October 20, 2008

Healthy Living on a Budget

At least they're better for you than Twinkies!
Photo: Flikr

Last week I wrote a post speculating on how a tough economy might affect health and fitness choices. And then I asked readers for help with suggestions on how to eat healthy and exercise on a budget.

Thankfully, many of you sent me handy tips and links!

But before we get to the specifics, perhaps I'll make just a few general observations and caveats:

1. Many of these tips may be things you may already know--but don't do. I know I found it helpful to be reminded of ways to save money that I was familiar with but had gotten too freakin' lazy to bother with out of the habit of doing.

2. People who make suggestions are coming from various levels of income and frugality. Some of you have already cut back expenses to the bare bones and have been doing all these things for years. So I imagine reading suggestions aimed at those more carefree about money could be annoying. ("Tell your butler to take your golf sweaters to the discount dry cleaners. And don't forget to ask your chauffeur to use your old recycled gym clothes when waxing the limo!") Well, we don't have any quite like that. But for those of you who are already really thrifty, sorry if we may not exactly be breaking new ground here.

3. There is often a trade-off between time and money. Some money-saving tips that are practical for one person who has time may be completely asinine for another person who doesn't have a spare second. No one should feel "lazy" if realistically they just don't have the same flexibility to make some of those trade-offs.

And so, in the spirit of "Take it for whatever it's worth," here are some Tips and Links for you to check out.

Saving Money on Your Workout

Over at Diet Blog, our friend Ali (from the Office Diet) assembled Seven Ways to Exercise on a Budget.

Three of those suggestions:

1. Go running--outside, where it's free.

2. Buy used exercise equipment instead of expensive new stuff; and

3. Find an exercise buddy to work out with instead of paying a personal trainer. (And Bunnygirl suggests using Craigslist to find one in your area.)

Buffgeek advises:

4. If you have a personal trainer but really don't want to quit, see if he or she will offer a discount for semi-private sessions.

5. Look for a local boot camp.

6. Try body weight training instead of expensive gym equipment: Lunge, squat, push-up, climb hills, etc.

7. Many of you, like readers Jane and Charise The Great and Leslie at The Weighting Game, have noticed that you can save money AND get a good workout by biking or walking instead of driving on your errands.

8. And to save on childcare expenses, SeaBreeze suggested doing group runs and rotating babysitting duty.

9. Crabby says: don't forget your local library as a source of exercise dvds and books on fitness, weight training, etc.

10. And the Crab also reminds you to check out public playgrounds, parks, tennis courts, city rec departments etc. Often there are cheap adult leagues and classes, or even free weekend or evening pickup games if you like soccer or basketball etc.

Home Exercise on the Cheap

Some bloggers have observed that home gyms don't necessarily have to be expensive, and can save mega bucks over the long run in gym fees.

11. Shauna, the Amazing Diet Girl, has some really good suggestions on setting up a home gym, including tips on equipment and exercise dvds.

12 Reader Little Keebler tipped us off to another great nearly free home workout plan, including tips on equipment and lots of free web resources to guide you through your workout.

13. Bunnygirl suggested that for those who have a bike, purchasing a bike trainer is cheaper than buying a whole separate exercise bike.

14. And of course we're big fans of hiking here at Cranky Fitness. It's a great way to combine entertainment and exercise, and unless you choose to do it in the Swiss Alps, it's usually either cheap or free.

Shopping, Cooking, and Eating on a Budget

1. Many of you suggested buying food in bulk. For example, Brenda buys "frozen chicken breasts in 5 lb. bags, lean ground chuck in 5 lb. cartons to divide into 1-2 lb. sections, frozen fish in large bags or prebreaded in large boxes, generic cans of tuna and salmon, and variations of brats to freeze."

(Note: we're going to assume she means the meaty kind of "brats" and not the human kind. Freezing your children, even for brief periods of time, is illegal and not advised no matter how obnoxious they're being.)

2. Several of you, like Gabrielle and Bunnygirl, suggested gardening as a way to save money on food, as well as get some exercise.

3. Geosomin reminds us you can can your own food. Wait. We don't mean form chorus lines and start kicking--although that would be a good one for our previous list on exercise. Er, you could can your own food.

