Nine Cheap Ways to Get Into Shape

Two people who need to get into shapeSo we're deep into the month of January, and if you're like me, you've already fallen off the wagon when it came to your New Year's resolution to lose weight.

But maybe some people are still hanging in there, trying hard to get in shape.Still, no matter which camp you're in, finding ways to get in shape without spending too much money isn't easy. Joining a gym can cost you hundreds each year and that's just your standard, run-of-the mill, multiple location gym. Go a little more upscale, and you could be spending more than a thousand dollars a year for your gym membership.

But getting fit doesn't have to be expensive. According to the fitness and nutrition experts we consulted, there are plenty of ways to lose weight and get in shape without ravaging your bank account. These nine tips can get your started.

Cut Portions

Healthy food may cost a lot, but if we eat less, we'll save more, says Amanda Carlson, RD, CSSD, vice president of nutrition and research at Core Performance, a website that's all about helping people achieve healthy goals like losing weight and gaining muscle. "Many people are eating healthful foods -- they're just eating too much of them," says Carlson. "Keep in mind, a serving of meat is about three ounces, which is the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards."

Look for Inexpensive, Healthy Foods

While some foods that are good for you may cost more than cheap, processed fare, not all healthy foods will break the bank. "Eggs are inexpensive," Carlson says, and you don't have to eat them just for breakfast. An omelet and some leftover vegetables can also serve as a healthy and inexpensive dinner, too.

Most breakfast foods don't cost much, Carlson adds. "Old-fashioned oatmeal, a high-fiber option, is just pennies a serving," she says. "Top it with a handful of nuts and some dried fruit, and serve it with non-fat milk." Or add some beans to your diet. "They're rich in fiber and protein and are inexpensive," Carlson says. "If you buy them in the can and rinse them before using, you'll remove about 40% of the sodium."

Visit the Library or Your Local Thrift Store

Laura Dow, a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and nutrition educator in Washington, D.C., suggests that if you're tapped out but have a DVD player, then your local library is the place to go. "You can check out fitness DVDs there. And in addition to books on health and fitness, most libraries also carry health and fitness magazines in their periodicals section."

Carol Frazey, M.S., who runs The Fit School, a fitness newsletter for families, businesses and schools, adds that she's seen many a workout video and DVD at Goodwill for as low as a buck. Remember, when it comes to working out, you don't have to have the latest and greatest DVD to get the job done. Cheap fitness DVDs can work, too.


It's fun and not too wildly expensive to learn. And it offers a unique way to get in shape. "It burns 280 calories an hour, tones the upper body and core, and even doubles as a brain exercise," says Heather Wolf, CEO and founder of of JuggleFit LLC. Wolf also works as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor in Gulf Breeze, Fla., teaching juggling as a way to stay fit.


"Do you have a service that people find valuable?" asks Frazey. "If you do, ask a personal trainer if he or she would be willing to trade services. For instance, I trade my personal training expertise with a woman who translates my newsletters into Spanish. It's a win-win." Think about all the things you can do that people might be willing to barter for: cooking, carpentry, sewing, computer repair -- the list is endless if you put your mind to it.

Drink Water

This simple, yet critical advice came from Amanda Carlson. "Use water as your main beverage, and watch your food costs and calories drop," suggests Carlson. "Sodas, carbonated fruit drinks and flavored waters are poor choices for nutritional and economic reasons. And ordering drinks like tea and soda can substantially increase the cost of eating out, too."

Cook, Don't Nuke

"This means you're buying real, raw food," says Leanne Ely, author of the Saving Dinner cookbook series, "which is cheaper than all the processed crapola that's both expensive and not as healthy as the food manufacturers would like you to think." So instead of heading straight to the frozen, prepared food section the next time you're at the grocery story, try visiting the produce and meat departments. It's pretty simple to throw together a quick meal of baked chicken breast and steamed veggies; make extra so you have leftovers for even more of a time-saver.

Eat Foods That Are in Season

Both Ely and Carlson agree that eating what's in season is both healthy and budget-friendly. Buying strawberries in December or January when they're out of season, says Ely, "may be tres gourmet, but they're also tres cher -- and not nearly as good or cheap as when they're in season." So look for fruits and veggies in season -- asparagus in the spring, peaches in summer, squash in the fall -- and you'll save every time.

Just Move

"If you live in the city, you can turn any open park or office building staircase into your very own gym," Melanie Webb asserts. Webb runs the Southern California-based Sol Fitness Adventures, which specializes in helping people prepare for outdoor adventures (think: backpacking in the Rockies or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro).

"Start out with either a slow jog or a brisk walk to your favorite spot," Webb suggests. "Use the picnic tables or benches to work your lower body with step ups and squats, and work your upper body with incline push ups and tricep dips. Then make things fun by throwing in some cartwheels and jumping jacks. You'll be amazed at what a little outdoor play does for your body. Not only can you improve your cardio endurance and muscular strength, but your mind and emotions will get a boost, too."

On that note, Samara Wolcott, who runs, a fitness website, says that for zero bucks you can take your dog for a long walk or go with your kids to the playground and play with them. If you're flying solo or have some alone time, "find a tall building open to the public, like a hotel or government building," Wolcott suggests, "and climb thirty or forty flights of stairs."

Wolcott also notes you could get a great workout just cleaning your home from top to bottom. Housework can be a great way to exercise if you're going at it seriously and not just dawdling while dusting.

With all this good advice, I'd say I've got two options: I'm either going to try to follow some of these tips -- or I'll need to be even more creative with my excuses for not eating better and exercising more.

Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to WalletPop.
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