This is the first entry in an eight part series exploring the connections between your finances and other areas of your life.
This past Monday, as I was writing the introduction to the weekly Reader Mailbag, I made the observation that a big part of my personal finance journey over the past several years has been discovering the connection between personal finance and the many other “spheres” of my life.
I tend to view life as a bunch of “spheres,” or areas of focus. I really like Michael Hyatt’s list of nine such “spheres”: physical, mental/spiritual, intellectual, social, marital, parental, avocational (hobbies), vocational, and financial – they cover much of what life is all about.
At an earlier point in my life, I viewed those spheres as being fairly distinct from each other. What I’ve really come to appreciate in recent years is that those areas are deeply interconnected, in that success in one area usually lifts the others and failure in one area usually hurts the others. If you’re physically healthy, for example, it provides benefits for all of the other spheres in ways both obvious and surprising.
Over the next few months, I wanted to write an irregular series about how each of those other eight spheres connect to the financial sphere and how success in each can help the other, along with some tips for success in those areas that really show off the financial connection.
Let’s start with the physical.
What Is the “Physical Life”?
When I refer to one’s “physical life,” I mean the state of one’s physical health. Do you feel good each day? Are you able to do that without vices? Do you feel energetic? Do you feel capable of doing the things you want to do? Are you able to do those things without injury? Do you feel minimal pain? Are you at a healthy weight level? Are you doing what you need to be doing to avoid long term health problems?
The core matter, for me, is do I feel good and energetic and relatively pain-free each day such that I feel like I can take on life’s challenges, and am I doing what I can to keep that state going forward, both in the short term and the long term?
Answering that question well offers a bunch of financial benefits.
First of all, it’s going to create a positive impact on your long term health care costs, and possibly your short term health care costs, too. If you’re taking the steps needed to be at a healthy weight and feel good and energetic each day, you’re almost assuredly aiming for better long term health outcomes than the average American. This isn’t a guarantee, of course, but it improves your likelihood of avoiding a lot of moderate and expensive negative health effects later in life (and perhaps even sooner than you think). After all, if you’re taking steps to maximize your health sooner rather than later, you’ll have less need for things like over-the-counter pain medications and so on to cure ailments like a sore back.
Second, your food, beverage, and vice costs are lower if you’re consuming a healthy and relatively vice-free life. Not smoking is far cheaper than smoking. Not drinking is far cheaper than drinking. Eating a well rounded diet with a normal calorie count can be far cheaper than a massively unhealthy diet with a huge calorie count. Drinking water is far cheaper than drinking soda.
Third, your insurance costs will be lower. Both health insurance and life insurance costs are connected to the state of your current health, so the healthier you are, the lower those costs will be. A healthy person is going to get better insurance rates than a person living an unhealthy lifestyle and giving hints of eventual medical problems.
Fourth, the healthier and more energetic you feel, the more you feel ready to take on challenges and projects instead of just vegging out on the couch. The healthier I feel, the more likely I am to spend a couple of hours making a bunch of meals in advance or putting weatherstripping on a door instead of flopping on the couch to watch a Netflix movie.
Finally, being healthy and energetic improves your earning potential. You’ll find it easier to perform well at work and you’re likely going to be more capable of impressing others and earning promotions and new positions.
Every step you take in improving your physical life is going to improve all of these aspects of your financial life and more. Things will cost less money. Opportunities will blossom right in front of your eyes.
The thing is, none of this really helps too much if you’re investing tons of money improving your physical health. Rather, the best way to find success in that connection between your physical life and your financial life is to seek out low cost methods of improving your physical health.
Here are the five best strategies I’ve found for doing that.
Strategy #1 – Exercise Outside of the Gym By Finding Physical Activities You Enjoy Doing and Making Them a Part of Your Life
In the last few years, I’ve discovered that I really enjoy hiking, yoga, long walking, some bodyweight exercises, and taekwondo. I can do literally all of those things outside of a gym (I do pay for taekwondo classes, but we have a family plan that’s really inexpensive and our whole family does classes two or three times a week, and I’m able to practice outside of class). I’ll focus on the ones that are completely free.
For hiking, I just go on hikes. There are a few state parks near where I live, particularly Ledges State Park, in which I love to go on hikes in the woods. I’ve probably covered every trail in every park within a 40 mile radius of my home. I just head out there and go at a pace that makes me breathe moderately heavy (which feels good during and afterward) but not so that I’m dying, and I’ll usually stop at points with a good view to simply enjoy nature and take some pictures.
