October 13, 2008

Staying Healthy When The Economy Sucks

I Waited all Day in This Bread Line and
They Don't Even Have Whole Wheat?

(Note: This is Part One of a two part post. In Part II we're going to get much more nuts-and-bolts practical, and I'm hoping some of you Smart Readers can help me out!)

Getting a Little Worried about the Economy?

Who knows, maybe the market is going to zoom up a few thousand points this week and Gloom and Doom scenarios will not come to pass. Companies will meet payrolls and there will be no layoffs or recessions or government cutbacks or bankruptcies. Perhaps some day in the future we'll all be laughing about those few funny weeks back in October of 2008 when everything seemed to be going to hell in a handbasket. But guess what, nothing bad actually happened! Ha ha ha ha!

Let's hope so, anyway.

But as a proud member of the "defensive pessimism" club, I'm guessing... we may be in for some tough times. It may be wise to think ahead about how we're going to handle them.

Many household budgets may no longer have room for things like gym memberships or cute workout clothes or personal trainers or kettlebells or heirloom organic vegetables or pre-cooked free range chickens -- or for extra hours of child care in order to get some time to work out.

How will this potentially sucky economy affect your health and fitness?

Perhaps that depends on how you approach it.

How Does The Economy Effect Health and Fitness?

There's a recent article in the New York Times (registration may be required) about how a good or bad economy can affect health. The whole thing is a bit of a mishmash, and there's no clear bottom line. The worst aspect seems to be the inability of lower income folks to pay for necessary health care. But depending on who you are and how you handle things, the article seems to suggest that bad economic times don't necessarily mean that the health of the population suffers.

They have examples like people who get fired from their jobs may get to spend more time with their kids; and folks who can't afford restaurants may do more cooking at home, from scratch. And they mention that "good times," can affect health in negative ways: people may work long hours, not exercise, skip doctor's appointments and eat lots of fatty food at restaurants.

Some Health Challenges When Money's Tight

I'm not an expert on either economics or health, so I'm only guessing. But here are some things that seem might get more difficult for a lot of families if the economy really does go down the toilet:

1. Affording proper health care

2. Eating nutritious food on a smaller budget

3. Having fewer exercise options, like gym memberships, exercise equipment, personal trainers, and even proper shoes and clothing

4. Coping with longer work hours from taking on second jobs

5. Or, alternatively, dealing with depression and loss of structure in the day from losing a job

6. Finding time to work out without money for day care or other household help, and

7. Stress, stress, stress, and more stress.

And I'm sure there are lots more I haven't thought of yet. But lets shift gears entirely now, shall we, for...

A Little Personal Story About Change!

Once upon a time, I worked for a stodgy old legal publishing company. The environment was not glamorous and we were all underpaid, but it was a friendly, flexible workplace. Most of my coworkers were scary smart and hella fun to hang with. And there were genuine wild-haired eccentrics roaming the hallways! People got hired and stayed there for decades, pretty much until they retired or toppled over at their desks of old age.

It short: it was a comfortable place to work and I mostly liked the job a lot.

Then one day another, bigger company bought us. Consultants were dispatched and soon thereafter there were beaming corporate trainers everywhere, and a blizzard of buzz-words and binders and workshops and mission statements and team-building exercises all designed to turn us in to model employees.

Employees of the Month!
(Photo by defwheezer

And of course very soon thereafter, two-thirds of the workforce was fired. Welcome to Change, and don't let the door smack you in the ass on your way out.

Those of us who remained were left stunned and gasping; we flopped around like fish on a boat deck, wondering where the hell the our comfortable old salty water was. And we were the lucky ones.

And while I no longer own the personalized company t-shirt with my name misspelled on it, I did retain one thing from all those smiley-faced trainings on the brave new corporate world: the concept they called ... the "Opporthreat."

Seriously, An Opporthreat?

It was hard not to laugh. In fact, many employees heard it as an "opera threat," and understandably became very confused. Were well-endowed sopranos wearing horned helmets on the way to roust us from our cubicles?

But the term basically seemed to mean this: sometimes a big looming change that looks like it's going to be a "Threat" can really be an "Opportunity." So it's an "opporthreat!"

Kinda makes you want to puke, right? And mostly, it's bullsh*t.

Bad things aren't usually good things--they're bad things. Often when they happen, the best you can do is cope with them and hope one day to be back to normal.

But sometimes... crummy things actually do shake things up and change your life for the better. When your entire lifestyle needs to be re-evaluated for stupid reasons beyond your control, sometimes you can actually use that "all bets are off" feeling to rediscover your true priorities again.

