Food & Fitness

The Living Healthy in the Real World Guide to Budgeting, Part Five: Fitting in Exercise

Be sure to check out our previous discussions within this Guide to Budgeting mini-series:

Part One: Understanding Your Finances

Part Two: Making Sacrifices

Part Three: Debts and Loans

Part Four: Eating Healthy on a Budget

Part Five: Fitting in Exercise

Are you trying to get fit but you “can’t afford” a gym? No problem! The beauty of exercise is that it can cost as little (nothing) or as much (thousands of dollars) as you want.

1) Body weight: While a yoga mat is handy for performing most body weight exercises, you don’t even need one of those. All you need is a bit of soft rug (you can even throw down a soft blanket or sweatshirt on the floor, or use the grass outside). Body weight exercises are any kind of exercise that use just your body weight to increase strength. This includes crunches, push ups, calf raises, leg raises, squats, lunges, triceps dips, and more!

I’m a big believer in body weight strength training. If we can push and pull our own bodies around, we learn them much better and become better acquainted with our personal physical capabilities. Body weight exercises often require balance and stability work, and the entire body tends to be engaged. When we use workout machines, we isolate specific muscles. I like body weight exercises because the whole body is getting a good workout. And it’s free. You don’t even need shoes if you’re doing it indoors!

The outdoors can be handy, too. Playgrounds aren’t just for little kids: use the monkey bars for pull-ups and chin-ups if you don’t have access to a bar at your house.

2) Walking/running. For this, you’ll want to invest in good quality shoes. I spend pretty much all of my time on my feet; when I’m not outside walking, I’m standing up in front of a computer and such. This means that my feet really take a beating. They are not pretty, but they have amazing endurance and don’t tire easily. I’ll take that over aesthetics any day (especially with regards to feet. Who cares what your feet look like? But I digress).

Try on lots of different shoes and make sure that you own several pairs so that you can switch them up. Shoes wear down easily if you use them a lot, and that means that if you tend to lean towards one side, the sole can get worn down and you won’t be walking straight. Poor posture not only looks bad, but it also could cause serious injury to your back and hips. Using a few different pairs of shoes will help to stabilize your body better.

You could get on a treadmill or an elliptical for your walking/running needs, but frankly, it’s really expensive. And why would you want to hang out on a machine when you could be outside listening to the birds and admiring the view? Cardio is very easy to adapt to a tight budget.

3) Bikes/rollerblades. This is transportation at its finest: you’re getting a quick and effective workout while getting to your destination! The only drawback to this one, that I have found, is that if the weather is crappy, it’s not nearly as much fun.

Although bikes can be expensive, they don’t have to be. Check out garage sales and you can probably find an old road bike for about $20. It might not look amazing, but it will move fast, and it will be a ton of fun. I also advise making friends with some hardcore cyclists so that they can fix your bike if it needs work (far cheaper than going to the bike shop if your friends take a case of beer as payment ;)).

4) Home Gym. Buy yourself a set of dumbbells and a yoga mat and you’re all set. Add a stability ball and pilates bands if you want some extra variety. If you don’t want to pay for dumbbells (which can appear pricey at $30-$50, until you remember that dumbbells don’t wear down: you have them for life), you can always just use soup cans. No soup cans at your place? That’s okay; just use a heavy book or a small lamp (I’m not even kidding when I say that I’ve used books and lamps as “weights” before).

Yoga mats are expensive if you go to a specialty store such as Lululemon, but you’ll get a really good quality item if you go to a store like that. On the other hand, you can go somewhere like Canadian Tire for yoga mats at about $15 a piece, and they will do the job just fine!

Workout DVD’s are handy if that’s “your thing”; I’ve only ever found one workout DVD that I really enjoyed (the 30-Day Shred). You can also find plenty of free workout videos online. Check out YouTube and Yoga Download, or just type “free exercise video” into Google and explore what comes up!

5) Gym membership. My university has a small but newly-revamped gym that is free for all students. Find out if they have a similar program at your university or at your place of work (some office buildings- usually bigger corporations- have a program like this). Take advantage of what you can; many gym memberships have student, senior, or family discounts.

The YMCA is very reasonably priced and I had a wonderful experience with the one near my place. I cancelled my membership these last few years because I had access to the free gym at my university, but I have a feeling I’ll be getting another membership with the Y in the fall (because I’ll no longer be a student).

6) Community classes. I keep meaning to go to the community centres in my neighbourhood to try out their cheap (and sometimes free) classes, but I have yet to get around to it. However, these are a great way to meet people and to try out new forms of exercise, such as belly dancing and kickboxing, for super cheap.

I also suggest taking advantage of deals which have a week or 10 days of unlimited classes for x amount of dollars; many yoga studios have these kinds of deals so that you can check out their studio and decide if it’s something you want to keep doing.

What are your tricks to staying fit on a budget?

Don’t forget to answer this month’s poll about reading!


  1. Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman

    For a while I tried to go the cheap route with my gym membership. My apartment building has a small gym and I just used that because it was free. But since I’m trying to recover from two injured knees, I realized this isn’t an area I should skimp. So now I pay way too much for a real gym but I can do so many more of my physical therapy exercises there. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to go cheap.

