tough, money is tight, but that doesnt mean you need to give up your healthy lifestyle. Sure, eating organic food can be more costly, and working out with a personal trainer aint cheapbut there are easy steps you can take that will shave hundreds or even thousands of dollars off your monthly expenses.
From free home-gym equipment to discount prescription drugs, cheaper medical procedures, and health insurance that pays you back, the opportunities to save money on healthy living are plentiful. Heres how to take advantage of them today.
Eat organic (cheaply)
Buy organically grown: You dont need certified organic, just organically grown. Some farmers use organic farming practices but have chosen not to become certified organic because of the added red tape and expenses. This means you can often buy organic fruits and veggies from these farmers for around 50 percent less than what the certified farmers charge.
Plan around your protein: Look for sales on free-range or naturally-raised meats and buy them first, says nutrition educator Amanda Louden of Gold River, California, who writes EatYourRoots.org. Youll save twice: You will get your protein on sale and be able to better plan (and buy less) to fill out your meals.
Be super-choosy: You dont need to buy organic when fruits and veggies have a protective layer that you dont eat (like bananas and watermelon) or when theyre unlikely to have been sprayed heavily with pesticides (like blueberries and kiwi). Check out this chart for guidance:
[ pagebreak ]These are not your mother's coupons
Heres the modern way to cut costs with coupons: Sign up for a service that sends you exactly what you needfrom discounts on healthy frozen entrees ($2 off five Lean Cuisine meals at Target, for example) to organic, gluten-free, or all-natural foodsfor a small handling fee. Try TheCouponClippers.com or TheCouponMaster.com.
Shopping for a new piece of exercise equipment? Google the item youre interested in and search for coupon codes issued by the manufacturer or the retailer you intend to buy from. Yes, even your high-end elliptical trainer may have a coupon or discount! You can often shave off 10 to 20% with a single promotional codeor at least get free shipping.
Skip eating out
Cooking a meal at home that serves four to six people will cost as little as $7 to prepare, compared with the average restaurant meal, which is $40.78 per person in New York City. Thats if youre a smart shopper and buy a months worth of groceries at a time, says Nanci Slagle, author of The Freezer Cooking Manual from 30 Day Gourmet. For meal-plan ideas, visit 30DayGourmet.com.
Embarrassed by how much past-its-prime food you toss each week? That waste can add up to hundreds of dollars a year! Cut your losses by using the Reynolds Handi-Vac Vacuum Sealer ($9.99 for starter kit; retailers nationwide), which preps meats, fruits, and vegetables for long-term freezer storage. Simply defrost the frozen ingredients when youre ready to use them. Or stock up on EvriFresh sachet disks ($3.99): They neutralize the food-spoiling ethylene gas that produce releases in the fridge as it ripens.
When to buy big
If you have a freezer buy good-for-you grass-fed meat straight from the farm; use a site like EatWild.com to find local farms.
“You can buy a quarter, half, or even a whole cow for an average of $5 to $6 per poundfar less than what you would pay for naturally-raised meat at the grocery store,” nutritionist Amanda Louden says.
When to buy small
Any time you clip a coupon use it to buy the smallest size allowed in the coupon restrictionsand youll save even more! How does that work? A buck off of a 10-ounce, $2 box of rice, for instance, provides more savings (you pay $1 for 10 ounces) than a buck off of a 20-ounce, $4 box of rice (you pay $3 for 20 ounces, a whole $1 more).[ pagebreak ]Save while you sweat
Kettlebells: Cant afford a trendy class at the gym this year? Get a full-body workout at home with kettlebells. Try our Kettlebell moves.
$155 strength-training class versus $20 kettlebell and DVDYou save $1,301 a year!
Boot camps: Often held outdoors, in a group, with minimal equipmentboot camps are cheap and hot: They burn as many as 600 calories an hour! In an urban area, a boot camp might cost $31 an hour, compared with $90 to $125 for a personal trainer.
$125-per-hour trainer versus $31-per-hour boot campYou save $4,230 a year!
Exergaming: Who doesnt love the Wii Fit, which lets you ski, aerobicize, improve balance, and monitor weight in the privacy of your own home? To save even more, rent games from GameFly.com or your local library.
$1,181 annual gym membership versus $340 Wii system and Wii FitYou save $841 a year!
Four ways to set up a home gym for next to nothing
Check area gyms for cast-offs. Pro machines are often better built, so they have lots of miles left on them. And you may be able to buy them for a small fee.
Check CraigsList.org or other local Web sites. Youll find motivated sellers who are tired of their equipment. Some dont even want any cashjust someone wholl come and take it away. Thats how Vanessa Richins of Provo, Utah, snagged an elliptical machine, treadmill, weight set, and Weider total-body gym. She found her freebies (worth about $1,500) through Freecycle.org, which connects people who have unwanted items with those who want them.
