How to Save Money and Live Longer at the Same Time

When you can’t afford a personal chef or a celebrity trainer.

Medically reviewed in February 2021

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With produce being so expensive and gyms charging a fortune for memberships, it can feel like you’re being forced to choose between your health and your paycheck.

But you don’t need to drain your savings to live a long, healthy life. We spoke with Alan Burgess, MD, an internal medicine doctor from Skyline Primary Care at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, Colorado to learn sneaky, cost-saving tricks that can also add years to your life.

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Start a meal club with friends

You can save up all week and then break your budget on one dinner out with friends. But staying in isn’t the answer; spending time with supportive friends who share your health habits is a proven way to extend your life.

Get together for rotating meal nights instead: Each friend can cook for the group on a different night of the month.

  • Set a price cap
  • Pick easy, healthy recipes

“You don't have to go out with friends,” says Dr. Burgess. “Invite a small group over for a glass of wine, simple food and great conversations.” You’ll get a few free meals each month, plus the chance to share and learn tasty, affordable recipes.

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Buy a personal water filter for cheap, easy hydration

Water falls from the sky and covers most of the earth—it should be free. “Incredibly, water can be more expensive than soda,” says Burgess. “Some soda companies actually bottle the same water they use to make soda, and then charge more for it.”

Ditch the plastic habit; invest in a reusable water bottle with a filter, so you can drink purified tap water anywhere. It may cost around 10 to 25 dollars, but since the average American spends hundreds of dollars on water bottles annually, it’ll help you save in the long run. Plus, having a personal bottle on-hand can help you drink more water. Hydration keeps you mentally sharp, supports healthy joints and may even slim your waistline.

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Know where to go for free, lifesaving health checks

“One of the best ways to increase your odds of living a long, healthy life is to follow illness surveillance recommendations,” says Burgess. “Go for your routine mammogram; get your colonoscopy; follow the national screening guidelines.” Doing so could save you from worry, pain and large medical bills in the future. Use this interactive map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find no-cost women’s health services near you, including:

  • Mammograms
  • Pap smears
  • Free follow-up tests if results are positive

Also check the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics to see which free health screenings and services are available in your area.

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Stock up on cheap, heart-healthy whole grains

Whole grains can help you stick to an overall healthy diet by keeping you full between meals. They’re loaded with cholesterol-lowering fiber, can keep your blood sugar stable and offer heart-healthy antioxidants.

Store these quick-cooking grains in your pantry for cheap, satisfying side dishes in a snap. Simply boil them until tender, drizzle some olive oil and add salt, pepper and herbs to taste.

  • Bulgur: Cook time 4 to 10 minutes for fine or medium grain, under $4 per pound.
  • Teff: Cook time 15 to 20 minutes, around $6 per pound.
  • Millet: Cook time 10 to 20 minutes, under $4 per pound.
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Get a killer workout without spending a dime

Want an amazing workout, but can’t afford a gym membership? Pick up a weighted, fitness jump rope for around $15 at a sports or wholesale store instead. Jumping rope is fun, torches calories and works every major muscle group at the same time. Just 15 minutes of jumping can burn around 200 calories.

Walking is another cheap, but excellent form of exercise, says Burgess. Invite friends to take regular walks with you. It’s a chance to socialize and it’s absolutely free. If you can’t get outside, try no-cost indoor exercises like stair climbing or dancing while doing chores—make vacuuming a workout by adding music, he suggests.

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Choose rich, filling lentils instead of red meat

Legumes like beans and lentils are some of the cheapest forms of high-quality protein, says Burgess. Lentils are a cholesterol-lowering legume that:

  • Are loaded with fiber
  • Contain vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium and B vitamins
  • Are slow to digest, which keeps your blood sugar stable and helps you feel full longer

Lentils come in a variety of flavors and textures, which can make your meals more interesting. They can also keep your diet lean and healthy by letting you get enough protein, without using artery-clogging red meat. In fact, lentils contain almost no fat and only 230 calories per cup. The best news? A pound costs less than $2.

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Avoid risky habits that can cost you big in the long run

A pack of cigarettes can cost between six to 12 dollars per pack, depending on your state. When you consider the 35 “invisible” healthcare dollars that each pack costs along the way, smoking can set you back up to $2 million in a lifetime, according to some experts.

Smoking also adds years to your RealAge, or an estimate of how well you’re aging based on your lifestyle and health habits. Take the RealAge test to learn how your overall health compares against your biological age.

If you don't want to die young, you need to avoid risky behaviors, says Burgess. Also remember to wear your seatbelt and never text while driving, he adds.

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