**Disclaimer: I am not a health care professional – I am simply sharing my experiences and opinions here.
One of the major fears for people in retirement is the fear that health care costs will devour their retirement savings long before they can afford to live on Social Security alone.
With the average American having a median retirement savings balance of just $5,000, not having enough money to cover health care costs is a realistic fear.
I couldn’t find any specific numbers on the median retirement savings balance of Canadians, but most financial experts seem to be equally concerned about a lack of retirement savings for our neighbors to the north as well.
While Canada does have a government run health care system, the system is far from free for all Canada residents. In fact, this article from the Toronto Sun shared that the average single Canadian resident will pay over $4500 for health care costs in 2017.
Reducing Health Care Costs Now and in Retirement
Saving more money for retirement is one way to help ensure your post-retirement health care costs don’t inhibit your ability to buy food and pay for bare necessities in retirement, but there are other ways as well to be sure health care costs are minimized, and it starts with a good self-care plan.
Start by Learning to Take Care of Yourself
Learning to create a good health routine is the first step to helping ensure health care costs don’t get out of control in retirement. In this instant gratification, “do as I wish” world, we’ve lost sight of what it means to live healthy lives.
I encourage everyone, if you’re unsure about how to care for your body optimally, to watch some health-based documentaries.
Some of our favorites are:
- Super Size Me
- King Corn
- GMO OMG
- Fed Up
- Fast Food Nation
- Food Inc.
- Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead
Watching documentaries such as these will help open your eyes to the importance of how what we eat affects our lives. We have completely changed our eating habits due to eye-opening shows like these.
What’s more, they’ve taught us how to care for our health in an effective and organic manner.
1. Be Mindful of What You Eat
I get so frustrated sometimes with how the marketing industry here helps unhealthy food sources woo us into buying items that are absolutely jeopardizing to our health.
The occasional candy bar, ice cream treat or fast food meal won’t kill you, however these foods often contain highly addictive ingredients such as MSG and sugar.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a commercial on TV and instantly felt a serious desire to head to the store or restaurant to quench my desire.
Food addiction and sugar addiction are a huge problem for many people. Once you’ve conditioned your taste buds to eat a largely processed, sugary, fried food diet, it’s tough to re-condition it to crave a vegetable salad.
But the problem is that the frankenfood diet most people are on these days sets a body up as a prime target for diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and more.
Conversely, a diet rich in leafy green veggies and grass fed, organic meats sets the body up to be able to better defend itself from the onslaught of work, stress and environmental toxins we throw at it daily.
Kind of like how working out with weights for six months will better prepare you to lift heavy stuff.
It takes serious work to re-train your taste buds to crave the good stuff.
Re-Training Your Brain
Sugar and other junk food cravings have been a problem for me since I was in my teens and survived on a diet of candy, pop, chips and fast food restaurant visits.
To this day I work to stay away from my favorites (hello, Double Stuff Oreo cookies – I LOVE you!!) because I know I won’t eat just one. Or two.
If you are hooked on a processed, junk food diet, you’ll need to re-train your brain to crave healthier foods.
If you are willing to do this, you can help your body get to a place where it is stronger and healthier and better prepared to fight off disease.
You’ll be giving your body, blood, cells, organs and more a decluttering that can help prepare it for a healthy, active life.
After going on a weeks-long junk food binge (like I did during the month of July which hosted Independence Day, my 50th birthday, our 21st anniversary and a host of other celebrations) I like to re-train my brain slowly.
I start first by cutting out sugar. I do keep chips around (plain potato chips) to deal with the sugar cravings, though, and I eat them liberally if I feel I need to when I’m having really strong sugar cravings.
I then start by replacing one meal at a time with a whole foods meal. Breakfasts are always a half a cup of nuts. I’ll have another half cup of plain organic yogurt as a mid-morning snack.
I hate the stuff, honestly, so I down it ASAP to get my probiotics (promotes a health gut bacteria level) and to fill my tummy to keep me from eating junk.
From there I work to create lunches and dinners that are primarily whole foods. During the transition period when I’m still dealing with cravings I might add bread into a meal or a bit of pasta to help with that.
By working slowly and surely – and making exceptions occasionally – you can start bringing your body into better health by eating food the way God made it, and that will help you potentially cut down on healthcare costs in the future.
I know – this kind of crazy talk is not fun. But exercise is another tool that will help prime your body for optimal health and lower health care costs; i.e. more money in retirement for fun stuff.
If you aren’t a regular exerciser, consult with your doctor first to get his/her permission to begin an exercise program.
Then, find a way to make exercise fun.
- Go with a friend for a walk a few times a week
- Take an exercise class at a gym
- Join a hiking or biking club
- Begin a stretching/calisthenics routine at home
- Buy some free weights and watch a YouTube video on how to exercise with free weights
When it comes to beginning an exercise program, slow and steady wins the race. Don’t sign up for a 5k if you’ve been out of the exercise world for twenty years. Instead, go for a walk around the block. Then walk twice that far.
Increase your activity level a bit at a time, pushing yourself a little, but not too much. It’s okay to be sore the next day, but not so sore you can barely move.
As the weeks roll on you’ll find yourself toner, more muscular and better able to handle physical activity, and you’ll be reducing your risk of behavior-related diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes.
3. Become Your Own Health Care Advocate
When our son was 2 years old and began dealing with some digestive issues, we took him to the doctor for a thorough checkup. The doc we were seeing at the time ordered a battery of tests, most of which we would have to pay for out of pocket.
As she was rambling on about each test and what she hoped it would tell us, I heard her say “We’ll test him for “A” but I really don’t think he has that because of “B, C and D”.
“Stop!” I said. “Okay, are you saying that if he had “A” he would have the symptoms of B, C and D?”
“Yes” she answered.
“Well, he doesn’t have those symptoms so why are we testing him for “A”?
“Just to be extra safe.” she answered.
“No.” I said. “Let’s scratch that one off the list”.
To me, it didn’t make sense to test him for something that wasn’t aligning with his symptoms.
By listening and questioning her reasoning, I had just saved our family over $700. Yep, $700 out of pocket for that one test alone.
I found this out because I called the insurance company when we got home and asked what we’d pay for each test that she ordered.
After I got the astronomical out of pocket numbers these tests were going to cost us, I called her at her office and asked her to explain each test and the perceived need for it again. I ended up cancelling three other tests before they sent the blood work in, and saving us several hundred dollars more.
Friends, in this day and age when the healthcare industry professionals are so overwhelmed with work, we have GOT to become our own advocates and learn to know our bodies and what it takes to keep them well, and to treat them when they’re not well.
Search trusted medical websites and search to find natural remedies as well.
For instance, many times Type 2 diabetes can be reversed with a whole foods diet and moderate exercise program, thereby eliminating the diabetic’s need for expensive medical care.
It’s time for us to take our health into our own hands and become our own health care advocate.
4. Improve Your Financial Situation
Fourth and final, another way to be able to reduce the impact healthcare costs have on you in retirement is to improve your financial situation.
Pay off your debt.
Save more in your retirement funds.
Open and fund a Health Savings Account if you are eligible.
The better your financial situation is when you retire, the less of an impact that health care costs will have on your ability to survive and thrive during retirement.
Just as with any other goal, thinking long term and big picture will help you gain the willpower you need to do what’s best for yourself now and in the future.
By combining these four action steps to improve your health and improve your financial situation, you are helping situate yourself for a physically and financially rewarding retirement.