But taking care of yourself will only save you money in the long run, so it's important to find ways to stay active and healthy even when you may not be able to afford top-notch training or first-class fitness clubs. Here are nine easy ways to get started without breaking your budget.
1. Join now
If you do have enough money in your budget to pay for a gym membership, act now to take advantage of New Year's savings. Many fitness clubs slash their membership rates in January to draw in people who make weight-loss resolutions; for example, the Los Angeles Times reported this week that the upscale SportsClub/LA recently invited past members to restart their membership at a savings of almost $1,000. Other chains offering reduced rates for the new year include Bally Total Fitness, Curves, and Gold's Gym. Paying a whole year's dues up front, instead of month per month, may also save you moneybut only if you're sure not to give up or cancel your membership.
2. Renegotiate your rate
If you've lost your job and relied on a cheaper corporate gym rate, talk to your membership coordinators and see if it's possible to keep the same rate, rather than paying full price; fitness clubs are also hurting from the economic crisis and may be more willing to give you a discount rather than lose you as a customer. You may also find that you're eligible for discounts at a gym by being active in other community organizations, such as food co-ops or volunteer groups, or through your insurance plan. If you're hurting for cash, ask about limited membership options for less expensive rates, which may limit the hours or areas of the gym you can use. One Gold's Gym in Green Brook, N.J., for example, is offering a free 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday membership for the month of January to people who have recently been laid off, BusinessWire recently reported.
3. Bike to work
If you're close enough to ride a bicycle to your job instead of driving or taking public transportation, you may save in more ways than one. Spending less on gas or train and bus fare is an advantage, of course, but some employers are actually starting to reward bike riders with monetary reimbursements as well. In 2007, Google began giving free bikes and helmets to its employees, and since then several other companies have begun to follow suit, providing various forms of compensation for those who pedal to work. And we may soon see more widespread rewards: Last year's Energy Improvement and Extension Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2009, makes it legal for cycling commuters to apply for a $20 per month reimbursement. Visit BikeLeague.org's FAQ page for more information.
4. Modernize your home gym
Strength-training at home no longer requires a huge, bulky weight-lifting contraption that costs thousands of dollars and takes over your living room. Today's home fitness equipment is portable, storable, and best of all, affordable. Hot this season is the Iron Gym ($30 online and in retail and fitness stores), an as-seen-on-TV gadget that becomes a pull-up bar when secured in a doorway, a push-up and dips bar when used on the floor, and an ab toner when used with the attachable arm straps. For a slightly higher price, you can get the higher-tech GoFit Gravity Bar ($100), which also includes resistance bands that let you work your legs and lower body, along with a training DVD and laminated exercise booklet. Pair these workouts with an outdoor walk or run and you'll take care of both your cardio and strength-training needs without setting foot in a real gym.
5. Lay off your personal trainer
If you've had the luxury of investing in a personal trainer for the last several months or years, you may find that your individual sessions will have to be the first thing to go when money gets tight. But instead of letting go of this valuable guidance completely, ask about group sessions that might make training more affordable. You might also turn to virtual coach programs such as PlusOneActive.com, active video games such as Wii Fit (which contains a personal trainer program), or computerized gadgets that can track your heart rate, daily number of steps, or calories burned.
6. Join a fund-raising team
It always helps to have a concrete goal when trying to get in shape, and signing up for an organized run, walk, or triathlon is one of the best ways to stay focused. Entry fees and transportation can be expensive, but often you can sign up with nonprofit organizations that cover your event-related costs (and provide free training sessions and advice from experienced coaches) as long as you raise the required amount of money for their cause. Chances are you'll be responsible for producing a good chunk of cash, but people will be more willing to help if they know their tax-deductible contribution is going toward a good cause. Some of the larger organizations that coordinate athletic fund-raising include the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the March of Dimes, Autism Speaks, and the American Heart Association.
7. Let the Internet do your bargain hunting
Thrifty online shoppers know that you can often get great deals without the hassle of crowded malls and pushy salespeopleif you know when and where to look. Sign up at ShopItToMe.com/running and they'll email you when workout clothes or shoes in your size go on sale at various sites all over the Web.
8. Consolidate your goals
The social networking site 5k5k.org is a free online program designed to get people in shape to run a 5K while saving or paying off $5,000. The site's members (about 100 as of this week) share stories and help to motivate each other toward these long-term goals, while its foundera fourth-grade teacher and former U.S. marinechecks in often with helpful tips and blog posts.
9. Know when to splurge and when to save
A good pair of walking or running shoes, an easy-to-use heart-rate monitor, or a portable MP3 player will be a valuable investment if you know that you'll use them often, but a lot of fitness products are pricey just because of the name brand, or contain high-tech features that will only get in your way. Don't be afraid to check retail stores like Target and Wal-Mart for basic lightweight, breathable workout apparel, or secondhand sports stores for fitness equipment. Do your research ahead of time, talk to experienced salespeople, and know exactly what you needand beware of anyone trying to sell you something with more expensive bells and whistles. Here's a great primer on what's worth spending and what's worth saving.
So far this year, I've signed up for a triathlon that would have cost more than $300 for registration, for just a $75 Team in Training initiation fee and a pledge that I'll raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. My boyfriend discontinued his out-of-the way and seldom-used gym membership after he tested out the GoFit Gravity bar and some cold-weather running gear I got him for Christmas. We've cooked up some delicious healthy meals for less than $10. And I've even found that working out in the morning keeps me more awake in the afternoonand less likely to rely on the caffeine-and-calorie-packed $4 drinks that I otherwise crave from Starbucks. I have a feeling that staying fit is going to help save me money all yearand whenever it does, I'll keep you posted.