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How to stay healthy on a budget

Hand pointing to healthy living illustration

According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, the number of students being issued loans to put themselves through university has grown by 11.2% annually over the past five years. Looking back since 2010, the numbers have grown from 308,000 to 522,000 in 2015. That’s a growth rate of 59%, which means that many millennials will be in student debt over a sustained period. Not forgetting other monthly expenses like rent or car insurance. If you are a student, or if you are on a budget regardless because you are saving up for something. It’s very important to leave some room for your health, as it could cost you more in the long run. The Lancet medical journal shows a quarter of Australia’s children are overweight, and 63% of the adult population is clinically obese. This statistic means that obesity levels are now on a par with the United States, but slightly less than New Zealand.

The Friendly Finance team have put together a guide to show the potential costs associated with poor health with pointers on budget-conscious ways to stay healthy.

Poor health costs us all

There are many elements that contribute to bad health, poor diet, inactivity, sleep deprivation and stress are are big risk factors for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes – all of which can greatly decrease your life expectancy and cost billions of dollars to the general public each year:

  • Overall chronic health conditions in 2008 – 09 cost the government over $27 billion, which equates to 36% of the total allocated health expenditure.
  • In the year 2013 – 14, the estimated per person expenditure on health averaged $6,639 which was $94 more (in real terms) per person than the previous year. This represented a growth of 1.4%.
  • In that same year, Australians spent an estimated $27.7 billion in recurrent expenditure for health goods and services. Over a third of this 38.2%, was for medications (including both benefit paid pharmaceuticals and all other medicines. A further 19.2% was for dental services; 11.8% for medical services and a further 9.5% for aids and appliances, another 9.0% on other specialist practitioner services.
  • Escalating medical bills can lead to stress and worsen chronic conditions overall.

Taking care of your health can reduce the likelihood of you needing specialist treatments and as a result needing time off work to recover. Consider these tips to help you maintain a healthy and active lifestyle on a budget.

1. Select cost-effective healthy foods

It’s no secret that processed foods are cheap sources of calories, but what they lack is imperative nutrients. If you consider the potential long-term costs to your health, are cheap processed foods less expensive than healthy foods? Nutritious meals will undoubtedly take a bit more of your time to prepare, but you can still eat well sticking to a budget:

  • Before you make the trip to the supermarket, make sure you write a meal plan for the week and only buy the ingredients you need. Take a look at EatForHealth.gov.au as a good point of reference for meal-planning tips.
  • Eggs are always a wise choice. They are an inexpensive, high-quality source of protein and fat.
  • Brown rice, oats and dried beans provide a good cheap versatile set of complex carbohydrates. Buying them in larger quantities will also save you money.
  • Peanut butter is an excellent and tasty fat source. Look closely when reviewing your options, as the inexpensive commercial varieties typically contain a lot of trans fats and processed sugar. For an even cheaper option, you can buy raw peanuts in bulk and make your own.
  • Nothing beats fresh vegetables, although we are all guilty of wastage when it comes to fresh fruit and veg if you don’t eat them before they go off. Maybe the more economical option is buying frozen veggies, or only consider buying fresh fruit and veg on a seasonal basis. See Australia’s SeasonalFoodGuide for more info.
  • Do away with sugary beverages and drinks made up of concentrate. Water comes from the tap and the best part is that it’s free. If water is just too plain for you, maybe spruce it up with some fresh lemon or limes.
  • It’s always a good idea to keep a lookout for alternative food sources, such as wholesale or farmers markets.
  • Double the quantity of the ingredients when you cook. Many recipes taste even better when they’ve been maturing for a few days, and having a meal ready to go saves us spending more time in the kitchen and avoids the temptation to snack on processed foods.

2. Make time to exercise

It’s very easy to stop exercising when on a budget. Should being a member of the gym not be a priority because of the expense, there are plenty of alternatives to the gym, even in the winter months when we find ourselves outside less often. There are plenty of strength and resistance workouts you can do in your living room or bedroom by using your own bodyweight. As a rule of thumb, you should aim to move your body at least 30 minutes every day. You can always go for a run or if you have a bike, go for a ride somewhere. Even going for a casual stroll is better than sitting on the sofa all weekend watching TV.

3. Get more sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for good overall health and well being. So many of us don’t get the recommended 7 – 8 hours to feel sufficiently recharged. If our bodies don’t get enough sleep, then they can’t replenish and repair enough cells to counteract illnesses and common viruses like cold and flu. Sleep deprivation is also linked to obesity, diabetes, depression and heart diseases. Here are a couple of tips to improve your quality of sleep:

  • Find a consistent sleeping pattern, even over the weekend. You shouldn’t just sleep in because you have a day off; remember your body is a machine and need routine.
  • Turn off all screens at the very least 30 minutes before bedtime. Scientific studies show that laptops, tablets, smartphones and TV’s interrupt our sleep patterns.

Regardless if you are on a budget or not, good health should be your number one priority when it comes to you. It’s arguably more-so than your education or retirement. Investing in your health is the single most important investment you’ll make.