For yoga and stretching, I stick with a few Youtube videos and channels that feel good and often give me a surprisingly good workout. I quite like Man Flow Yoga and I’ve been using videos from that channel a lot lately. I just clear out some space at home, grab a towel and a dense pillow, and start doing the poses. For stretching, I basically use my own routine that I’ve built up over the years – again, I just use a spot on the floor in my own home and start stretching. It feels really good and is usually a great warmup for other things. I often do a batch of stretching right after waking up as it leaves me feeling really good to start the day.
For long walking, I’ll just head out my front door and choose a direction. I’ll walk for several miles and aim for a pretty steady and reasonably fast pace, just enough so that I’m breathing a little heavy the whole way and, on a warm day, I’ll start getting sweaty. Sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast or an audiobook; other times, I’ll just observe the world around me. I go back home, take a shower, and feel pretty good for the rest of the day.
For bodyweight exercises, I tend to focus on ones that will help with the other things I do. I tend to do planks, squats, push-ups, and burpees the most, along with some other bodyweight things I do specifically for taekwondo (things like standing and holding a side kick position as long as I can, which kind of straddles bodyweight and yoga).
None of those things cost a dime. I enjoy all of them. I usually fill in gaps in the day with them – I’ll eat a quick lunch and do one of them for fifteen minutes or half an hour, then take a shower. When the weather is nice, I usually go on a hike each Friday and I’ll take a long walk a few days a week.
Am I a fitness guru? Nope. Do I feel good doing pretty much anything I want to tackle? Yep. Do I enjoy doing the exercises that I do? Yep. Do they have a positive impact on my weight and on my bloodwork? My doctor says yes. Do I generally feel better when I’m exercising regularly? You bet.
Just find stuff you enjoy doing and do it.
Strategy #2 – Get a Grip on Your Calorie Intake and Eat a Higher Proportion of Fruits and Vegetables
Roughly two thirds of Americans are overweight. Being overweight points you to a bunch of negative long term health outcomes, plus it means that you’re likely spending extra on food right now, plus there are extra insurance costs… it really adds up.
The reason that so many people are overweight, from what I can tell and what I’ve read and my own experience, is that calorie-dense foods are everywhere and simply eating extra calories causes people to gain weight which causes those negative health outcomes.
I’m going to suggest a simple thirty day challenge that pretty much everyone should try. For the next thirty days, use a smartphone app and log literally everything you eat or drink. Literally everything. I recommend using MyFitnessPal – it makes this really easy. You don’t have to be perfect at this – just approximate where you need to. Don’t worry about adjusting your diet or anything else, just keep track of all of it.
At the end of the month, look at that data and figure out which foods you ate were ones that you liked and were low in calories. Put more of those in your diet. Figure out which ones were high in calories, avoid the ones in that category that you’re not much of a fan of, and eat the rest a little less regularly.
What I found is that this routine pointed me toward eating more of the fruits and vegetables that I liked. I love apples. I love Brussels sprouts. I love cabbage. I love carrots. I love raspberries. So I eat a lot of those things. The high calorie food I love the most is cheese – I certainly didn’t give that up. There were other high calorie foods that I didn’t care for so much, so I just started avoiding them.
Another thing to note is portion sizes. Rather than eating until you feel full with a big plate of food, put just a little less food on your plate and aim to eat until you don’t feel hungry and then stop.
For most people, that’s really all you have to do to start gradually losing weight. Make it a permanent change and you will start approaching a healthy weight over time.
Strategy #3 – Cut Back (or, Ideally, Eliminate) Vices: Drugs, Alcohol, Cigarettes, Soda, and Sugar-Laden Snacks
This is something of an obvious extension to the second strategy, but it’s even more clear cut. You don’t need vices to live a great life – a great life can be enjoyed without any vices at all. At the same time, they manage to simultaneously have an adverse effect on both your physical life (because they all have adverse short term and/or long term health effects) and financial life (they’re not cheap, especially when consumed on any sort of routine basis).
Most such vices are psychologically addictive and many are physically addictive. They usually make you feel good in the very short term – they calm you down, they taste really good, they dull pain, and so on. Those two things together can be a powerful siren’s call, but overcoming that siren’s call will have a profound positive effect on both your physical life and your financial life.
