As 2018 came to a close, I made a New Year’s resolution to live a healthier lifestyle. Then, I made a lot of excuses. I didn’t have time in my busy schedule, or enough energy after work to put my plans in motion. I wasn’t “feeling it,” and I had things I wanted to do that were more entertaining. Among the many, many reasons why I couldn’t live a healthier lifestyle, my budget was first and foremost — the money just wasn’t there.
There are lots of well-meaning fitness fanatics who encourage us to exercise and eat well, but they are often less inclined to talk about the cost. When you have cheap alternatives to homemade dinners, you’re probably going to choose them after a long day. When a gym membership costs $60 a month, you’re likely going to stress.
A tiny budget isn’t conducive to a healthy lifestyle, in truth. It takes money and time to gain access to superfoods, exercise equipment, and workout supplements. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t try. Instead of giving up and reverting to my bad habits, I decided to take a second look at what I was doing and find budget-friendly ways to sneak healthy habits back into my lifestyle.
Here are three of the changes I made to live a healthy lifestyle on my tiny budget:
1. Get on the Meal Planning Train
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner can feel like an inconvenience. When you give so much of your time and energy to work, it’s rare to have any left over for the simple things in life, like a healthy meal. An easy solution like fast food is far more effective when you have so many responsibilities competing for your attention.
I still treat myself to fast food from time to time, but I no longer depend on it. I try to find time to prepare my meals in advance instead, so I don’t find myself in a situation where I’m tempted to give up on cooking. Even though a hamburger is comparatively cheap, the costs of those visits can add up really quickly. You’ll save time and money — and improve your health — when you buy your ingredients all at once and make your meals for the week in a single session. I recognize that it’s a lot of work, but you’ll gradually grow accustomed to the process and even come to enjoy it. I certainly have, and I’m no chef.
On the subject of your meals, you don’t have to whip out expensive dinners. I like to stick to simple rice and protein staples. For produce, frozen fruits and vegetables have been a lifesaver. They’re a healthy addition to your main course, and far less likely to rot before you can get to them.
2. Try Creative Home Workouts
Expensive equipment and personal trainers aren’t always necessary. A gym membership is helpful, of course, and it can provide an incentive, but you don’t need one to maintain an exercise regimen. All it takes is a little creativity (and the luxury of a little space), and you can enjoy the benefits of exercise right in your home.
Consider this: You probably don’t use most of the equipment in a gym, anyway. You may move from machine to machine, but if you’re anything like me, your goal is to get in shape and stay healthy. To that end, something as simple as a set of weights is enough to make a difference, as long as you take the right approach. For example, here are a few practical exercises you can do in your living room:
- Air squats
- Jumping lunges
As you start to feel more confident in your physical ability, you can add your dumbbells to the air squats and increase the intensity of your workout. Over time, you’ll expand on the four exercises above and experiment with new things. You’ll see it’s easy to improve your health without leaving home.
Will this work for everyone? Of course not. I have the privilege of being in good health and of living by myself, meaning cranking out some burpees isn’t damaging my body or my relationships. If you do have more limitations, take care to find a routine that accommodates your exercise needs. Even walking outside can make a difference.
3. Make Strategic Investments
You’ve likely developed a strict budget that provides structure for your buying decisions. Every month, you allocate money toward rent, bills, utilities, groceries, and similar necessities. Once in a while, you might spend a little extra on something you want, like a trip to the movies or a date night. A budget is useful for these small concessions, since you can prepare for them and adapt your spending as necessary. I’ve found that a budget is also useful for planning health investments, especially when you create a category separate from your savings. Your “Investments” category will help you improve your lifestyle.
It’s important to acknowledge not everyone has the freedom to accommodate health goals in their budget. But if you have some wiggle room, investing in yourself can become a strategy rather than a splurge. It doesn’t take a substantial sum to make a significant difference, and a few dollars here and there is enough. As an example, I worked toward buying a new blender last month. Because I knew I was going to shell out $50, I was able to make conscious choices to cut back elsewhere — skipping out on drinks and other small splurges. Without feeling guilty about overspending, I’m now preparing filling green smoothies every morning that help me be mindful of my eating habits for the rest of the day.
Getting Healthier on a Limited Budget
I’ve never been one to prioritize my health. When time and money are limited, investing in fitness and dietary trends can feel like a luxury — and that’s often the reality. Planning ahead and making some budget-friendly health changes wasn’t always easy, and it certainly wasn’t convenient, but I’m happy with my progress.
My advice? You don’t have to bend your entire lifestyle to achieve healthier outcomes. Work them into your schedule and budget where you can, and remember that even the smallest choices can compound with consistent effort.
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