8 Tips for Frugal Fitness

by Kezia on December 2, 2008

Think you need to spend a lot of money to stay fit? Think again. Here are eight frugal fitness tips and ideas to consider — I’d love to hear your ideas too!

Frugal Fitness Tip # 1: Strength in Numbers

Want the benefit of personalized instruction but can’t afford — or justify the expense — of one-on-one training? According to NYC trainer Stacy Berman, many trainers will accept a larger group of people for a lower individual rate,” says Stacy, “it’s a great way to reduce spending on fitness but keep the motivation factor there.” I took a boot camp class for a few months that really challenged and motivated me.

Frugal Fitness Tip # 2: Use it or Lose It

Given that we’ve been in a recession since December 2007, it’s hardly the time to let your gym membership languish. Some people thrive in the high-energy, social atmosphere of a gym. I certainly do. But the only way I’m allowed to keep my membership active is to go no less than 4 days a week. Otherwise, it’s a waste of money. Now, I’ve certainly wasted my fair share of coin over the years, but I’m trying to at least be less stupid about it. If you want to keep going to the gym but want to pay less, talk to a membership rep and see if you change your plan. Maybe it’s not necessary to have access to every single Crunch in the World (or even in San Francisco) or maybe you only want to use the gym on certain days. Gyms need to be flexible if they want to keep/attract members — take advantage. Also, check to see if your health insurance provider offers lower premiums for people who workout or have a gym membership.

Frugal Fitness Tip #3: Every Little Bit Counts

The world is your playground – literally! Use everyday activities to burn extra calories.You don’t always need fancy gym equipment to get into great shape — just a set of dumbbells and a chair can get you to your fitness goals without breaking the bank. As the holiday season approaches, take advantage of calorie burning activities like raking leaves, building snowmen and ice skating! Walking is always an easy, cheap option. I don’t have car, so I either walk or take public transportation. Wear good walking shoes if you’re going to be traipsing around all day though — I recently tweaked my foot thanks to hiking around Berkeley in (really cute) ballet flats with no arch support.

Frugal Fitness Tip #4: Take Advantage of Your Health Plan

Do you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA)? Did you know some fitness/wellness services can be paid for using pre-tax dollars via a FSA or HSA? If the service is used to alleviate a qualifying medical expense, you’re good to go. Qualifying medical expenses can include any of the following conditions: Carpal Tunnel, Stress, back Pain, Arthritis, Diabetes, Hypertension, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Anxiety, Depression, Pain Management and Weight Management.

Frugal Fitness Tip #5: Make like a European and Ride a Bike!

Most European cities are incredibly bicycle friendly. So are many American cities — especially San Francisco and (parts of) Chicago. Biking is fun, cool and will give you tocks of steel. Don’t have wheels? Score a good deal on a secondhand bike on Craigslist or Freecycle.

Frugal Fitness Tip #6: Check it Out, Download It

I’m a proud, card-carrying member of the San Francisco Public Library. Not only can find every book about diet and fitness ever written, I have access to a variety of up-to-date exercise DVDs. All free! You can also find great instructional videos on YouTube and video podcasts on iTunes.

Frugal Fitness Tip #7: Go Web Surfing

There’s a blog (or 500) for everything. Here are two wonderful fitness/nutrition blogs that stand apart from the rest: Fitness Fixation (witty, well-written and chock full of badassery) and Elasticwaist (intelligent musings on weight and body image).

Frugal Fitness Tip #8: Be Prepared to Prep

Raise your hand if you’re lazy as hell when it comes to food? Spending extra money on things like frozen food (with the exception of frozen veggies) and pre-washed/pre-cut lettuce is a waste. Buying whole foods and preparing them yourself will help you save money — and stay healthy by avoiding extra preservatives or additives in packaged foods. My friend Kim, who is amazingly disciplined about food and fitness, brings her lunch to work every day. She sticks to healthy, nourishing staples like brown rice, salmon or fish and a green veggie like broccoli or spinach.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

songy December 2, 2008 at 7:10 am

oki.. I started my morning push-ups so that I can carry my camera gear.

That’s a good start I reckon. Just got enc’s endorsement as well.

I’d better check out some fitness sites too!


jennine December 2, 2008 at 9:59 am

you are so insurance savvy… i never thought insurance could cover something like fitness stuff…

after i moved to germany, i didn’t have the money for a gym membership, so i ended up running in the forest. now it’s too cold for me to go outside, so it’s me and some online videos… which work perfectly, 20 minutes and i’m done.


szaza December 2, 2008 at 11:42 am

I do static trapeze to keep in shape— it’s the best workout ever and your body turns into this tight, muscled dancer-like body. In a matter of a few months. It’s a lot more fun than going to a gym and sometimes less expensive depending on where you go. There are established circus schools all around the world, if you can find one, I highly recommend it. It does wonders for the figure and confidence.


Kayla December 2, 2008 at 1:49 pm

I just discovered Sparkpeople.com through Glamour magazine, and it’s absolutely wonderful. It is completely free and let’s you track your progress, as well as has a pretty extensive collection of workout videos online. I love it!


Kezia December 2, 2008 at 1:54 pm

@songy - push ups are the best!
@jennine - yes, i do know my way around an insurance claims form thank you very much
@szaza - wow! i’m impressed! where do you do it?
@kayla - thanks for mentioning sparkpeople! i meant to — good info, tools etc. and yep, free!


szaza December 2, 2008 at 2:14 pm

I take classes at Circus Center in San Francisco. I found this list of some international circus schools: http://www.dmoz.org/Arts/Performing_Arts/Circus/Schools/

It’s oh-so fun, and you can learn all sorts of other skills, from Chinese acrobatics and contortionism, to aerial silks and trapeze. All of these classes really strengthen your abs and upper body, and I’ve even noticed the shape of my legs changing, becoming slimmer. Plus the improvement in flexibility is amazing. Remember the dreaded rope in gym class? No problem. You’ll be climbing up and down that rope effortlessly and probably hanging upside-down from it too!


Market Publique December 6, 2008 at 9:52 am

I like to spend less coin on subway fares and walk it. It only works if you don’t have an unlimited ride card, and you don’t have to go super far, but it’s a double whammy: less $ for transportation AND exercise.

And I buy a class card for yoga, which makes me feel less bad when I don’t go (equally good and bad).

Also, if you have TiVo you can record fitness shows and play them on mute with your fave music, plus exercise without going outside (in your pajamas?)


kezia December 8, 2008 at 11:21 pm

@market publique — yes, i’m a big fan of walking! since my company started running a free shuttle from the city to our somewhat remote office park, i stopped buying a monthly fast pass & multiple BART tix (SF public transit). I pay the $1.50 when I need to take the bus, but more of than not, I can just walk!

@szasa- i totally want to try the circus center classes! new year’s treat… :-)


Claire Bild April 29, 2010 at 1:23 am

I have come to your site before. Beautiful female photo. By the way you have a georgous blog


Sophie September 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

You are right, you dont need to invest in all kinds of expensive kit to stay fit. I use the equipment that surrounds my local playing field. They have dip bars, chin up bars ans press up stations - all you need for a full body workout as you run around the field!
Sophie´s last blog ..Running Jackets My ComLuv Profile


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