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Spending On Our Health, Our Most Important Asset

we plan to live long, healthy lives (a potential glitch not withstanding), which is why we spend so much on healthy groceries, to the dismay of frugalites everywhere. we think: why bother retiring early and getting back all of these years of your life if you aren’t going to prioritize your health and do everything you can to make sure that your quality of life is top-notch? besides, being unhealthy is one of the most expensive ways to live, while staying healthy is good and affordable.

while our financial assets are what will enable us to quit working in a few years, today we’re talking about what we see as our most important asset: our health. that includes both physical health and mental health, since both are super important, and both are destroyed by modern work. (okay, maybe “destroyed” is overstating things, but the modern pace of work is definitely detrimental to most people’s health.)

right now, our work schedules make staying healthy especially tough. we both have fancy senior-level titles, and are expected to work a lot of hours each week, as well as stay accessible on evenings and weekends. this takes a toll physically and mentally, meaning that we’re constantly dealing with the effects of stress: poor quality sleep, headaches, cravings for junk food, neck and back pain, the desire to lay on the couch after work instead of getting outside and exercising. then there’s the every-single-week travel, which makes it hard to get into a solid workout routine, and we all know how perilous it can be to try to eat healthily on the road. most days, the best we can do is take heart that this too shall pass, and soon we’ll have control over our days and our habits. but we have big plans to change things up after we retire in two and a half years.

of course, lots of being healthy is absolutely free: getting outside to exercise in the fresh air, choosing not to smoke, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding toxic people. and we do all of that stuff. but we also spend out on our health in some big ways, and plan to do even more when we’re retired. some of these expenditures may not seem health-related, but we see them that way, and that makes them worth it to us.

how we plan to spend on our health:

health insurance. we’re currently insured through work, but plan to switch to a not-bare-bones plan in retirement. we all know the stats: those who get preventive care have better health and health outcomes than those who only get care when they’re sick. we don’t want to be the sick ones, we want to be the healthy ones. we care about access to health care so much that we’re shaping our entire retirement budget around the affordable care act subsidy limits, as outlined brilliantly by justin at root of good. everyone has to figure out their own preferences, but for us, if we know that the office visit copay is high, we’re less likely to go to the doctor than if the copay is lower. so we’re planning to get a gold or silver plan with this feature, not a bargain basement bronze plan. and if obamacare goes away one day, we’re not averse to becoming expats in another country with cheaper but excellent health care.

gym membership. where we live, the gym isn’t cheap. and right now, we don’t get to go there much, so we don’t currently pay for the gym. (it helps that we have trails pretty much right out our front door.) but once we retire, we plan to join the gym again, and will be able to benefit from the off-peak membership, which will let us work out during midday for less than the cost of a regular membership. we see a lot of people, in an effort to save money, cut out the gym, and we think that’s not always a good decision. sure, it’s possible to workout without a gym membership, as we currently do, but we’re missing out on weights and classes that would challenge us in different ways. especially as we get older, we know that lifting weights and doing other load-bearing exercises will be even more important to avoid losing bone density, so this is a priority spending area for us.

healthy groceries. groceries are our single biggest expenditure each month, and we’re totally okay with that. organic, unprocessed foods cost more, and they’re important enough to us that we’re willing to suck it up and pay the difference.

destressing. while we anticipate feeling a lot less stress in retirement than we do now, we aren’t naive enough to think that stress will ever go away entirely. heck, maybe we’ll find ourselves stressing about money in ways that don’t affect us now. either way, we plan to continue some of what we do now to deal with work stress, namely devoting time and money to yoga and relaxation, and splurging on the occasional massage. we aren’t big yoga spenders ($15+ a class?… come on!), but have been known to go to an occasional retreat or seminar. and a few times a year, we treat ourselves to massages, especially if the local spa is running a special. (a couples massage at the spa is our favorite way to celebrate our anniversary.) we’re sure that “spa day” doesn’t fit into most frugal vocabularies, but as long as we plan for the spending, we think it’s totally worth it.

