How to Exercise When You're on a Budget

Saving money is always a priority when financial times get tough. You may think getting a good workout requires shelling out money for gym memberships or tons of equipment, but there are alternatives.


Buy Multi-Use Equipment

Woman standing with exercise ball

Tara Moore / Stone / Getty Images

One option is to buy fitness equipment that has multiple uses. Some popular infomercial gadgets, like ab machines or bun and thigh gadgets, only work one part of the body and can be expensive. You can try plenty of other alternatives to do a variety of activities that will save both money and time:

  • An exercise ball: Use it to work the abs, support the body during weight training activities, and cardio exercise. Most cost $20 to $50, and you can even use them to sit on while watching TV or working on the computer.
  • Multi-station home gyms: These can get expensive (from $500 and up), but they also allow you to work your entire body with various exercises. A home gym may save you the money you’d spend on a monthly gym membership.
  • A Step: A step can be used as a weight bench or for cardio exercise and, at around $99, costs less than buying a weight bench and a cardio machine.
  • Cardio Machines: It may seem like a luxury to buy a home treadmill or elliptical trainer. But, again, having something you can use at home can save gym membership fees while letting you exercise any time you like. If the whole family uses it, you’ll get even more for your money.

Workout at Home

The gym isn't the only place you can get a great workout. Sure, you'll have more machines and classes to choose from. But, if you're trying to save money, you can easily set up a simple home gym using what you have available.

Some home workout resources include:

  • Exercise videos: Hundreds of exercise videos are available for all fitness levels and activities, from yoga and belly dancing to step aerobics and strength training. Check out your local video rental store or visit Collage Video for videos you can order online.
  • Outdoor workouts: The great outdoors offers several ways to exercise without any equipment, other than a good pair of shoes. Walking and running are always good bets, even if the weather isn't perfect. Don't forget that malls make great places to walk when it's raining outside, and window shopping can save money, too.
  • Apps and online workouts: Hundreds of workouts are available on YouTube and other websites, and smartphone apps. Some require a subscription, but many are free.

Use Your Home As a Gym

Other opportunities may be in your own house that you haven’t thought of.

  • A staircase makes for a great cardio workout, while a spacious basement or rec room offers a great place to walk or do home cardio workouts.
  • Full water bottles or milk jugs can be used as weights, and chores can be turned into exercise.
  • Try adding a few laps up and down the stairs when you’re doing laundry or work extra hard when raking leaves or sweeping off the driveway.

Use Free Exercise Resources

Exercise doesn’t have to cost anything if you know where to look. You can get free information, workouts, and even videos from various sources. Some options:

  • The library: Many libraries offer a wealth of information like videos and books about exercise, healthy eating, and fitness.
  • The Internet: The World Wide Web can be a great resource for free exercise information and workouts:
    Workout Center: This database of workouts includes everything from cardio to strength training for all fitness levels.
  • Weight Training: This section of Verywellfit offers a variety of strength workouts for all goals and fitness levels.
  • Walking and Running: Both sections offer free workouts, training programs, and email courses for walkers and runners.
  • Running or walking clubs: Some local walking and running clubs are free. And even if there is an annual fee, you often save money with discounts at sporting goods stores, and you get freebies like training programs and a group of people to keep you motivated.
  • Your friends and neighbors: Another idea to consider is to ask neighbors to share things like bicycles, exercise videos, or other equipment. My neighbor lets me use her bike sometimes, and, in exchange, I lend her some of my exercise videos to try. We both get a chance to exercise without spending any money.

Choose Inexpensive Fitness Gear

Having fancy exercise equipment is nice, but you don’t need it to get a great workout. In fact, several home gym options will save you both space and money:

  • Resistance bands: Resistance bands are cheap ($7 to $20), can be easily stuffed in a suitcase or drawer, and can be used to work every muscle in the body.
  • Dumbbells: Compared to weight machines, dumbbells are relatively inexpensive and can be used for multiple exercises and body parts. Buying a ​set will often save you money, or you can find affordable brands at department stores like Wal-Mart or Target.
  • Jump ropes: Like resistance bands, jump ropes are portable and offer an inexpensive cardio workout.
  • Second-hand equipment: Search local garage sales, second-hand stores such as Play It Again Sports, or craigslist for deals on used exercise equipment.
  • Pedometers: Pedometers are inexpensive ($15 to $35), easy to use, and can motivate you to stay active all day.

