Around the globe, populations are struggling with growing health problems. Many of which stem from poor eating habits and lack of exercise.
But some of us get it. We realise how important our health is. Because without it, well, we’re screwed!
So we start making conscious choices to eat better, healthier foods. And many join gyms and pay for training sessions as an ‘investment’ into their health.
That’s all good stuff. But somewhere along the way, we started assuming that a health-focused lifestyle costs a lot of money. And that’s complete rubbish!
We’ve already squashed the myth that ‘healthy food is expensive.’ Now it’s time to tackle exercise and lifestyle. Let’s go!
How can you say healthier isn’t more expensive?
Be patient, I’ll get to that. But first, let’s step back and take a big picture look at our assumptions.
Just like with the other areas we spend money on, most of us either consciously or unconsciously believe that more expensive = better. So spending more = better results, more value in return and higher happiness.
Sometimes that’s true. But not always.
The important lesson I’m trying to convey in 938 different ways on this blog, is that you can almost always find a lower cost way to get roughly the same health, lifestyle and happiness benefits you do right now, simply by changing your outlook and making more optimal choices.
Since health has become an increasing focus for wealthy Western consumers, marketers are sniffing around trying to figure out how to extract as many dollars as possible from those of us looking to ‘invest’ in our health.
Never underestimate the power of marketing. It influences all of us, into believing if we buy X, we’ll get Y. If we choose the higher priced option, it comes with mystical lifestyle benefits and elevates our status among our peer group.
Let’s look at how health and fitness can be approached by a classic free spender. And then let’s see how frugality and fitness can come together with the aim of maximising health and wealth at the same time!
The Fire Hose Approach
As with most things, there’s no limit to how much you can spend in this area. Spraying money around is always an option!
First, there’s the gym membership, which is around $33 per week (for a 3 month contract), or $22 per week (for an 18 month contract) at the facility-rich, Fitness First. (list of gym comparisons here)
Then of course, we’ll be paying for at least one session with a personal trainer per week – to make sure we’re on track with our program and giving us that extra boost – at a conservative cost of $50 per session.
It doesn’t stop there though. Because we need specially designed clothes to look good at the gym and stay on trend, at a cost of several hundred dollars per year.
Don’t forget, we also need high end supplements to make sure we’re getting the desired results for the hard work we’re putting in. And lastly, move over boring old food, because now we’re chomping on the latest ‘super-foods’ to enrich our bodies with all their, um, supery-goodness!
So with these two diet tweaks, we can comfortably add $30 per week to our overall food bill ($15 per person). Let’s see what our ‘investment’ bill comes to for the year…
Gym – $1,144. PT sessions – $2,600. Workout gear – $400. Super-foods/supplements – $780.
Total = $4,924 each year, per person.
Sure, it might seem unreasonable, but this is our health we’re talking about. And you can’t put a price on your health, right?
Now, if you’re somehow a multi-millionaire who is financially independent and this spending has zero effect on your freedom, then sure, go right ahead. But for the rest of us with limited means trying to build our wealth, we need to put our efficiency hats on so health doesn’t become another cash-draining expense.
The Slight Optimiser
With a little bit of thinking, it’s not too hard to come up with far lower cost solutions to the above.
First, the gym. Rather than the more upmarket facilities at Fitness First, a lower cost gym like Jetts is likely to do the trick. It has all the equipment you need without the frills. Also 24/7 opening hours make it more flexible and less crowded. Costs are $15 per week with no lock-in contracts.
Maybe you’ll want one $50 session per month with a trainer, to make sure you’re lifting correctly and give you a few tips here and there.
As for clothes, improving on the above, you might buy a couple of pieces of workout gear each year, for a yearly cost of $200.
Now, onto nutrition. Maybe you’re not as brainwashed as the first example, but you still add a couple of super-food items to your weekly shop and purchase some branded supplements.
Let’s add it up.
Gym – $780. PT sessions – $600. Clothes – $200. Nutrition – $300.
Total = $1,880 each year, per person.
That’s a huge improvement on the free spender, with very little effort or change involved. But of course, I think we can do even better than this!
You might be surprised to hear that it’s actually possible to be a strong and healthy individual without any of this stuff.
Since we’ve already covered Frugality & Food, you’ve got solid nutrition nailed down at a reasonable cost. The other important factor, of course, is physical activity. So, what ultra low cost options do we have for exercise?
Doing rounds of body-weight push-ups and squats. But they’re too easy you say?
Simply do more. Do them in slow motion. Pause at the bottom. Do it with weight. There’s lots of ways to make it extra challenging.
Bike riding. Somewhere in nature is best for the ultimate dose of fresh air, exercise and a happiness boost.
Go for a daily walk or run. Go swimming (mind the sharks).
Get out in the garden and grow some plants (food preferably). Kick the footy at your local oval, or shoot some hoops at the local basketball court.
There’s more things listed here than we could possibly have time for! And crucially, most involve getting outside, which is even better than a stuffy and overcrowded gym!
Cost? Essentially zero.