gear maintenance. we moved to the mountains so that we could enjoy all of the recreational activities here. those activities are both a means and an end — they keep us healthy, and we want to stay healthy to be able to keep doing things like mountain biking, skiing, backpacking and paddling. the downside is that most of these activities require gear, and most of it is pretty expensive. tempting as it might be to upgrade skis every few years or get the coolest new backpacking stove, we’ve accepted that we need to buy less gear if we want to have our financial freedom. but what we do need to invest in is maintaining the gear we have. that means keeping our skis tuned (something we can do ourselves most of the time, but we still need the occasional $50 base grind), keeping our bikes maintained (we’re learning to tune up our bikes and can cover the basics, but sometimes pro service is still needed), and keeping our outdoor equipment clean so that everything works properly (those goretex pores need to be nice and open if you want to avoid the sweat fest — this is not always a diy task).

classes or groups to keep us in touch. we pondered a while back if retiring early will accelerate our aging in the form of getting out of touch with society. while we don’t know the answer, we’re willing to spend money on classes to learn new skills or technologies, or join groups to help us keep in touch with what the kids are up to these (future) days. we hope we don’t need this one, but we’re open to it, because we see staying mentally flexible as an important component of health.

travel to visit family. research shows that strong family bonds are incredibly beneficial to health, and we’re committed to staying close to our families. (we also happen to like them a lot — so that helps!) ;-) once we quit our jobs and have our camper rig figured out (we’re hoping to convert a sprinter van or use a light fiberglass trailer), we plan to camp out in front of relatives’ houses for extended visits. so consider yourselves warned, family!

investing in our relationship. another big boon to health: having a healthy marriage. we’re lucky that we have a pretty darn great relationship, but if it ever falters, we’re not above doing some “touch up” counseling. we did some relationship counseling before we got married, and think it was one of the best things we ever did, even if it cost more than $100 a week. it helped us communicate better and avoid repeated conflicts, and we’re open to going back if we ever need to. (knock on wood!)

long-term care. if all goes to plan, we’ll never need long-term care. we hope to stay active and independent into our 90s, but in our 30-plus years on the planet, we’ve learned how rarely things go as planned. right now we have long-term care insurance through work, but we plan to shell out for it after we quit. just as a medical problem could eat through our hard-earned nest egg in no time, so could long-term care. and that’s the last thing we want.

how do you plan to look out for your health long-term? do you have anything special in your budget that may not be frugal but will keep you healthy? any expenditures you’ve found not to be worth it? please share your thoughts!

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21 replies »

  1. You are right that healthy habits are key. I love my massages. Right now I pay full price, but I have thought about ideas for free massage…. go to a school and get a cheap massage from a student or provide a free room to a massage therapist in exchange for so many massages.

    If you really like the health club classes, then it would be worth it, but I personally don’t think you need the weight machines. I am a girl and I can now do 15 pushups in a row, which I think is pretty good. I also do 50 pushups in a day over a few different sets. I have two very small weights for my back and shoulders. You can also use bottles filled with water. I encourage you to check out a few resources that are recommending moving away from typical gym gear into more natural, full body, functional movements that will help keep our knees and hips in better shape into old age. You can do these exercises anywhere…. at the park, at the beach, while traveling, etc…

    Katy Bowman is one with several books and videos. Her blog is AWESOME! She is really funny and down to earth… KatySays.com.

    Also check out MovNat. I’m thinking of getting certified as something that I can use to make money for myself.

    Lastly, the Primal Blueprint is a great resource for the best non-gym exercises.

    • Great tips — thanks for those. Though we don’t want to give too much away, we have extensive health and fitness training, so have some specific things in mind at the gym. :-)

      • I understand. I also have extensive weight training at the gym, ran a marathon, and several half marathons and triathalons, etc…. I was pretty much into the machines and ‘chronic cardio’ for a long time with the goal of sculpting and ‘weight bearing’ exercises. I even took formal colleges classes in fitness also and I consider myself a life long learner of fitness. I just now have a different view after reading about people that are promoting more functional training in more natural environments instead of gym training which doesn’t really fit our natural body movements. Plus, gyms are HUGE energy hogs and not good for the environment! :)

  2. This is one of the things we haven’t hammered out yet specifically. I’m putting it off. :) I love the healthy living goals. I just need to figure out the specifics of health insurance with early retirement.

