Why Don’t We Do Things That Are Good for Us?

planet_fitness

When presented with the opportunity to save money or to make money or to live a healthier life, why do so many people, myself included, often ignore such opportunities?

Hidden Benefits in Your Employer’s Health Insurance

One that always gets me is the opportunity to join Planet Fitness. $10 a month, $30 annual renewal fee. Total cost, $150 per year. My company’s health insurance plan will reimburse up to $150 per year in gym membership fees to anyone who joins a gym and makes at least 120 visits per year. So that makes my Planet Fitness membership FREE! Plus, it’s a great incentive to get at least 120 workouts in per year. However, most people I tell about this, don’t do anything about it.

Shopping for a Mortgage

I just read about this phenomenon the other day. According to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, almost half of consumers seeking a loan to purchase a home do not shop lenders, the agency said Tuesday. The cost of not shopping around can be significant. A consumer taking out a 30-year mortgage for $200,000 and paying an interest rate of 4.5 percent will pay about $60 per month more than someone borrowing at 4 percent, and the borrower with the cheaper loan will also build equity faster, the report said.

Smoking

Perhaps the biggest culprit of doing something that is not good for us, and being fully aware of it, is a habit that is a global issue – smoking. According to the CDC, smoking is estimated to increase the risk:

  • for coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times;
  • for stroke by 2 to 4 times;
  • of men developing lung cancer by 25 times;
  • and of women developing lung cancer by 25.7 times.
  • In addition, smoking causes diminished overall heath, such as self-reported poor health, increased absenteeism from work, and increased health care utilization and cost.

While rates of tobacco use have declined globally, because of population growth there are more people smoking than ever. And the problem is worse in developing countries, where the rate of smoking among men is often well over 50%. In the U.S.,  the prevalence of smoking has remained steady for the past several years, at about 20% for men and 15% for women. I also find it remarkable that about 10% of teenagers smoke in the U.S. While that rate has been going down, I still find the number unacceptably high. Haven’t they all been bombarded with the nasty health effects of smoking since kindergarten? The good news according to the CDC,  is that the benefits from quitting smoking are significant and happen fairly quickly:

  • quitting smoking cuts cardiovascular risks. Just 1 year after quitting smoking, your risk for a heart attack drops sharply.
  • Within 2 to 5 years after quitting smoking, your risk for stroke could fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s.
  • If you quit smoking, your risks for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder drop by half within 5 years.
  • Ten years after you quit smoking, your risk for lung cancer drops by half.

Your Employer’s Retirement Plan

According to commentary from an oft-quoted Merrill Lynch Help2Retire webcast, half of eligible employees younger than 34 don’t contribute at all to their employer-sponsored 401(k) programs. Of those who do, 40 percent don’t put in enough to take advantage of the employer’s matching program. In companies that offer  a dollar for dollar match with employee contributions, that’s a guaranteed 100% return on your investment! So why would an employee not participate to the fullest extent possible?

Wearing Seat Belts and Helmets

Seat belt usage has risen from 14% in 1983 to 86% in 2012. Sounds like impressive growth, but I wonder about the 14% who currently don’t wear a seat belt. Is it a deliberate choice, and if so, what is their logic?

Helmet usage among motorcycle drivers actually dropped from 66% in 2011 to 60% in 2012, while helmet usage among motorcycle passengers dropped from 64% to 46% during that same time period. Again, what are these people thinking (although I must admit I do not drive a motorcycle, never have, and never plan to, so I don’t really understand the mind set of a motorcyclist at all)? I still remember in grad school (this is going back 30 years) a debate breaking out between the teacher and a student on this very issue. The teacher was showing all the date supporting why helmets should be required, while the student was arguing why he should have the freedom to decide whether or not he wants to wear a helmet. The teacher ended the argument with one of the best lines I’ve ever heard: “There is a benefit to society of people not wearing a helmet when they drive a motorcycle; if they get in a crash and die, the average I.Q. of the nation goes up.” Classic…

Conscious Eating

While I am convinced of the benefits of a vegan diet, I realize it’s not for everyone, and it’s not my job to convince everyone of its benefits. However, I think we can all stand to at least be conscious of what we eat, to think about our choices, and to educate ourselves as much as we can about nutrition. Ignoring our genetic makeup (which we have no control over), I think the primary determinant of our health, by a wide margin, is our diet, followed to a lesser extent by our exercise routine, our sleep habits, and how we handle stress.

Trying to Beat the Stock Market

Many investors try to invest in the latest hot stock tip, or think they can outsmart the market because of their superior intellect. But here’s the advice from one of the greatest investors of all time, Warren Buffett, when he talks about how he would like his heirs to manage their money:

My advice to the trustee couldn’t be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.) I believe the trust’s long-term results from this policy will be superior to those attained by most investors — whether pension funds, institutions or individuals — who employ high-fee managers. 

Yet many investors engage in frequent trading of individual stocks, generally a fool’s errand. Great books like The Automatic Millionaire and The Wealthy Barber provide useful investment advice.

I am sure I could come up with several more, and so could you. I’m also sure that some of you may disagree with some of what I have said. But regardless of that, I think we can all agree that there are some key areas of our life that we could take a closer look at to make sure we are taking full advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us.

So where to start? I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes, this one from Jim Rohn:

The difference between where you are today and where you’ll be five years from now will be found in the quality of books you’ve read.”

So the advice is simple:

READ.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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