Advertiser Disclosure

Featured, Health, News

How Weight Loss Helped This Couple Pay Down $22,000 of Debt

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Photo courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

Brian LeBlanc was fed up. The 30-year-old policy analyst from Alberta, Canada, had struggled with his weight for years. At the time, he weighed 240 pounds and had trouble finding clothes that fit. He decided it was time to change his lifestyle for good.

LeBlanc started running and cutting back on fast food and soft drinks. He ordered smaller portions at restaurants and avoided convenience-store foods. About a year into his weight-loss mission, his wife Erin, 31, joined him in his efforts.

“The biggest change we made was buying a kitchen food scale and measuring everything we eat,” Brian says. “Creating that habit was really powerful.”

Over two years, the couple shed a total of 170 pounds.

But losing weight, they soon realized, came with an unexpected fringe benefit — saving thousands of dollars per year. Often, people complain that it’s expensive to be healthy — gym memberships and fresh produce don’t come cheap, after all. But the LeBlancs found the opposite to be true.

Erin, who is a payroll specialist, also managed their household budget. She began noticing a difference in how little money they were wasting on fast food and unused grocery items.

Photo courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

“Before, we always had the best intentions of going to the grocery store and buying all the healthy foods. But we never ate them,” she says. “We ended up throwing out a lot of healthy food, vegetables, and fruits.”

Before their lifestyle change, Brian and Erin would often eat out for dinner, spending as much as $80 per week, and they would often go out with friends, spending about $275 a month. Now, Brian says if they grab fast food, they choose a smaller portion. Now they might spend only $22 on fast food per month, instead of over $200.

What’s changed the most is how they shop for groceries, what they buy and how they cook. Brian likes to prep all his meals on Sunday so his lunches during the week are consistent and portion-controlled. They also buy only enough fresh produce to last them a couple of days to prevent wasting food.

Losing weight — and student loan debt

Photo courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

Two years after the start of their weight-loss journey, they took a look at their bank statements to see how their spending had changed. By giving up eating out and drinking alcohol frequently, they were spending $600 less a month than they used to, even though they’ve had to buy new wardrobes and gym memberships.

With their newfound savings, the LeBlancs managed to pay off Brian’s $22,000 in student loans 13 years early. Even with the $600 they were now saving, they had to cut back significantly on their budget to come up with the $900-$1,000 they aimed to put toward his loans each month. They stopped meeting friends for drinks after work, and Erin took on a part-time job to bring in extra cash. When they needed new wardrobes because their old clothing no longer fit, they frequented thrift shops instead of the mall.

When they made the final payment after two years, it was a relief to say the least.

Now the Canadian couple is saving for a vacation home in Phoenix, which they hope to buy in the next few years, and they’re planning to tackle Erin’s student loans next. They’re happy with their weight and lives in general, but don’t take their journey for granted.

“There were times we questioned our sanity, and we thought we cannot do this anymore,” says Erin. But they would always rally together in the end.

“There are things that are worth struggling for and worth putting in the effort,” Brian says. “Hands down, your health is one of those things.”

Other Ways Getting Healthy Can Help Financially

Spending less on food isn’t the only way your budget can improve alongside your health. Read below to see how a little weight loss can tip the scales when it comes to your finances.

  • Spend less on medical bills. Health care costs have skyrocketed over the past two decades, but they’ve impacted overweight and obese individuals more. A report on the “state of obesity” in America found that obese adults spend 42% more on healthcare per year than those of normal weight.
  • Buy cheaper clothes. Designers frequently charge more for plus-size clothing than smaller sizes. Some people claim retailers add a “fat tax” on clothes because there are fewer options for anyone over a size 12. It might not be fair, but it’s the way things are.
  • Save on life insurance. Your health is a huge factor for life insurance rates. Annual premiums for a healthy person can cost more than for someone who is overweight, because BMI (body mass index) may be a factor for determining pricing.

Getting Healthy for Cheap

Still worried that an active lifestyle will require you to spend more money? Here are some tips on keeping costs low while you improve your lifestyle.

