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You don’t need the latest yoga bralette, the fanciest juice cleanse, or a personal trainer to eat healthy, stay fit and sane, keep your house clean the natural way, and be good to the planet. If those match your goals for the New Year, read on for ideas on how to do it all on the tiniest budget. (And I DON’T mean a middle-class income - I’m talking here about things that I’ve done when my husband was in law school and I stayed home with my son and we lived on less than $20k per year.) It doesn't have to be beans and rice and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth if you do it the smart way, so get excited to learn how you can live a good life no matter how small your paycheck.
Eat well on a budget.
You don’t have to purchase an expensive nutrition plan or eat out at the trendiest vegan or paleo restaurants in order to be healthy. Contrary to popular belief, it’s NOT more expensive or more time-consuming to cook at home than to eat out. I know you don’t believe me, but bear with me here. Think about the time you spend each week deciding where to eat, going to a restaurant and waiting for your food (or hanging out in a drive through line), driving back home, and trying to exercise away the extra calories that you didn’t really want to eat, but felt guilty not consuming. If you’re not an experienced home cook, it can seem intimidating, but fortunately, there are incredible blogs to teach you the ways of cooking up and refrigerating (or freezing!) big batches of nourishing soups, stews, and casseroles to pull out whenever you’re hungry. My absolute favorite is Budget Bytes. Author Beth Moncel says it like this: “As a food lover and a number cruncher I've decided that cooking on a budget shouldn't mean canned beans and ramen noodles night after night. This is my web log of good food cooked with little cash. My stomach is full and my wallet is too.” The best part is that Beth doesn’t just give you recipes - she gives you strategies for meal planning, ideas for buying in bulk to save money, and tips on how to add a lot of flavor for a little dough.
Exercise without spending a penny.
I know your friend wants you to join her gym so you can go to Zumba together, and I’m not saying Zumba isn’t fun (it’s SO FUN). But when you don’t have the money, you’re going to spend every minute of your gym time frantically hoping that you’re getting the most out of the experience. Don’t sweat it! I mean, DO sweat, but do it with a host of incredible YouTube fitness channels that turn your living room into your own personal gym. No weirdos hitting on you, no unsanitary equipment, no annual membership fees. Just you and an upbeat guy like The Fitness Marshall, whose dance videos to popular songs are so energizing that you’ll let 30 minutes go by without even realizing it. I do not enjoy exercise, but I love dancing to Sia’s Cheap Thrills with a happy guy who’s got the moves and his body-positive backup dancers. If dancing isn’t your thing, try Live Sonima for yoga or Tone it Up for high-intensity interval training.
Stay sane without a pricey therapist.
First let me say that if you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental illness, you should definitely seek care from a medical professional. I do! And I have! And it’s so great to live in a time where, despite the stigma of mental illness, many of us can get medication or therapy or both to treat our completely legitimate medical condition and feel a lot more like ourselves. But maybe your challenges in feeling happy and good about your life come from some choices that aren’t taking you where you want to be. First, stop getting into arguments on Facebook. If you’re a keyboard warrior who jumps at the chance to set the record straight and you keep raising your blood pressure by reading the comment section, stop it! Delete social media apps for a few days if you need to so you can reset and remind yourself to rise above the fray. Second, remember that real connection with other people can help you improve your mood. Call a family member or a friend and take five minutes to really find out how they’re doing. Third, take some time to meditate, pray, or just ponder out in nature each day. This means no music, no TV, no media of any kind for at least ten minutes. It’ll help you be more creative and it’ll clear your mind so you can get the negative junk out of there.
Keep the chemicals out of your cleaning.
Maybe you’ve looked at natural cleaning product lines before but you’ve been driven away by the prices. There are about a thousand simple recipes online for using ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and plain ol’ water to scrub everything from your tub to your kitchen sink. If you want to get a little fancier you can always buy some essential oils (they may seem pricey at first, but a little goes a long way and they do make everything smell totally amazing). Once you realize how sparkly a simple baking soda and vinegar solution can make your toilet, you’re never going to want to go back to strong-smelling bright blue bottles full of chemicals that cost a whole lot more.
Help keep the planet healthy.
Some may try to convince you that you need to buy completely organic clothing from upscale retailers or only use dishes made by Fair Trade vendors. But there’s a lot to be said for simply buying secondhand. Every year, absurd amounts of cast-off clothing, linens, home goods, and more go from the thrift stores and consignment shops straight into the landfill. Tragic! 90% of my wardrobe has come from secondhand stores for my entire life, which means that I’m keeping Banana Republic sweaters and my super comfy Levis out of the landfill and in my stylish (yet inexpensive) wardrobe. The same goes for almost anything that you could buy new. While there are some things that might be hard to find at Goodwill or your local thrift store, try checking there first before you buy new. You’ll be going a lot easier on the planet - and on your wallet.