Try Bodyweight Workouts

If you're on a budget and don't have any wiggle room for extra exercise equipment, you're in luck. You don't need any equipment to get a great workout, provided you work hard. Several exercises require nothing more than your body. Some good music to workout to helps too:

Body Weight Exercises to Try

For cardio, you can do jumping jacks, jogging in place, side steps, knee lifts, power squats, or anything that gets your heart rate up.

The drawback to bodyweight exercises is that it's hard to challenge the muscles without added resistance. To make the movements more challenging, try:

  • Slowing down: Try slow reps of 4 to 8 seconds (such as squat down for 4 seconds and push back up for 4 seconds) to increase the muscle's time under tension.
  • Try small pulses: Instead of going through a full range of motion (such as squatting all the way down and standing back up), shorten the movement and keep the reps short and fast. For example, start at the bottom of the movement and pulse halfway up and down when doing a squat.
  • Do more reps: Without weight, you may find some bodyweight exercises a little too easy. Try doing timed sets (such as performing each exercise for one minute) rather than sticking to a set number of reps.

Dust off Old Fitness Equipment

If you haven't ventured into your basement or garage in a while, now might be a good time to see what you've been storing there. Most of us have old fitness equipment lying around, things we bought and never used, or things we couldn't figure out what to do with. You don't want to use anything that's obviously in disrepair, but use them for your workouts if you find something in good shape.

A few things you might find lying around:

  • Baseballs, footballs, and basketballs
  • Tennis rackets
  • Bicycles
  • Frisbees
  • Paddleball games
  • Mini trampolines
  • Mini steppers
  • Medicine balls
  • Boxing gloves or pads

Set Up Exercise Stations

One idea is to take what you find and set up a few stations for a circuit workout. Spend a minute on your mini trampoline, a minute hitting a boxing bag, a minute dribbling a basketball, five minutes riding the bike around the block, and so on.

Be creative with what you have, and you may find something you enjoy. Or you might realize you need to have a garage sale, which will end up earning a little money.


Partner Training and Online Personal Training

Personal training is a great choice when you need guidance and motivation but an expensive prospect if you're on a budget. Some personal training options out there can save you money.

Partner or Group Training

While an average personal training session can cost anywhere from $50 to more than $100, training with a partner is usually half that. Sharing your session with a friend or family member can save you money and give you extra motivation for your workouts. For this to work, it's best to have a partner who's at about the same fitness level as you.

Some trainers also offer group training with rotating workout stations for each person. Check with friends and co-workers to see if anyone is interested in group training or call local trainers or studios to find out if they already have a group and if there's an empty slot available.

Online Personal Training

Hiring an online trainer can also save you money and time, providing you with expert attention that usually costs less than in-person training. You'll also have other online tools to help you stick to your program like workout calendars, exercise instruction, and email reminders.


Join Independent Gyms

Independent gyms or studios often offer a better value than chain health clubs with lower fees, financial assistance, or more flexible payment options. Some options include:

  • Yoga, Pilates, or Personal Training Studios. Studios usually offer more specialized workouts, but if you're only interested in doing one type of activity (like yoga or Pilates), this may be a good option for you. Studios usually offer packages or allow you to pay by the class. That leaves you free of contracts or monthly membership dues.
  • Community Centers: Check with your local community center to find out if they have a fitness center or classes you can sign up for on a seasonal basis. The fees are usually lower than a standard gym membership, and they may offer more flexible membership options.
  • YMCA: The YMCA is a nonprofit organization focusing on family health and fitness. Many offer financial assistance to those who need it.
  • Jewish Community Centers: The JCC is another family-friendly, non-profit organization offering fitness centers, group fitness classes, and camps and workshops for the kids. They have a variety of memberships to choose from.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."