It's easier to be healthy when you have money. That's always made sense, and a study by the Social Security Administration found that life expectancy has risen at twice the rate for top tax brackets as it has among the lowest earners. But it's also easier to have money if you're healthy. Here are just a few of the ways this potentially more important, and certainly more actionable, fact is true.
1. Lower Food Costs
The occasional takeout meal or drive-thru hamburger is part of life, but families who habitually eat out risk more than their health. The average cost of McDonald's for a family of four is $24, while a roast chicken with steamed veggies and a salad runs at about $14 to serve four. Doing this even three times a week saves more than $1,500 a year -- more if you replace that chicken and veggies feast with a simple beans and rice meal at $9 a night.
2. More Energy
If you eat right and exercise, you have more energy. That means doing more around the house yourself instead of hiring someone to get it done, which equates to spending less money every month. On the flip side, Colditz and Wang's Economic Costs of Obesity Study found a direct correlation between being overweight and earning less at work...with a total personal cost of inactivity between $670 and $1,125 per year per person.
3. Lower Medication Costs
When you get old enough, you'll be on medication of some kind. But healthy lifestyles can prevent or push back going on expensive medications. For example, statins for high blood pressure run at just under $2 per day (more than $700 per year), and medicines for people with type 2 diabetes cost approximately $75 a month.
4. Lower Transportation Costs
Instead of hopping in a car, if you walk just a mile per day -- an easy feat for active individuals with a healthy diet -- that's 365 miles you didn't drive. At the 2012 federal mileage reimbursement rate that's $202.57 a year in saved gas and wear alone, more if you drive a pickup, minivan or other low gas mileage vehicle.
5. Wear Your Clothes Longer
One of the hidden, but most tangible, benefits of staying healthy as a lifestyle decision is not having to buy new clothes as your body changes shape. Exactly how much this saves you varies by your lifestyle, income and love of clothes...but not buying new clothes every year costs a lot less than buying new clothes every time you go up a size.
6. Cutting Out Vices
This one is pure math. A pack of cigarettes runs $5.51 on average in the United States, saving pack-a-day smokers more than $2,000 a year. A daily run through the McDonald's dollar menu for a burger and Coke costs $730 by the end of the year. Everybody has their favorite vice, and they're all savings just waiting to happen.
7. Lower Health and Life Insurance Costs
According to research by financial writer and podcaster Laura Adams, Americans pay a total of $2.9 billion annually in extra life insurance costs for overweight and obesity alone. The healthier you are, the less you'll pay for that coverage. If your employer picks up the bill for your health coverage, you won't pay less for insurance...but more and more employers are offering extra benefits to keep employees fit because of the added costs associated with insuring the unhealthy.
8. Fewer Doctor Visits
Though preventive care visits are part of staying healthy, people who don't take care of themselves go to the doctor more often for visits that cost more. While the exact savings varies widely according to individual and regional differences, you can see the effects in results from a Health Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The survey found that one-quarter of respondents had to reduce retirement savings as a result of increased health care costs, and another 45 percent reduced contributions to other savings.
Understanding how health builds wealth can create a positive feedback loop where healthy lifestyle means more spending money, which you can use to create an even healthier lifestyle. Like most aspects of health and wealth, it's easy to create a snowball effect. The question is which direction that snowball rolls.