4. Another popular suggestion is to make soups, stews, casseroles and other large pot meals, and freeze the rest for later. Like the Bag Lady says in her post on cutting expenses, you can use cheap cuts of meat or go meatless.

Like the number Seven? Ali has some more great suggestions over at these Diet Blog Posts: Seven tips for healthy food shopping, and Seven Ways to Eat Out Healthily on a Budget, and Seven Tips for Free Diet Support and Advice. Among the suggestions:

5. Buy produce in season;

6. Skip the expensive "diet" foods;

7. Go out for lunch rather than dinner; and

8. Rather than paying for books or memberships, read free blogs for nutritional advice and support (We're fans of this one!)

9. Mystery Girl Terrie is careful to watch the expiration dates on her food and uses it even if she doesn't want to before it expires. She also keeps an eye on contents of her produce drawers and tries to use everything before it turns green and soggy. She relies more on eggs and less on meat for protein.

10. TK recommends we cut out sodas, lattes and sports drinks, and she even roasts her own coffee!

11. The folks at Ecosalon have a post on Ten Ways to Eat Well on a Budget, including this one: "Assemble snacks at home in small baggies using foods like nuts and seeds, dried whole grain cereal, cheese, dried fruit, and fresh vegetables and fruits rather than buying less healthy, more expensive, pre-packaged and processed snacks."

12. Ecosalon and the Bag Lady also suggest drinking filtered tap water instead of bottled water--a practice endorsed by the Crab as well.

13. Leslie has a post over at Pink Spandex on Eating While Impoverished which includes great tips, including filling up on the Budget Miracle Food that is Lentils.

14. Kim from the awesome Elastic Waist has a great series on eating cheaply; here's the first Destitution Diet post. One suggestion is to used dried legumes which are much cheaper than canned, and it includes a recipe for Lentil Soup! More miracle Lentils! The second Destitution diet post is all about Homemade Convenience Foods, and there are couple more in the series after that too.

Amy Hendel at healthgal.com had some great suggestions too, some of which we already covered. But she reminds us:

15. Make a shopping list and stick to it.

16. Supermarket bargains are usually located on the highest and lowest shelves rather than found in the middle or on the ends of aisles.

17. Avoid pre-cut, pre-packaged fruits and vegetables and meat.

18. Take advantage of buy one, get one free deals and freeze the rest.

19. Crabby adds that she never knew you could freeze milk but she found out you can! This info comes in handy if you've overbought or are leaving on a trip and don't want to toss it all out.

20. And there's a blog called Simple Dollar, that's all about saving money. They've got a food category with lots of posts about eating cheaply. (Thanks, Melissa!)

21. Mark's Daily Apple also has recommendations for eating healthy on a budget. For example, even the anti-processing Primal folks don't hate modern conveniences like packaged salad greens--if the alternative is buying leaf lettuce and letting it all rot before you get to it.

22. Of course no budget list would be complete without mention of sales, discounts, coupons, and warehouse stores. Bargains are everywhere! You can apparently even get grocery coupons online now.

Thoughts or Further Suggestions? We'd Love to Hear 'em!


  1. Wow! What an amazing compilation of resources.

    About freezing milk, don't forget to pour a little bit out of it before you stick it in the freezer 'cause that baby will expand.

  2. Oh, good point April!

    I've only experimented with recently opened cartons so I didn't even think of that.

  3. Great list, Crabby! You can freeze cheese, too, if you are going to use it for cooking (lasagna, etc.) I shred it, put it in a ziploc, then freeze it. Perfect for throwing on top of lasagna or pizza.

    Thanks for the shout-out!

  4. Thanks Bag Lady, I didn't know about cheese either! And often it's hard to get through a whole block before it gets moldy. Will have to try that trick.

  5. Love this post! Thanks so much for putting this together. Now I can't wait to get back to my real life to start putting this stuff into action.

    Cranky Fitness rocks! :)

  6. Fantastic tips! I used to freeze bread too but it tastes pretty bad when I defrost it... I'm going to make soup with leftovers tonight I reckon, I am inspired!

