How much do you budget for “fitness”? I used to pay $370 per year for a gym membership. Now we pay next to nothing since we’ve integrated exercise into our lifestyle. Initially, the budget change had more to do with childcare than money, and now we’ve embraced more productive exertion.
If “pretending to be fit” sounds sacrilegious to health-conscious sensibilities, let me explain. As a former gymnast, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be as strong as when I exercised 12+ hours a week. And we all have to fight the temptation for edited images of models and super-fit celebrities to morph our idea of a healthy body.
All this “pretending” is my way of saying “don’t take yourself too seriously.” None of us can live up to our own ideals perfectly. I don’t exercise as much as I want to, but want to maintain physical and mental health. One of my big take-aways from traveling to India last summer was that everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and this even applies to important areas like health & fitness.
Forgoing the Gym
My $370 per year gym membership was well worth the cost to me. I attended group fitness classes 4-5 days each week. Pilates decreased my back pain and cardio dance indulged my long-time dream of learning to dance, even if my talent isn’t commensurate with my interest.
Enter baby #1. My gym didn’t provide childcare for kids under age 1. Then I heard about a $2, twice-weekly fitness class with free childcare at a local church. The class is the hardest I’ve ever taken, with better childcare than any gym. After going on on for 3 years, I threw out my back.
Taking a break allowed me to realize that the class was way too hard for me. I could barely limp out to the car & buckle the kids in afterward. Let alone grocery shop or stay awake past 10 pm. Rather than enhancing my life, as exercise should, I felt drained and defeated.
Quitting the class left me with more time and energy. Now I’m finding ways to avoid “sloppy skinny” without spending a lot of time or money.
My favorite approach is a little unusual, but it’s so fun I have to share. It all began in 2010, when I took a group of high school students on a short-term mission trip to run a summer camp in Buffalo, NY. It was the week of the World Cup, and we couldn’t resist dancing to the catchy, official tune, Shakira’s remake of “Time for Africa.” We performed it as a “flash mob” surprise for the kids. It was so much fun, we continued the tradition, performing new and old numbers at dance parties (a favorite youth group activity) and weddings.
Last weekend, I led my first official wedding flash mob. Planning this was so much fun, and I got to exercise while choreographing, practicing, and teaching the dance. My kids love dancing so it’s an activity we can do together.
I’ve also used exercise videos from the library, Amazon Prime streaming, or Youtube. Kid-friendly exercise is high on my priority list for now. When my back is in working order, I might run behind my son on his bike, with his little sis in the jogging stroller. Now that I have a bike hitch I can put her in the bike trailer & ride behind him. Walking with two kids in the double stroller is also quite a workout. Hiking is a favorite when winter ends.
Neil’s never been a gym rat, but his desk job has him bemoaning his physical atrophy. Apparently cube-sitting is our generation’s health equivalent of smoking. His exercise consists of manual labor around the house and garage, and I’m not just talking changing light bulbs or motor oil. Last summer he replaced an exterior wall or our house and our deck. In addition to saving us at least $6000, he also got a lot of exercise!
He prefers productive activity like biking to a destination, working in the yard or garden, running with a friend, or wrestling with the kids.
He’s also enjoyed recreational sports, including a baseball league last year, basketball with friends, and a men’s morning basketball group at a church.
His new favorite frugal fitness synergy is chopping wood. He gets free wood from fallen trees and chops them for firewood in our backyard. The whole process results in burning lots of calories and saving money on both firewood and natural gas.
We refuse to spend much on special clothing or gear for exercise (we do own tennis shoes!). We’ve purchased secondhand bikes, which Neil fixes himself. Aside from basic safety equipment (helmet, light, reflectors) and the kids bike trailer, we’ve avoided buying the myriad bike accessories available. It’s crazy how easy it is to transform an inexpensive pastime into a pricey one. Most of our sports equipment is used–some even trash-picked!
Summary of ways to stay fit for less:
- Free videos from the library, friends, or streaming services like Youtube, Amazon Prime, or Netflix.
- Free or inexpensive classes at churches or community centers.
- Running, walking, biking, hiking, or swimming.
- Hold your own fitness class. If you’ve ever taken a class that you enjoy, lead a few friends in this type of exercise.
- Playing recreational sports.
- Chasing babies.
- Having dance parties with your kids (or going to weddings at the rate we have lately)
- Chopping wood, gardening, yard work, etc.
- Weight-lifting with hand weights.
- Doing body-weight exercises like sit-ups, push-ups, “mountain climbers,” planks, jumping jacks, etc.
Have you found ways to exercise for less? Have kids or budgeting changed your approach to fitness?