10 Healthy Changes That Can Save You Money

Being sick is expensive! If you’re thinking about making changes in your life that will save you money, consider cutting back on unhealthy habits and increasing healthy ones. Here are the 10 leading causes of death in the USA, and 10 healthy changes you can make that will also save you money.

If you live in America, you cannot afford to get sick. Medical debt is the #1 reason for bankruptcy in the USA.

In 2014, 40% of Americans had medical debt. This is not surprising given that many of the top illnesses in the USA are chronic conditions associated with lifestyle factors, including diet, exercise, and sleep.

Fascinated by the important role behaviors have on both physical and mental health, I became a health psychologist. I’ve worked with individuals living with heart disease, breathing disorders, and diabetes. But I found the work I do with people living with cancer to be most rewarding.

Here is the secret to living a healthy life: it’s no secret at all. We all know what we need to do, it’s making the changes that’s the hard part. But if health is something you value, your future self-will thank you for any changes you make today.

10 Leading Causes of Death in USA

According to the CDC, the 10 leading causes of death in the USA in 2016 were:

1. Heart disease

To lower risk, quit smoking and eat healthfully

2. Cancer

Researchers are continuing to gain knowledge about causes of cancer. Yes, some cancers are believed to have a genetic component. But many are associated with exposure to carcinogens (e.g., tobacco smoke, Agent Orange), radiation, viruses (e.g., HPV), diet and obesity (e.g., colorectal), and even alcohol (e.g., head and neck cancers, esophageal cancer). To lower risk, quit smoking, lose excess weight, eat healthfully, exercise, use sun screen, receive regular cancer screenings, and use protection during sex.

3. Accidents

Including motor vehicle accidents. To lower one’s risk, wear seatbelts, do not drink and drive, and don’t drive distracted.

4. Respiratory diseases (e.g., COPD)

To lower one’s risk, the #1 thing one can do is quit smoking.

5. Stroke

Stroke is often associated with smoking and with high blood pressure. To lower one’s risk of stroke, quit smoking, lose excess weight, eat healthfully, exercise, and if you have hypertension be sure to monitor your blood pressure.

6. Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers are not sure about the causes for Alzheimer’s disease. We do know that to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, get plenty of sleep, manage stress and depression, connect with others, exercise, and eat a healthy diet.

7. Diabetes

To lower one’s risk of Type II diabetes, lose weight, eat healthfully, and exercise. For those who are already living with diabetes, it is also important to monitor your blood sugar levels regularly.


8. Influenza and Pneumonia

Washing your hands regularly (including before and after contact with other people) and getting the flu vaccine are two things you can do to reduce your risk.

9. Kidney Disease

Kidney disease is believed to be associated with high blood pressure and with diabetes.

10. Suicide

Sadly, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the USA. I previously wrote about Suicide and Debt, during which I talk about suicide prevention and reducing access to means for people who are in crisis. I also previously wrote about resources for Affordable Mental Health Treatment.
If you are having thoughts of killing yourself, please call 911, go to your closest emergency department, or contact the Crisis Line

What do these 10 have in common?

For most of these 10 leading causes of death listed below, you will notice that the tips for reducing risk are the same: maintain a healthy weight, eat healthful foods, get plenty of sleep, maintain an active lifestyle, reduce alcohol use, and quit smoking. 

Behavioral Medicine

“Choose to do it now before you have to do it later.”
Have you ever heard this saying? So many people regret that they didn’t live a healthier lifestyle earlier in their life.
But when faced like an illness, such as cancer, many people choose to make substantial behavior changes, such as cutting out sugars, switching to vegetarian or plant-based diets, exercising regularly, meditation, quitting smoking or drinking, consuming more water, and making rest and relaxation priorities.

10 Ways To Save Money and Improve Your Health

Here are some healthy tips that also save money:

1. Drink water

I’m fortunate to have potable water in my tap. I filter it and take water with me everywhere I go in a reusable water bottle.
Sodas, juices, and even coffees and beers can be full of sugar. Not to mention the mark-up that people pay when these beverages are purchased outside the home. (I have a friend who was spending $20,000 in 5 years just on coffee!)
Whenever possible, choose water as your beverage.