    TA x

  7. Great tips! I am so inept in the kitchen so I need all the help I can get! And I lurve my lentils. Just be prepared for the, uh, side effects;)

  8. Thanks for all the great ideas! I've been practicing voluntary simplicity for many years! It's the non-voluntary simplicity that's more of a challenge :-(

  9. Wow, Crabby, you know some cool people! Great suggestions!

  10. Excellent suggestions. I freeze goat milk after pouring it into several smaller containers. I use it in coffee only so I only need about a week's worth at a time.

  11. According to the Year of Crockpotting blog, running a crock pot costs 2 cents an hour :)

  12. I find that my biggest "budget workouts" happen AT WORK. seemingly obvious things - i always take the stairs, i make time to stand up and do some stretches and lunges (probably would look funny if I didn't have an office!) and pushups before and after lunch. I figure since I'm practically stuck in a seat for 8 hours, I can program my Oracle calendar to tell me to take a brisk walk down the stairs, around the building and back up.

  13. Great post, great tips. Thanks.

  14. You can freeze cheese for eating as well as cooking if you can deal with the crumbliness. It will not slice neatly after it thaws!

    You can freeze butter, and thaw it in the microwave, very carefully, a few seconds at a time, if you suddenly discover you should have put some in the refrigerator to thaw last night.

    (If only I could find some fish to freeze! The only fish I can get here is frozen already, so buying a big chunk and thawing it and then refreezing little chunks is Out. There's plenty of breaded frozen fish in little pieces, but I Don't Do breaded fish, especially other people's breading. I broil fish. Period.) There, that's cranky enough, isn't it?

    My favorite exercise has always been walking; that it's free is just a bonus. : )

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  15. Hi Crabby,

    I stand in awe. What a comprehensive and totally useful list. I already printed it so I can magnet it to the door of my fridge.


  16. Instead of doing Designer Lattes, you can make your own with protein powder and coffee (note: you'll need to stir more).

    You can make a whole pot of tea with a tea bag (just increase steeping time).

    For pampering stuff: Beauty schools often do dye jobs and hair cuts for less than salons.

    And massage schools often have a required number of "clinical hours" before a student can become a massage therapist. Meaning: you can get a massage for up to half the cost of one at a day spa.

    And you can refrigerate bread.

  17. my walking tip made it on! Woohoo! I'm a frugal fashionista!

  18. And, of course, crankiness is always free!

    Thanks for a great list (and for the comment over at BlueLikeTheSky...I love visits!).

    My latest frugal tip? I'm trying to use up every non-perishable (like that wine-bottle shaped pasta someone gave me) before I bring another thing into the house. If only I wasn't stuck with 10 cans of tomato sauce a house-sitter abandoned in the summer of '07.

  19. This is a great list Crabby - lots of great ideas.
    I've never liked milk after it was frozen...but I'm kinda picky about soem things.
    I'm gonna check out the wonder of lentils. I've always liked them, I just have no idea how to cook them...now I know. Thanks :)

  20. I love the goat cheese at the farmer's market (they have lavendar citrus, and orange cardamom, and lots of yummy flavors). And while it's not incredibly cheap, it does freeze well. So I'll buy a bunch before the farmer's market leaves for the season, wrap them up to freeze in half-cut logs, and them take them out periodically over the winter. It saves money in the long run because I end up spacing out the cheese longer, not buying it as often, then have plenty of it in the winter.

    I hadn't heard about frozen milk, that's a good tip!

    You can also freeze ginger, which I just learned. I always get ginger then it rots out before I use it all. But what you can do is stick it in the freezer, then shred it into stuff (still frozen). Just don't thaw it out or it turns to mush...

  21. Great list..very nicely put together.The simple things indeed!

  22. Such great suggestions! And excellent links to blogs, too:)

  23. Wow - thanks for all the tips and links! I truly need all the advice I can get. I love having a nice free, running trail a couple blocks away (on the Potomac River, no less!!) and have some home exercise equipment, so that does help.
    Note to self: Find a massage school in the area...

  24. I love the home gym tips!!

    Is it really cheaper to roast your own coffee though?

