Healthy living can be expensive. But it doesn’t have to be.
Sometimes we forget how enterprising we are and that much of what we need to build a healthy lifestyle is inexpensive, even free.
Here are a few universally achievable ways to make healthy living affordable.
Healthy Living: 4 Money-Saving Tips
1. Eat beans and grains
Ounce for ounce, legumes cost a lot less than steak, frozen meals or fast food. Oats, barley and many other grains are also less expensive. They’re more healthful too. Oatmeal and barley are known to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, for example.
Beans and grains, however, might take effort to prepare — though oatmeal and canned beans sure don’t, while cooking meat does. Try dried legumes, which cost less than canned legumes and come in so many neat versions you’ll never get bored. You have to soak dried beans (that’s the part that requires effort), but I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s certainly manageable.
Green and brown lentils are excellent substitutes for ground beef, chicken, turkey or pork — and, dried, take just 20 to 30 minutes to cook, no soaking required. Sub them into casseroles and shepherd’s pie or mix them with pasta or rice, both of which are also inexpensive.
2. Get some houseplants
For less than $15 you can buy several no-fuss houseplants and have a literal hand in propagating them, which means you then have more plants. Plants offer myriad health benefits:
Plants clean indoor air
I’m not the first to reveal that plants are natural air purifiers, though the fact that indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air is less known; everything from a gas stove to synthetic carpets and furniture can muck up the air in your home.
Plants brighten your mood
Being around plants makes you feel better. Taking care of plants makes you feel even better and decreases cortisol levels, especially if you garden. Case in point: Forms of therapy are built on the mood-boosting effects of plants, from forest bathing to horticultural therapy.
Plants stimulate your brain
If you prune and propagate plants your brain benefits. The processes sharpen your memory and improve your cognitive skills, especially if you immerse yourself in them, an underpinning of horticultural therapy.
Buy a small pothos plant. It should cost about 5 bucks. Let that viney thing grow longer (it happens quickly!), and then cut off pieces of the vine just below some of its nodes (the little bumps on the vine near leaves). Keep each cutting in water that covers at least one of its nodes, and hide them away from direct sun and intense heat. They’re likely to sprout roots within a month.
You now have more plants. Leave them in water or put them in soil. Pothos is incredibly simple to care for and to propagate, plus it does just fine even without natural light.
3. Grow your own veggies and herbs
If you have some space outside — earth-wise or that can hold pots — split your houseplant budget and start a small garden with half of it. Some people might not be keen on putting in the time and care to grow their own garden, but keep in mind that you can make a “garden” as small as you want.
As mentioned, seeds cost very little. What’s more, you don’t have to buy seeds; save seeds from fruits you’ve eaten and enjoyed. I’ve grown juicy cherry tomatoes for three seasons, using seeds from juicy cherry tomatoes I bought as long ago. It’s worth noting that one of those seasons started in late summer so my harvest came in winter; I put the potted plant in front of windows that faced the sun.
Of course, you might need to buy some soil. But $10 for quality soil can yield weeks and weeks of sweet-and-tangy organic tomatoes that would otherwise cost many times more. And some potted herbs yield shoots for years. I bought a parsley plant for perhaps $5 several years ago, and it’s still going strong.
Save seeds from fruits you’ve eaten and loved. If you have a spot that gets at least 6 hours of full sun, inside or outside, try tomatoes. They’re relatively easy to grow: Place one or two seeds in small plastic yogurt or pudding cups you’ve poked holes in for drainage. Keep the seeded soil moist and out of the sun. After sprouts pop up and turn into seedlings, give them a little sun. When the seedlings become too big for their homes, size up, and now give them more sun. Keep going with this until the full plant gets lots of sun.
You don’t even have to buy pots. As mentioned, use cups you already have. You’re bound to have plastic containers of all sizes (if food came in the container, you can consider it safe enough to grow your plants in it).
4. Move your body
Improve your cardiovascular health and build muscle without paying a fitness club or spending money on expensive sports equipment.
If you clean your house you’re getting terrific exercise. What’s more, you improve the quality of your indoor air by getting rid of dust mites, and you create order, which helps your mental health.
If you don’t want to clean, take a walk. The beauty of this is that you can do it anywhere, though an area with plants or trees and away from traffic is more conducive to good health than trodding alongside motor-vehicle congestion.
If you’re keen on group sports, spend some money on a soccer ball, basketball or frisbee. You can find fields and courts to use for free all over the place, including in urban areas.
Scrub your bathtub: Pour a little baking soda on a sponge barely wet with water, and then run the combo along the tub’s surface. Rinse the sponge when gunk from your rubbing shows itself. You’ll work up a sweat, condition your deltoids (shoulder muscles) and be satisfied with your sparkly results.
The baking soda costs only a few pennies and removes mold (not healthful for your respiratory system) more effectively than harsh chemicals (also not healthful for your respiratory system).
Bonus points for cleaning your bathroom mirror or glass shower walls with vinegar!
Mitra Malek is a news journalist and former Yoga Journal editor. She’s all about living affordably and being good to her health.