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How to Get in Shape on the Cheap

July 30, 2014
Health, Medical Costs
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Check out this July 2017 Ask Brianna column for fresh tips on how to exercise on a budget.

Many people think fitness is expensive, and who can blame them? Health clubs made more than $21 billion in 2010 from their 58 million U.S. customers. Gym memberships cost an average of $58 per month, in addition to initiation fees. That’s before accessories, clothing and shoes – all of which can amount to a high price tag for being in shape. However, with a little work, you’ll rarely have to pay full-price, and getting fit on the cheap isn’t far out of reach. Here’s how to save money on fitness so you can afford to do more.

Free Passes

Whether you’re switching gyms or traveling, free gym passes are a real money-saver. Most gyms offer free daylong or weeklong passes, and some even offer two-week passes. Other common practices are free buddy passes or once-monthly free buddy days so members can bring a friend — great if you have a friend with a gym membership. This is true for most large gym chains and local clubs, because they’re always looking for new members.

Check Your Benefits

If you work at a large company, chances are it offers some sorts of wellness benefits. Many people don’t take part in workplace wellness programs, but they are a great way to save money. Programs come in a variety of formats, such as flextime for weekday workouts, on-site gyms and discounted gym memberships. Others offer employees free pedometers or simply give money or gift cards to employees who log a certain number of fitness minutes per month or year. Check with your boss or human resources department to find out more about your company’s wellness benefits.

If your company doesn’t have a wellness program, check with your health insurance provider. Most health insurance companies offer discounts and rebates to members who commit to a fit and healthy lifestyle. Because these options aren’t widely known, most people don’t take advantage of such benefits. To see which fitness benefits your health insurance company offers, check its website or call the customer service line. Because your health saves them money down the road, they’re often happy to help aid in your fitness goals.

Bare Bones Facilities

Really, when it comes to working out, you don’t need a lot. Gyms that focus on a spa experience or single type of workout, such as spinning boutiques or barre studios, tend to cost more than others. Those options might be great for people with plenty of disposable income who are looking to branch out, but for those on a budget, these types of boutique facilities can be a big waste of money. Most regular gyms offer free classes to members that are just as good as the boutique gyms’ versions, plus a variety of others, so you can change up your workout. Many cities now also have discount gyms that offer membership for as little as $10 per month, so be sure and check for those.

If you enjoy outdoor activities and only need gym facilities a couple of times per week or less, consider using a community recreation center. Rec centers usually have drop-in rates around $5 per session and a full range of facilities so you can swim, use cardio equipment and lift weights all in the same visit. If your area has seasonal weather, you can split the difference: Keep your gym membership for the colder months, and then put a hold on it for the summer. Use a rec center a couple of times per week as needed.

Free or Discounted Classes

If there is a good time to use a boutique gym or take a high-end class, it’s whenever it’s free. Similar to buddy passes and free gym days, some pricey, single-focus gyms will offer a free class once per month or week, usually on a Friday or Saturday. So if you’re looking to branch out and save money, budget time for Free Fridays or Sample Saturdays. This can be a great alternative to your go-to workout and a fun way to add variety to your routine. You can take a free CrossFit class this Saturday and go for the free Pilates session the next week. If you find something you really like, you can decide whether to commit to it further.

Invest in Skill-Building

If you do decide to spend money on a workout, why not make it an investment instead of a cost commitment? Try sports lessons – they’re not just for kids anymore. For example, you can invest in swim or tennis lessons that teach you the skills to take on an activity for relatively little money later. Lessons are available for several sports, and after you get going, you can bring friends or your kids for even more fun. If you’re newer to fitness, you can temporarily invest in a coach or trainer who can teach you the basics of form and function, so you can take the lead after a few initial sessions. The added bonus is that with your newfound skill and training, you’ll have a better chance of minimizing the risk of sports injuries.

Share a Trainer

If you’re considering hiring a trainer, try finding someone to share the cost. By joining up with an active partner or friend, you can save money with group sessions while learning skills for later. Just like a single-person session, the group session trainer can teach you activities for pairs that are fun and burn a lot of calories. Of course, there are benefits other than savings – working out with friends or a spouse is also great for motivation and sticking with a routine.

This article was originally published on U.S. News. Swimming photo courtesy of Shutterstock.