What does Wellness and Saving for Retirement Have in Common?
Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
With the age of pensions and Social Security on the way out (or so we’re told), there has been a large push from parents, employers and others to “sacrifice a little today, for a better tomorrow”. Whether it be IRA’s, 401K’s or 403B’s, the idea is to consistently save a small percentage of your income and invest it, so over time that short-term savings becomes a long-term nest egg. And to boot, the government will give you some tax savings and sometimes employers will contribute extra as well.
Despite all of this rationale and incentives, some people still choose not to save. Maybe they think they have plenty of time to save and will get to it next year. Or they are impulsive shoppers and spend all of their money before they have a chance to save it. Or they feel that they don’t make enough to save and maintain a “reasonable” lifestyle. Regardless of the reason, those who do not save today may be left wondering tomorrow why they can’t retire at 60, 65, 70, or ever (side note: you can still work in retirement, but it’s on your terms).
So now what does that have to do with wellness and healthy living?
Short Term Sacrifice
In many ways, making short-term “sacrifices” in immediate gratification can lead to better results in the long-run. For example, imagine skipping that piece of cake or brownie after a long day when you are stressed or getting up early for a morning workout even though the warm bed is much more compelling. In fact, you don’t even have to wait that long for results, usually we feel much better right after, having stood up to these impulses that we know are not necessarily the best for us.
Usually it just requires acknowledging that impulse and taking steps to help it pass whether it be going for a walk, getting a glass of water, getting to bed earlier or setting your alarm far away from your bed. But sacrifices need not be that big: walking ten extra minutes a day, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or choosing low-fat milk instead of regular milk/cream in your coffee are sacrifices, that when performed consistently, can have seriously positive impacts on our weight and health.
Making it “Automatic”
Just like employers set up automatic investment plans to help make saving for retirement easier, consider strategies you can use to make eating better and increasing your physical activity an “automatic” event, so it requires little thought and becomes easy to do. For example, spend five minutes the night before preparing a couple healthy snacks for work so you aren’t caught having to buy a Snickers bar due to hunger pangs at 10:30 AM or 3:00 PM. Or make sure your gym bag is always in your car so you can go straight to the gym after work rather than going home where you may be tempted to just stay on the couch all evening.
Cost vs. Investment
A cost means that when you spend money on something, there is no future benefit to be gained from that purchase. An investment, however, is an expense that will continue to provide benefits in the future from it’s purchase or use. That’s why people always talk about “investing in your retirement” or “investing in yourself”. Knowledge gained from a conference or returns gained from a 401K will both help us in the long run. The same applies for our fruits, veggies and workouts!
Yes, gym memberships, workout equipment and fruits and veggies can be considered expensive, but so are $80 dinners out, $200 sneakers, $700 iPads, $1095 per year in daily lattes from your local cafe and $3000 vacations. Just like our retirement, we need to consider the costs of living healthfully an investment in our long-term well-being…and our long-term wealth.
If you choose to make less healthy decisions throughout your life, like sitting all day, skipping workouts and eating poorly, consider the results of that investment: the average cost of heart bypass surgery is $50,000 and the average yearly cost to treat diabetes is $10,000. You may only have to pay a co-pay, but even 10% of those procedures are not cheap.
Now consider that the yearly expense of a $50 monthly gym membership is $600 or the expense of $25 of fruits and veggies per week for a year is only $1300. If you want to take it a step further, you can add a monthly training or dietitian session at $75 per hour and that’s an extra $900. Take a moment and ask yourself: Are you willing to invest $2000 to $3000 a year in your long-term health and wellbeing?
And if it’s a matter of time, not expense, consider this: what good is it to sacrifice our workouts and healthy eating today for that extra meeting or dollar if it means that we will not be in any condition to enjoy that money in our retirement? I’ve seen and heard about too many people placed on highly restricted diets, hooked up to tubes or having to make three time a week trips to dialysis machines in their 50’s and 60’s to make up for the fact that they chose not to invest in their health when they were younger. What good is it to have $10 million dollars if we can’t enjoy it?
If we make these small sacrifices and investments consistently, then we are setting ourselves up to enjoy the fruits of our long-term investments, both in our health and our wealth. Some practical examples:
Aim to make just one short-term “sacrifice” every day for your long-term health. Create and write down strategies to help make dealing with or avoiding cravings and temptations “automatic”. Every time you make a sacrifice, pat yourself on the back and write down your accomplishment.
Aim to make one investment in your long-term health per month. Maybe getting a gym membership. Or buying and reading a nutrition/fitness book. Buying a few more fruits and veggies on a weekly grocery trip. Or hiring a dietitian or fitness professional for a few sessions. Again, write down what steps you have taken to invest in your health each month.
Feel free to share your strategies, investments or daily sacrifices on this thread, it can provide support and idea for others!