For me, what defined 2020 was the amount of time I spent at the hospital.
2020 was the ‘year of the medical bill’ during which I caught the flu, which led to pneumonia, then several other problems including several asthma attacks.
In early 2020 I developed a nasty infection in my finger that needed to be cut out with a scalpel.
The coronavirus had shut down China while I was experiencing this infection, so the anaesthesiologist wasn’t in the city. This meant that the only person in the hospital who could perform the operation was the chief of surgery, who luckily hadn’t travelled away for the Chinese New Year celebration.
So in a dark, unstaffed surgical ward in a small Shanghai hospital, the chief of surgery tied a rubber hose around the base of my finger, cut it open, and scooped the insides onto a table with a surgical spoon while I bit down on a small piece of wood.
Spending 2020 sick and in pain finally pushed me into taking a hard look at the way I was prioritising my spending.
I’m someone that feels as though I’ve almost mastered the art of budgeting, yet I wasn’t experiencing the happiness and contentment that I’ve always preached follows good money management.
I ended up quadrupling my medical budget for the year because of the constant bills I was paying every time I returned to hospital because of either my laboured breathing or recovering finger.
My friends blamed bad luck, and said that these health events are “just life,” but I don’t believe in “just life,” I believe in causality.
Wellness vs Medical Expenses
I’m always telling people that their ability to lead happy and stress-free lives are contingent on their financial priorities.
By choosing to pay down debt and make good investments, you’re allowing your future self to live happily and free of stress.
Yet, here I was with a decade and a half of good financial management under my belt, and I couldn’t have been further from being happy or content.
I was miserable, and it was all because my health had failed me.
It hadn’t failed me because I’d caught coronavirus, it failed me because I wasn’t financially disciplined enough to prioritise spending money on good heath practices that would prevent the need to go to hospital in the first place.
Strangely, while I had a budget for medical expenses, I didn’t have a budget for “healthy living” or “wellness” expenses.
While friends of mine were wracking up thousands of dollars a year in gym membership fees, I avoided ever paying a dime to a gym anywhere I was in the world. This was fine in my 20’s, but not anymore.
Death to Gym
I’ve always hated the gym, and I can’t see that ever changing. So because I hate the gym so much, I don’t think I could ever force myself to go, no matter how far my health declines.
While I don’t think it’s necessarily irresponsible to neglect going to the gym, I do believe it’s definitely irresponsible to neglect to find an alternative.
Our bodies are flawed engines, and every day spent living in one is another day it’s slowly breaking down. I shouldn’t have neglected working out just because I don’t like being in the gym, I should have found an alternative years ago.
So rather than dwelling on the past, I’ve decided to turn things around in 2020; and while I haven’t joined a gym, (and probably never will), I have joined a yoga studio.
Unfortunately, the yoga studio isn’t cheaper than a gym. Not only that, the one I’ve chosen is a lot more expensive than the average gym in Shanghai.
It’s an enormous luxury to pay such a huge premium for a higher end yoga studio, but I do have a way to justify the expense.
The Justification for Luxury
Any price I pay for a studio is wasted if I can’t maintain the motivation to go regularly, even if I found one for a fraction of the cost.
The studio that I found is beautiful and luxurious, which drastically improves my chances of going regularly for longer.
The studio rooms where the yoga is taught is brightly lit, have views of the city, and smell like essential oils.
Even the hot yoga room smells like lavender, as opposed to the regular oder of sweat and feet that is commonly found in hot yoga studios around the world.
The studio also has a convenient app through which classes can be booked and cancelled as needed, which is a huge benefit for someone (like me)who’s work schedule is always changing.
The cost is high, but the cost per class is low if the studio is wonderful enough to keep me coming back.
The studio and its staff are such high quality that I’ve been going six days a week since I signed up.
Going this frequently has meant that the monthly cost is actually less per class than what I’d pay at a cheaper studio.
I figure this because I’d be going a lot less frequently to a smelly studio, and therefore each class would be a larger percentage of the monthly fee.
There’s no getting around it, a yoga studio is high cost; but the cost is theoretically being offset with reduced health costs later in life.
Eating Into the Medical and Food Budgets
Right now I’m running off assumptions, because the experiment is too new to have concrete evidence.
But I believe that taking yoga classes is going to boost my immune system to the point that I’m going to need the hospital up to half as often.
This means that my brand new “wellness” budget is cutting into other budgets and therefore isn’t bumping up the overall financial plan by too much at all.
The wellness budget is made up of yoga and a partial replacement of my regular food items with leafy green vegetables.
Replacing some of my food with fresh vegetables means that the wellness budget is replacing some of the food budget, but not as much as I’d like.
Buying vegetables is a lot more expensive than bags of frozen foods, while also being a lot less filling.
Unfortunately, vegetables need to be added to meals, but aren’t filling enough to replace meal staples. This means that while the food budget is reduced, the vegetables must be in a seperate category as they aren’t replacing more filling food items.
Swapping staple food items out with vegetables in the food budget is a big mistake people make when budgeting for their week or month.
They don’t account for the fact that if you’re swapping out $50 worth of frozen foods and bread with $50 worth of quinoa and kale, you’re going to end up with a far less food and a hungry belly at the end of the night.
A healthy meal is more expensive than a more traditional meal, and therefore, the extra expense needs to be absorbed into a wellness budget.It’s also important that wellness foods are separated (in the budget) from staples so that you have enough of each.
*This isn’t the same for everyone. I have a physically demanding job and eat a lot, your needs may vary.
Making smarter food choices is complicated, and it’s going to be more expensive at first.
But remember that healthy foods such as vegetables are coming out of the dedicated wellness budget, so you should be able to buy them strategically and add them to your existing food staples.
Wellness as an Investment Strategy
Combined with yoga, vegetables make up my new wellness budget, and this newly created category had to come from somewhere.
So I’ve decided to convert 50% of my medical budget into the wellness budget, with the expectation that I’ll use the hospital less.
The rest, unfortunately, is coming out of my investment budget. This is because I’m seeing wellness spending as the type of investment I’ve never made before, an investment into my own body and wellbeing.
There’s no use in stockpiling cash if I won’t be alive long enough to spend it, (especially since I may never have kids). Therefore, half of my medical budget and a percentage of my investment budget have been rerouted into the wellness budget; a brand new category that exists to keep me alive and healthy for longer.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s the value of prioritising health and longevity (as well as many, many other things).
But while we can’t control everything, we can control the level at which we prioritise our own longevity. It may be the most important investment you ever make.
After all, what use is money, if you die (or are bedridden) too early to really have fun with it?