As it happened, the decimation of our comfortable old workplace really did lead to some great new work and lifestyle changes for many people at the company, including myself. Eventually. But the transitions were sometimes long and painful.

So I guess I'm hoping that for some people, in some situations, the coming crappy economic times could actually be a chance to reevaluate lifestyle decisions. Not just how often to eat dinner out, but even major things like what kind of neighborhood to live in or how many cars to own or how many hours to work and how much "stuff" in our lives we decide is really necessary.

'Cause I'm thinking mostly it's gonna suck. But perhaps some of us might find a few "Opporthreats" out there?

Help Me Write the Next Post on Practical Ways to Stay Healthy When Money's Tight!

I know there are probably practical lists all over the web on ways to be healthy on a budget, but we want one here too! I'd like to collect a bunch of tips and links in one place, especially ones that have actually worked for Cranky Fitness readers. And I'd like to have a whole post about it, rather than bury great ideas in the comments section of this post.

So if any of you could email us here at Crabby McSlacker @ gmail dot com (no spaces) that would be awesome. If you're a blogger and you've already written a post on cheap ways to stay healthy, please send us a link! Or if you've seen a really helpful bunch of tips elsewhere and can send a link, that would be great too.

And we'd love to hear from any of you who have specific suggestions about staying healthy on the cheap! We may edit down longer suggestions to get small bite sized tip just to keep the list manageable.

We'd love to create a book-markable resource to come back to if, a few months down the road, you should God Forbid find yourself in need of some ideas for cutting expenses.

If you could get any tips or links to us by later in the week that would be great--I can run the post Friday or next Monday.

So, are any of you worried about the economy? Ever actually had an "opporthreat" in your own life, where you actually turned a crappy situation into something good?


  1. I am looking at everyone's sudden interest in the "read more" as an opporthreat. Yes, I saw you over at Bossy's!

  2. Dang, Holly, I was hoping to slip that in without anyone noticing!

    I found it pretty funny even Bossy got a ton of shit for "read more". I really should just learn to write shorter posts. But until then, sometimes there'll be an extra click involved, sorry!

  3. I love this idea!! I will be sending you my (rather uncreative) two cents!

  4. **yep** noticed here too.

    tho I shall never be organized enough to follow...


  5. Having never been on a "loose" budget, I have no ideas. Fish: water. My major extravagance is health insurance. I've always had private health insurance, since I've never worked anywhere large enough to afford group insurance for its employees.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, with no belt to tighten

  6. la la la! Burying my head in the sand! :-)

    You'll tell me when it's safe to come out, please!

  7. The only constant in life is change.

    I suppose this is an opportunity to fold back into ourselves and learn to do things the old-fashioned way i.e. from scratch instead of from a can.

    If I have anything worthwhile to contribute I'll send it over.

  8. Interesting post, Crabby. We were actually discussing this (in a small way) over the weekend with hubby's mother, who grew up during the Depression in the '30's.
    Personally, I think a lot of people are in for some eye-openers if the economy continues to decline. (Myself included, perhaps!)
    Because I try to live a reasonably simple, self-sufficient life, a lot of the things I do are second-nature, so I'm not sure how I can contribute to your tips post.
    Must give it some thought.

  9. I'll e-mail you if I think of anything really good.

    Also, BK's mom is a financial planner, and she's of the opinion that 1. the economy goes through cycles, and we're nearing the end of a downturn. and 2. there should be a very different attitude come November. (she's also assuming that Obama's going to win).

  10. I've been dealing with the "difficult list" for the last 8 years. I don't know if that makes me feel better or worse...

    I'll will send in a list. FOR SURE.

  11. I seriously just saw a discussion on this and the tips given in the post were great, but I can't for the life of me remember where I read it. Darn. Hopefully someone will submit it, but in the mean time I'll keep racking my brain for it!

  12. Can't wait to see everyone's ideas! My only concession to the recession (like it? like it?) so far is wearing more jumpers to save on heating bills and buying Christmas presents early to fill the void of not being able to buy myself anything new or pretty.

    Sucks about your cosy company getting turned over - exactly the same thing is happening to my boyfriend at the moment. I'm praying he comes out with his job. Although I'm not so sure he'll love what's left of his job anyway, once the corporate droids are done rebranding it ....

    TA x

  13. hmmmm...I defintely have cut back on going out to dinner and am trying to clip coupons and only buy what I actually need. But then, I have been living fairly frugally for a while, so not sure what else I can cut back on! eeek!

  14. I guess we have to take control of what we can and that is ourselves. I have to stop watching the news! Negative, negative, negative! Maybe a little positive thinking here and there will help? A positive attitude is contagious?

