Prioritizing wellness by recalibrating the budget

Money affects wellness beyond the scope of “retail therapy” and my January challenge.  After all, our society is built upon money.  It lubricates the cogs of the economic system.  And so it is impossible to consider wellness without considering the impact of money on wellness, and vice versa.

At its core, the most fundamental use for money is to ensure access to basic survival needs.  Anything beyond that is, in the strictest sense, a luxury.  Before we can be picky about what type of food we eat, we must first ensure that we have enough food to make it to tomorrow.  If we cannot meet our basic needs, or if we have other costs that detract from the wellness category, then money stands as an obstacle to achieving greater quality of life.

Thus the second reason for the buy nothing new challenge is to address these larger scale connections between money and wellness.  With no books, magazines, clothing, hobby supplies in the budget, my discretionary spending should go down significantly.  This frees up money to put towards wellness-related activities.  One of the main reasons I never joined the Y or a community pool was that it cost money.  I would constantly spout off to friends about the importance of health and exercise, yet here I was, unwilling to commit to a monthly exercise bill because I felt it cost too much.  And while it’s true that monthly fees can add up, if paying for access to a facility is the difference between exercising regularly and having EXERCISE top the new years resolutions list for four years running – well, that is what I would call money well spent.

That’s the flip side of the money/wellness coin.  Just as a lack of money stands as an obstacle, so too can proper budgeting enable a happier, healthier lifestyle.  If there is a bit left over at the end of the month – if there is room to reshuffle monthly expenses and increase funds in the wellness category – then we have the power to build greater wellness into our lives.  This is not an excuse to buy that shiny new flat screen TV to “put into the exercise room,” only to never use it.  But one or two key investments can make a big difference, like replacing a worn out pair of running shoes with a high quality pair.

One H&M shirt is one yoga lesson.  It is three sessions at the community pool, a student discount play with friends, three 5-pound bags of organic potatoes, an afternoon in the ice skating rink with friends.  In theory I can wear the H&M shirt over and over again, but let’s be honest.  I already have a closet full of shirts, and H&M clothing is not exactly built to last.  On the other hand, an afternoon with friends can be the difference between feeling isolated and depressed and feeling connected to others.  It may be the starting point for a new friendship.  Swimming or yoga is the difference between feeling stressed beyond belief and surfing the endorphin rush towards productivity and a sense of accomplishment.  And three 5-pound bags of organic potatoes?  Well, that certainly makes a ton of mashed potatoes for a potluck, which is a two-for-one, really, since dinner parties bring friends together.  At the very least, potatoes can be spun into all sorts of nutritious meals, plus they store for a long time to boot.

Or one H&M shirt may be the difference between paying off the credit card bill or carrying a balance, between peace of mind and feeling stretched too thin.  It’s true that money in of itself cannot buy happiness.  But it can provide the means to achieving intangibles that are critical to our perception of the quality of daily life, or to the “extras” that increase our sense of well being or our capacity to become the best possible versions of ourselves.

With this January challenge, my hope is to kick start a new year with a shift away from material consumption and towards developing other areas of my life.  I also want to trim the excesses from my budget and put that money towards savings or wellness-related activities and investments such as a pair of running shoes or some yoga DVDs.  Beyond the immediate impact of detoxing from the rampant consumerism of the holidays and holiday sales this challenge should create a lasting recalibration towards a lower consumption lifestyle.  If you constantly eat sweets you become used to a certain level of sugar, and it takes higher and higher levels of sugar to satisfy the same craving.  The counterbalance to this is to eat sweets less frequently.  It’s all about readjusting norms and setting the bar for “normal” a little lower.  It’s the same principle behind the idea that it takes 30 days to form a new habit.  Do anything for long enough and you’ll get used to it; consume less for long enough and you’ll adjust your expectations accordingly.

Detox, recalibration, reorientation, all packaged into one succinct challenge to buy nothing new for 31 days. Now there’s a S.M.A.R.T. foundation.


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