Stair running

Everyone knows exercise is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but gym memberships are expensive and home workout equipment is even worse. For people that are on a tight budget and don’t have a whole lot of disposable income at the end of the month, how can they stay fit?


How do you define fit?

It really depends on how you define being ‘fit’, ‘healthy’, or ‘in shape’. For some people, that’s being able to run a mile or 10 at a specific pace. For others, it’s maintaining a certain figure, being able to wear a certain pair of pants or a specific dress. Regardless, your goals of being ‘fit’ are going to vary widely based on your age, lifestyle, and past experiences.


What is your motivation?

Why are you looking to get fit? Did your doctor say so? Is it a resolution of yours? Do you simply feel like you have no energy at all and have realized it’s time to make a change?

No matter your motivation, there are generally two goals that are fairly common amongst everyone – lose weight or build muscle. While you can argue these goals aren’t specific enough, they’re at least a starting point for other goals that may include, getting off the blood pressure medicine, fitting in your favorite shirt, or just having the energy to keep up with your kids.

Here’s a list of 10 free or low-cost options that can aid you in getting in shape.


Purchase a Planet Fitness / YMCA membership

Your local YMCA membership price will vary by location, but most YMCA’s offer some sort of financial assistance program.  Otherwise, a planet fitness membership is $10 a month, which should be affordable for nearly anyone. You’ll have access to a wide range of equipment and in most cases a pool as well. Showering at these facilities can further help you to save some money on your water bill every month too.

Browse Craigslist for Equipment

If you browse the free section enough on Craigslist or search through current listings, you might be able to find a cheap set of weights or machine for next to nothing. Remember, the Bowflex is the number 1 coat rack in America for men ages 40-65.

Buy a Pull Up Bar

Even if you can’t do a pull-up, you can build up the strength to do one and then it’s off to the races from there.  Just make sure your doorway will fit a movable one, like the iron gym, or purchase a straight-bar-screw-in type.

Visit your Local Park

No cash on hand and ready to work out now? Visit your local park and see if they have stations setup for people to workout. Many cities have these incorporated into their walking/running trails where people can do some pull ups, dips, and other basic exercises.

Heck, even if yours doesn’t, stop by your local playground. Those structures are more than capable of supporting dips, pullups, and more. Just don’t go when there are kids there, it is for them after all.

There’s an entire workout routine this man has created you can do entirely at a playground.


Don’t feel discouraged if you can’t do everything the guys in these videos do. Start small and do as much as you can.

Do Calisthenics / Bodyweight Exercises

Speaking of bodyweight exercises, pushups, crunches, squats, etc. are all great places to start for anyone. You can get fit with calisthenics and combining those with a run or walk will only further help. Consider starting every morning with 5 sets of 10 pushups and 3 sets of 5 pullups. Too easy? Do more. Too hard? Do less.

Educate Yourself with YouTube Videos

There are YouTube videos for literally everything – you just have to start searching. Whether you want to get more flexible, build muscle, do your first pullup, run a full mile, etc. there’s a step-by-step video about how to do it on YouTube.

Check out all the potential in the autocomplete for the search term “How to do a pushup.”


How to get fit on a low income youtube videos autocomplete

Just go Running / Walking Somewhere

It doesn’t cost anything, but a little bit of your time to go on a run or walk somewhere. Throw on a pair of tennis shoes and just go for 10, 20, or 30 minutes every evening.

Switch to a Manual Labor Job

Depending on how much you currently make and your current health, you may consider switching to a more labor-intensive job. It probably won’t be fun, and you may hate it at first, but over time your body will adjust to it. This may be a smart move if you can find one that pays more than your current job as you’ll be able to kill 2 birds with one stone.

Pick Up a Sport and Find Drills for It

Maybe the idea of exercise isn’t that appealing to you. If you played a sport in high school, or just enjoy something as simple as shooting a basketball or throwing a baseball, turn it into a workout.

A quick Google search will unveil tons of workout drills you can do that will improve your technique and fitness. This can be much more motivating since you will likely see an immediate improvement from the start.

Do a Stair Workout

Just like going out to run or walk somewhere, find a set of stairs and do the same! Set a goal to go up and down a set of stairs 5 or 10 times. Stairs are great for building muscle in your legs and core, no wonder some people run them for hours at a time! No stairs nearby – find a hill!

Stair running
U.S. Air Force Capt. Kristopher Houghton, 377th Air Base Wing assistant staff judge advocate, trains for a Conseil International du Sport Militaire (CISM) race by running the Milne Stadium stairs in Albuquerque, N.M., Feb. 1. Houghton trains during his lunch breaks. He runs two miles to the stadium for his workout and runs back to work upon its completion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)


Changing Your Diet

Working out in itself might be enough for a lot of people, but I would argue that changing your diet is more important than anything. Cutting out the fast food and soft drinks will do wonders for your body and your wallet. Focus on cutting out those two things and then stocking the cabinets with healthy foods that are not only cheaper than fast food but are better for you too.



