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By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, [email protected]

Many people, including service members and their families, make resolutions in January to improve their health and personal finances. While most people think of health and financial resolutions as separate decisions, they are, in fact, strongly related. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than the relationship between eating/drinking and spending.

A small change that people can make to improve their health and finances is to “stretch” food and beverages so that they simultaneously consume fewer calories and buy things less frequently, thereby saving money. Below are seven examples:

  • Water Down Juices– Mix juices with water in a 50/50 or 2:1 juice to water ratio, depending on personal preference. Not only will you cut calories according to the mixing proportion that you select (there are 112 calories in 8 oz. of orange juice and 107 calories in 8 oz. of apple juice), but you’ll buy juice less frequently. If you purchase 52 fewer cartons of juice at a cost of $3 each, that’s $156 in savings over the course of a year.
  • Stretch Wine and Cocktails– Order one drink, instead of several, along with a large cup of ice if you’re going out with friends. Your drink will last a lot longer with the ice to refill it and you won’t need to order another one. This strategy will save both money and calories (a 5 oz. glass of wine has 100 calories) and reduce the chance of a DWI. If someone does not buy 104 glasses of wine (two a week) at a cost of $6 apiece, at a bar or restaurant, that’s $624!
  • Order Water- Order free and zero-calorie tap water, perhaps with a lemon or lime, for even more savings. You can also “ice down” soft drinks consumed at or away from home to stretch them out, similar to the juice example above.
  • Photo by Katherine Johnson

    Photo by Katherine Johnson

    Incentivize Your Children– Consider paying children $1 for drinking water, instead of soda, at restaurants. Like the above examples, the calorie and cost differential savings (e.g., $2.50 for a soda versus the $1 payment) can be substantial over time and you are fostering a positive lifetime habit.

  • Bring Home Leftovers– Take half to two-thirds of restaurant food (depending on portion size) home for future meals. You’ll save a significant number of calories by spacing out large food portions over several meals. Assuming someone eats out once a week and takes enough food home for two additional meals, that adds up to104 meals that don’t need to be purchased because food from a restaurant or cafeteria is already available. At a conservative estimated cost of $4 per meal, that’s $416 in annual savings.
  • Split an Entrée or Dessert– Split the calories and cost of an entrée or dessert. Even including restaurant “plate charges” for shared food, the cost savings can be substantial compared to the cost of ordering two separate meals. In addition, two people eat a half portion instead of a full one, thereby halving the calories. Follow this strategy 52 times a year and save $15 and you’ve saved $780 annually.
  • Downsize Food Portions– Order smaller size and lower cost half-size portions when eating out or use appetizers as a meal. This strategy especially works especially well when you are traveling and taking food home, or even to a hotel room, is not an option.

There are many relationships between health and personal finances including the fact that eating patterns affect food and beverage expenses. This article has identified potential annual cost savings of almost $2,000 from “stretching” strategies that affect both calories consumed and dollars spent. Perhaps you can think of others.

Want to lose weight and save money? You may not need to look any further than your refrigerator.

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ (SSHW) program encourages people to make positive behavior changes to simultaneously improve their health and personal finances. Information about SSHW can be found at http://njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw/, including monthly health and personal finance messages and a 132-page SSHW workbook that is available for free downloading.