This post is part of The One Hour Project, in which you can spend just one hour to put your finances in a better place without a big lifestyle change, through frugality or other financial choices.
No, I’m not going to talk again about eating at home or about how you should skip fast food. Instead, I’m going to talk about a handful of basic dietary things you can do that really, really save money over time. Some have a bit of a startup cost, but they will all save you some serious cash over the long run.
Drink your own bottled water, at least 64 ounces a day. Water is something that many Americans simply don’t drink enough of, and when they do, they often do it by drinking highly overpriced bottled water. The health effects are numerous: you feel less hungry (and thus eat less), reduces tiredness, and it helps your immune system in battling disease. Even better, water is about the least expensive beverage you can buy if you bottle it yourself.
Here’s what I recommend: get a few water bottles, fill them up from the tap each evening, and put them in the fridge. During the next day, grab them and drink them regularly, then in the evening, replace them again. I use six 16 ounce water bottles in this fashion and I generally get through almost all of them in a day.
What if your tap water is bad? Get a tap filter, seriously. Given the number of gallons that a single filter can clean, tap water is still way cheaper than the bottled stuff.
Never skip breakfast At first glance, this seems to fly in the face of reason – wouldn’t eating breakfast be more expensive than not eating breakfast? Well, if you plan it well, breakfast can be really cheap and very convenient.
How does it benefit you? The biggest reason is that it provides a natural energy boost to start your day, and not a caffeine-based one, either (though breakfast can be supplemented by coffee, of course). The second biggest reason is that it encourages you to make better choices at lunchtime – without breakfast, it’s much easier to not make good choices either out of a lack of energy or a deep hunger. I didn’t really believe this myself until I tried it out – breakfast makes a huge difference in my day.
Eat more fiber. This is another idea that might surprise many of you, but it really works. If you like sweets, instead of picking up some candy, try eating some fresh fruits instead, like blueberries or raspberries or dried apricots or raisins, all of which are cheaper than good chocolate. I’ve started keeping dried fruits around to sate my needs, and I already really enjoy eating whole wheat bread – it’s more flavorful than white, especially if you make it yourself.
These options might directly save a little money, but the real savings comes over the long haul because these choices improve your health. I’m the last person to suggest that someone goes on any kind of strict diet, but even a small change or two can, over time, improve your health and thus reduce your health care costs over your lifetime.
Even better, add a bit of exercise to the pot. I am a huge fan of the fitness ladder, which is basically just a bunch of very simple exercises that you can do to put yourself in better shape. They can be done in fifteen minutes; I usually just do them right before a shower because I usually get a bit out of breath and sweaty.
So here’s the one hour plan: make an extra effort to do this stuff for a week. Try drinking more water and keeping more of it on hand. Eat some breakfast. Try some dried fruits, and maybe give a loaf of a whole grain bread a try. Maybe even exercise a little. See if it replaces other routines in your life simply and naturally. You might just find that you’re as happy as you were before, maybe even more healthy, and definitely with a few more coins jingling in your pocket.