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Six Healthy Habits That Will Save You Money

Living well isn’t all about denial. It can also lead to dinero.

Please forgive us if you’re tired of hearing about the importance of health and wellness. It’s no secret that we all should say no to those super-jumbo fries and yes to the treadmill. But even if the idea of physical well-being isn’t enough incentive to join the yoga-pants-clad masses, what if we told you there are financial benefits as well?

Many of the virtues often extolled by health-and-fitness fanatics come with the added bonus of keeping money in your pocket. So subscribing to these money-saving healthy habits is like killing two boneless, skinless birds with one stone.

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1) Drink alcohol in moderation. “The problem with alcohol is that most people don’t know what a serving is,” says Sonya Angelone, a registered dietician nutritionist and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A serving is five ounces of wine (enough to fill half a wineglass), 12 ounces of beer (a regular can or bottle) or a shot glass full of hard liquor. The definition of “moderate” drinking is just one serving per day for women and two for men.

July 2013 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the average cost of a malt beverage consumed at home at $1.24 per 16 ounces; wine is $9.90 per liter. That’s $0.93 and $1.46 per serving, respectively. For a woman who drinks more than moderately -- let’s say two drinks per day -- that’s $678.90 annually for beer and $1,065.80 for wine. The cost is double that ($1,357.80 and $2,131.60) for a man. And that’s without accounting for the extra costs of consuming alcohol at bars and restaurants.

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Higher-than-moderate drinking essentially pickles the liver and can contribute to other ills, such as high blood pressure and high triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood). “A beer belly really is a beer belly,” Angelone says. “Calories from alcohol tend to be stored more quickly as fat.”

2) Eat your veggies … and grains and legumes. Most Americans get too much protein and saturated fat, both of which are associated with poorer health, says Angelone. Meat is usually the biggest contributor to saturated fat intake, which increases the risk of heart disease, the number-one cause of death in the U.S. (That’s 597,689 deaths in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Now, we’re not suggesting you switch to a vegetarian diet. Making a healthful change is as easy as bulking up on beans, legumes, grains and eggs, while making meat a condiment, rather than the focus of the meal. “It’s like having tomato sauce with ground turkey over spaghetti, instead of a big hunk of meat,” Angelone suggests.

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The changes will be evident in your grocery bill. In July 2013, the BLS quoted the price of uncooked ground beef at $3.79 per pound; uncooked beef roasts at $4.87 per pound; uncooked beef steaks at $6.43 per pound; pork chops at $3.51 per pound; and fresh, whole chicken at $1.48 per pound. Compare that with eggs at $1.83 a dozen; dried beans at $1.42 per pound; peanut butter at $2.74 per pound; white rice at 72 cents per pound; and spaghetti at $1.31 per pound.

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Meanwhile, in the produce section, apples were just $1.41 per pound; bananas were 60 cents per pound; tomatoes were $1.43 per pound; white potatoes were 70 cents per pound; and iceberg lettuce was 93 cents per pound.

So, for the amount of money it would cost to buy a pound of ground beef to make four hamburgers, you could instead get one pound of spaghetti, one pound of tomatoes and one-quarter pound of ground beef to make a pasta dish. Put more simply, that’s 2.25 pounds of food for the price of one pound of beef.

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3) Say no to tobacco. Most smokers have heard this so many times they could scream, and still the CDC reports that 19% of American adults (or 43.8 million people) were smokers as of 2011. We won’t go through the well-known list of cancers and other maladies associated with smoking. But did you know that the 2010 Surgeon General’s report put the number of cigarette-related deaths in the U.S. at 443,000 annually? What’s more, the CDC reported last year that tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S.

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Even if you don’t quit for your health, do it for your wallet. The national average price of a pack of cigarettes is $6.03, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. So someone who smokes a pack a week spends $313.56 a year. Someone who smokes a pack a day will sink $2,200.95 annually into the habit. Use the American Cancer Society’s Smoking Cost Calculator to see how much smoking is costing you.

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But the buck doesn’t stop there. According to the American Cancer Society, each pack also comes with $35 in health-related costs. That’s an extra $1,820 if you smoke a pack a week, and $12,775 if you smoke a pack a day.

Kicking that pack-a-day habit could end up netting you about $15,000 every year.

4) Ride a bike or walk to work. The physical benefits of being active regularly can include improved mood, better-quality sleep, improved mental sharpness, decreased body fat, increased lean muscle mass and improved bone mineral density, among other things, health experts say. To get a handle on just how much you’ll save in addition to those perks, check out our handy calculator. For instance, someone making a ten-mile trip to and from work, who also pays $110 a month for parking, will save $10.35 per day by biking, or $227.70 this month alone.

For people who don’t believe they have enough time to work out, integrating exercise into the commute (if possible) is a solution. “The recommendation is to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week,” says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. “For the person who works five days a week, if you are walking or biking to work all of those days (depending on how far away you live), you’re almost certainly meeting that goal.”

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5) Bring in your lunch. Brown-bagging it isn’t just a timesaver at work; it’s also a money-saver. Consider the promotion currently being run by Subway restaurants: Get a six-inch sandwich and drink combo for as little as $4. Priced at $5, the tuna sandwich meal isn’t bad, right? Yes, until you consider what else that can get you. According to the Cost of Living Index (COLI), just over $4 will buy a 5-ounce can of tuna, a 24-ounce loaf of bread and a two-liter bottle of Coke. That’s almost enough to make two similarly sized sandwiches, with bread and soda left over for later (but you shouldn’t be drinking soda anyway).

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Preparing your lunch at home allows you to cut down on the unhealthy additives and preservatives that can come with take-out foods. “We want to eat as many wholesome, fresh foods as possible,” says Angelone. “Packing your lunch is usually more nutritious and of better quality.” That means we can choose, say, the percentage of fat in our burgers or the type of cooking oil used, instead of letting a restaurant choose for us.

6) Thirsty? Drink water. The typical 12-ounce soda contains about 150 calories. You’d have to walk about a mile and a half just to burn those calories. Two sodas a day? That’s a three-mile hike just to stay even.

Diet soda doesn’t seem to be better. According to an article from the Harvard School of Public Health, it’s possible that sweetened beverages of either type could drive us to crave other sweet or high-carbohydrate foods. And there have been studies that link artificially sweetened drinks to weight gain.

Sidestep all of that with good, old-fashioned water from the tap. The average price of a two-liter bottle of Coke is $1.57, according to COLI. And if the average American drinks 44 gallons (or 167 liters) annually, as the Associated Press recently reported, that’s a cost of $131 each year.

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