Swap your way to wealth and health

Substituting expensive purchases with cheaper, healthier options will boost your finances and your well-being

.By making better choices, such as a budget car over a luxury model or low-fat food over fat-laden, you are still fed, clothed and transported. Getty Images    
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Every Saturday evening I find a recipe I want to cook. I go to the shop to buy ingredients (or order them in, because it's Dubai, and that's how we roll). Then, I make the food, and enjoy it for dinner throughout the week.  Sometimes I'll have friends over and they'll eat too. It's the same process, each week. Routine is comforting.

Can you tell from that if I bought expensive ingredients or cheaper ones? Healthier or health-damaging ones? No, you can't. The process is value neutral, as it takes the same amount of work to buy and cook healthy, cheap ingredients as it does expensive, fattening ones. This is why when I recently switched to a vegetarian diet, it was easy. I just switched the recipes and ingredients. In the end, I got healthier, cheaper food without any extra effort on my part. Consequently, I've lost 10 centimetres off my waistline in two months, and it was no work at all.

We are often faced with a choice between two things, one healthy the other less so, one financially beneficial, the other harmful but expedient.

When I go to work I leave my apartment and go to the garage, where I get in my car and start it up. My stereo picks up the podcast I’m listening to on my phone automatically through my Bluetooth setup. My reversing camera helps make sure I don’t run into anything behind me. My car flawlessly accelerates and has cruise control to ensure I drive efficiently and safely without tickets or delay.

Do I drive a BMW or a Kia? Can you tell? (It’s actually a Nissan, but the point is the same). My car could have cost me Dh30,000 or Dh300,000 and it would still do the same thing: get me where I need to go in comfort. By purchasing a cheaper, but still perfectly functional and reliable car, I have way more money to buy income-producing assets like stocks, bonds, and real estate, that will passively create income for the rest of my life (or until I sell them for even more money). I don’t lose anything by choosing the cheaper substitute.

We are often faced with a choice between two things, one healthy the other less so, one financially beneficial, the other harmful but expedient. It often takes no extra work to choose the thing that will benefit our lives in the long run. Sometimes, the cheaper, healthier option can require less work.

We often avoid substitutes with less social cachet even though they work just as well. We think that others will look down on us if we don’t have the latest iPhone, handbag or Range Rover. That attitude stops us looking for other options that will allow us to have better financial and health outcomes because we are worried about what others may think. The odds are that people are so concerned with their own lives, they don’t have the time to give the rest of us a passing thought.

Examine your own thoughts: how much time and effort do you spend thinking about yourself and how you appear to others? It's probably far more than you spend thinking about or judging others. This applies to pretty much everyone. We are so self absorbed that our worries about what others are thinking are usually misguided and a waste of time.

There are plenty of other ways to use cheaper substitutes for the latest must-have. My Android phone is half the price and better than my old iPhone. Thrift stores and dubizzle allow us to buy all sorts of previously used items like furniture, household goods, and clothes for less than half the cost of new. A supermarket's own-brand groceries and cleaning products are often exactly same as the product leaders, but just in a different container and cheaper.

I’m not saying that you should always chose the lower-cost option. Some cheaper items are poorly made and will break, which can be dangerous or inconvenient. But in our choice-saturated world, there are many options that are well-built but still less expensive than a branded or brand new item. Be an informed consumer; it's easy to do with item reviews across the internet, especially on YouTube.

The beauty is that by picking a healthier or more cost-effective substitute, you don’t lose anything. You’re still fed, clothed and transported. You may even be thinner, with less heart disease, diabetes and joint pain. You will certainly have more money. In my book, intelligent substitution is a win-win, and there’s no substitute for that.

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher