There’s Money to be Gained by Losing Weight

With January already half over with, many of us are second-guessing our New Year’s resolutions in favor of easier lifestyles. While it’s certainly not inspiring to give up on any resolution, those who made it their mission to live healthier lives ought not to give up now. Yes, your health is of the absolute importance and thus is the primary reason why a commitment to diet and exercise in the year 2012 should be maintained. But in addition to this fundamental incentive, there are immediate financial advantages to maintaining a healthy weight as well as long term reasons to do so as well. For those in need of a boost of motivation to continue on the path to diet and exercise, consider the following ways doing so will surely save you serious sums of money:

Less spent on food costs: Any dietitian will tell you that the primary cause of overeating is the acceptance of enormous portions at mealtimes. When you make an effort to eat less in order to lose weight, you’re certain to save money by not spending so much on food. In addition to smaller portions, you’ll also be avoiding expensive midday snacks, further increasing the amount of available income you have on a daily basis.

Less spent on travel costs: 30 to 50 lbs can make a big difference in a vehicle’s fuel economy over time. If you lose that much weight, you’re certain to spend less on gas in the long run. But fuel costs can also be curbed by preferring to walk and bike more often through a dedicated workout regimen. New Yorkers – walk instead of ride the subway. Midwesterners – dig that bike out of Kansas City self storage and ride it to work.

Less spent on insurance: The healthier life you lead, the less life and health insurance is going to cost. The simple way to guarantee a cheaper rate is by losing weight, as the body-mass index is one part of your health that insurance companies take very seriously. While quitting smoking and reducing drinking greatly will drive insurance costs down more, getting yourself to a healthy weight will reduce your costs.

Less spent in your free time: In addition to the savings accrued from eating less in your spare time, leading a more active lifestyle is sure to be cheaper than preferring pay-per-view and trips to the mall on the weekend. Forget about the gym, which is admittedly not very cost-effective; public parks varying from urban gardens to nature preserves provide you with the venues necessary to enjoy an active day without spending a dime.

If you’re thinking about giving up on those December 31st aspirations to get into shape, don’t quit just yet! The personal finance benefits of such dedication are simply too good to pass up, in addition to the improvement to your health.

Freedom of time and money

“If you had one year to do anything you wanted, working was optional, and money was no obstacle, what would you do?”

I posted this very question on my Facebook wall and received a number of responses. To my surprise (I guess I thought I was alone in this) almost everyone said they would take the time to travel…. to hike the Appalachian Trail, mountain climb in the Himalayas, go to Spain, Argentina, and the Mediterranean.  I’d love to move somewhere new, travel around the world, partaking in exciting adventures.

This vision of no constraints seems like a pipe dream.  There’s no way that I could put together the kind of vacation time required to check off all the adventures on my bucket list.  I’ve always assumed that I can take maybe one or two of these trips a year if I’m lucky. Visiting Angkor Wat and backpacking around Southeast Asia. Going to Florence.  Or I’ll have to wait until I’m retired when I’m truly able to define what I do with my time and where I am at a given moment for extended periods of time.

My thinking has become increasingly influenced by schools of thought of the so-called lifestyle design movement that point in a direction that this kind of dream lifestyle is accessible to us now. This is best summed up by a favorite Gary Vaynerchuck saying that I love to repeat, er, imitate, “There is no reason to do things that you hate. Stop doing that. Please!”

(Please watch the video if you’re in a motivation rut.  You’ll either find his voice grating or hysterical.  My take is the latter but you be the judge.  Thanks to Baker at Man vs. Debt for posting this video!)

With the advent of the internet, a whole generation of people are now working remotely from far flung places across the globe, expats consulting from Cambodia, running businesses from Buenos Aires, and writing on the side to support their travels to every country on Earth. They’re trading high expense lifestyles in Western countries for lower wages but more fulfilling lives in less expensive locales.  In some cases, they may be making less money than me, but they’re rich in ways that I am not.  They have true freedom of time and location.

I don’t want to save fastidiously for a future that never comes.  I don’t want to sit in a desk wondering where the time went. I believe that you and I can create that life for ourselves now. I challenge for us both: that in one year we’ll be doing what we love as much as we can as often as we can — whatever that looks like for us.

I’m getting dangerously close to having saved one year’s worth of expenses.  I want to have cushion in case there’s not a soft landing on the other side– but ultimately I just have enough confidence that I can make it on my own that I just might take the plunge.  I’ll keep you posted.

Skip the Flexible Spending Account in 2011.

I didn’t have a FSA last year (Flexible Spending Account), but this year I was hell bent on saving as much money as possible on my taxes… so I thought I better take advantage of the option to put away some money tax free for inevitable health care costs.  I analyzed my previous year’s medical expenses and figured that $1000 would be a conservative estimate.  So I enrolled in the company  plan… I’ve participated this year… and I won’t be doing it again.

Here’s why:

1. Flexible Spending Accounts = Inflexible

You gotta use it or lose it.  You can’t roll money over from year to year — although your plan may provide a grace period at the beginning of the following year.  What’s the advantage of the tax savings if you don’t spend all the money?

Some plans offer a debit card which is an added convenience, but I’m not so lucky. That means that I have to collect and submit all of my receipts manually and in advance  and get reimbursed later. As convenient as it would be to have a debit card, there is still the inconvenience of having to submit receipts regardless.

I also have to make sure that I’m submitting the right receipt that includes the eligible services rendered.

Claims can’t be submitted online. They have to be faxed or mailed which is kind of old school.  In addition, the claim form is much more complicated than a standard expense report.

These accounts can only be used for certain health care expenses. Trying to decipher the guidelines and figure out if an expense is eligible is like reading a pharmacology textbook, something I would rather leave to med students.

Continue reading “Skip the Flexible Spending Account in 2011.”

Happiness research studies: the best things in life are free.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the relationship between income and happiness. Research from Princeton economists suggests that happiness saturates after about $75k in household income.  My take on this —  this is the point when you no longer have to worry about covering your basic needs like food, shelter, health insurance, student loans, etc.  You’ve got discretionary income and are able to chase after your dreams (provided you’re prudent with your money).  To build off of this, I thought it would be interesting to sift through happiness research studies online and sum up some of the other happiness drivers… and it turns out the best things in life don’t cost a thing.

Go on a trail run.

Exercise and being outdoors are both good for your mood. Doing both at the same time, even better.  Run like you’re still a kid once and a while. Sweat at least a few times a week.

Build relationships.

Spend time with your friends. Seek out happy friends. Happiness spreads in social networks.  Better yet marry a happy soul. Make love. Share positive experiences with others. Get to know your neighbors on a first name basis. Give to others.

Pray and meditate.

Buddhist monks are some of the happiest folks in the world. And those that go to church routinely report being happier than those that don’t. Reduce your stress.  Create deeper meaning in your life.

Grow old.

Older people are happier.

If you must spend money, buy experiences.

researcher at Cornell discovered that “experiences” that we buy such as travel, vacations, or even exercise equipment lead to long lasting happiness, whereas new electronics or cars doesn’t lead to sustained happiness.

Thanks to Alpha Consumer for including this post in the Oktoberfest Edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance!