Monday, May 6, 2013

Financial Reality & Fitness

Any story or study that has the word “poverty” or related words glides onto my radar. As a financial consultant for 5 years at a major Wall Street firm, my Earth-Mother-in-a-Suit nickname was born as a result of focusing on socially responsible investing. In short, that meant finding companies for clients who wanted their investments to be mission consistent with their values. So if clients didn’t support alcohol, animal testing, firearms or tobacco, they didn’t want any part of their portfolio to be a company that did either.
In my working with corporations that were designated by Wall Street as suitable socially responsible investments, I found that some companies didn’t really care about being socially responsible until you could show them that having great employee benefits, or super recycling programs, for example could save the company money.
It was this education that inspired me to write my book. Harry Dent and other gurus have long been predicting a huge economic slow-down as the baby boomers retire. No matter how much you may hear on the news that the economy is improving, many polls show that most Americans believe we may have seen our prime. A growing number believe the studies that show the disparity between the income classes will keep growing; in short, the rich will get richer and poor, poorer.  My husband recently saw someone fill up a huge pleasure motorboat at the dock with 1000 gallons of diesel fuel at more than $4 a gallon!
Contrast that with this CBS News survey: one in two Americans are concerned that they will not be able to afford the holiday gifts they would like to buy.
The latest US census figures say that 1 in 6 Americans live below the poverty level of $22,000 for a family of 4. As any financial planner will tell you, 1/4th of your income should go to food. Some stories that say Americans are spending up to half their income on food. Taking the 1/4th percentage, this works out to $4 a day for food. So that means that 1/6th of America is already living on a food budget of $4 a day.
I wrote my book after I saw many stories on the news showing obese women, some on food stamps, loading their grocery carts with Twinkies saying, “You can’t eat well on a budget.”
I spent the past 3 years on the floors of big-box stores tracking food prices. I believed that if you could show how cheaply people could eat, they almost wouldn’t care what it was that they were eating. Show them how much better they would feel, and as a result of feeling better, how much money they could save by avoiding disease, doctors and hospitals, they would flock to the vegan table. The price of dry beans is 1/6th the cost of the cheapest (30% fat) hamburger meat. Add that up over a lifetime, and the savings are significant.
My own family history would appear to be a testimonial to the health of eating this way. I ran my first marathon in 2010 and continue to place in my age group at 5K races. I’ve helped coach our high school girls’ cross-country team.
I’ve only met 2 people who say they have my identical family history. My mom, aunt and both sisters had breast cancer. One of those sisters, both parents and all grandparents had diabetes and major heart disease. My mom, uncle and grandmother had Alzheimer’s. Most adults had osteoporosis, arthritis and varicose veins. I have none of it. I didn’t get all the good genes. Genes take a trigger. I keep asking to be studied. Either I am a genetic freak or I’m doing some things right. But since there’s no money in broccoli, I may be waiting awhile. You’d think doctors and researchers would be pounding a path to my door asking, “What has she been doing differently these past 32 years?” Alas…no money in broccoli, as I say in my talks all over the US and in my book. No broccoli board, association or lobby.

Changing your diet is so much easier than losing a limb to diabetes or having your chest cracked open for heart disease. The money it takes to maintain a healthy lifestyle is much less than the cost of living a debilitating life from diseases that can be easily prevented. Every time I buy running shoes, I think, “It’s cheaper than a co-pay. It’s cheaper than MRI.”

Ellen Jaffe Jones works online and in gyms as a certified personal trainer (AFAA), running coach (RRCA) and the author of the bestseller, “Eat Vegan on $4 a Day.” She can be reached at

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