Getting Fit on a Budget

How to become fitter even when money is tight
Even with a tight budget, coming up with a good workout and nutrition plan is possible. (Sgt. Alicia Leaders/Marine Corps Installations East)

Here is a great question that focuses on getting fit and losing weight on a budget. I think I can help. Here is the question:

"There are some great ideas on the Stew Smith article archive for losing weight and such. However, I am 25 years old, I am single and live from paycheck to paycheck. Many things that people suggest doing are quite frankly too expensive -- gym memberships and food included. How do you lose weight and build muscle on a very strict budget? I am looking to lose a significant amount of weight and know that I have to start small. What do you suggest?"

You can get fit and lose weight with little or no money at all; it just takes an investment of time. You can achieve your goals if you follow these suggestions:

Cardiovascular fitness

First and foremost, this is the fat-burning method that is easy on the wallet, but you can spend a majority of your time on this, depending on your current fitness level. If you are a beginner, I do not recommend starting off running in the first 4-6 weeks, especially if you have significant weight to lose ( 30 pounds or more). Walk it off. By walking farther and more often throughout your day, you can add to your calorie expenditure with very little effort. However, a session of walking 20-30 minutes at a faster than normal pace is recommended on a daily basis. For a free idea for a fitness plan with nutrition tips and workouts, see the "45 Day Beginner Program" (PDF). Be prepared to do something daily and lose 15-20 lbs.

Water is free

Water is the magic solution to weight loss. See the "Want to Lose Weight?" article at my article archive.

Drinking water instead of soda makes a huge difference on your calorie intake. I have seen people replace soda with water and lose 25 pounds. in one year. They did not have to do anything else; just replace soda. Water is the key.

Dumbbells and calisthenics

You can get a few pairs of dumbbells for a few dollars. They usually cost about 50 cents a pound. I would recommend a pair of three-, five- and eight-pound dumbbells for the type of arm and leg workouts in these programs. But you do not have to buy dumbbells; you actually can use milk jugs filled with water or even large soup cans.

Here are some great workout ideas:

Try the Light Weight Shoulder Workout

Three to five pounds is all you need. Read "The Best Shoulder Workout" article to learn about the best shoulder workout ever.

Supersets of Push-ups and Crunches

Here are some quick, challenging workouts that you can do anywhere. No need to get weights at a gym. These workouts work with your own body weight.

The Best 20- to 30-Minute Workouts

These "Twenty Minute Workouts" are quick and simple and will progress as you get fitter. This can save your time budget as well.

Food is money

Now as far as food, you are right; food costs money. But food is more expensive in restaurants, take-out/delivery and fast-food chains than it is in a grocery store. Buy your produce such as fruits and vegetables as sales come and go. Usually if you look for the fruits and vegetables that are in season, you can get them at a cheaper price. The same goes for your lean meats. You can buy regular meats like ham, steak, and chicken and cut off the fat yourself and have lean meat. No need to buy meat with the fat already cut off. And as mentioned above, water is the key. Drink more water for a natural hunger suppressant, but do not neglect your nutrition and not eat. You should be eating 1,800-2,000 calories a day.

For examples of what foods to purchase and when to eat them in your day, read the articles linked below:

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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