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Frugal Fitness: Stay Fit by Spending Less

man pushing lawn mower

Brian Stewart/Gallery Stock

You don't need an expensive health membership to get in shape.

I'll never forget the sage advice one of my Miser Advisers gave his 24-year-old son who was having trouble making ends meet — partly because of a pricey health club membership.

"I told him to buy a used bicycle at the thrift store and pedal it on over to that $150-a-month health club he belongs to so he can cancel his membership. Ride that bicycle around town for errands and such every day, and he'll not only save $150 a month, but he'll save on gas and get a good workout, too."

According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, U.S. health clubs raked in almost $20 billion in 2009 from more than 45 million members.

Sure, you can spend a lot of money to lead a healthy lifestyle. But it's also possible to get your daily fitness fix simply by doing more things for yourself rather than paying others to do things for you. (Of course with any exercise program, consult your physician first to make sure it's appropriate for you.)

Consider the fitness — and financial — benefits of performing these everyday tasks yourself:




Muscles Used³

Wash your own car $15 610 B, UA, LL, A
Cut your own grass $40 490 T, B, LL,UA, LA
Walk instead of taxi           (4 miles) $8 245 T, B, LL
Run instead of 
taxi (6 miles)
$12 1,080 T, B, LL
Bicycle instead of taxi (14 miles) $24 980 T, B, LL, LA
Paint your own house $25 410 B, UA, LA, A
Shovel your own snow $25 490 T, B, LL, UA, LA
Rake your own leaves
$15 350 T, B, LL, UA, LA, A
Clean your own house $20 245 T, B, LL, UA, LA
Do your own gardening $20 330 B, UA, LA
Clean your own gutters $20 410 B, UA, LA
Cut your own firewood
$25 490 B, UA, LA
¹ Estimated savings are for one hour of labor costs.

² Calories burned are based on a 180-pound person performing the activity for one hour. Based on the Compendium of Physical Activities: An Update of Activity Codes and MET Intensities. From the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Sept. 2000.

³ Muscle group abbreviations: B, back; T, thighs; LL, lower legs; UA, upper arms/shoulders; LA, lower arms; A, abdominals.

There are also plenty of cheap ways to set up your own workout gym at home. You can fill empty plastic soda bottles with sand and use them as workout weights, or you can use full bottles of detergent. Try tying together the feet on a pair of old worn-out pantyhose and using them as a resistance band for stretching exercises (FYI, an old bicycle inner tube works well for this, too). You can do an aerobic step workout by using duct tape to securely strap together phonebooks.

Or maybe you'll be more likely to exercise if you have some company. Since almost everyone has a piece or two of infrequently used exercise equipment lying around the house, consider pooling your equipment and setting up your own neighborhood gym in someone's garage or basement. A friend of mine did that a few years back — a venture that became known as "Fat Boys Gym" — and it saved the "fat boys" who used it thousands of dollars a year in fees they were no longer paying to professional fitness clubs.

You don't even need any gym equipment at all. Grab a friend and take a stroll around the block or go for a leisurely bike ride around the neighborhood. Think of all the money you're saving when you are passed on the road by people driving to the gym.

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.

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