How to Get Fit on a Budget

Getting in shape doesn't need to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, there are plenty of free or low-cost ways to improve your fitness. Investing in your health is one of the smartest money moves you can make!

The new year is just around the corner, and for many of us, that means it’s time to start thinking about resolutions.

The majority of New Year’s resolutions are related to fitness. According to the blog Discover Happy Habits, “In 2019, one survey found that more than half of Americans wanted to be healthier – 59% wanted to exercise more, 54% said they would eat healthier, and 48% resolved to lose weight.”

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How does budgeting and money management relate to fitness goals? January is the best time of year to buy fitness equipment, as manufacturers and retailers are well aware that people have made resolutions to get fit. You can pick up exercise equipment, gym memberships, and even fitness trackers for a deep discount if you buy at the right time. However, it’s important to remember that buying gear is only one small part of keeping your New Year’s resolution to improve your health. With that in mind, here’s how to get fit on a budget!

Read More: Best Time of Year to Buy Anything

Skip the Restrictive Gym Contracts

The average gym membership at a national chain costs just over $50 a month. For some people, that’s a trivial amount – but for many others, it’d be a budget-breaking expense. Many gyms charge joining fees along with monthly rates, plus a number of add-ons such as personal fitness coaching, premium classes, and other perks. However, the biggest expense is often hidden: the dreaded cancellation fee. Most gym contracts are locked in for at least a year, and attempting to leave your agreement early can cause a massive headache and take a toll on your wallet.

If you do decide to try out a traditional gym, look for one with a month-to-month contract instead of a long-term membership program. In addition, you may find that local gyms or non-profits such as the YMCA offer better terms than some national chains.

Get Paid to Lose Weight

Although not every employer offers fitness incentives for employees, it’s becoming increasingly common. Wellness reimbursement programs might pay you back for gym memberships and home exercise equipment, while other programs – often tied to your health insurance – could provide free or low-cost health coaching, online classes, gym equipment and technology, or even in-person training. Some employers might offer discounts on health insurance for meeting certain fitness goals as well, so it’s definitely worth looking into. Check-in with your HR department or read through the employee handbook to see if your job offers any of these benefits.

Watch YouTube Videos

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Fitness classes can be expensive. And, if you live in an area where there aren’t many options, you might not even be able to find a class for the kind of exercise or wellness that you want to try. Luckily for you, the internet is here to save the day. You can learn how to do virtually any kind of exercise on YouTube for free! Here are a few of the most popular channels:

No matter the style of fitness instructor and type of exercise that sparks your interest, you’re sure to find something that suits your needs. And if you discover a particular instructor you click with and want more, many free fitness YouTubers also offer premium workouts to subscribers on Patreon and other platforms.  

Buy Multipurpose Exercise Equipment

If you’re going to buy fitness equipment, choose the tools that are the most flexible. We’ve all seen commercials for elaborate home gym systems or highly specialized pieces of gear designed to work out just one muscle group. That’s not to say those products aren’t useful – just ask Suzanne Somers and her ThighMaster fortune! But if you’re trying to get fit on a budget, then multipurpose equipment is the way to go.

An exercise ball, also called a yoga ball, is a great tool that’s relatively inexpensive and can help build core strength. Sure, you can sit on it and engage your core muscles, but there are a ton of other ways to use this simple piece of equipment, including wall squats, modified sit-ups, back extensions, and more. Resistance bands are a cost-effective alternative to dumbbells and barbells – although, don’t shy away from investing in a set of dumbbells, too. If you get into pumping iron, a simple weight bench and a few free weights can rival any gym for versatility and effectiveness.

Focus on Bodyweight Exercises

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Getting fit doesn’t require any workout equipment, so if you’re on an especially tight budget, don’t despair. Bodyweight exercises, along with a few improvised pieces of gear from around the house, can be just as good as store-bought alternatives. Traditional bodyweight exercises include sit-ups, push-ups, squats, and lunges. All of them can be done at home or on the go without fancy props or equipment. You can even modify them to suit your current fitness needs. You can also grab objects from around the house to use as weights or props, such as tin cans, filled milk jugs, and towels.

Choose No-Cost Cardio

Walking is one of the world’s most perfect exercises. Assuming that you have the mobility, put some shoes out and go for a walk! You might have heard the conventional wisdom that 10,000 steps a day is a good fitness goal for everyone, but some experts are pushing back against that number. In fact, 7,000-8,000 steps might be a more reasonable goal unless you’re living a fairly sedentary lifestyle, then the best goal is “slightly more walking than you do now.” You don’t even need to buy an expensive fitness tracker or pedometer; assuming that you have a smartphone, there’s already a step counter built in!

Get Old-School with Tracking

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Speaking of tracking, let’s talk about smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other high-tech wearables. While many people do find a lot of benefits in using wearable tech to enhance their fitness routines, it’s far from necessary. In fact, you don’t even need a smartphone stacked with free apps to measure your fitness goals. It can be surprisingly tough to remember in this digital age, but people have been managing their health without the aid of technology for thousands of years. To track your fitness habits, all you really need is a clock and a notebook or wall calendar, plus something to write with.  

Shop for Used Workout Wear

Workout wear is a big business. According to market research, “The global activewear market size was valued at USD 303.44 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth (CAGR) of 5.8% from 2022 to 2028.” High-tech performance fabrics, trendy celebrity activewear lines, and branded workout gear are only becoming more popular – and more expensive. As long as you can move freely in your workout clothes, they’re perfectly fine. But if you want to get in on trendy, high-performance clothing, upscale thrift shops and consignment stores are the way to go. Let someone else’s failed resolution become your windfall!

Opt for Simple, Healthy Foods

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Working out is just part of the equation when it comes to fitness. Your diet is just as important, and fueling those workouts requires effort. You can find plenty of resources online, as well as at your local library, to learn the basics of nutrition. However, fad diets aside, most conventional wisdom boils down to eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean protein, and whole grains. Most healthy foods are surprisingly affordable when you stick to their simplest, least-processed forms, especially when you compare the costs of junk food.

Reuse Beverage Containers for Water

We all know that hydration is important, but fancy water bottles aren’t the only – or best – way to ensure that you’re drinking enough fluids. For many people, staying hydrated is a matter of making it more convenient to drink water. Carrying around a high-tech bottle might make it easier to remember to take sips of water throughout the day, but there’s nothing inherently magical about a Nalgene or a Hydro Flask. You can do the same exact thing with a reused milk jug, a Mason jar, or a plain old plastic cup.

Meal Prep Like a Pro

Meal plan
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It’s hard to overstate just how important meal prep is to establishing a healthy routine on a budget. Prepping your meals in advance means that you can take advantage of sales at the grocery store and build a menu around fresh, seasonal produce. You can also choose meals that use overlapping ingredients, allowing for variety without buying dozens of specialty items. And you’ll be a lot less likely to pick up fast food or grab a snack from the vending machine when you’ve got healthy, pre-portioned food on hand. It’s a good idea to cook food in batches and freeze portions for those days when you just don’t feel like cooking.

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