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How to Use the Relationship Between Your Body and Bank Account to Your Advantage
Health and wealth might seem like separate topics, but they are inextricably linked
How healthy you are affects your finances, and how you manage your finances affects how healthy you are.
That’s the thesis of the new book AgeProof, by Jean Chatzky, financial expert for the Today show, and Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic.
The health-wealth connection is most obvious when illness causes significant medical expenses or when health issues keep you out of work for an extended period. But the link also shows up in other, less-noticeable ways — for example, money problems are the biggest source of stress for Americans, and stress is associated with a full range of medical issues (heart disease, obesity, depression, weaker immune function, and more). The authors point out that money problems make people unhappy more than anything else, with just one exception — being in the middle of a health crisis.
When it comes to health and financial security, it is impossible to pull the two apart, and I believe it isn’t enough to have one without the other.
Millions of dollars won’t mean much if you’re not well enough to enjoy it, and great physical health will deteriorate if you’re stressed about paying the bills.
Fortunately, there are concrete things you can do to improve both your health and financial outlook. Of all the useful tips and tactics in AgeProof, below are my top two takeaways. After a lifetime of personal trial and error, these were the two habits from the book that made the biggest impact on my life.
The Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Wealth: Save 15% of Your Income
Saving 15 percent of your take-home income is the single most important thing you can do for building wealth. If you consistently save and invest 15 percent of what you earn, you will set yourself up for long-term financial security—and the peace of mind that comes with it. The earlier in life you start doing this the better, as the compounded growth over time is what makes this strategy so effective.
Of course, this sounds great in theory, but we all know how easy it is to spend everything we make (or more). A bigger salary often leads to a bigger house and fancier car, but not necessarily a bigger bank account.
I will admit that in the past I focused most of my efforts on earning more money each year, without giving much thought to saving for the future. I believed if I just kept making more money, then I’d always have plenty of it available. But I now realize that increased spending can always keep pace with increased income, and therefore saving is the more important part of the equation.
And the only way to ensure I save enough is to make it automatic.
I now set aside 15 percent of my income each month via automatic contributions before I spend anything else. (This is an approach recommended in the book that particularly resonated with me.) I hit the 15 percent savings target by automatically transferring money into my 401(k) and 529 college savings accounts each month, so this money never actually makes it into my hands for potential spending. My 401(k) is coordinated through my employer, and I personally set up the automatic monthly deduction from my checking account into my Fidelity 529 fund.
If your employer does not offer an automated option, you can still easily manage similar automatic transfers into an IRA, Roth IRA, or other investment account. You set up the account with a service like Fidelity, and then have the money automatically transferred right after each paycheck.
Once this 15 percent is safely put away, the remaining 85 percent is my living expenses budget, which covers the mortgage, car payments, credit card bills, food, entertainment, etc. After all those expenses, if there is still money left over, I’m free to spend it or save as I wish.
Whenever I’m fortunate enough to get a salary raise or bonus, that presents an excellent opportunity to pad my savings and investments. Chatzky and Roizen point out that only about one in seven people save more than 15 percent of their income, and the goal is to be one of those people.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making more money (I am a fan of that strategy as well), but the critical part is consistently saving 15 percent of whatever you earn.
The Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Health: Eat High-Quality Foods
Optimum health comes down to creating a balance between the fuel you take in (food) and the fuel you burn (exercise). In nearly all instances, you will not be able to get enough exercise to compensate for excess and poor eating. Chatzky and Roizen therefore assert that food, not exercise, is responsible for most of our health outcomes, and I agree with them.
As much as I swear by my 30-minute daily run, I know that it cannot offset poor eating throughout the day. For most of us, we simply eat a lot more than we are able to exercise, and therefore food is the more important part of the health picture. We must consistently eat food that is good for us if we want to be healthy.
In general, you want to choose foods that have the fewest ingredients. Going a step further, Chatzky and Roizen developed a cheat sheet to help us remember what to eat. You’ve likely heard a lot of this advice before, but it’s the kind of advice that’s always worth revisiting. Here are the foods we should include in our daily diet:
- Especially plant-based proteins such as beans. Certain fish (salmon, ocean trout, anchovies, sardines), skinless white-meat chicken, and skinless white meat turkey are good as well.
- Especially omegas like DHA omega-3 and omega-9. Great options include extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Vegetables and Fruits
- All kinds! Leafy greens like spinach and kale are especially great. I personally love fruits like mango and kiwi.
- Go for 100 percent whole wheat and 100 percent whole grains.
Chatzky and Roizen also noted the following foods we should avoid:
Saturated and Trans Fats
- Most animal fat (including milk fat and butter), partially hydrogenated fats, vegetable oil blends that are hydrogenated, and many margarines and cooking blends.
Simple Sugars and Simple Syrups
- Brown sugar, dextrose, corn sweetener, fructose, glucose, corn syrup, honey, maltose, lactose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.
- Enriched flours and all flours other than 100 percent whole grain and 100 percent whole wheat.
The authors also recommend avoiding foods that have salt or egg yolks as one of the first four ingredients, as well as any type of red meat. At the end of the day, though, you will make huge gains simply by moving away from standard sources of Western calories: sweets, fast food, and prepared foods.
For more healthy eating options, check out this list of top foods eaten by the worlds longest-lived people.
Just as we saw with saving money, the key to eating well is automation. Chatzky and Roizen recommend eating the same thing (or a small rotation) for breakfast and lunch every day, and only mixing things up for dinner.
I follow this approach by eating 100 percent whole-wheat toast with peanut or almond butter and a side of berries for breakfast every morning. Oatmeal with berries is another good option. For lunch, I like to make a burrito bowl with grilled chicken, beans, avocado, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and jalapenos. (Tim Ferriss eats a similar lunch every day.)
Eating well starts with knowing what foods are actually healthy, and then building a small stable of meals based around the healthy foods you enjoy. If you don’t actually like the food you’re eating, it will be very difficult to stick with it. Let me repeat that — your goal is to find foods you love to eat. Use the guidelines above as a starting point.
I have also found it helpful to print out a list of healthy foods that I like and keep it handy when grocery shopping (or you could stick the above cheat sheet on your refrigerator door). Heading into the store (or your cupboard) with a set plan makes for better decision-making — without needing to think about it.
If you’re like me, you want to live a long, healthy, and vibrant life. To achieve that goal, you need to take care of your financial and physical well-being. There are numerous things you can (and should) do to boost your health and wealth, but none are as important as consistently eating high-quality foods and saving 15 percent of your income.
Incorporate these two habits into your life and your future self will thank you.