Furthermore, vice habits are often very hard to break. You feel awful without having that vice in your life. You just grab for it almost without thinking, lighting up a cigarette or having a drink or consuming a drug before you’ve really thought it through.
If you make the choice to break a vice habit and give up drugs or drinking or smoking or sweets, it’s going to be a challenging path, but it’s going to be one that will greatly help your physical health and your financial well-being at the same time. My best advice to you is to simply take it one day at a time or even one hour at a time and enlist the help of friends and loved ones. You should also trash everything in your house that enables you to continue that vice. If you’re trying to give up drugs, get rid of all of them. If you’re trying to quit smoking, toss all of your cigarettes. If you’re trying to quit drinking, get rid of all of your alcohol. If you’re trying to give up sugary sweets, get rid of all of your remaining sweets. Then, simply never buy them or bring them into your home again.
Strategy #4 – Go To Bed Earlier So You Can Rise Naturally Without an Alarm Most Days
Adequate sleep plays a significant role in your physical health and your mental health and it doesn’t cost a dime. If you can get adequate sleep, you’ll simply feel better: more alert, more capable of handling the day’s tasks, and more in control of your thoughts and emotions. More importantly, you’ll also have a number of long term health benefits, including a lower likelihood of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and obesity.
This points to a deep connection between your physical health and your financial health. Adequate sleep means better long term health outcomes, obviously, which means lower long term health care costs. It also means you’ll feel better and more mentally alert and on task, which can do nothing but improve your earning potential.
There are a lot of strategies for getting adequate sleep. For me, the key is to go to bed early and set my alarm for as late as I can which allows me to arise naturally when my body and mind tell me to. I typically go to bed close to 9:30 PM and arise naturally around 5:30 AM, though on the occasions when I stay up later, I still naturally arise around 5:30 AM.
Another key for me is to do something calm before bed, preferably without screens. I usually do low-intensity household chores or read an engaging book or, sometimes, play a board game. Looking at a screen can mess with your mind’s sense of whether it’s daytime or nighttime and can make it more difficult to go to sleep. I’ll often drink a calming tea before bed, like chamomile.
This strategy will probably be touched on again in the future when discussing good mental/spiritual health strategies, because good sleep overlaps strongly with that area, too.
Strategy #5 – Practice Good Hygiene: Wash Your Hands Often, Brush Your Teeth Daily, and Bathe Regularly
This might seem like a very obvious tip, but it’s something that is overlooked by so many people. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in a public restroom and watched people stroll out without washing their hands. Now, just imagine shaking hands with those folks or touching things after they’ve touched them. That’s a double incentive to wash your hands regularly.
The big reason for doing this is basic hygiene – it will keep a number of illnesses at bay. It’s much harder to get the common cold or influenza or many gastrointestinal illnesses if you wash your hands every time you use the bathroom and before each meal or snack and if you bathe consistently.
Doing so not only avoids the misery of such illnesses, but also avoids the costs related to recovering from such illnesses. There’s no lost work. There are no doctor’s visits. There are no over the counter medications or prescription medications. There are no “lost days” where you fall behind on household chores (which can contribute to stress).
As for brushing one’s teeth, it not only keeps bad breath at bay (which can have a professional cost and a social one, too, that can impact your earning potential), it keeps the cost of dental work low. If you brush your teeth consistently, you drastically reduce the odds of requiring expensive dental work. No cavities need to be filled. No teeth need to be pulled. Not only are you avoiding the related discomfort, you’re avoiding the related cost, too.
Yes, this one really is common sense, but it’s common sense that a surprising number of people skip over. Don’t skip over it. Wash your hands consistently. Bathe consistently. Brush your teeth daily. For many people, this is normal routine. If it’s not, make it a normal routine.
Your physical health is invaluable. If you feel good and your body is capable and energetic, the world is your oyster. If those things aren’t true, you often end up in an expensive cycle trying to make it so.
Strengthening these elements of our physical life results in better financial results. You’ll spend less on food, less on vices, less on medicine, and less on insurance in the short term, and over the long term your health care costs will fall significantly.
The most valuable things you can do to prevent falling into that expensive cycle are preventative. Get a bit of exercise every day that you enjoy. Eat a better diet. Get better sleep. Give up your vices. Practice basic hygiene. Most of us fail at one or more of these and there will be short term consequences (lower energy is a big one) and longer term health costs if we continue to fail.
Start taking steps to improve your physical life. You won’t regret it and your wallet won’t either.