We all know that staying healthy saves us money. The healthier you are, the lower your insurance and medical expenses are likely to be. We are encouraged to eat right, exercise and sleep well in order to remain healthy. But one area that is often overlooked when we talk about the health/money relationship is keeping your brain healthy. We typically think of decreased brain function as a problem only for the elderly or injury victims, but the truth is that brain decline can start in much younger people who don’t adequately exercise their brains. And a decline in your brain power can cost you money.
An active, healthy, fully functioning brain can help you save money in ways you might not realize. The brain is, to my mind, the number one money saver because without it, you cannot make any decisions or earn any income. Here’s how a healthy, active brain can save you money.
Avoid disease: This is the big one that will cost you a fortune. If you get Alzheimer’s you will face large insurance, prescription, and doctor payments. As the disease progresses you might also be forced to pay for nursing care or a place in an assisted living facility. All of this can quickly drain your life’s savings. While not all brain disease can be prevented, research has shown that keeping your brain healthy and active can reduce your chances of getting it, delay the onset and/or reduce the severity.
Ability to make clear decisions and good choices: A healthy brain preserves and enhances your ability to make smart financial decisions. Whether you’re deciding how to allocate your 401K investments, making your will, or sorting through different types of mortgages, the ability to process and understand all the choices available and make clear decisions can save you thousands of dollars. If your decision making process is not sharp, you may make unwise decisions that cost you money.
Ability to make quick calculations: The ability to quickly calculate the price of items in the store, to figure the price per pound, or to figure the price with coupons allows you to quickly find the best deal. Having a strong mental calculator also helps in other situations such as calculating interest, taxes, percent off sales, or other variable aspects of payment to make certain you don’t pay more than you have to. You can keep a running total of items in your head so you don’t overspend. The more you can figure out on the fly, the more you save by making sure you’re always getting the best deal or paying the lowest price.
Easier to understand new financial concepts: A healthy brain makes it much easier for you to grasp new financial concepts. As we go through life, we are introduced to new kinds of insurance, bank accounts, regulations, tax laws, and investment products. The rules of finance often change, as well. It’s important to be able to understand these new things so we always know what we’re getting into. If your brain isn’t functioning in top form, you may not understand new concepts and accidentally get into something you didn’t intend to that can cost you big money.
You’re harder to take advantage of: It’s sad but true that criminals and shysters look to take advantage of people that are easily confused. Many scams rely on confusing you or fooling you into thinking something is real when it’s fake. The stronger your brain is, the more resistant you are to scams. You’re better able to sort out what someone is telling you, to keep statements and promises straight, to evaluate claims that are too good to be true, and to do the math that might expose the fraud. It’s no guarantee, but if you’re easily confused you’re more likely to be taken.
You can come up with ways to make and save more money: If you have a strong brain, you’re probably more creative and can think of ways to make and save more money. A strong brain lets you start up a business, turn a hobby into an income producing venture, or learn new skills that will get you a better/different job. A strong brain also lets you think of creative ways to save money such as repurposing objects, doing things in alternative ways (line drying clothes, for example), cutting unnecessary expenses, and doing more things yourself. If you aren’t sharp, some of these things will never occur to you and, if they do, you won’t be able to follow through.
Better organization: If your brain is active and healthy, you are more likely to be better organized (or to get that way if you’re not). When you know where your financial papers are and how to get to them quickly, you save yourself time and money. When you can easily lay your hands on your bills, you’ll pay them on time. When you know where your important documents are, you can deal with emergencies such as an illness, death, or lost purse. When you can find old records, you can quickly resolve payment disputes. People with clouded or slower brains often lack the ability to organize well and it can cost them money.
Now that you understand how a healthy brain can save you money, here are some suggestions to keep your brain active. These are good individually, but it’s best if you do as many as possible to develop and challenge different areas of your brain. Don’t let yourself get into a rut by doing the some things over and over. Your brain will adapt and cease being challenged. Keep things fresh to get the maximum benefit.
Play games/do puzzles that challenge the brain: This includes things like crossword puzzles, Su Doku, board games that involve counting, word building, trivia/knowledge, or memory tasks, or jigsaw puzzles. All of these strengthen the brain and the more, different kinds of things you do, the more areas of the brain you stimulate. So don’t stick with just one, try them all.
Learn something new: Learn a new language, a new skill, or even new trivia. Learn to play an instrument, master a new technology, or take a course about something you’re interested in. Everything you learn forces the brain out of it’s rut and into new patterns.
Do familiar tasks in an odd way: Write with your non-dominant hand, use your opposite hand to open doors or shake hands, take a different way to work, recite lists backwards, go about your daily routine in reverse, or shop the grocery store in a different direction than normal (or try a new store where you don’t know where anything is). We get into comfortable ruts in our daily lives and our brain “sleepwalks” through certain tasks. Shake things up and make them different and your brain has to engage to deal with the difference.
Read: Reading, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, forces the brain to think, process information, and create mental pictures of the words on the page.
Video games: Research is showing that playing video games can help improve brain health, if used in moderation. Video games force you to use hand eye coordination which improves brain health. Some games also require you to remember where you’ve been or what you’ve done, others are educational, and some are puzzle games. Try to choose games that have some level of thought, memorization, or puzzle solving required in order to win.
Take part in cultural events: Go to museums, concerts, art galleries, or the theater. Many of these require you to think and process information, often lots of different information, at once. Some are educational and others are simply entertaining, but regardless they are different from your normal activities and force your brain to adapt to new information and experiences.
Travel: Just trying to get around or to a new place challenges the brain. Add to that the things you see and do while you’re there and you’ve got a great brain boosting experience.
Hobbies: Keep working on the hobbies you have and take up a couple of new ones to stretch your brain.
Social interaction: Talking to others is a great brain booster. Even more so if you talk about things like books you’ve read, things you’ve learned or places you’ve traveled, or you talk while you play a hand of cards or work on a puzzle.
Exercise: Exercise alone is a powerful brain activity, but it becomes more so if you try things you’ve never done before. If you’ve always been a walker, try running or in-line skating, for example, or add yoga or weight training to your workout. At the very least, vary your walking route. If you’re stuck with one sort of exercise and one route, you can give your brain an extra boost if you do things like count mailboxes, think of things you’re grateful for, create stories in your head, or think about a different special person each mile you walk. These take your brain out of the rut of walking the same route all the time.
Eat healthy: Talk with your doctor, but research is showing that many different vitamins, supplements, and foods may prevent or lessen brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Fast food was even recently linked to Alzheimer’s. Just like with any aspect of health, diet plays a role in brain health but talk to your doctor to work out a plan for you.
Challenge your memory: Tell stories about events in your life and try to recall as many details, names, places, etc. as possible. List the 50 states. Then list them in ABC order. List the characters in your favorite TV show. List the birth dates of everyone in your family. Remember the names of all the presidents. Any time you can think of something to do from memory, do it. Even if you don’t get everything right, you’re forcing your memory to engage.
Turn off the TV: With the exception of some educational programming and the occasional news broadcast, most of what is on TV numbs your brain rather than challenges it. Don’t veg out in front of the tube. Get up and try some of the other activities listed here.
Keeping your brain active and healthy is a great way to save money over the course of your lifetime. A healthy brain is something we often take for granted, but once functioning is lost it’s difficult if not impossible to get it back. We tend to focus only on dollars and cents when talking about saving money, but something as intangible as a healthy brain is worth far more than we give it credit for. Without that healthy brain, dollars and cents become meaningless concepts.