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Have a Balanced Diet and a Balanced Budget
You might think there's no room for a healthy lifestyle in your budget.


If that's the case, maybe mull over what it costs to eat a fat-laden restaurant meal, or to buy new business attire to accommodate an expanding waistline. Sure, healthy living doesn't always come on the cheap. But I think about the relationship between money and health with hard, cold business sense: Sometimes, you have to spend in order to save.


That's why I'm banking that every dollar I invest today in leading a healthy lifestyle will save me a bundle of medical expenses down the road.


Eating less should lower our family's grocery bills. I'm equally concerned, however, about the quality of foods my family eats. That requires extra spending.


I gave up perusing the grocery circular long ago after concluding that my shopping list was based on sale items, instead of the more important goal of what my family should eat. I drive past the warehouse clubs along my errand route, such as BJ's Wholesale Club (BJ) and Wal-Mart's (WMT) Sam's Club. Yes, buying in bulk can save money, but I'd rather avoid the temptation to stock up on processed snack and frozen foods just because the prices may be lower than in a conventional supermarket.


We rely on a list of wholesome staples that we buy weekly -- on sale or not. Our refrigerator is stocked with multiple fruits. Buying organic is a huge expense for a five-person family, so I try to pick and choose my produce. I'll pay extra for organic fruits when I know my three children are likely to ingest a skin that may have been exposed to pesticides -- such as on apples or grapes -- but I try to cut corners by purchasing non-organic oranges and bananas, because I can easily peel them.


I've found some affordable organic options, at least for part of the year. The best one, I think, is to purchase a share -- or a half share -- from a local farm that offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Think of it as a "farm subscription" that entitles you to a share of the fruits and vegetables harvested each week.


I have found even a half share to be adequate for my family. Prices vary depending on the farm, and range anywhere from about $400 for a half share, to up to $800 for a full share. You'll receive generous allotments of produce every week from about mid-June through mid-November.


Do the math: That's about $66 per month for a half- share, for a generous assortment of weekly produce. You can find CSA programs and other local farms at Local Harvest.


I recently spent $9 on a modest-size free-range chicken, instead of a supermarket roaster for about half the price, because I felt I had a better sense of where it was raised and what it had eaten. I also pay extra for Omega-3 eggs -- about $3 a dozen, instead of $1.50 for store-brand eggs. The pricier eggs are higher in heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, because of the foods eaten by the chickens that lay them -- a diet that often includes flax seed, also rich in Omega 3 fatty acids.


My grocery bill for healthy eating grows higher with every trip down the snack food aisle. Baked snacks -- such as Frito Lay Baked! Lays potato crisps and Tostidos tortilla chips always seem more expensive than fried snacks. It's also hard to find a good deal in the natural-foods aisle. We recently bought Robert's American Gourmet Smart Puffs -- a cheddar-flavored snack food -- on sale for $2. But my three kids practically inhaled the 4.5-ounce bag in one sitting.


I'd buy organic milk weekly -- in a perfect world, of course. But it could be more cost effective to satisfy my three children with their own cow, given that organic milk costs about $4 for a half gallon. Here's how I compromise: I shop at a local market that offers store- brand milk from a regional dairy whose farmers have pledged not to use recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.


Eating right goes hand-in-hand with physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50% of U.S. adults do not get enough physical activity to provide health benefits -- despite the obvious decrease in risk it precipitates for heart attack, colon cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure -- a myriad of health complications that can only drive up expenses during the course of a lifetime.


It doesn't cost anything to get moving. A walk around the block is free. But let's face it, exercise can be boring, especially during the housebound winter months. I throw a little cash at my family's efforts to stay fit. I think of it as buying some extra motivation.


Getting outside is always my preference, but it's good to have a backup plan. My husband Ben and I bought a moderately-priced PaceMaster treadmill 10 years ago -- and we still use it religiously when we can't get outside or to the gym. I invest all of $20 on a new exercise DVD about every three months, just to do something different (my favorite: the Tae Bo series, by fitness guru Billy Blanks). Buying new sneakers every six months is also motivational because we want to use our new footwear. Our favorite athletic wear discount store is online at Holabird Sports.


I'm redirecting those funds toward continually improving my family's lifestyle -- and hopefully warding off the expenses of chronic disease as I age.

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