Eat healthy for way less
If you're tossing organic produce into your grocery cart with wild abandon, the final bill might be wince-worthyyou'll typically spend 30% to 50% more than you would on the conventional type. But there's a real difference: About three-quarters of traditionally grown produce show traces of pesticides, while only one in four organic fruits and veggies do, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Splurge on organic produce with soft skin or that you eat skin and all (like apples, peaches, bell peppers, strawberries, pears, and lettuce), but save on foods that are fairly pesticide-free thanks to their tougher outer layers (like bananas, kiwifruit, onions, mangoes, pineapples, and broccoli). Wash all items well with soap, water, and a brush, but skip the fancy veggie and fruit washes; the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) don't recommend them.
Fortified waters, although tasty, can come with big doses of calories. And if you're really running low on your recommended intake of vitamins, a multi might work better. If you're tempted by fancy waters because you hate plain H2O, try this trick from Jessica Ganzer, a registered dietitian in Arlington, Va. Fill a pitcher with water, throw in some lemon, lime, and orange slices, and refrigerate for a tasty, cheap drink. Just can't resist flavored or vitamin water? Choose calorie-free.
In a perfect world you'd cook a big batch of healthy food and freeze the leftovers. "Cook once and eat three times," dietitian Jessica Ganzer suggests. "You'll enjoy all the benefits of a prepackaged dinner without the added sodium and preservatives." Smart advice, but when you're running late it's good to know that affordable frozen meals have come a long way since their tasteless, sodium-laden predecessors. "They can be an effortless way to control calories," Ganzer says. "I tell my clients to keep some in the freezer for emergencies." A few good brands: Kashi, Amy's, and Lean Cuisine offer whole grains and lean protein and work to keep sodium low. You can find most frozen entrees for $3 to $5 per meal, and they cook in less than 10 minutes (some in less than five) in the microwave. Add a cup of veggies for good measure because some packaged meals don't include a ton of the green stuff.
Fancy kitchen gadgets
If you're a techno-chef who loves to play with the latest machinesand you'll actually use that juicer that will take over your counter spaceit might be worth the investment. But if you're part of the use-it-once-and-forget-it crowd, these four low-cost items are all you'll need to whip up plenty of healthy fare.
A skillet with a great nonstick coating allows you to cook with minimal oil; the surface is perfect for stir-frying veggies, scrambling egg whites, and prepping healthy sauces. Try one in a larger size (12 inches) and look for deep sides, a fitted lid, and an oven-safe handle. Price isn't a great indicatorin recent tests of nonstick cookware, Consumer Reports found that cost had nothing to do with performance. Their top pick: Kirkland Signature cookware from Costco. (A whole set costs less than $200.) Calphalon nonstick pans perform well, too. And budgetistas can get a good $50 nonstick pan by Bialetti.
This age-old cooking method requires no oil (just add water), and it will allow your food to retain most of its nutrients and flavor. Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, and www.amazon.com offer bamboo-steamer sets for $20 or less.
If you don't want to commit to an actual steamer, try the new microwave steam bags from Glad and Ziploc: Just throw in your veggies and follow the instructions on the back. Foods are crisp and deliciousand virtually fat-free!
If you're dying to throw some shrimp on the barbie, invest in a heavy grill pan, which can withstand much higher temperatures than a nonstick skillet. You'll achieve the same resultsgrill marks, low-fat cookingthat you would with a more expensive countertop grill but for less money. Tuesday Morning and other outlets carry a variety of low-price options.
Work out for way less
Not all women need a crazy-supportive sports bra. "If you're small-breasted and doing low-impact activities, you can go to almost any retailer and buy a comfortable seamless bra that'll be absolutely appropriate," says LaJean Lawson, PhD, an adjunct professor of exercise and sports science at Oregon State University. "But women with a full C cup and up can't get by with a less-structured bra." That's when it's wise to spend $30 to $50 for support; test it by jumping up and down in the dressing room. For the best fit, get measured by a pro at a bra shop; then head to a sports or specialty-running store for a large sports-bra selection. If you don't have a good retailer for sports bras nearby, try TitleNine.com, which has a great return policy.
Women sometimes splurge on a great pair of running shoes and then wear them for three other sports. That's a recipe for injury. "You can't multitask with your shoes," the ACE's Cedric Bryant says. "Running shoes are flexible and have more cushioning, while shoes for racquet sports are designed for lateral movement." Expect to spend at least $50 on a good shoe, and get one for every sport you playor buy a good pair of cross-trainers for multiple sports.
Must have good shock absorbency (something other than foam; ask the salesperson). Give the machine a practice run to check stability, sturdiness of rollers, and width and length of the belt (should be at least 18 inches wide and long enough to keep you from flying off the back). You might feel silly jogging in a department store, but would you buy a car without a test-drive? Aim for a 3-horsepower motor; it's lower than commercial grade but enough to keep you moving. Skip the fancy computer console and 500 different programs to choose from.
Must have high enough resistance to give you a thorough workout. Crank it up and try it out at the store.
"If it's stable, comfortable to sit on, and you don't hear any parts rattling, you'll get a good workout" says Richard Cotton, national director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine.
Must have stability; also, it should operate smoothly and be easy to use. "These machines are even more mechanically complex than treadmills, especially if they have moving handles for your arms," says Bill Sonnemaker, a personal trainer in Atlanta. Do a test-drive before you buy, and make sure the warranty covers repairs. Skip gym-quality models (they usually cost $5,000-plus) or machines with multiple programs.
Special workout wear
A grueling workout is hard enough. A grueling workout in a sweat-drenched shirt or chafing shorts is just miserable. For comfort's sake, invest in apparel with flat seams to avoid rubbing and moisture-wicking material to funnel perspiration away from skin. These clothes are pricier but bargains exist: There's a large selection of Champion and Duo Dry items for less than $17 each at Target.com, and you can get deals on Dri-Fit and Under Armour garb at Dick's Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Joe's Sports, and other outlets.
If you see your hairstylist more often than you visit your gym, you're probably squandering your money on a membership. (The average annual cost in 2006 was $660.) About 80% of gym-goers would be better off on a pay-per-use basis, according to a Stanford University study. However, if seeing that recurring charge on your credit card gets you off the couch, it's worth every pennybut it doesn't have to be so many pennies. There are ways to negotiate like a pro, says personal trainer Bill Sonnemaker, who is also the IDEA Health and Fitness Association's 2007 trainer of the year.
- Buy a membership just for your gym (not the universal deal that includes far-flung destinations).
- Wait until the end of the month to buy, because a salesperson will be more willing to offer you a break to make his or her monthly quota.
- Ask for a 13th month free or that the initiation fee be knocked off; that's usually where salespeople are allowed to negotiate.
Stay healthy for way less
Worth it? Yes, if your food choices aren't cutting it.
Lazy brusher? Enter bells and whistles.
When available, generics can save you money.
Fancy bathroom scale
Weighing in can help with weight controlno matter how basic the scale.