Staying Fit on a Budget

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I haven’t always been an active person. I always lived too far from a gym, or didn’t enjoy sports, or was too busy, along with a million other excuses. I wasn’t active when I was younger, but I was great at coming up with reasons not to be.

By freshman year of college, however, I decided to make a change. I joined the gym at school and tried out dozens of different group fitness classes until I found the ones I liked, and stuck to them. Personally, I get incredibly bored when I work out alone on machines. Group classes motivate me to try my best, and I like having an instructor to tell me what to do so I can just concentrate on my form.

That’s enough about my fitness journey – time for the tips. I can’t hand you motivation on a platter, but hopefully this will help keep you on track!

1. Try to join a gym with multiple locations and all-inclusive classes.

The best bang for your buck is a gym with classes, since a lot of machine exercises can be replicated without them (like running outside instead of on a treadmill). All you have to do is show up, and the teacher guides you through the steps or practice. I belong to Crunch, which has locations all over the city so I can go almost anytime, anywhere. I mostly attend yoga classes, and have found some seriously excellent instructors. At $92/month it seems pricey, but for how often I go it comes out to less than $6 per yoga class. Most gyms offer one-day passes for you to try them out, so you can afford to be picky!

2. There’s no need to invest in really expensive clothing.

This can be hard to remember when you’re drowning in a sea of pretty pastel Lululemon tanks, but it’s actually fairly easy to find cute gear at places like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and even thrift stores. I tend to spend the most on pants and bottoms because you want those to hold up for a while, but a $9 J. Crew tank typically does the trick just as much as a $100 Nike tank. Same with sneakers – Famous Footwear and other discount shoe stores carry past-season workout sneakers for decent prices.

3. If gyms aren’t an option, do some research and discover videos that work.

When I was at home over school breaks, I didn’t belong to a gym. I knew I had to keep up my routine, though, so I bought a yoga block, yoga mat, body bar and some light weights. This “equipment” barely took up any room, and I lived on free Pilates, yoga and body bar videos. Here are a few of my favorites:

Body Bar routine

Pop Pilates ab routine

Yoga Journal sequences

4. Bring snacks and hydration from home.

If you’re a gym-goer, then you know how it feels to be hungry before and/or after your workout – no one likes to be stranded without food. It’s easy to be lazy and assume you’ll buy something at the gym, but those bananas and Vitamin Water can add up fast. I stick non-perishable snacks in my gym bag like raw nuts, and I keep an empty Britta water bottle with me so I can fill up at the gym fountains. It’s not so hard to stay away from the smoothie bar when A) everything costs at least $8 and B) I have my own stuff with me.

Good luck!

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3 thoughts on “Staying Fit on a Budget

  1. My dilemma is that I like to run (outside), but it gets super cold and gross in the winter sometimes. If it’s under, say 25 degrees Fahrenheit, I don’t like to run outside. Also if there’s too much ice/snow/sleet on the ground, it can get a little dangerous, and if it’s dark (which it is in the mornings before work, my preferred time to run), it’s dangerous. So winter is a harder time to run habitually, just in general. I had some trouble finding a place where I could just run on a treadmill during those rare days where it was too cold or dangerous to run outside. This would be like, maybe twice a week, only a couple months out of the year, solely to use the treadmill.

    A lot of gyms only seem to have a yearly membership (very pricey), or even if they offer a one-month or three-month membership, it’s still pretty darn pricey if all you want is to have access to a treadmill for a couple times a week, and you don’t plan on using any classes or a trainer. I asked my park district (over $300 for a yearly membership and over $100 for a 3-month), and their response was, “well, you can run around the track inside for free.” My issue with that is that once around the track is 1/12 of a mile. If I’m training for a half-marathon and I want to run a mere, say, 5 miles, that’s 60 times in a little circle. No thank you. I ended up purchasing a year-long employee fitness membership at my workplace, which gives me access to the fitness room (treadmills!) for $75, which I’m pretty happy with.

    I’m just wondering what people do who don’t have access to employee discounts, etc. I do videos at home to cross-train, and I mostly run outside, but on those rare days where I can’t run unless I have access to a treadmill, are there any gyms that just charge a daily fee or a per-use fee? I don’t have room in my house for a treadmill, and frankly I don’t want to own one. A good treadmill is extremely expensive and again, I’d use it minimally. Thoughts?

    • Hi Lisa! You make a great point. Not everyone has access to convenient workout spaces, especially in the winter – I know this all too well, and dealt with that in high school when I was still living in upstate, rural NY. I remember having to drive 45 minutes to the closest Planet Fitness, and piggy-backing on a friend’s membership because he was allowed to take a guest for free.

      It’s great that you have a membership for only $75 – that’s such a deal! Now that I’ve given it some thought, I realize that I did have a few options upstate, including the workout room at the local community college, which also offered Zumba classes at night for a low price. I hated working out in that tiny room, but it was better than nothing, and I did go to the classes once in a while. There were also yoga centers that offered classes, but those were a little pricey for me.

      For people who don’t have access to any of the above, I think that’s where investing in home exercise equipment comes in. Of course, not everyone can do this because like you mentioned, it’s expensive and would be used minimally. As for daily passes, after some light Googling I found that most gyms actually do free passes rather than charging a fee (including Gold’s Gym and LA Fitness), but of course that varies. I imagine it’s also worth inquiring at your local college or high school – I know my college gym offered memberships to the public.

      Aghh, I feel like my response wasn’t too helpful. I’m not by any means an expert on the subject, but I tried!

  2. Hi, Gab! No, your response was great! I forgot that community colleges sometimes also let community members (not just students) purchase fitness memberships, sometimes for even less than the cost of a park district membership, which is generally less than a private gym membership. Granted, the tiny workout rooms are lackluster, but if you are really focused on your goals and not just out to see and be seen, it works great (and beggars can’t be choosers anyway; my bargain membership is for a tiny little workout room too, but it gets the job done).

    I didn’t even know that some gyms give you a free pass for the day–is that just something introductory, like your first time there? I looked at some places near me (via Google) and couldn’t find that info, but I was also told that if you just go in and explain your needs, they want to lure you in so bad that they’ll let you work out there for free for a while. If I hadn’t already found a solution to my issue I’d probably be doing that, :).

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