Cruise consignment and resale stores. Places like Play It Again Sports often sell their used workout equipment for as much as 40 to 70% off retail.
Find out if your equipment is a medical necessity. If youre using it to rehab a knee or because a doc suggested it, your insurance may cover all or part of it. Or it may be a reimbursable under a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Savings Account (FSA).
The cheapest fitness DVDs
Thanks to the lousy economy, its come to this: You may have to choose between your Spinning class or your twice-a-month cleaning service. Both are good for your mental and physical health, but heres the thingtheres no video substitute (that we know of) for a good cleaning service and there are lots of great DVDs available to get you moving. Here, the cheapest ways to Spin or do yoga or whatever you heart desires at (your clean) home.
Hit the library. Its a cheap way to try out a routine or instructor (on DVD) before plunking down your cash.
Swap with friends … or online at SwapADVD.com. You list the DVDs youre done with, and members can request them from you. Mail them, get a credit for each one, and then use those credits to request exercise DVDs from others. The only cost is a couple of bucks for shipping.
Pay half price at Half.com (through eBay), where fellow DVD owners sell the ones theyre done with for a fraction of the retail price.[ pagebreak ]Get your insurance company to pay you
Would you be more willing to make a healthy change in return for a lower health-insurance premium or some cold, hard cash? The majority of women said yes, according to the National Womens Health Resource Centers 2008 annual health survey. See if your insurance plan offers discounts or cash perks for your healthy behavior. (If they dont, get friends or fellow employees to lobby them.)
How does it work? Excelluss HealthyBlue plan, for example, gives discounts and rewards to subscribers for activities like taking the stairs at work. And Humana offers supplemental health rewards (similar to a frequent-flyer program) and financial incentives to participants who complete a health assessment or participate in preventive services.
Tarina Joy Love of Indianapolis earned $125 in gift cards in just two months of participation in her companys health-rewards program, through Virgin HealthMiles. Love pays $5 a month to track her fitness activities and receives points for walking, taking a health assessment, lifting weights, and maintaining a healthy weight. Each year she can earn up to $500 in cash or in gift cards for stores like Amazon, Best Buy, and Target.
Take a tripand cut your doc bills
Medical tourism could save you 40 to 85% on health care. U.S. health-care costs are rising at a rate of about 8% a year. Its no wonder, then, that an estimated 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical care in 2007. (Some even made a vacation of it.) The amount spent on medical tourism is expected to rise to $6 million by 2010. But is it really worth it? It depends on your coverage.
Fully insured Americans will likely have no reason to travel overseas for medical treatment covered through their insurance companies. But for minor elective or cosmetic work thats not covered, such as dental restoration or breast reconstruction, a quick flight to Mexico or Costa Rica will save you 40 to 60%, on average, says Steven Gallegos, MHA, founder of Medcentrek LLC. The close proximity of Mexico, Colombia, and Costa Rica (in addition to their nice weather) make them popular choices for a variety of medical procedures. For more complicated surgery, such as a hip replacement or an organ transplant, Gallegos suggests countries like Singapore and Thailand, where youll spend as much as 85% less than you would on the same operation in the United States. (Hip replacement in India saves you $99,000!)
Of course, there are risks no matter where you get medical treatment. The safety and quality of care overseas is more carefully monitored these days. But insurance, malpractice, and after-care protocols may differ from the those in the States. And its always wise to research the doc and facility thoroughly. Check out the nonprofit Joint Commission Internationals list of accredited hospitals and labs.[ pagebreak ]Four ways to save on meds
With prescription-drug costs rising every year, consumers are taking matters into their own hands. But rather than split pills (dangerous) or forgo meds altogether (even more dangerous), there are better options for your health and your pocketbook. Here are a few that could save you some big bucks.
Sign up for a prescription-savings program. Many pharmacies offer programs that give you cheaper meds for a small annual cost. For an enrollment fee of $10, for instance, CVS allows you to fill a 90-day prescription for one of more than 400 generic medications for $9.99 each. At Wal-Mart, you can buy a months worth of generic meds for $4 each (or a 90-day supply for $10) with no up-front fee.
Find special offers. Before you pay for your next prescription medicine, visit the pharmaceutical companys or medications Web site. Many companies offer money-saving coupons and special offers online. You can also get good deals at a site like InternetDrugCoupons.com.
O Canada! You can save an average 35 to 50% or more on some drugs across the border. Why? Canadas federal government controls the prices of new drugs. To avoid getting scammed or sold poor-quality medication, stick with online drugstores that are certified by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and display the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site seal.