About two years ago, Brian LeBlanc was fed up. The 30-year-old policy analyst from Alberta, Canada, had struggled with his weight for years. At the time, he weighed 240 pounds and had trouble finding clothes that fit. He decided it was time to change his lifestyle for good.
LeBlanc started running and cutting back on fast food and soft drinks. He ordered smaller portions at restaurants and avoided convenience-store foods. About a year into his weight-loss mission, his wife Erin, 31, joined him in his efforts.
“The biggest change we made was buying a kitchen food scale and measuring everything we eat,” Brian says. “Creating that habit was really powerful.”
Over the last two years, the couple has shed a total of 170 pounds.
But losing weight, they soon realized, came with an unexpected fringe benefit — saving thousands of dollars per year. Often, people complain that it’s expensive to be healthy — gym memberships and fresh produce don’t come cheap, after all. But the LeBlancs found the opposite to be true.
Erin, who is a payroll specialist, also managed their household budget. She began noticing a difference in how little money they were wasting on fast food and unused grocery items.
“Before, we always had the best intentions of going to the grocery store and buying all the healthy foods. But we never ate them,” she says. “We ended up throwing out a lot of healthy food, vegetables, and fruits.”
Before their lifestyle change, Brian and Erin would often eat out for dinner, spending as much as $80 per week, and they would often go out with friends, spending about $275 a month. Now, Brian says if they grab fast food, they choose a smaller portion. Last month, they only spent $22 on fast food.
What’s changed the most is how they shop for groceries, what they buy, and how they cook. Brian likes to prep all his meals on Sunday so his lunches during the week are consistent and portion-controlled. They also buy only enough fresh produce to last them a couple of days to prevent wasting food.
Losing weight — and student loan debt
Two years after the start of their weight-loss journey, they took a look at their bank statements to see how their spending has changed. By giving up eating out and drinking alcohol frequently, they now spend $600 less a month than they used to, even though they’ve had to buy new wardrobes and gym memberships.
With their newfound savings, the LeBlancs managed to pay off Brian’s $22,000 in student loans 13 years early. Even with the $600 they were now saving, they had to cut back significantly on their budget to come up with the $900-$1,000 they strived to put toward his loans each month. They stopped meeting friends for drinks after work, and Erin took on a part-time job to bring in extra cash. When they needed new wardrobes because their old clothing no longer fit, they frequented thrift shops instead of the mall.
When they made the final payment after two years, it was a relief to say the least.
Now the Canadian couple is saving for a vacation home in Phoenix, Ariz., which they hope to buy in the next few years, and they’re planning to tackle Erin’s student loans next. They’re happy with their weight and lives in general, but don’t take their journey for granted.
“There were times we questioned our sanity and we thought we cannot do this anymore,” says Erin. But they would always rally together in the end.
“There are things that are worth struggling for and worth putting in the effort,” Brian says. “Hands down, your health is one of those things.”
Other Ways Getting Healthy Can Help Financially
Spending less on food isn’t the only way your budget can improve alongside your health. Read below to see how a little weight loss can tip the scales when it comes to your finances.
● Spend less on medical bills. Health care costs have skyrocketed in the last two decades, but they’ve impacted overweight and obese individuals more. A report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality stated that between 2001 and 2006, costs increased 25% for those of normal weight — but 36.3% for those overweight, and a whopping 81.8% for obese people. The less you weigh, the less you’ll pay for monthly health insurance premiums and other expenses.
● Buy cheaper clothes. Designers frequently charge more for plus-size clothing than smaller sizes. Some people claim retailers add a “fat tax” on clothes because there are fewer options for anyone over a size 12. It might not be fair, but it’s the way things are.
● Cut transportation costs. Biking or walking to get around is not only a cheap way to exercise — it’s a cheap way to travel. You’ll be saving on a gym membership and limiting gasoline costs in one fell swoop. Bonus points if you go the whole way and sell or downgrade your vehicle.
Getting Healthy for Cheap
Still worried that an active lifestyle will require you to spend more money? Here are some tips on keeping costs low while you improve your lifestyle.
● Get a family membership. Gyms often provide a discount if you sign up for a family membership instead of an individual one. Most of these deals are only beneficial for households with children, but some might offer a lower price if you sign up with a spouse or partner. Always ask the gym about any special deductions they might have.
● Skip the fancy gym. Many would-be exercisers skip the gym pass because they assume it will be expensive. Before you give up, call around and compare prices. Even in midtown Manhattan, you can find a $45 per month plan at the New York Sports Club. Try your local YMCA, as they often have income-based membership.
● Shop at thrift stores. Finding inexpensive workout clothes can be another barrier to exercising. Who wants to spend $75 on yoga pants? Don’t visit the mall for your new duds. Your local thrift shop or consignment store will have running shorts and tank tops for only a few dollars. Secondhand clothes also make more sense if you’re in the midst of losing a lot of weight and changing sizes frequently.
● Go vegetarian. Meat is usually the most expensive item in your grocery cart. If you’re trying to eat healthier and concerned about money, try vegetarian protein options like lentils, beans, and quinoa. You don’t have to fully adopt the vegetarian lifestyle, but just reducing your meat intake can have a significant impact on the grocery bill.
● Buy frozen produce. Frozen produce is often as healthy as buying fresh, but it can be significantly less expensive. Frozen veggies and fruit also last longer, decreasing the risk of food waste. You can often find coupons, and the long shelf life makes it easy to stock up if there’s a sale on your favorite green beans.
● Cut back on eating out. Ever wonder how restaurant-quality food can be so much better than what you make at home? You guessed it: more salt, more sugar, more butter, and more fat. By limiting the meals you eat out, you’ll avoid all that — as well as those outrageous restaurant markups.
Magnify Money is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.