  15. Here is my recent post on cutting costs, which you are welcome to quote or use things from, if you see fit:

  16. It's difficult to stay healthy when money is tight... we need to get extra creative!

  17. this summer, our car was on it's last legs (OK, it flat out broke down on the highway while I was going 60mph.) We needed a new car, not the best thing in this economy. So I walked much, much more as a way of avoiding the car - the grocery store is a 5 minute drive/20 minute walk. Of course I can only carry two bags but hey, less money to spend! and we saved on gas. We did, however, just get a new car but I'll walk as much as possible until the snow begins to fall!

  18. Shoot, I haven't had health insurance since Hurricane Katrina. I've been trying to get a head-start on cutting corners even more so than I already do. My grocery bill has been on the high side due to a love of fresh produce. Trying to eat more lentils and such. I can't wait to see the list!

  19. I emailed my 2 cents in. I figured it would be nice to hear from someone within the fitness industry.

    Can't wait to read part II.

  20. HIGHLY recommend Trent's blog, The Simple Dollar. He's obsessed with eating healthy on a budget!! Lots of posts about it in the archives.


  21. BTW, I HATE the term "opporthreat!" Let's think of a new one!!

    And also btw, I work down here on Wall Street, and it's going to be okay. I just wish I had some money so I could buy stocks!!!! Everything is on sale!!!!! (Gosh I'd really love to buy some Apple. It's down over half.)

    Vote OBAMA. That'll help.

  22. Hey, instead of "opporthreat," how about "lemon?" (As in making lemonade if handed one by life.) It's pretty, juicy, healthy and smells really good.

  23. I am walking more instead of paying for a cab or the bus and trying not to waste cash on candy-which should both save money and help my fitness goals. I gave up my gym membership at renewal time too, having decided that I was not going often enough to justify the cost. But I have bought new running shoes...

  24. My husband's co. has been laying off people for over a year. We expect him to be laid off around the new year. We have been on a budget for a year and that budget is about to become even smaller. However, my gym membership will be one of the last things to go. It is such a stress release for me. I think I would do some major damage to my girls and husband it I couldn't go the the gym.

  25. We have felt the pull to watch each penny a lot tighter and try to save. We are also using this as a teaching tool for the kiddos about why material possessions do not determine wealth or love.

  26. Wow, lots of great ideas already!

    And Alison, so sorry to hear about your husbands job being in jeopardy. But I'm with you, the gym would be one of the last things to go!

  27. I'm already down to next to nothing, we don't go "out' except to walk or do free stuff. I only buy meat when it's a loss leader and in big packs and freeze most (though I inspect it carefully also and grind my own hamburger), and I will now buy more produce from the farmer's markets as it's fresher and often 1/2 price. I am making more big healthy one pot meals and freezing portions, so that they will cover say 3 separate dinners where I can feed 3 people for $5. for the *entire* meal, which saves me time and money, plus it's all fresh ingredients. (That gives me more time to work and less time spent in the kitchen). I am buying food that we use all the time as much as possible *only* when it is on sale and stuffing the freezers, but I have always done that.

    I don't have a car, so I walk everywhere I can, and bike where it is safe, or take the bus, which is quicker and cheaper than driving and parking sometimes. I have a car to borrow if I really want one, I just put in gas and wash it in exchange. If a 2-3 car family could let go of one car it would be a bigger savings than you'd think.

    For perspective, personally we have lost hundreds of thousands of $$ on paper at this point between the three of us in the market. The loss is final if we take it by cashing out, so we have to sit with it. It was a false market driven by greed and corruption and it was due for a correction, but like housing and then tech, we didn't see it coming so "soon". Getting upset over it is basically useless, what's gone is gone. We could have been in Galveston or the Chinese earthquakes, but we're still ok, and still have a roof, which is a huge blessing.

    Frugality has become a lifestyle we are fairly comfortable with. We know that we don't own stuff, it owns us. But healthcare is the biggest concern.

    So my recs for staying healthy, reducing stress and saving money? Eat more fresh veggies over meat and grains if you have access to a farmer's market or buy frozen on sale. Cut out salt, drink more water and herbal tea, and quit watching the news and dump the newspaper, it's just a bummer over and over. You can get news online but can control what you read easier. That all helps reduce stress and saves time and money. Cutting out sodas, lattes and sports drinks alone would potentially save $100-150. or more a month, depending on consumption. Note that I didn't say don't drink coffee! I roast ours myself, it costs about $5-6 a pound, I enjoy the process as a hobby, and we use about 2 pounds a week, and it's always FRESH! 3 Venti drips a day at *$ would be $6. plus tips, or $210.00 a month *minimum* (not even counting refills) for this family!