  • Get a family membership. Gyms often provide a discount if you sign up for a family membership instead of an individual one. Most of these deals are only beneficial for households with children, but some might offer a lower price if you sign up with a spouse or partner. Always ask the gym about any special deductions they might have.
  • Skip the fancy gym. Many would-be exercisers skip the gym pass because they assume it will be expensive. Before you give up, call around and compare prices. Try your local YMCA, as they often have income-based membership.
  • Shop at thrift stores. Finding inexpensive workout clothes can be another barrier to exercising. Who wants to spend $75 on yoga pants? Don’t visit the mall for your new duds. Your local thrift shop or consignment store will have running shorts and tank tops for only a few dollars. Secondhand clothes also make more sense if you’re in the midst of losing a lot of weight and changing sizes frequently.
  • Go vegetarian. Meat is often the most expensive item in your grocery cart. If you’re trying to eat healthier and concerned about money, try vegetarian protein options like lentils, beans,and quinoa. You don’t have to fully adopt the vegetarian lifestyle, but just reducing your meat intake can have a significant impact on the grocery bill.
  • Buy frozen produce. Frozen produce is often as healthy as buying fresh, but it can be significantly less expensive. Frozen veggies and fruit also last longer, decreasing the risk of food waste. You can often find coupons, and the long shelf life makes it easy to stock up if there’s a sale on your favorite green beans.
  • Cut back on eating out. Ever wonder how restaurant-quality food can be so much better than what you make at home? You guessed it: more salt, more sugar, more butter and more fat. By limiting the meals you eat out, you’ll avoid all that — as well as those outrageous restaurant markups. If you do eat out, you can do your best to pick the healthy choice. You may also choose to take advantage of cashback credit cards that may reward you for your healthy dining out.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Zina Kumok
Zina Kumok |

Zina Kumok is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Zina here

TAGS:

Advertiser Disclosure

News

Study: Millennials Depend on the Bank of Mom and Dad

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Millennials are advancing steadily into middle age. But statistically speaking, America’s largest generation retains one characteristic of their youth: Widespread dependence on their parents to help pay the bills.

A new survey reveals that even millennials who think of themselves as independent on money matters still hit up their parents for regular, recurring expenses. Of those surveyed, 54% claimed they stood on their own two feet, but when pressed a further 30% of those admitted to leaning on their parents to help cover costs on everything from groceries to car insurance.

The costs being covered by parents

For the most part, millennials aren’t hitting up their parents for cash to cover extravagant, one-off charges like airfare for an Instagram-worthy vacation. Instead, the survey found millennials ask mom and dad for help making ends meet for living expenses, such as the phone bill, food and rent. For example, of the millennials who receive monthly help from their parents, 48% of respondents say the money helps cover the phone bill. A more detailed breakdown can be seen in the graph below:


Besides these day-to-day costs, emergency spending requires a call home for some millennials. About 15% of all survey respondents said they would need help from their parents to cover a sudden $1,000 expense. Instead, most would opt to use either cash or savings, provided those savings weren’t earmarked for retirement in a tax-advantaged account.

Millennial money worries

Dipping into your emergency fund to repair a hole in the ceiling is a good strategy (and a reason why you save), while making a withdrawal from your savings account to pay for a bottle of rosé is not. Unfortunately a staggering 70% of millennials surveyed admitted to using savings to cover non-emergency expenses.


To use a favorite phrase of millennials, “this is problematic.” A savings account can only be drawn upon six times a month via debit card or check (due to federal regulations) and you don’t want to waste one of your six free withdrawals to pay for a pint of Americone Dream. Even worse, the money spent on non-emergency expenses won’t be there when you need it to pay for an unexpected, urgent cost.

Another metric of financial health where millennials could stand to improve is retirement savings. While 58% of the millennials surveyed claimed to save money with either each paycheck or once a month, 44% don’t have any sort of retirement savings account — either a private one or through work.


To be fair, millennials aren’t exactly celebrating these personal finance failures. Approximately 57% said they regretted how they’ve spent money from their savings account, and a little over 36% said that during the past week, they felt anxiety about their finances every single day.

The numbers behind the stress

A significant financial worry on millennials’ minds is not having enough money. While we’re pretty sure everyone, regardless of age, would like to have more money, a recent study by the Federal Reserve underscores that millennials are particularly hard-strapped for cash.

Titled “Are Millennials Different?”, the report found when compared to members of Generation X and Baby Boomers when they were roughly the same age as today’s millennials, the millennials have less means to deal with their financial challenges.

