I began my fitness journey as a college freshmen over a decade ago. Back then, MyFitnessPal had such a small community of users that most of us chatted in the forums on a daily basis; we formed friendships and even a couple of marriages! I was a regular on BodyBuilding.com which was my first exposure to internet ‘fitpros’ posting only the most flattering poses. Fitness trackers were almost prohibitively expensive, somewhat cumbersome to use, and certainly not as easily integrated with smartphone apps and social media. In fact, people were still using flip-phones back then! Rapid changes in social media have modified the entire landscape of the fitness industry. We are more connected, but more competitive as well. Fitness trends come and go, fitness tech constantly evolves, and the industry tempts us to buy, spend, and splurge. Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and endless websites promote everything from the latest in keto-paleo-gluten-free Himalayan pink salt to the techiest performance-enhancing athletic tape. Everyone is looking for the next best thing, the magic pill or food or accessory to deliver results that will land them a spot among the Instagram influencers.
Well, I’m here to save you from the throngs. I may be all grown up now, but I still prefer to live on an undergrad budget. I get more satisfaction out of saving money than spending it, and if I can make some extra cash, even better! Now that I’ve been at this for a while, I’ve discovered some ways to save and even earn a little bit here and there just by living my best #fitlife (I see you, Instagram)!
Here’s a crazy thought: You spend hard-earned money on food just to flush it down the toilet! Okay, it’s not that straight-forward, and of course the quality of your food matters. But, don’t you want to feel confident that you’re spending money wisely, and on the things that really make a difference in your diet? Here are some money-saving tips when it’s time to stock up for #mealprepmonday.
- Go early. Like, really early. If you can manage a grocery store trip around 6:30-7:00AM, you might be able to catch the outgoing produce. Stores often bag older produce together and sell it for a reduced price, especially mid-week, to make room for new shipments. There’s nothing wrong with this produce! Some items may be ripe, so you’ll have to eat them quickly. Others may be bruised, and while unsightly, it doesn’t affect the nutritional content of the food. Just keep an eye out for any brown or moldy spots, and avoid that. Many ripe fruits freeze well and are safe to keep in the freeze for a couple of months. I stock up on reduced banana, mango, and apples for use in nice cream or oatmeal!
- Get the store app, key chain, and coupons, but don’t buy something just because you have a coupon! That’s how they get ya! If you wouldn’t buy the product normally and it won’t make a significant difference in your life, don’t purchase it. Just like the easiest calories to burn are the ones that you don’t eat, the easiest money to save is that which you don’t spend. Leave the coupon for someone else who may use it, and give yourself a pat on the back for paying it forward. (By the way, many stores run free item promotions or supply key chains with codes that you can use for points off at certain gas stations, like the Kroger shopper discount at Shell gas stations.)
- Check out the sales racks and discount sections. So many people pass these areas up because the chaos of disorganized packages can be overwhelming, but you’d be amazed at some of the incredible deals you can find. Again, don’t fall into the trap of buying something you don’t need just because it’s on sale.
- Reduce food waste! This may come as a surprise, but sell by, best by, and expiration dates aren’t federally mandated, nor are they indicative of spoilage. If the food looks, smells, and tastes normal, you don’t need to throw it away just because it’s past the ‘sell by’ date.
- Know your labels! Manufacturers are catching on to some of the latest fitness and food fads, and using meaningless labels to trick customers into buying over-priced food. Labels may say “healthy,” “organic,” “all-natural,” “gluten-free,” or make claims about a lack of hormones, antibiotics, or GMO’s. This doesn’t guarantee that the food is nutritious, ecologically beneficial, or worth the cost markup. This is a contentious area deserving of discussion beyond the scope of this blog, but in a nutshell:
- some manufacturers knowingly utilize claims for which they don’t meet regulations
- the FDA is redefining the ambiguous claims of “healthy” and “natural”
- organic foods are grown with (approved) pesticides that are harmful to living organisms and research has shown no difference in nutrient quality compared to conventional produce
- no meat or dairy contains hormones or antibiotics, even if the animal received these before slaughter
- this is like labeling bread as, ‘cholesterol-free’; bread is naturally cholesterol free
- a vast body of evidence supports the safety of GMO foods, and crops like the GMO rainbow papaya have saved ecosystems and livelihoods
- chickens are not vegetarian and don’t thrive on a vegetarian diet, and cage-free does not mean they’re roaming green pastures
- grass-fed beef and milk may exhibit different lipid profiles, but the net amount is so small as to make minimal difference physiologically; if you’re not eating the fatty portion, this matters even less
- gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free, etc. labels do not guarantee that a food is low-calorie or nutrient-dense
In short, buy store-brand, wash your produce (but not your meat), and don’t be fooled by snazzy marketing claims.