  • Rice
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Russet potatoes
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Ground Beef
  • Pork
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Fresh and canned vegetables
    • Spinach
    • Carrots
    • Butternut Squash
    • Green beans
    • Peas
    • Corn
    • Broccoli
  • Fresh fruit
    • Bananas
    • Apples
    • Oranges
    • Strawberries
    • Blueberries




How I Eat Every Day

All of these are items you should consider putting on your next grocery list. Sure, it can be difficult if you have more mouths to feed, but instilling good habits in your children will help them by leaps and bounds later in life.

For me personally, I get my workout done at 5:00AM and am back at my apartment ready to cook around 6:20AM. I scramble 2-4 eggs, heat up 2 turkey sausage patties, and 2 slices of toast.

While those are cooking, I blend a smoothie consisting of a handful of strawberries, some blueberries, spinach, oatmeal, protein powder, and almond milk to take to the office. You don’t have to use protein powder, but if you have it, great. The almond milk is just a matter of preference since I am lactose intolerant.

Additionally, I take 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to work with me just in case I get hungry and need a snack. Occasionally I’ll change it up and bring a ham and cheese to heat up in the microwave instead.

My lunch has generally consisted of the same thing for the past 4 years, since I started meal prepping my sophomore year of college. It’s either brown rice, chicken, and a vegetable, usually peas or broccoli. Or, when I want to change it up I’ll substitute out the brown rice for a sweet potato.

how to quick and easy meal prep
Related article: Here’s How I Eat for an Entire Week on $50


Yup, that’s what the majority of my lunches have consisted of for that long. It’s easy to make and keeps me mostly full until dinner time. This typically only costs $2-$3 per meal.

Dinner time changes more often than lunch does. Often I’ll roast some vegetables on Sunday for the week ahead and prepare some sort of meat, like chicken, pork, beef, or fish. I’ll pack all of this together in a container over a bed of brown rice or a sliced sweet potato. These will sit in the fridge and then as soon as I get home, I can throw it in the oven and let it warm up for 30 minutes to an hour. is a great resource to find cheap and delicious recipes that you can make for one or many.


Staying Fit and On Track with the Workouts

Getting that first workout in, making the commitment to eat healthier, all of that is the easy part. The hardest part of starting any new habit is sticking to it and reaching your end goal. Here’s a few tips to ensure you meet the goals you set in place.


Set aside time on a regular schedule

Most people find that working in the morning before work, on their lunch break, or immediately after work is the best way to go. Personally, I’ve turned myself into a morning person, since working out is the hardest part of my day. I don’t have to worry about making it to the gym after work and fighting through the after-work crowd, not to mention there’s a lot less people at 5:00AM.

Write down and track your workout

Go to Wal-Mart and pick up a $.50 composition notebook. Start tracking every single one of your workouts in this notebook. Include what you did, the date and time you did it, number of reps, sets, time, etc. After you start building up a list of your workouts you’ll start to feel a sense of accomplishment and can refer back to earlier dates to see how far you’ve come.

Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals

There are plenty of articles out there about how to set the right goals, like this one, that I highly suggest reading. Whether or not you read that, just try setting small goals at first and then build up to bigger ones. Maybe you have a goal to walk for 15 minutes every day this week, or you want to not drink a soda for the entire month. Remember, there’s not going to be a single big event where everything turns around for the better. It happens slowly, over time, by many small disciplined decisions.


“Breakthrough results come about by a series of good decisions diligently executed and accumulated one on top of the other.”

– Jim Collins, Good To Great


Meal Preparation

As I mentioned earlier, I meal prep every Sunday or Monday. While you don’t have to do this in the beginning, it’ll save you a lot of time in the future and make it more difficult for you to cheat on your new diet. If all you can do is throw a pack of chicken in the oven one night, then cook some rice the next, that’s better than nothing. Take small steps at first and then progress into bigger tasks.



All in all, you must make your commitment to a healthier life a priority. Put it at the top of your priority list and say this has to be done before anything else. Build your way up and set small, achievable goals. Track everything so you know where you’ve been and remember that nothing is going to change immensely overnight. Everything is the result of a many small decisions that add up over time.

Lastly, remember to consult your physician or doctor before starting any workout regimen or new diet. I’m not an expert when it comes to any of this, rather I’m speaking from my own personal experiences. This information is not to be taken in substitute of a sound professional’s advice and is for informational purposes only. Seriously, do what your doctor tells you, he or she knows what’s best.

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