What does financial stress have to do with your physical health?

You want to improve your finances, but not at the cost of your health. Here's how to eradicate financial stress without relying on instant ramen.

When you're trying to get your financial life in order, sometimes it feels like your physical health has to suffer. After all, a tight food budget might make that value-menu cheeseburger look pretty good if the alternative is a kale salad that's five times the price. Living both frugally and healthfully is a delicate balancing act, but it's far from impossible.

Financial stress and your health

Most people put finances and personal health in two completely different categories. But every day, your relationship with your money has a major impact on how you feel, inside and out.

First, it's important to understand that financial stress can hurt your physical health and mental well-being. According to a 2018 Manulife Bank survey, debt negatively impacts 4 out of 10 Canadians' mental health. On top of that, 1 in 3 say they're so stressed about their debt that they lose sleep at night. Clearly, your financial health can have a direct impact on your physical health. 

The expense of staying healthy

Staying fit and eating well isn't always cheap, and figuring out how to afford health-conscious expenses can become a constant source of worry. As important as keeping up your health is, paying for gym memberships and organic meal delivery kits may have an unhealthy effect on your savings, and the stress that comes along for the ride can seriously undermine your wellness.

Saving and budgeting for health care costs

Even though we have universal health care in Canada, maintaining your health does cost some money. You still need to pay to see the dentist and the optometrist, and if you don't have health insurance through your employer, these services can cost a pretty penny. Since many of these expenses are irregular, you're not alone if you've ever been caught off guard by them and had to scramble to find the money to cover the bill — or, worse, skipped out on care to save the cash. 

How to get your mind, body, and wallet aligned

Fortunately, financial wellness and physical wellness don't have to compete for your attention. In many ways, the more you take care of your physical health, the better off your finances will be. Here are three ways to improve your physical health without blowing your budget. 

1. Match your eating habits to your frugal habits

Your diet is a huge part of living a healthy lifestyle, but eating well can cost a lot — unless you get creative. An easy way to start is to limit eating out, since even "healthy" fast food options have a dubious price-to-nutrition ratio. Instead, commit to making meals at home. You can keep the cost of your home cooking down by limiting your meat intake, buying dry bulk goods like beans and lentils and eating in-season produce by taking advantage of local farmers markets.

2. Find cheap ways to build activity into your lifestyle

For many Canadians, becoming more active means signing up for a gym membership or taking a fitness class. Both of those options are good ways to get fit, but they mean that every calorie burned has a dollar-sign counterpart. Instead of taking on these extra expenses, opt for frugal exercise. If your workplace is close to bike-friendly trails, try an active commuting alternative to your car or public transit. If your employer can't help you get a discounted gym membership, take up running, which requires little more than a good pair of sneakers. Don't want the neighbours to see your I-just-hit-the-wall face? Look up body weight routines and invest in some minimal equipment to work out at home.

3. Prioritize health spending by putting it in your budget

Unfortunately, health spending is one area where it's not a good idea to skimp, even if it's burning a hole in your pocket compared to, say, your movie ticket budget. Ignore your health and it'll end up costing you more in the long run (let's just say that a crown is much more expensive than remembering to buy toothpaste). 

For unavoidable expenses like the dentist or optometrist, skip the financial stress by building these health spending items into your budget. When you slowly build up your savings toward these expenses every month, your next bill won't seem like a burden, since the money will already be in the bank. 

Instead of looking at your physical health as being at odds with your financial health, focus on ways of maintaining your physical health that can support your finances, too. It may take some trial and error to get the balance right, but the benefits to your overall well-being are worth a little experimentation.