Blue Zones: Financial Lessons From the World’s Oldest People

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While learning about Okinawan centenarians, I also came across the idea of Blue Zones – places where a high concentration of people live past 90 without chronic illnesses. While the eating habits of Blue Zone residents have been mentioned a lot, Richard Eisenberg of NextAvenue wrote a three-part series focusing on the financial aspects of their longevity. Here is Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Rather than focusing on the residents’ diets, he reports on how the oldest people in the Blue Zones make their money last and what Americans and America can learn from this.

Here are my notes:

The Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica

  • Close-knit family structure. Rely on immediate and extended family members. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are rare.
  • Government-run public health care system with minimal out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Small government-run pension systems.
  • Low cost-of-living. Lower spending due to low consumerism. Rarely travel.
  • Rare to find elderly that own stocks or mutual funds.

Okinawa, Japan

  • They form a “moai”, which is a group of about 20 close-knit older friends who look out for each other both financially and emotionally. This acts as a replacement for assistance from blood relatives.
  • Government-run public health care system with minimal out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Low cost-of-living. Low consumerism. Low debt.

Sardinia, Italy

  • Close-knit family structure. Rely on immediate and extended family members. There are no long-term care facilities in Sardinia.
  • Government-run public health care system with minimal out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Low cost-of-living. Low spending due to self-reliant farming culture.

Ikaria, Greece

  • Close-knit family structure. Rely on immediate and extended family members. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are rare.
  • Government-run public health care system, but no long-term care program.
  • Low cost-of-living. Low consumerism. Low spending due to self-reliant farming culture.

Loma Linda, California, USA

  • Technically, the Blue Zone consists of the members of the Seventh Day Adventist religious community.
  • Close-knit religious group that helps each other out.
  • Has a culture of self-discipline, planning, and preparation.
  • Tend to be wealthier with significant investments.
  • Tend to have frugal spending habits.

Commentary. One common thing that I notice about this list is that many are small, isolated communities, either by geography (islands), ethnicity, or religion. I feel that smaller groups more acutely appreciate the advantages of helping each other out. You can have long-term trust that you will raise your kids when they are young, and they will in turn watch over you when they are adults. When you get into larger cities, people seem to separate and start worrying mostly about themselves.

Of course, a bigger version of this is government-run health care, where everyone pitches in and agrees that nobody will become destitute due to a hospital bill. The American healthcare system is so complex and ingrained with powerful inertia that the idea of efficient, transparent, high-quality healthcare remains a huge puzzle waiting be (even partially) solved.

(I’m not saying we need the same system as Japan or Greece. But even billionaire capitalists Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon realize that our bloated healthcare system is hurting our economy. Their new combined venture Haven has a goal of “simplified, high-quality and transparent health care at a reasonable cost.”)

On the smaller front, many familiar concepts still apply. Start saving early and plan ahead. Practice self-discipline in spending and lower your consumeristic appetites. If possible, move to a place where there is a lower cost-of-living. It’s so much easier to spend less when everyone around you spends a lot less! Get yourself involved in a close-knit community, whether based on blood, ethnicity, neighborhood, or religion.

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Comments

  1. Your snippets are just great – thanks for keeping the garbage out.

  2. I think it is a colossal stretch to even faintly imply that government run pensions and government run healthcare may be reasons why there are so many centenarians in these areas. For that matter, all of those notes you posted seem questionable. It’s even a stretch when people imply that the eating habits of these people explain their longevity. Do not confuse correlation with causation. Factors affecting life span are incredibly complex and diverse, and even the most rational and compelling studies conducted on the subject reach conclusions that are far from concrete. And these attributions do not even come close to fitting that bill.

  3. Do not confuse correlation with causation????? Sounds like the US Congress’s excuse, coverup and defense against prosecution for plundering the country, legislating the financial crises and Savings and Loan Scandal before that into existence and just generally spending 4 days a week stuffing corporate bribes into their pockets and allowing lobbyists to write whatever legislation suits their interests.
    I’ll definitely not confuse those things.

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