2. Eat meals based around fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains

Use meat as an addition to a dish rather than the main component. Vegetables and grains are not only less expensive, but they are also important to our health.
Photo by Rachael Gorjestani

3. Avoid processed foods and eating at restaurants

Homemade food from the grocery store is less expensive than even the cheapest fast-food. Eating at home not only saves money, but it is also the healthier choice.

4. Quit smoking

I know that quitting smoking can be the hardest habit that many of us will have to break. But this one choice may have the biggest life-saver and money-saver of all.

5. Reduce alcohol consumption

Alcohol can be quite expensive. I know of one person who overcame alcoholism and described to me how when he was using, he was literally paying to hasten his death. Alcohol has been associated with a number of cancers, not to mention liver disease.
Photo by Moss on Unsplash

6. Don’t ask of help with things you can do yourself

Regularly asking for help or hiring people to do what one is able to do, you may find yourself becoming physically or psychologically dependent on others. We need to remain physically and mentally active to prevent deconditioning.
Think about your lifestyle. What are things others do for you that you could be doing yourself?
I personally find that yard work and gardening make for great exercise.

7. Walk or ride your bike rather than driving

I don’t understand why people drive around looking for a parking spot. Whenever possible, walk. This will save not only gasoline, but eliminate the need for a gym membership.
Walking is also one of the best treatments for fatigue and is also important for our mental health.

8. Get Plenty of Rest

While exercise is important, so is rest. Many of us are living with insomnia or have become dependent on sleeping aids. But there are a number of behavioral techniques that can be used to improve sleep. For example, establish a regular sleep-wake cycle and make your room conductive to sleep (e.g., darken the room and don’t watch TV in bed).

9. Meditate or practice Mindfulness

Meditation can relax both our body and our mind.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that can help us increase awareness of our internal experiences such as our thoughts, emotions, sensations. This is a skill that can be developed with just 5-10 minutes of practice a day. All it requires is our attention.

  • Formal mindfulness practice
    • paying attention to breathing, scanning the body for tension, hearing
    • meditation, visualization
  • Informal mindfulness
    • mindful of everyday activities, such as eating, walking, or just being present in the moment
Photo by Jared Rice

10. Finally, if you live in the USA, consider whether a Health Savings Account (HSA) is right for you

When looking into health insurance, consider whether a High-deductible plan with a HSA is a good choice for you. High-deductible plans can have much higher deductibles than standard plans. However, once the deductible is met the co-pay is often much smaller than in the standard plan. And preventive care/well visits are usually still covered 100% (with no deductible).

The co-pays for your high-deductible plan can be paid using money in your HSA.

With an HSA, most employers make a contribution to your account each month. You can (but usually don’t have to) also contribute money to your HSA. Any money you contribute is not taxed (lowering your taxable income). Plus, it can earn interest.

NOTE: For 2019, the contribution limits are $3,500 for a single plan, $7,000 for a family plan.HSA contribution limits and qualified expenses can change, so check with the IRS.

HSAs can be used for qualified medical expenses (including co-pays, prescriptions), and some expenses your health insurance might not cover, such as dental procedures, glasses/contacts, fertility enhancement (e.g., in vitro fertilization), drug addiction treatment, acupuncture. Again, the list of qualified expenses can change year to year, so check the IRS rules.

After age 65, money can be withdrawn for any reason (though you’ll pay income tax on nonqualified expenses). This is why some people consider a HSA to be an additional vehicle for retirement savings.

Check with your HR representative at work during open enrollment season.

Final Thoughts

If some of these tips seem obvious to you, it’s because the facts are simple. Eat healthy exercise, relax, and get plenty of sleep. It’s about finding small changes we can start making in our daily lives that move us closer to these goals.
Living a healthy lifestyle will not only save money on medical costs, but it is also less expensive than having unhealthy habits. 
What is one change you can make to save money and improve your health?

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