The Ultimate Budget to Get in Great Shape

There are many excuses to avoid getting fit: a busy job, a hatred of sweating, a love of pizza, or you straight up don’t want to put in the effort. Here's a budget to stop side-stepping exercise and get in shape.
Fit for Cheap

Fitness products, programs, and so-called experts are everywhere in our health-conscious culture, so how do you know what’s worth the money? Read on for tried-and-true strategies that will get you fit and fit your budget.

Athletic shoes

It may seem unusual, but we’re starting our shape-up plan at the bottom. Unless you’re planning an all-yoga fitness regimen, you’ll want specific footwear to help you get the most out of your workouts. In fact, running is one of the most economical ways to get fit, and it requires little more than a great set of sneaks. If your budget is ultra-tight, you can start running in your neighborhood and doing basic bodyweight exercises without any investment beyond your footwear.

No matter what sport or activity you choose, there’s probably a shoe made for it. Running shoes are designed to cushion high-impact strides and prevent injury, while cross-trainers will give you stability in side-to-side movements. If you’re an off-road runner, look for a trail shoe that will protect your feet from rough terrain. Try on several styles and brands to find the best fit for you—and don’t be afraid to spend a little more on a shoe that will hold up to the regular workouts you’re committing to undertake.

Durable running shoes
$125

Resistance tools

Besides walking or jogging around the block, the cheapest way to work out is to start with basic exercises at home. Push-ups, planks, and other bodyweight exercises require no equipment at all. You can do triceps dips on the edge of a chair and wall sits against any flat vertical surface. But in order to strengthen your whole body at home, you’ll want to acquire at least a few pieces of resistance equipment.

A set of dumbbells will open up a world of exercises, from your classic biceps curls to rows and shoulder presses. You can often find a great deal on secondhand dumbbell sets—after all, who wants to haul 500-plus pounds of iron on a cross-country move? But if you don’t have the space or the funds for all that metal, just order a set of resistance bands. The different colored bands let you change up the resistance for different exercises and as your strength increases. Add a doorway pull-up bar, and you can get a total-body workout at home without breaking the bank or turning your whole house into a gym.

Resistance tools
$60

Home workout program

So now you have some basic equipment, but what do you do with it? In order to make the leap from flabby to fit, you’ll need an exercise plan. And thanks to modern technology, you won’t even have to leave your house to get started.

A quick internet search will reveal myriad apps, websites, and exercise videos. Many of these are available for free. However, the ones that require a financial investment often come with major bonuses like online forums, coaching support, or additional tools that you won’t find with a free program. Ask your fit friends for their recommendations, and read reviews from people who’ve seen results from following the regimen.

A complete home workout program will give you a specific schedule to follow and targeted exercises that match your goals. Many programs even include a nutrition guide or recipe book, or a tool such as a resistance band. Just keep in mind that DVDs on the shelf aren’t going to burn any calories—so once you purchase a program, schedule a time of day to actually do the workouts.

Home workout program
$100

Gym membership

If you’re more likely to leave the house to work out than to pick up weights in your own living room, your best accountability may be a paid gym membership. You’ll get access to an overwhelming amount of equipment: cardio machines, free weights, weight machines, benches, and more. Some health clubs even have a pool, hot tub, or sauna included. Check out the schedule at your local gym and see if your favorite spinning class or hot yoga is included in the monthly membership.

It’s worth looking into recreational centers such as a nearby YMCA, too. Many of these offer weight rooms, pools, basketball courts, and other fun ways to get in shape. And because they are nonprofit organizations, fees tend to be lower than you’d pay at a big-box gym.

Traditional gyms make their money from well-intentioned clients who fork over the membership fees without really using the resources for which they’re paying. If you actually go to the gym regularly, though, you can take advantage of all of the offerings for a relatively low monthly price. Most clubs run specials at the beginning of the year (New Year’s resolutions, anyone?) and near other holidays, so it’s worth asking if you can get a lower-than-advertised price, or at least get the sign-up fee waived. Sometimes you can get a better deal by signing a longer contract or paying for the year in advance. And if you get any new member perks, like a free consultation with a personal trainer, be sure to use them!

Annual gym membership
$480

Personal training

In fact, if you really want to take your fitness to the next level, personal training is a worthwhile investment. Personal trainers do exactly what their title implies: They personalize your training plan based on your body, your goals, and your lifestyle. Whether you’re brand new to fitness, overcoming an injury, or prepping for a powerlifting competition, a personal trainer can help you blast past plateaus and reach your goals faster.

Personal training fees are calculated per hour and can range hugely depending on your geographical area. If you belong to a gym, start by meeting with the personal trainers who work there. A gym membership isn’t required, though: Many trainers have their own space or will come to your home. If you can find a recently certified trainer, they may be willing to work with you for a reduced rate in order to build clientele. You can expect any personal trainer to give you a specific exercise plan, then help you fine-tune your form and technique so that you get the most out of every rep.

And for some of us, having another person actually there to make us work out is worth the hourly price. Paying a personal trainer says, “I’m serious about getting in shape, and I’m willing to do what it takes.”

Personal training
$400

New athleticwear

When you first make the decision to get in shape, you’ll need some basic workout clothes. Your vintage sweatpants will work in a pinch, but a new outfit just might give you the confidence to nail your next set at the gym.

Plus, if you stick with your workout plan, you’ll eventually want some new threads to complement your new shape. Lost a few inches around the waist? Budget for some jeans that actually fit. If you’ve sculpted your shoulders, invest in a few new tank tops to show them off.

Getting in great shape doesn’t have to break the bank. And once you start to see the results of your hard work, you can enjoy treating yourself to something that fits just right.

New athleticwear
$300

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