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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Friday focus: Personal finance

Trim expenses or trim your waistline? It’s tempting to cut where it’s easiest – by skipping that blood-pressure medicine that costs $200 a month, or that $40 monthly gym membership. Or switching from fish and skinless chicken breast to cheaper meats such as ground beef and hot dogs.

But be careful, say experts, because efforts to cut expenses by cutting back on health care or exercise can sometimes ricochet back and hurt you in the long run.

Already, doctors’ offices are starting to see a wave of patients who have delayed seeing a doctor and are now suffering the consequences. Those people risk missing more work days to recover – and may have to take more-expensive medications.

To take care of your body and your budget, consider some simple steps that may keep you out of the doctor’s office while saving you money as well.

During cold and flu season, it’s critical to wash your hands regularly. Can’t leave your desk to wash your hands? Buy a bottle of hand sanitizer and use it throughout the day. Don’t forget an annual flu shot. The $15 to $20 cost is worth it, because flu patients sometimes need 10 days to recover. That’s a lot of missed work. If you can’t spare $20 for a flu shot, call your county health department and ask about free shots.

To save money, some people quit taking regular medications, such as blood-pressure pills or heart medicine, or try cutting the pills in half. That’s a dangerous practice that could send you to the hospital – and saddle you with a much bigger bill. Instead, talk to your doctor about a cheaper alternative.

You can stop spending money on vitamins, unless you’re a woman between the ages of 20 and 40 or you’re pregnant. Women often need multivitamins because they don’t get enough iron in their diets. But everyone else can get the nutrients they need from eating fruits and vegetables.

Sleep is critical to health, and it’s free. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found that people who get less than seven hours of sleep each night are three times more likely to catch the common cold than those who get eight or more hours of shut-eye.

And don’t forget to exercise, which can counteract some of the negative side effects of stress. Like sleep, exercise doesn’t have to cost a dime.

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