As the authors of the report put it in the conclusion of the report, “We showed that millennials do have lower real incomes than members of earlier generations when they were at similar ages, and millennials also appear to have accumulated fewer assets. The comparisons for debt are somewhat mixed, but it seems fair to conclude that millennials have levels of real debt that are about the same as those of members of Generation X when they were young and more than those of the baby boomers.”

How can millennials do better?

Besides winning the lottery, what else can millennials do to improve their financial situation and rely less on their parents?

“Many millennials are skeptical of the market,” said Dallen Haws, a financial planner based in Arizona. “Although it’s good that they are not investing willy-nilly, it will be very important that they get comfortable with investing to be able to reach their full financial potential.” Read more on how millennials (and everyone else) can start investing with an eye toward retirement.

Millennials should also embrace the power of austerity. That doesn’t mean living like a monk, but it does mean thinking twice (or thrice) about making big-ticket purchases and whether or not they are affordable.

“Without question, the biggest regret amongst millennials I work with is overpaying for a car,” said Rick Vazza, a CFA/CFP based in San Diego. “Some of my most successful young members have happily continued holding on to inexpensive cars allowing them to funnel more money toward travel, retirement funds or a down payment.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

TAGS:

Advertiser Disclosure

News

7 Ways to Cool Down Summer Spending

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

iStock

Summer is here and that means a few different things: battles with kids over sunscreen application, increased outdoor activities and a strained bank account. According to a 2018 study from LendEDU, the average adult American spends $2,229 during the summer, making it the second-most expensive season behind winter.

After being stuck inside your house for most of the colder months, it’s only natural to get excited about the outdoors and going on vacation. Unfortunately, leaving the comfort of your couch increases your expenses. Here are some tips to help you navigate the hotter months of the year without breaking a sweat.

Manage vacation expectations

One of the best ways to be able to afford a summer vacation is to work it into your yearly budget ahead of time. Steve Zakelj, a certified financial planner with Flatirons Wealth Management in Boulder, Colo. explained that a good vacation starts with planning.

“Start saving for it with $100, 500, $1,000 a month in the winter,” he said. “Set up a vacation account that gets an automatic deposit every month of the year. This way, you’re prepared for your summer trip and have a definitive budget you can use without guilt or long-term problems. Keep the monthly contributions going year-round so you’re already saving for next summer’s fun the moment you get back.”

Once you have your budget set, research places that are within your price range. If you love traveling overseas, try staying at budget-friendly, off the beaten path locations, like Sophia, Bulgaria. The average price of a hostel in Bulgaria’s capital is just $6.99 per night.

You can also keep your traveling costs low by thinking ahead. If you’re going to be out on the town a lot, there’s really no need to book an expensive hotel. If you are thinking the more activities the better, pick out ones that are affordable. “At your destination, look for free or cheap shows, events or festivals as opposed to venues that require the purchase of a pricey ticket,” explained Zakelj.

Another way to reduce vacation expenses is to stay put for a staycation. Plan local activities, hit up your favorite restaurant. Cutting out travel and accommodation expenses will allow you to funnel your money to some fun around town.

Get creative with child care

Having your kids home from school can make summer expensive, especially if you need to pay for child care. First, try asking other parents what their plans are — they may be privy to information about affordable camps or summer clubs you didn’t know existed. You may also find someone with a flexible schedule who can share child care duties with you. You take the kids one week, they take them the next and that frees up time for both of you to get stuff done without paying for day care or babysitters.

If you have relatives or your parents live nearby, see if it’s possible for your kids to visit for a week or two during the summer. Your loved ones get the benefit of seeing your kids, and you get the benefit of a free week of child care.

The YMCA is also a great source for affordable summer camps. This organization operates more than 1,850 day camps across the country. Search the YMCA site to find a camp near you.

When you do have the kids around, there are countless low-cost activities to keep them busy. “Enjoy the outdoors on the cheap,” suggested Zakelj. “Take hikes, go fishing, ride bikes, etc.  After an initial expense, most of these activities can have very low ongoing expenses.”

