If 35-dollar-a-pop workout classes and high-priced pressed juices just aren’t in your budget, relax: Good health doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, in some cases, choosing the cheaper option can actually be the better option for your wallet and your well-being.
“The story that self-care and health are only for those with money to spend is a false narrative,” says New York-based nurse practitioner and health coach, Victoria Albina, FNP-c, MPH. “It creates a sense of lack within consumers in an economy where our self-worth is determined by what we can buy and spend money on. There are things that anyone can do for free to help themselves be healthier.”
Whether you’ve been eating clean and working out for years or you’re just starting to make the transition from processed foods to produce, here are four ways being cheap may actually help improve your health:
1. Walk more
Not only is logging steps an awesome way to incorporate more moderate-intensity exercise, which can, in turn, boost your Cardio Fitness Level, but it’s an easy way to slash your transportation expenses. Aside from saving you the cost of a full gas tank or monthly bus pass, walking more can also help you manage your weight.
“Walking is one of the best ways to help you maintain a healthy weight, which can reduce your long-term health expenses,” says Washington D.C.-based doctor, Shilpi Agarwal, M.D. Imagine, he adds, “less obesity, fewer blood pressure problems, and potentially less money on meds and doctor visits.”
Aside from the potential weight-loss and cardio benefits, the dose of sunlight you get during your daily walk can also improve your productivity. “I see so many patients with chronic insomnia, and one of the big culprits is not being outside all day,” says Albina, noting that blue light from the daytime sky helps regulate the brain chemical melatonin, which helps regulate sleep/wake cycles.
“People wake up, run to the train, and go into a building all day, and don’t properly turn off their nightly melatonin—no wonder they’re groggy and reaching for that latte by 2 p.m.!” Try swapping your afternoon caffeine fix for a brisk walk (bonus points if you can start commuting on foot) and see if your energy improves.
2. Cook your meals at home
Research has found that ultra-processed foods make up more than half the calories consumed by Americans, and all that packaged sugar, salt, and hydrogenated oil is likely having a negative effect on your health and your bank account. One study found that filling up on fast food is less nutritious and more expensive than consuming a more wholesome diet based on recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
“Never before in human history have we been exposed to the number of chemicals, preservatives, and rancid cooking oils we eat every day,” says Albina. “When you eat packaged convenience foods or order out, you have no idea what is actually in your food. If you’re dealing with IBS, gas and bloating, constipation or diarrhea, acne, anxiety and depression, fatigue or autoimmunity, it’s vital that you know exactly what you’re eating. Your kindergarten teacher was right: You are what you eat.”
Take some time during the week to prep your meals at home—you might be surprised to find how simple (and delicious) home cooking can be. “Have a protein such as meat, fish or beans, a vegetable carbohydrate like yams or squash, and a healthy fat, like coconut oil, avocado or nuts each meal,” says Albina. Here are 5 recipes to help you get started.
3. Grow your own produce
You don’t need a lot of space or experience to grow a money-saving garden. “Whether you live in a major city or a rural town or anywhere in between, there is likely somewhere to grow some easy-to-grow vegetables like kale, spinach, basil, or tomatoes,” says Albina. “I’ve been growing these nutrient powerhouses and more on my fire escape in Brooklyn for years.” The price difference between store-bought produce and the home-grown variety can be significant: For example, the average yield for a row of tomato plants (totaling about $15) is about 60 pounds. That same crop could cost you eight times the price (or more!) at the store.
“This not only saves money but eliminates pesticides on your produce which is a great side benefit,” adds Agarwal. “Plus, you dont waste or throw away foods.”
4. Quit smoking
Smoking cigarettes isn’t just terrible for your health—it’s also crazy expensive. According to the website Smokefree.gov, the average price of a pack of cigarettes in the United States is $6.28. Even if you “only” smoke a single cigarette each day, you’ll sink more than $4,000 into the habit over two decades.
And, of course, the ultimate argument for quitting is clear: Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the U.S.—that’s nearly one in five!—and significantly increases your chances of developing everything from coronary heart disease to lung cancer. Albina can’t pick just one reason to quit. “There are too many reasons,” she says. “All of the things!”
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.