Whether you think we're in a recession or going through a rough patch, you understand now more than ever the need to save money. Gas prices are at an all time high, food is following closely behind and health insurance is too expensive to buy if you don't get it from your employer. When times are tough, some luxuries such as gym memberships and healthy food seem unnecessary. There are plenty of ways you can stay in shape and healthy without spending money you don't have.
Gym vs. Do It Yourself
Gym memberships are definitely nice. They have great cardio equipment, weight benches and strength training machines. What gym owners don't want you to know is that you can get a good workout in your own home or in the park.
The easy part is replacing your cardio. Whatever you do at the gym can be done outside. Doing your cardio outside isn't as easy but you usually get a better workout in the real world. It's a lot harder to run up and down hills than on a treadmill. You can also bike, swim, play basketball or even mow your lawn.
The strength training equipment is a bit harder to replace. Some days you might feel like there's no good alternative to a squat rack or bench press. There are however a few options you can use to save money if you're willing to make some sacrifices.
You can spend a bit of money at your local sports store. You can buy some dumbbells to do exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, overhead presses, lateral/side raises, bicep curls, tricep extensions, chest presses (assuming you have a bench-like piece at home). If you're a guy that does very heavy weight, you probably won't save a lot of money if you want to build yourself a home gym, at least not in the short term. If you do high repetitions with lower weights, a few dumbbells will really help. Remember, you only need the weights you use, not every single weight a typical gym carries.
You can also replace some strength training machines with body weight exercises. Push ups, pull ups (done at the park on a pull up bar or at home with a door frame bar), sit ups, body weight squats and lunges. You can get creative to mimic the motion you do at the gym.
A harder task to accomplish is cutting your grocery bill while keeping your intake of healthy foods high. Start by cutting out all brand name items. If you can find an item that is offered in a generic or store brand, by it instead. Usually, there's a small taste difference but the large price difference more than makes up for that.
If you can afford to, fresh produce is the way to go. If you can't afford to buy fresh ones, consider frozen or canned produce. Canned fruits and vegetables typically have added sugar, salt and preservatives. In addition, to help increase the shelf life, they are pasteurized which can sometimes affect the nutrient quantity. On the other hand, they are extremely cheap and still a relatively healthy snack.
A can of corn that has four or five servings can cost well under a dollar while a fresh cob of corn will cost about one dollar. You should also look for fruits and vegetables that are in season. You can tell what is in season by the sales that grocery stores have. Because produce that is in season is in high supply, stores almost always lower prices to get them out the door before they spoil. Anything under $1/pound is usually a good deal. Frozen produce is also cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables.
Cook Your Own Food
If you don't know how to cook, now is the time to start learning. Processed foods that are frozen and only require some oven time are a lot more expensive than buying individual ingredients and cooking from scratch. Buy a cookbook, recipes are easy to follow, even if you're a beginner. Buying foods that are prepared and frozen is like paying someone to do all the cooking for you. Can you really afford to hire a personal chef?
Cooking food yourself is also a lot healthier than buying food that is already made. Those processed foods are high in sodium and other preservatives that aren't healthy.
Whenever anything is on sale that isn't perishable, buy more than you need. You can leave some items in your pantry for long periods of time and most other foods can be frozen until you're ready to eat them (bread, meat, cheese).
The Bottom Line
These are just a few suggestions to get you started on saving money during any recession (or a tough economic time) our economy is facing. Some of these methods can and should be used all the time to save money while staying healthy. Remember that while cutting certain expenses to save money in the short term may seem like a good idea, sacrificing your health to save a few bucks can seriously effect your health down the road (if you keep those unhealthy money saving habits long term).