Pause your subscriptions

According to a study by tech consulting firm Waterstone Management Group, the average adult American spends $237.33 per month on subscription services. Summer, with its long days and beautiful weather, presents a great time to cut back on these costs. Are you running outside more? Consider canceling or pausing your gym membership. Find yourself hanging out with friends more often than sitting at home binge-watching TV shows? Cancel your Netflix account until the fall.

Take some time and comb through your bank account statements to find the subscription charges. Then, go through each one to see if you actually use it and if it truly adds value to your life. If you the answer is “no” to any of the services, cut away.

Don’t overdo it on the air conditioning

As the days get hotter and hotter, keep in mind that one big budget buster is your power bill. The Department of Energy says that air conditioners cost American homeowners about $29 billion annually. If you keep the AC cranked day and night, that’s a lot of money down the drain.

Instead of cooling an empty house, invest in a programmable thermostat that you can keep 7 to 10 degrees hotter than the setting you keep it at when you’re home. Doing this will save you about 10% on your power bill annually. If your AC unit is outdated, it might make sense to purchase a new, high-efficiency unit. Before you take that plunge, do some research on smart ways to finance the purchase.

Beyond taking steps to reduce energy costs with your AC unit directly, you can install ceiling fans to help circulate air. Consider planting leafy plants outside of your home (especially near windows), as they’ll shade your home and help keep it cool.

Take advantage of BBQ weather

You can avoid overspending during the summer by cutting back on dining out. The average American household shells out $2,667 on food costs outside of the home. The weather is nice and the days are longer, so why not have friends over to your place instead of going to a restaurant? As Zakelj explained, even reducing smaller expenses will help you keep spending under wraps.

“If you eat out regularly, think about eating your dinner at home and just going out for ice cream afterward,” said Zakelj. “You still get the fun of a trip out but just buying dessert is much cheaper than paying for an entire meal. Or have friends over to the back patio for BBQ and beer instead of hitting restaurants with them.”

Be realistic about wedding season

One big reason for summer overspending is weddings. According to wedding marketplace The Knot, the average amount guests spend on an out-of-town wedding is a whopping $901, including travel, attire, accomodations and gifts.

If you have to attend, save some cash by searching for cheap lodging. Check sites like HotelTonight.com for deals on rooms, or consider splitting the cost of a house through Airbnb or Vrbo. If you’re traveling alone, see if there’s another single friend with whom you can split a room. If you opt for a hotel, try to stay at the one reserved by the bride and groom — it’s common for the couple to request a block of rooms for their guests, often at a rate lower than listed prices.

As for traveling to the wedding, if it’s within driving distance, see if anyone wants to carpool to save on gas costs. Look into Amtrak, as it often has deals when you travel with multiple companions. Some airlines, like Southwest and United Airlines, also offer group rates, but you’ll need at least 10 people to take advantage of them.

While we all like to look spiffy for big events, there’s no need to break the bank on your wedding attire. Need a tux? Rent one from a site like TheBlackTux.com, which lets you try one on for free. Looking for a dress? Try RentTheRunway.com, where you’ll get 20% off your first rental.

Also, keep in mind: You don’t have to attend a wedding simply because you were invited. If the cost is high, ask yourself if you’re really that close to the couple getting hitched. If you’re not, skip it and send a gift instead.

Speaking of gifts: The earlier you buy from the wedding registry, the better. There will be plenty of options available, giving you the chance to purchase something the couple wants that’s well within your budget. If there’s not something affordable on the registry, ask other guests if they want to purchase a larger item together.

Beware of summer sales

There are plenty of sales during the summer — from July 4 weekend to back-to-school — but that doesn’t mean you need to hit every one. Take an inventory of all the items you already have, like notebooks and pens from the previous school year, or kids swim apparel that will still fit next summer. Once you know what you have, you can make a list of what you actually need. Let that list be your guide to summer sales. If it’s on the list, look into the sale. If it’s not, move along. Having a concrete reminder of the things you need will help you avoid spontaneous purchases that can derail your long-term savings goals.

The bottom line

It can be easy to overspend during the summer, but there are plenty of ways to avoid it. You just have to take the time to think through purchases, do some research and plan wisely. Dedicate yourself to streamlining your spending and you’ll see autumn arrive with your budget intact.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Chris O
Chris O'Shea |

Chris O'Shea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Chris here

TAGS: