average price of a gym membership in the United States is between $40 to $50 per month. That’s not including sign up fees or extra classes, which are additional fees that add up. And when you consider the popularity of boutique class like bootcamp or SoulCycle or barre — which can cost anywhere from $15 to $36 per class — getting and staying active can seem impossibly expensive. So what’s a lady on a budget to do?
As a human who was on the lower end of the income scale for most of my twenties, this is an issue I’ve faced personally. When you really have to weigh whether or not you can afford the $4 cup of coffee from the cafe you’re working from, there’s no way you’re going to shell out more than $50 a month at a gym. And boutique classes? You can forget about that.
So I started using the environment around me. At one point, I lived in a 27-story apartment building. My workout was to run (OK jog/walk) up and down the stairs as many times as I could without stopping. When I lived in places that were conducive to running, I ran outside. And I started doing multiple reps of the 7 Minute Workout app, which only requires your body and a chair for a full rotation of cardio and body weight exercises.
Total cost? Just the $150 I
spent on workout clothes and shoes, which I didn't replace for literally years.
Utilizing the environment around you is a great way to
keep exercising when you’re broke. So is taking advantage of free classes and programs, like those offered on YouTube or on apps. Need more inspiration? Here are more ways that 17 women have found to make exercising affordable. 1 Kayla, 30
"I emailed the YMCA and asked if they had a reduced price for low income families. They had me fill out a form and I paid a really low price each month for the whole family. I worked out and we all used the pool. Lesson: it never hurts to ask!"
2 Ella, 33
"As a librarian, I'm required to remind people that your local library almost definitely as various body weight, yoga, pilates, barre method, etc DVDs. If you already have a Hulu/Amazon Prime/Netflix membership, there are also excellent workout videos to watch there!
Also, your library may offer in person exercise classes. My hometown library (population: 2,200) has a weekly free yoga class offered by the library and other libraries I've seen offer Tai Chi, running groups, or other free group exercise activities. Then, write a note to your state and federal reps reminding them that libraries are mega dope and that they do so much rad stuff with almost no funding and honestly imagine what they would be doing if they had actual money to spend."
3 Heather, 33
"For many years, I worked gig to gig. One of the women I worked with during gigs introduced me to distance running. With a really simple plan from
Runner's World or Hal Higdon, and a pair of shoes, I was able to train for and run five half-marathons, and one full marathon. Since working towards a race means three or four workouts per week, I didn't need to think about what I was doing, just follow the program. And after doing all of that, I feel incredibly accomplished in what I was able to achieve with only time and the cost of shoes and entry fees.
If I had to put a cost on it, I would say the shoes cost $120 every six months, and each entry fee costs $30 to $150, depending on the race and the length"
"Weight lifting with cans of mushroom soup. Sad, but true."
5 Ivy, 33
"The classes through your local Parks and Rec department and/or community college are usually very affordable on a per-class basis (although you will likely need to have enough cash for the upfront costs) and can be really fun! I took tennis classes this summer for an absurdly cheap amount of money and now have eight friends I can play tennis with anytime. (I borrowed a tennis racket from someone and you can do that too!) And if you don't want to take a class, basketball courts, tennis courts, lawns, and sometimes even tracks are free to use. Grab a few friends and play a game! If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with public lakes or pools, find out the times for lap swimming and hit those up in the summer. "
6 Irene, 39
"Whether broke or have a million, rain or shine or snow, in a city or in the mountains, I walk or hike three to five miles a day, then do push ups, planks, and stretches on a mat at home."
7 August, 33
"There is SO MUCH free yoga online. Do Yoga With Me is a great resource with tons of free classes from amazing teachers but there is also some amazing stuff on YouTube. Yoga with Adrienne is probably the best known and with good reason (her 30 day challenges are a really fun way to get into a good habit of daily practice). I will say that practicing yoga without a teacher in person can be tricky, as there is no one there to correct dangerous mistakes, make adjustments, or modify poses for those with injuries or other physical restrictions, but especially if you already have some familiarity with yoga this is a great option."