  2. Mimi (Damn the Freshman 15)

    A personal trainer I like who specializes in weightlifting said that as long as he had a set of kettlebells and a chinup bar, there was no need for a gym.

    Bodyweight exercises are fantastic and sooo functional. And when it comes down to it, if you’re aiming for a look, you have to train for it. Like, if you want to look like a runner, you just have to get out there and run. Doing gym exercises that simulate traits of a runner’s body will only get you so far.

  3. Geosomin

    I love working out at home. Besides walking or running I usually use resistance bands, a few freeweights and exercise ball for workouts, as well as bellydancing. I have a few workout DVDs and my husband and I went together on an allitpical about 4 years ago…more for him than me. He has a real phobia abotu exercising around people, but I prefer ebeing outside. Even before the elliptical, there are so many exercises you can do, like lingues ans such that require hardly any wquipment.
    Anything I try and enjoy is good enough for me.
    I just find that if I have to *go* to a gym it doesn’t happen. When it’s all in my house I have absolutely no excuse to not get to it…

    I’ve started into the core performance program whis is just minimal free wrights and resistance bands for a full workout. I’m quite impressed.

  4. Holly

    This is actually the place where I’m the worst with money (I belong to 2 gyms…about $70/month total). 🙁 I guess I rationalize it because a. I use them probably 3-4 x’s/week each and b. since I can’t run, I *need* classes at both gyms. I definitely think at-home workouts (and outside!) are great options – when I was running, I hardly ever went to the gym!

  5. Em

    “I’ll take that over aesthetics any day (especially with regards to feet. Who cares what your feet look like?”


    (Sorry, that just sent me into absolute histerical giggles!)

    I absolutely love my bike. I sadly neglected it over the winter and have been slow at getting it back out . . . but it’s coming out tonight. (Provided it doesn’t rain)

    Thank you for all the awesome ideas!

  6. Lance

    Hi Sagan,
    I am all for finding ways to make exercise affordable and fun. Recently I’ve been doing more body weight workouts – which have been quick (and also good for getting the heart rate up). I also have a set of free weights and a squat rack that I picked up used. They are a great addition – and I can do pretty much any strength activity I want with these.

    And – for lots of fun – a pickup game of something in the backyard (football, soccer, kickball, basketball – they are all popular at our house!!!)

  7. Sagan Morrow

    Tracey- Yes, you’re right about that: we have to do what works for us. In some situations we can get away without spending tons of money on a gym; in others situations, we spend lots on a gym and cut back in other areas of our lives.

    Mimi- For sure! If we really want an Olympic body, then we’ve got to become an Olympic athlete. It’s as simple as that. Of course, I don’t think most of us want that kind of body QUITE so badly that we actually go to the required lengths in order to get it… 😉

    Geosomin- I keep my exercise equipment in my bedroom- no excuses at all! You’ve made a good point about your husband, too; sometimes, it’s difficult to choose the group fitness option if we’re very self-conscious. Then again, it’s an opportunity to get fit AND increase our self-esteem at the same time!

    Holly- To be honest, I can think of worse things to do with money than to put it towards two gyms 🙂

    Em- Hehehe. My bike has yet to come out this summer, but I keep telling myself that it will SOON… when it’s not too windy 🙂

    Lance- Excellent idea! Pickup games can sometimes be the best kind. They’re lots of fun, a great way to de-stress, and a good “bonding” time.

  8. Dr. J

    This is such a terrific series you’ve done, Sagan! You are working on doing a book with all this, yes?

    I think you will be glad to know that for the most part, people fall apart from the top down 🙂

  9. Sagan Morrow

    Diane- 🙂 Glad you like them!

    bhealthier- First I’m working on a book about emotional eating with my nutritionist, and THEN I’ll work on a book from material from my blog- it’ll be a while 😉

    Westwood- A little bit of competition is motivating. Wanna work out together sometime soon?

    Love2eatinpa- And there’s often lots of reviews of workout videos, too, so it’s easy to find the good ones!

  10. Mary Anne in Kentucky

    For workout DVDs, try the library. (They’re not my thing, so I don’t even know if my library system has any, but I know some do.)

    If you mow your own grass and don’t have a huge yard, buy a human powered mower. Very cheap (compared to motorized ones) and you get exercise and save gas at the same time. They’re quiet, too: a rattle instead of a roar.

    Outdoor exercise isn’t always best. There’s pollen out there. I bought my stationary bike a few springs ago when I realized that in three weeks I’d been for a walk twice, and both times I had gotten nothing done the following day.

  11. Sagan Morrow

    Yum Yucky- Damn kids, eh?

    Mary Anne- Great advice! Yes, libraries are useful for that. And I TOTALLY agree about the lawn mower; when I was a kennel attendant at a vet clinic years ago, one of my jobs was to take care of the lawn and outside of the building- it was tough, grueling work, but a GREAT way to get in some exercise. Allergies are certainly something to take into consideration with regards to outdoor exercise, too. I don’t have allergies so I tend to forget how big of an issue that can be, so thanks for reminding me about that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *