As a broke single mom, I’ve struggled to stretch my budget to meet my caloric and nutritional needs as well as cover my gym membership. Some years were good, others were bad, moneywise. I’ve always had to scratch my head and figure out the best way to meet my fitness goals and at the same time take care of my son and other expenses. When I was a full-time personal trainer, I sometimes had no money for food at all. Now, as a part-time business owner and part-time employee, I have a bit more money to work with — just a bit. So I’ve asked myself, what do I really need to stay lean, grow muscle, and be healthy while being a broke single mom? If you’re in my situation, the tips below may help you.
The magic 3: carbs, protein, and fat. How to buy them cheaply.
Protein – Shop in bulk if possible. If not, price-shop, and stick to poultry and lean beef over seafood. Fish and other sea foods are more expensive, but if you limit it to once or twice/month, it’s affordable. Also, check out your local organic market. Believe it or not, produce can be more affordable at an organic market such as Trader Joe’s or Sprouts, than at a regular grocery store. I have bought sliced boneless skinless chicken breasts at Sprouts for between $2.00 to $5.00/package, depending on the pounds/packaged.
Other affordable proteins:
- Eggs – separate the whites from the yolk from the whole eggs. Buying a container of egg whites can be much more expensive.
- Cashews and peanuts – sorry, no almonds and other more expensive, fancy nuts.
- Peanut butter
- Peanut powder
Carbohydrates – To get or stay lean, fuel your workouts, and have long-lasting satiety whole grains are the types of carbs you should purchase. You can find the follow staples at low prices:
- Oatmeal – the cheapest route
- Brown rice – Uncle Ben’s, Minute Rice, Store brand brown rice
Other affordable carbs:
- Whole Wheat Pasta
- Whole Wheat Bread
Veggies and Fruits – Buy on sale, in-season, and buy frozen for the cheapest prices.
Affordable fruits and veggies:
- Most greens are affordable
- Different types of lettuce
- String and green beans
Check the food dispensers at your grocery store for nuts, grains, even protein powder. With this option, you can buy a small, affordable amount of a product as opposed to paying full price for a ready-made package. I’ve done this a few times with protein powder. When I couldn’t afford a whole container of ON (Optimum Nutrition whey protein), for example, I bought a pound or less of flavorless whey. It was better than nothing.
The gym or the living room? The cheapest method is to workout at home. I did for five years before I joined a gym.
You don’t need much for a home gym. There are no recurring membership fees, and if your goals are just fitness and good health, all you really need is a floor, a wall and yourself. Oftentimes, DVD, TV (Roku fitness channels) or Internet trainers can teach you basic fitness principles, and the best of them can help you lose a lot of fat and tone up. I started working out with Cathe Friedrich via FitTV, when the channel existed. I still purchase a digital video or two from her per year when I train at home.
Optimizing your home workouts:
All you need is a one-time purchase of equipment like exercise bands, hand weights, a stability ball, and so on . . . depending on your goal(s). However, equipment can get expensive if your goal is to grow any significant amount of muscle and you lack the needed weight/poundage for progressive overload — the driving force for continued muscle growth. If you find yourself always needing to buy more equipment, it may be cheaper to join a gym.
Paid gym membership:
This route can be more expensive than training at home, but there are many reasons to join a gym. I decided to join one (overcoming my hate for crowds and giving up the peace I feel when working out alone) because my home gym was insufficient for my goal(s). In the book Championship Bodybuilding, Chris Aceto explains the need to commit to progressive overload for muscle gain. He said forget bodybuilding (my then goal) if you lack access to the poundage necessary to progressively add weight each workout — that’s found at a real gym. If you must join a gym, look for sign-up specials. Try discount gyms, with a monthly fee under $20. Pretty much every gym will have many weights, space for bodyweight and other free-motion movement, and equipment for various forms of exercise.
Everyone knows they need food. Everyone knows they need a place to workout. Here are a few words in support of supplements. I believe in the power of supplementation. But I didn’t in the beginning. After a year of working out, back in 2003, my son’s dad told me I should drink protein shakes after lifting weights. I normally look to authorities for advice, and he was no authority on fitness, so it didn’t immediately listen. But when he came home one day with a 10-lb bag of Optimum Nutrition whey, I gave it a try. After having it as a post-workout for one month, I noticed muscle growth a year of exercise alone never produced. That experience convinced me that some supplements are the real deal, and for best results, taking them is a must. Five or so years later, I was spending $100+ per month on supplements. I was happy with my results.
In 2011, I hit a really rough bump in life and my budget went to hell. My son and I were nearly homeless. As you can imagine, I was not exactly on track with my fitness goals. For that whole year, I could not afford a gym membership, and I certainly couldn’t afford supplements. So I focused on bodyweight and cardio. Since my workouts weren’t very intense, I didn’t necessarily need the supplements. It took the full year before I started to notice muscle loss. So, did I need $100+ worth of supplements each month? No. The fact that it took a year for me to start noticing muscle loss told me I didn’t. Now, I stick to the basics and the must-haves. These supplements will set you back around $50/month.
The most basic of needed supplements
- Protein powder – whey is sufficient for most people and is needed following any weight training or intense bodyweight workout to aid in maximum recovery and repair of muscles worked.
- Multivitamin – athletes and people who workout at a high intensity regularly burn through many nutrients. Many professional coaches prescribe vitamins to their athletes to replenish lost nutrients, recover, and obtain optimum results.
If you have enough money for more than the above basics, add these to your list:
- Omega fatty acid capsules – for heart health, body fat regulation, and muscle growth stimulation.
- Supergreen food – few people meet the daily requirement for greens.
- Pre-workout – if you train hard, this will help you get started and get through it. Definitely a luxury, not a need.
Let’s hope you don’t stay broke (assuming you are, because you’re reading this). And, if you’re not broke, just price-conscious, then cool. I hope you learned from the above tips. And for the other readers, if you find yourself low on cash, but still high on motivation to reach your fitness goals, following my above tips can help get and stay fit on a budget.
If you have your own low-budget fitness tips, drop me a line.
MEET SYLVIA PETRO — THE BROKE, FIT SINGLE MOM: As an athlete of over 15 years, and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created this site to aid not only broke single parents to a life of fitness, but anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the road to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; informing readers about mastering both of those building blocks is my goal.