I’m not knocking fitness tech; there are some incredible tools that can increase motivation, adherence, and performance. But between groceries and gear for the gym, you might not have a few hundred bucks to drop on the newest wearable fitness tracker. So, here are a couple of free apps that can help you save or even earn enough to pay for your monthly gym membership!
- iBotta: I’ve absolutely gushed about this app on Facebook and Instagram, and rightfully so! It’s helped me earn over $400 in rebates in just over a year. It’s totally free, and works like a coupon app. The best part: it stacks with actual coupons! You simply add your favorite stores, search for the products you plan to buy, and add them to your rebate list if they’re available. After you make your purchase, simply take a photo of your receipt, and voila, money in the bank! The app links to PayPal, Venmo, or a variety of gift card options. It’s available for transfer once you hit $20. You can even qualify for rebates and earn bonuses for referring friends! You can sign up with my referral code “bvcydqc” to earn an extra $5 on your first rebate!
- Checkout 51: This is another free rebate app quite similar to iBotta. Its rebates are less significant, but it tends to include more produce. Unlike iBotta, it will not stack with coupons, but it will stack with iBotta.
- Progression: This is a free workout tracker with upgrades available for purchase. You can build and store any type of workout schedule, and the upgrades allow you to analyze your performance. Even the free version gives you a sneak peek at your projected 1RM. (Sorry, Apple users: it’s currently only available on Android.)
- Achievement: What if I told you that you could earn money just for doing the exercises you enjoy for free? Seriously! Achievement (formerly known as AchieveMint) is an app that connects with a number of other fitness apps and monetarily rewards you for things like steps, tweets, and Facebook posts on healthy topics. If you’re already doing all of this for free, why not start earning a bit of money on the side? It takes a while to add up–I earned about $25 in four months–but the time will pass, anyway!
I’ll be honest: I’m not going to win any ‘best-dressed’ awards when I’m at the gym. I don’t spend much on gym clothing that I’m going to mess up with sweat and chalk. Sometimes, I like to make a statement:
I like a combination of functionality, comfort, and a flattering cut–who doesn’t? I like it even more when I can spend less than $20 on leggings! Sure, some brands have that ‘booty scrunch’ or shading that enhances certain areas, but I personally just rely on squats. I really have just two go-to brands for my gym apparel!
- 90 Degrees by Reflex: I buy these leggings on Amazon and they are the most flattering bottoms I’ve ever had. They withstand deadlifts, squats, and massing cycles like the most faithful of friends. The sizing and variety can be confusing, so be prepared to get something that you may not have expected. But expect that you will look fabulous.
- Champion: This brand is sold at Target, but I buy them from overstock retailers like Ross, Marshall’s, and TJ Maxx. (In fact, these are the only places that I shop). I find their leggings to be flattering and their sports bras hold up very well. Their pieces range from about $15-$25, which I think is reasonable considering how well they hold up. I’ve even found these at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet!
- Like I mentioned…Ross, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Goodwill are my top retailers. Better yet, you know those one-size, ill-fitting t-shirts you get when you sign up for 5K’s? Dig them out from the back of your closet and cut them into something cute!
Stick to the basics. Most supplements are only modestly effective, at best, and plenty of them are completely ineffective. I’ve posted before about buying in bulk from Bulk Supplements and building my own pre-workout, but I’ve pared it down since then. Supplements aren’t actually necessary at all, but in terms of effectiveness, you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you stick with 3-5g creatine monohydrate and about 100-300mg of caffeine. Yes, you could add more, but this blog is about spending less. If you feel tempted to buy glutamine, oral ATP, or L-carnitine, you’re really flushing your money.
If you want to see my regular grocery hauls, iBotta rebates, and recipes made with my discount produce and bulk supplements, follow me on Instagram and Facebook @VitaminPhd! I guess a little bit of fitness tech isn’t so bad, after all. 🙂