Stay Healthy for Way Less
Use this guide to save on the products you need and see which ones you can live (healthily) without.
Worth it? Yes, if your food choices aren't cutting it.
Most experts say you don't need to take vitamins if you eat a diverse mix of fruits and veggies, lean meats, legumes, and whole grains. Problem is, if you don't eat well, are a vegetarian, have a food allergy, or are pregnant (or hope to be)—categories that include most of us—you might not be getting the nutrients you need. In that case, an inexpensive multivitamin may give you peace of mind. Look for a brand that has 100% of the daily recommended values of vitamins and minerals and has the USP seal, which means that U.S. Pharmacopeia, the organization that verifies the ingredients and quality of dietary supplements, has given it a thumbs-up. Store-brand multivitamins go for about $3 to $6 for 100 tablets, compared with about $8 to $10 for brand names. Don't spend money on additional supplements (fish oil, vitamins D and C) unless your doc has ID'd nutritional gaps. For instance, if you aren't getting enough calcium from dairy (1,000 milligrams for 19- to 50-year-olds), pop a daily Tums with calcium (150 tablets cost $5 to $6).
Lazy brusher? Enter bells and whistles.
If you regularly brush and floss, you can stop reading. For the rest of us, the novelty of a fancy brush might help with the twice-daily two minutes required for healthy pearly whites. "Power toothbrushes can be worth the cost because they can help you brush for the appropriate amount of time," says Charles Perle, DMD, of the Academy of General Dentistry. Also, electric toothbrushes with rotation-oscillation action actually work better than manual, research says. We say whatever gets you brushing is healthy.
When available, generics can save you money.
"If a generic drug is available, it's almost always smart to buy it," says Don Kemper, CEO of Healthwise, a consumer-health-information company. Generic prescription drugs are legally required to have the same active ingredients as brand-name varieties, although they must look slightly different, so they may be a different color or shape. But they definitely cost less: Pharmacies receive $32 for generic meds, compared with $111 for name-brand versions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation; and co-pays for generics are about $11, on average, compared with $24 to $38 for name brands.
Ask your doctor about the generic type of any prescription drug you take. If she thinks it's right for you (in rare instances, there may be a reason you should stick with a brand name), have her check the "Generic OK" box on the prescription.
Fancy bathroom scale
Weighing in can help with weight control—no matter how basic the scale.
If you've ever shopped for a scale, you know there are models that seem to do everything but cook your dinner. They measure body-fat percentage, hydration numbers, body mass index, even bone mass—and, of course, your actual weight. You also know that having a scale is important: Dieters who weighed themselves regularly melted more pounds over two years than those who didn't, according to a University of Minnesota study, and people who stepped on a scale every day lost the most. But do you need the $100-plus model with all the extras? "Unless you're a competitive athlete, probably not," says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
That said, digital scales, which are a bit pricier, are easier to read than analog and are generally more accurate. Look for load-cell technology, an advanced version of the levers and springs found in older (and cheaper) models; your scale will need less calibration and be less likely to break down over time. Make sure it has the ability to zero out before you step on it, and weigh yourself a few times on a hard surface to see if it's consistent. Cheaper digital scales start around $20 and will likely be made of plastic, which is fine if the underside that contains the weight mechanism is made of metal. Beyond that, it's all about aesthetics. If the fancy glass model will get you to weigh yourself, you'll pay a little more—but it'll be worth it.