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How to Stay Healthy on a Budget

Woman child healthy budgetCosts are going up all around us, but fortunately being healthy doesn’t have to mean spending a ton of money. With a few creative solutions, it’s possible for employees to look after their physical fitness, nutrition, mental health, and financial wellness without breaking the bank. Check out these tips for staying healthy on a budget.

Physical Fitness

Whatever employees’ fitness level or goals, there are many low-cost, easy ways to stay in shape. Also, remember that any type of physical activity counts—whether that’s vacuuming, playing with kids or a pet, or working in the yard. Here are some other ideas:

  • Corporate well-being program. Well-being programs may offer health coaches and virtual classes employees can take advantage of for free. Also, encourage your people to participate in any wellness challenges the company may sponsor, especially if you provide steps-tracking apps or devices to those who participate.
  • Digital workouts. YouTube videos and fitness apps offer a wide range of free content – from strength training to yoga to cardio.
  • Home fitness. A few sets of hand weights, resistance bands, an exercise mat, and maybe a fitness ball can form the basis of a simple home gym. Add in a circuit workout by setting up a few stations and setting a timer to complete them.
  • Bodyweight workouts. Pushups, lunges, squats, and planks all increase strength and offer cardiovascular benefits—with no equipment required.
  • Walking. This tried and true activity offers a low-impact workout virtually anyone can do. Spending time outdoors is a known mental health booster, but if the weather isn’t cooperative walk around the house or apartment or head to an indoor space, like a mall. Walking the dog also counts!
  • Incorporating physical activity into the workday. Fitness experts maintain that exercise doesn’t have to take place all in one session. Urge employees to slot bursts of physical activity into the workday – taking the stairs instead of the elevator, holding walking meetings, going for a walk on a lunch break, or parking further away than usual.
  • Local fitness offerings. Investigate low-cost fitness classes offered by parks and recreation departments and YMCAs. Also take advantage of walking paths, public tracks, and public basketball or tennis courts. Retail establishments, like running stores, often sponsor free workouts or group runs, too.


Fresh produce and lean meats sometimes cost more than processed foods, but with a little planning and effort employees can stretch their budget to make healthy meals. Encourage them to:

  • Plan out meals. Decide on several main meals for the week. Myplate.gov has some great tips. Arrive at the store with a list of ingredients, stick to the list, and avoid the interior aisles of the supermarket so as not to be tempted by processed foods or impulse purchases. Above all, never shop hungry!
  • Shop smart. Shop for in-season produce and choose frozen or canned vegetables as a less costly alternative to fresh produce. Buy frequently used items in bulk at warehouse stores, and check local grocery stores for items on special. Also be sure to join grocery stores’ loyalty programs to get discounts and special offers.
  • Cook at home. Eating at home is much cheaper, and healthier, than eating out or ordering takeout. Think about stretching meals to use leftovers from one meal to create a completely different dish; for example, use leftover roasted chicken to make chicken quesadillas on a different night.
  • Be a meal prepper. Healthy cooking gets a bad rap for taking too much time. But with some meal prep on the weekend employees can have all the building blocks ready for those busy weeknights. Roasted vegetables, brown rice, and grilled chicken come together easily into a healthy bowl option, as do pre-chopped veggies and protein for a quick stir-fry.
  • Consider adding more plant-based meals. Plant-based protein sources, like beans and tofu, are less expensive than meat. Add a few plant-based meals to a cooking repertoire, or simply replace a portion of the meat in regular recipes with a plant-based protein.

Mental Health

Seeing a therapist regularly can add up – especially if those services aren’t covered by health insurance. Some therapists are willing to use a payment plan or a sliding scale for their fees. Short of seeing a therapist, there are other low-cost ways to get mental health help:

  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Make sure employees know that most EAPs include a set number of free counseling sessions with a therapist in the EAP’s network. EAPs also offer support with life transitions, financial stress, and locating child care.
  • Well-being program resources. Many well-being programs these days – like WebMD Health Services – offer resources for mental health. These might include stress management techniques, resilience-building, mental health podcasts, or programs to increase social connections.
  • Meditation and mindfulness. These practices have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. While some meditation apps cost money, there are some that are completely free.
  • Spending time in nature. Studies show being outdoors has many mental health benefits and, of course, it’s also free.
  • Support groups. Focused on specific topics (i.e. depression, family, divorce, grief, etc.), support groups allow people to share experiences and gain support from others. Both the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America have lists of both in-person and virtual support groups.
  • Community mental health centers. These may offer lower cost therapy sessions.

Financial Wellness

A fee-based financial counselor might be out of reach, but there are low-cost or free resources employees can access to take charge of their financial wellness.

  • Online financial questionnaires. This quiz helps users get a handle on finances by measuring current financial well-being and learning steps to improve it.
  • 401(k) plan. Many plans feature free financial education, online budgeting tools, retirement trackers and even the chance to meet with a counselor. A 401(k) plan administrator’s customer service line can help.
  • Employees’ personal bank. Banks offer free online financial tools, calculators, and guides that can help with day-to-day budgeting, saving for college or a home, paying down debt, and more.
  • Employer-sponsored financial wellness programs. If you have a financial wellness program – and many employers now do – make sure every employee knows about it. Also promote any well-being program financial wellness services and the EAP’s financial tools and resources.

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We hope these tips for helping employees stay healthy on a budget have been helpful. For advice on how a well-being program can give your employees access to a range of tools to improve their physical fitness, nutrition, mental health, and financial wellness visit our website or contact us at connect@webmd.net.

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