Sense & Centsibility Blog

Financially Fit: Tips for Getting in Shape on a Budget

Every January large numbers of people resolve to change their physical well-being. Getting in shape often feels like it comes attached with some hefty price tags. Gym memberships, workout attire, diet foods, or equipment can lighten your wallet. It is easy to cast aside any hopes of a New Year’s workout and meal plan without busting your budget, but frugal fitness is attainable with some simple strategies and dedication to making a lifestyle change.

Is it financially beneficial to stay fit?

The World Health Organization found that about $500/yr less is spent on health care expenses by those that are physically active vs those who are not.

Additionally, many health insurance companies offer incentives for being healthy.

What are some frugal alternatives to expensive gym memberships?

The tried and true buddy system can really help people to stay active. This may mean using your lunch time at work to take a quick walk with co-workers. Taking a 15-min break at work to do a you-tube yoga session or even just stretching and being aware of your movement (or lack of) and working to increase it whenever you can. 

If you have kids, instead of just taking them to the park/playground, etc – get in there and play too. Even if it’s just walking around through to keep an eye on them, it’s extra activity built into your existing schedule.

How do you eat healthy without going broke?

The first time my husband and I tried to “eat healthy”, we bought a Biggest Loser cookbook – which quickly became a butt of jokes. We didn’t know what half the ingredients were and once we did find out, they were quickly vetoed due to financial reasons. 

My advice is to eat like they did in the “olden days” - eat fruits and veggies that are in season and as local as possible. Pay attention to sales. Eating limited processed food, and food not prepared at home also saves money and limits calories. Remember to talk to your Doctor about your blood work, ask them what are some foods you should avoid or try to add into your diet? 

What are some good meal plan ideas that are low-effort and cheap?

If you are not going to like what you cook and end up snacking all night – it’s not worth it financially nor health-wise. When making a meal plan, consider not just the main-dish but also sides. Do you have a green veggie? Adding a small (low-fuss) salad can be easy and affordable. This can also help you to eat less – leaving leftovers to bring to work and save even more money. 

Consider healthy snacks – a small bag of veggies is about the same cost as a bag of brand-name chips. Also, water is free when gotten from home and replaces soda.

Where can you get affordable workout wear?

Buying any athletic or workout wear right now is NOT going to be budget-friendly. But – wait about a month and you’ll see clearance racks FULL of the same clothes drastically marked down. Go for comfort and practical. You may not need the newest, high-end materials if you are just going to be working out with a friend, or being more active with the kids. I’ve been known to work out to P90X in normal pajamas. Would I want to be recorded doing it? No - but it works for me!

What is a good fitness tracker that doesn’t cost a fortune?

Just like budget templates, there are many different ways to track your physical fitness. Consider what works for you and what you are in need of. If you know you are never going to update what you eat and every little bit of activity you do – don’t try. 

MyFitnessPal is both online and on most smartphones – this is free but you do need to manually enter or remember to turn on the app when exercising if you don’t have a tracker. 

If you are just looking for a way to track your steps and remind you to walk more – consider a cheap pedometer; if your work does a health/benefits fair sometimes the health insurance company will give these away even. If you buy it, the typically cost is less than $10.

What’s an inexpensive way to work out at home if the weather doesn’t permit exercising outdoors?

The at-home work-out DVDs or even YouTube clips can be great and inexpensive. You can also do an exchange of DVDs with friends, family, co-workers so it doesn’t get boring. 

The key is to find something that is whole body; can be modified; but enjoyable for you to do or at least something for you to work towards. Bringing in either family or friends can also help this to be fun, which means you’re more likely to stick with it.

What are some versatile and inexpensive fitness equipment that is great to have?

Resistance bands are inexpensive and great to help build strength and stretch muscles. This can work muscles that weights can’t and takes up much less space.

Otherwise, there are a ton of workouts that use only your body for resistance and chair workouts are great for people that work behind a desk and want to fit some exercise in during work or can easily be translated to at-home workouts as well.

Where can you get an effective workout plan for free?

Talk to your Doctor, they usually have great tips that can help you to find something that works with your health needs. My personal favorite is YouTube, not only because you have so many options on the type of work-outs to choose but also because it’s accessible from a phone, computer and most TVs.

Any final tips on how to stay fit and healthy while on a budget?

Just like budgeting is a life-style choice, so is being physically active. Consider what is something you can sustain. If you don’t think you have time to consistently go to a gym, save your money and consider other options. If you are making this a priority and it needs some money, then consider what is going to be a lesser priority that may have to be reduced or cut out to allow for the costs of being fit to be affordable. Yes it will take time and some effort, but you can do it!

These questions were answered by April Sanderson, an LSS Financial Counselor. All questions are a part of Experian's weekly Twitter chat.