8 Sarah, 33
"Ask and ye shall receive! Many places offer reduced 'hardship' membership if you just ask. For instance, after filling out some forms and showing proof of income, I paid only $16/mo at the Y, a savings of nearly $40 (another friend of mine went for $2/mo while unemployed!). Several yoga and dance studios I've belonged to over the years offer scholarships, sliding scale rates, and work study as a way to cover the cost of classes for students who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it. If you aren't sure, ASK!"
"Back when I was broke in college, I heard there was an amazing belly dancing class that was going to take place on campus. I knew I couldn't afford the full class cost. But I found out the fitness class was taking place in one of the regular classrooms on campus, and that all the desks had to be moved before and after each class. I offered to arrive early and stay late to help with that, and in exchange the instructor offered me a steep discount!"
10 Reina, 33
"All you need to run is a pair of shoes and they don't have to be particularly fancy! You can find very good pair of running shoes for under $50 easy (my current pair was less than $40!). If you live in a city, there are almost always running group meet ups run by running stores that will give you camaraderie and help you to train (also nice if you want someone to pace you for training purposes). Couch to 5K is a great free program you can use to get started on running as well."
11 April, 40
"I, myself, walk. It doesn't cost anything, unless I decide to go to a park to walk a trail, then there's the expense of gas getting there.
Over the years I've done it all, gym memberships to use exercise machines and weights, CrossFit, spin classes, and water aerobics. Honestly, walking I get the best results, I don't have to pay anything or get dressed up. I can do it at anytime of the day, I get fresh air and it's quiet. Because I don't have to focus on anything I can also use this time to think or not think of anything and get lost in my music.
I like that now, there's plenty of free apps that track your distance and time. I will alternate trying to go just a little further than before and then trying to beat my time each time. I had one app that you walked at a fast pace determined by the app then walked slower for about a minute then speed up again. It would even tell you you've slowed down and need to pick up the pace."
12 Lisa, 50+
"The cheapest thing that I can do when I don't want to pay for a gym membership is walk up the stairs in my apartment building. It's excellent cardio and free."
13 Stacy, 26
"I wasn't making much money earlier this year, and I focused on running outside where the 'equipment,' i.e. the outdoor running paths, are free. It's actually wonderful to run outside as the air is fresh and the scenery changes more frequently than when on a treadmill. I've kept running outside even now that I have a gym membership."
14 Isabel, 24
"I did a few things to workout when I was broke: watch YouTube workout routines in my living room (my favorite is Chloe Ting); go to the local high school with a friend and walk the track or run the bleachers followed by an ab routine; and my coworkers and I get together to do a Tabata workout twice a week."
15 Melissa, 39
"I’m an entrepreneur, a mother of two, and can’t remember the last time I slept eight consecutive hours. ... As it turns out, many of my closest girlfriends are in the same boat. So, at the risk of 'becoming our mothers,' we meet up, weekly, for three to five mile walks. We ... strengthen our friendship, and free our spirits!"
16 Vivian, 26
"I was really into Just Dance for a while and used that for daily workout. It’s really affordable and you can do it with friends, which is kinda fun. But at times the Apple TV app is buggy and wouldn’t load quite as fast, which discourages me from doing more workout. And if you do it with your partner, then there’s the competition aspect. I couldn’t figure out why my fiancé who does half of the dance moves still scores higher than me most of the time! It drove me nuts…
Also, YouTube videos are always useful but the issue with all these home workout routines is motivation—it’s so easy just sit back on your couch and Netflix all night."
17 Jimena, 26
"I am a communications student at the University of Cologne in Germany. As a student, I have found it very hard to [work out], while managing classes, work and social life. However, I decided to [work out] and be healthier by watching workout videos from home, do a free yoga class in the park or going for a bike ride with a friend. Thankfully Germany is filled with nice scenery so it is super easy to find a nice spot to go for a run!"
There you have it: tips from 17 women on how to keep working out, even when you're broke. Now go out there and hit some stairs!
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