  25. A great list of resources for sure. It's funny, we both posted about the same thing today.

  26. The boyfriend and I decided we were going bulk on the things that we use daily/weekly...We buy huge bags of shredded cheese and portion it out into freezer bags and thaw when needed, same with chicken breasts, ground beef, bacon, pork chops and anything else that can freeze well...We also buy bulk eggs and sauces and cereals. We go to the grocery store less, only for milk, yogurt, fresh veggies and other random things when needed. It works for us and we've found that we've been saving around 200 bucks a month on food stuffs...

    Perhaps I can convince him to put that extra 200 into a "fix our retarded master bath" fund. He's already getting the TV for Christmas (he just doesn't know yet), so that's reasonable right??!

  27. My GAWD, that list was awesome. We're such smart readers. Seriously...we could take over the world!

  28. Great suggestions Crabby. If make bread or buns from scratch, you can freeze the dough rather than the loaf. If you freeze the loaf, when you are defrosting it, take it out of the bag, wrap it in paper towel and put it back in the bag, the paper towel will stop the edges of the bread from becoming soggy.

    If you don't use the entire can of tomato paste, wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it, you can pre-measure it out by the tablespoon too.

  29. One suggestion about freezing milk. If at all possible, remember to take it out of the freezer a couple of days before you need it. It takes a long time to defrost at fridge temperature. Great list of suggestions all around.

  30. I found your blog via Scale Junkie. What a great post. Thanks!

  31. with a family of 6, I am always looking for a deal or ways to cut back. It's kind of like a game to me......I look at it that way and it's fun! Shopping at sales with coupons, some items are virtually free!

  32. This might sound really strange, but what are coupons and where do they come from? It sounds like something I should know. Are they like the petrol dockets you get from supermarkets?

  33. ACK! I, being the slacker that I am, was so excited to write up a HUGE list of budgety suggestions and then poof! I left out of town and totally forgot.

    BUT, I don't think it really matters because this is a huge list of awesome suggestions.

    And I had NO idea about the freezing of milk. none.

    (p.s. Gabrielle, coupons are little pieces of paper that, when redeemed at the time of purchase, give you a discount on a specific product. Sometimes stores give them away in their advertisements, sometimes newspapers or magazines have them. It definitely depends on where you live. Sometimes though you can find them online from manufactures. )

  34. Meat and other animal products, especially free-range and organic options, can be very expensive. Many people don't realize that there are other options when it comes to protein sources. The Meatless Monday Campaign website (www.meatlessmonday.com) has a ton of information on beans, tofu, and other cheaper proteins as well as a huge recipe archive. I work for the campaign and as a recent college grad I have to keep my money tightly budgeted as I continue to pay back the unbelievable amount of loans I have. I've found that going vegetarian at least once a week is way more affordable than eating meat everyday.

  35. That's a great list Cranky. I would also like to suggest my personal favorite "Home Exercise on the Cheap" - CLEANING. I'm telling ya, I discovered that if I really apply myself to cleaning the house I can work up quite a sweat. Mopping floors, scrubbing counters, re-organizing the garage...it's exhausting. And when I'm done for the night I'm physically tired and I feel great because my house is a bit tidier than it was before. Some may think this suggestion is crazy, but these days when I'm faced with the choice of venturing into the cold darkness to go to the gym, or staying in my house to scrub the floors, 80% of the time the floors win (5% of the time the sofa wins and I do nothing ;)

  36. great post. definitely a fan of free advice in the form of blogs! :)

  37. I’m a health buff too and i love to eat, anyway this site is awesome, got all I need for more holistic way to stay in shape together with my healthy choices of food. It has all the alternative health practices like vinyasa flow yoga, ear coning, prolotherapy, dynamic psychotherapy and neurofeedback just to keep me fit, I’m sharing this site to you. http://www.CreateYourHealth.com. Hope you see this one. Very effective on me.

  38. Hey very nice and extensive list cranky. I am planning to go through all in coming year 2010. I am working around some of them in this year. but coming year I am going to take it seriously .. Thanx for wonderful post. keep up

  39. To save money on exercise equipment, check out Free Cycle, Craig’s list, and yard sales. I see a lot of used exercise equipment in yard sales. Most people just want to get rid of it. So, you can often get a really good deal.

  40. I found your article very useful and hopefully others will to.

  41. I never knew you could freeze milk. Thanks for the information.


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