    My best rec is not easy but it's really productive: I'd say get a notebook and write down every expenditure on one side (every pack of gum, every stamp, EVERYTHING), and then flip upside down and now from the back (keeping the cost to one notebook and the info together at the same time) write down everything eaten (if it goes in your mouth, even one bite, write it down) for one month.

    Prepare to be shocked! Then tune the budget and the menu (and diet if applicable). Huge stress reductions by virtue of both saving money and eating healthier. (If you wrote down all exercise in the middle too, well, wow!).

  28. Great Post! Given the economic crisis going on right now, how about the costly gyms lower some of their fees! If people's health was of any concern, gym memberships would not cost as much as they do.

  29. Sorry I didn't put the Simple Dollar link in right. I'm trying again:


    Hope that works!

  30. I am already living as close to the bone as possible. If I come up with any bright ideas, I will email you.

  31. Didn't the stock market go up today?

    If so, why should we scrimp and save and eat economically?
    Food will be the last thing that goes for me.
    Health will probably be the first thing to go.
    And mental stability.

  32. I'm already a pretty frugal person, so I don't know if I could cut back any more. I do know that buying ingredients is cheaper and healthier than buying pre-made food, whether deli or frozen. Buying seeds is even cheaper and gardening is considered a weight-bearing activity.

    For someone who already has a bike, it's cheaper to get a bike trainer and use the bike as a stationary bicycle than to buy a separate stationary bike or have a gym membership.

    Walking is free and running involves only the cost of the shoes.

    Yoga can be done at home. So can a lot of other types of exercise.

    For the person who really needs the social interaction of a gym but can't afford it, there are often ads on Craigslist for training partners. You can find ads for all kinds of used equipment, too.

    In the end, it's really about being creative. Some people are very dedicated to their ideal workout arrangement and won't work out if that arrangement doesn't fall through. My husband is one of those. He has a preferred place to run and if he can't go there for some reason, by golly he won't run. I, OTOH, take the attitude that I'm going to run regardless, and it's just a question of where.

    Dedicate yourself to the goal and be flexible on the means. The rest will fall into place.

  33. Hi Crabby,

    As a retiree on a fixed income, I am always frugal.

    Since the economy started sliding in 2006, my area of change is food. I watch the expiration dates on what I buy and use it (even if I don't want to) before it expires. I force myself to keep aware of the contents of my produce drawers and use everything before it turns green and soggy. I also have grown to rely more on eggs and less on meat for protein. The economy is a good excuse not to buy junk food.

    So far, my health plan pays much of the cost of my very moderately priced gym. If that changes, I would have to rethink membership.

    Fortunately I walk as my alternate exercise so I would just fall back to that as my primary.

    I pray for the people who are really struggling right now.


  34. We hearing on the news every night about the economy in the States. The New Zealand money market has had a real shakeup - when America sneezes, we wipe our nose - and I suspect we have worse to come.

    Hang in there, guys.

  35. I don't think I'm any poorer now than I would have been anyway if the global economy hadn't melted down. That's one good thing about having nothing to lose. Still, I'm about to try and find a new share-house, and that's going to drain me pretty dry.

    In terms of fresh food ideas, here's something my university did. About a year ago, they designated some of their land and water allowance and put in a huge veggie patch. It's open for use to any student who fills out a form, so any time of the year it's full of vegetables that the students then use to supplement our diets. When a crop is really good, there tends to be a "free zucchinis for everyone!" situation. It's great.

    If you have any space at all to grow your own food, it's worth doing. You know it's fresh if you just pulled it out of the dirt.

  36. FOr me the worry is food: Unfortunately most of the healthy stuff is trucked in...and it'll cost more. So less healthy food...I'll try harder to eat well...or at least cut back in other areas to eat what I want to.
    Think I'll need to start planting things...or buying more local at the farmers market....I should can more stuff than I do. Once you invest in teh cans eand stuff, you can save money on the canned goods by making your own. AND no preservatives. Hoo Ah.
    I'm already pretty frugal, from being a broke uni student...it's hard to let go. Often read budget tips and think "hello? I already have had to do that to get by" but since the husband has regualar work, we've been a bit slack at keeping the $$ in check. We'll likely have to be more careful again.
    I'm very curious to hear your tips and tricks. I'm always looking for a way I can trim things up...it helps pay the bills and frees up some $$.

  37. Group Runs. Rotating Babysitting duty between 4 parents so you can all get in 3 or 4 workouts a week. Potluck dinners for 4+ because the cost per person is lower that way. Paying for high quality cable if it means you will spend less overall on Movies, UFC Fights, Hockey Games, etc.

  38. If your looking for ways to save money and avoid scams, you may want to check out this non-commercial web site LeapToCheap.com


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