  3. I like your comment about counseling. Although we are young, my partner and I have considered counseling as well. There is such an unfortunate stigma tethered to the idea of counseling. As if only
    people that can’t help themselves and are at the end of their ropes go to counseling. And yet, counselors are professionals who have explored and understood a whole body of scientific literature (they have earned a degree). Turning to the experts should not be looked down upon. It should be a sign of a strengthening and commitment. /soapbox

    Anyways, we haven’t gone yet. We haven’t looked too hard yet either. But we will. Soon.

    Thanks for sharing again. Take care.

    • Love that you guys are thinking about it! The stigma is really overpowering, and it means that most people only go to counseling when the relationship is already beyond repair. We think going set our marriage up for success, and we highly recommend it to anyone!

  4. Adding this post to my pocket. I will reread when I am closer to FIRE.
    For now, I take care of health via doing more sports (running) and we eat more fruit. We also try to ban too much sweets and sugar drinks.

    Preparing health care is also important. In Belgium, social security is now quite good. As an example: we get a free check up with the dentist each year. Preventive visits often avoid costly emergency visits. Never the less, we have subscribed to a health plan for after the official pension age. We still need to work out what happens between FIRE and pension.

    • We’re jealous of the far superior health care provided in European nations and Canada, Australia, Japan… basically every other industrialized nation! The U.S. is pretty terrible on that front, truly.

      Banning sugary drinks is a great call, too! We cut out soda years ago, and feel so much better.

  5. I’m interested in your choice to pursue long term care coverage. Long term care does run about 50-60K per year (per person), but on average upon entering a long term care facility people only live 3-4 years. (Assisted living is I think around 60K for a pair, but isn’t always covered by the insurance). Most likely by the time you would need long term care your portfolio would still be well above 7 figures, and you can manage to dwindle it down a few years before dying.

    Also, my grandma requires full time care, and my grandparents found it to be less stressful to hire someone full time in house and renovate the house to accomodate limited mobility. This runs them around $60K per year (plus the one time cost of renovation), but is more comfortable. This type of care wouldn’t be covered by LT insurance.

    • We’ve done a great deal of thinking about this topic, and — in truth — are using “long-term care insurance” as our short-hand for a number of things we’re doing. You’re right that it’s pricey insurance and may not be the best option if/when we get to the point of needing that level of help. Suffice to say: we’re thinking ahead and will make sure we have a game plan in place should we ever be unable to live independently! :-)

  6. You are definitely working towards the best possible thing for your health…leaving the workplace! The pace of our working life is incredibly detrimental to both physical and mental health. I like your suggestion for taking classes to stay mentally young. While my overall wellbeing is exponentially greater since retiring, I have been floundering a bit for stimulation. I will be checking out the community ed classes for sure!

  7. I love this list! I eat pretty healthy and exercise 4 days a week now. I believe strongly in health at any age and I’m setting myself up with healthy habits I’ll carry with me through life. Nothing like a sunset run or walk! I like that you plan for things like maintenance and possible therapy. That’s very well rounded thinking and planning!!

    • How great that you’ve built up such healthy habits — keep it up! It’s easy to ignore your health in your 20s, but it’s the perfect time to form good habits. 😉

  8. This is absolutely one of the biggest reasons I want to achieve FI, but given that it’s so far away for me, I trying very hard to avoid the trap of inadvertently sacrificing health now in all those bad ways that come with full time work and very little time for much else. It’s such a challenge, because earning that little big of extra money always seems like the easy choice, but it’s hard to see the value impact on your health. If I was really living in line with my values, my ideal would be to work part time and make health a much bigger priority, but those trade-off’s and changes just aren’t easy to make without a nice big financial cushion!

    • What a smart way of thinking about your priorities. In our case, it was never a single decision to work more and sacrifice our health. It’s been a gradual slippery slope over the years, especially as we’ve gotten more responsibility at work… And more pay! But love that you’re thinking about your health now!

  9. If there are ways to improve our health and spend less money, shouldn’t we do it? Our billing and medical records systems are tops on the list, and overhauling these two areas could make our health care simpler and better.