“OK, but we live in the real world”
Maybe you’re just warming up to this frugality thing and you’re not quite ready to dump your gym membership just yet.
Maybe you struggle with motivation and the gym environment gives you the boost you need. Or you live in an apartment and can’t fit your desired exercise equipment at your place.
I can understand that. So while I still think a low/no cost health plan should be your ultimate goal, I’m willing to meet you in the middle.
Let’s go half way between The Optimiser and Frugal Fitness.
Strong Money’s Maximum Allowable Spend
You can have a low cost gym membership at around $15 per week.
As for a personal trainer, no, you won’t be paying for one of those. You can simply watch YouTube videos or read a book on how to lift weights correctly.
Clothes? We’ve all got some older clothes in our wardrobe which are fine that we don’t wear too often. That’s the correct workout gear to use. This isn’t about fashion and selfies, it’s about health!
For nutrition, you won’t be buying any super-foods or high-end supplements. But you can have a small allocation for vitamins/protein powder in your grocery budget, as we do.
Gym – $780. Nutrition – $200. Total cost = $980 each year, per person. Still almost half the cost of the above example!
This is the highest acceptable amount to spend in my view.
Many years ago, we used to frequent the gym about 10 minutes from our house. It was fine at first, just a bit expensive. But it soon became a total nightmare.
Because the time we wanted to go, was the time EVERYONE wanted to go. And the gym kept signing up new members all the time, so it just got busier and busier.
Pretty soon, we’d spend half our time just standing around waiting to use equipment, and dealing with traffic to and from the gym, until eventually, we said f*#k this!
So we decided to bite the bullet and buy some equipment. We just got the essentials. A decent squat rack. A bench. And an olympic bar with a bunch of weights.
This is all you need. It allows you to do squats, bench press, overhead press, deadlifts, barbell rows, and countless other exercises.
The total cost was around $800 from memory, including delivery and setup.
Since then we’ve bought a couple of dumbbells off Gumtree, a mat and a roller. All up we’ve still spent less than $1,000.
The gym cost us about $30 per week combined, or $1,500 per year. So we made our money back very quickly. Now, 8 years later, we’ve saved countless wasted hours and over $10,000 in gym fees. Safe to say, it’s been a fantastic decision!
In addition to this, we go for regular walks and bike rides, do a bit of gardening and occasionally shoot hoops.
While we’re not quite as hardcore as the Frugal Fitness example, our situation is very low cost. The ongoing replacement cost of the gym equipment works out at a very small dollar amount per year. And one of our perfectly-fine bikes was found on a verge for hard-rubbish collection!
Benefits of Low Cost Options
As is often the case, the benefits of optimising your spending here are many.
— By choosing the Frugal Fitness options listed, you’ll save the regular car trips to the gym, reducing your petrol and maintenance costs (which adds up over time, but I’ve ignored). That’s an environmental boost too!
— Save lots of time. No waiting for equipment, no driving, no traffic.
— You’ll become more self-reliant for your physical health. You no longer require gyms, trainers, and external factors – making you a stronger, more independent human.
— Pure convenience. Choose any time and any day of the year that suits you. Not when the gym is open, or trying to avoid busy periods/traffic. All without having to compete with other people for sweaty equipment.
— More outdoor activities means more fresh air, sunshine and nature.
— And of course, you’ll save a ton of money!
What’s a frugal health plan really worth?
Well, our initial Fire Hose spender scenario would cost a couple close to $10,000 per year. The Optimiser couple would spend closer to $4,000 per year. And the Strong Money Maximum Allowable Spend is around $2,000 for a couple.
Since Strong Money readers are a thoughtful and intelligent bunch, we can safely ignore the first example. Instead, we’ll assume you can improve from the Optimiser to the Strong Money Maximum Allowable Spend.
A couple would be better off by $2,000 per year in this example. Easy money, minimal effort. But it gets better.
After 10 years of investing this extra cash (earning 8% per annum), they’d have almost $30,000. And more importantly, because their spending is now permanently lower, they’d need $50,000 less in investments to reach Financial Independence.
Keep in mind, the ultimate Frugal Fitness plan costs close to $0, with our own approach costing maybe a few hundred dollars per year at most. So you could almost double the benefits above for a near zero-cost strategy, and effectively be around $100,000 better off.
The tentacles of consumerism have latched on to our growing focus on health. And it’s managed to turn something so basic, like eating good food and being active, into another consumption trap.
But as you can see, these costs (like many) are completely optional. We have the opportunity to take control of our health and make it one of our top priorities in life – all without spending a fortune on it.
In fact, because these frugal exercise ideas are such a great and enjoyable use of our free time, it means we’re simply too busy for other money-sucking activities, like shopping and restaurant-hopping.
Just like cooking your own food, creating your own low-cost health and fitness plan becomes a self-reinforcing habit. And this forms a fundamental part of your long term lifestyle, which lowers your ongoing expenses and brings Financial Independence closer.
See, we really can improve our health and grow our wealth at the same time!
Have you got any frugal fitness tips for staying healthy and maximising your savings rate at the same time? Let me know in the comments…