I’m all about spending money where it matters: On my health and wellness. And as an endurance athlete, the amount of gear I could purchase is staggering—and I’ll be honest, I love a great new pair of bib shorts or a cool new running cap. So I would definitely not say that I’m the most bargain-hunt-y/penny-pinching athlete around. But I do realize that a lot of people can’t spend a ton of cash on monthly subscriptions to the gym or to fitness apps, or can’t afford the latest and greatest in gear. And eating all local grassfed organic all the time is brutal. With inflation driving up the cost of groceries (and everything else) and even used bikes costing as much as the new models used to, you might be in money-saving mode, especially as we head into the holiday season.
Free GPS Apps
This may sound a bit duh for most of you reading this, but new runners and cyclists may not be aware of how easy it is to log your runs and rides for free using just your smartphone. I know when I first started, smartphones weren’t an option and it felt like such a huge spend to buy a GPS watch (it was pricey at the time!), and I rarely ended up using it anyway. Even as a super serious ultra-runner, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I finally started using a GPS watch (the reasonably cheap $120 Garmin Forerunner 35). But before that, I ran strictly using a free app like Wahoo and Strava once they became available. (I’ve jumped between all of them depending on what I’m up to!)
I wrote a lot about ways to shop organic/local/ethical, from buying meat in bulk from a local farmer to growing your own veggies (even in an apartment) over on Outside’s website, but I know it can be a huge challenge even with all of that in place. Lately, I’ve been buying a ton more frozen organic veggies versus fresh ones, and that’s been a big cost-saving as well. Buying bulk is obviously awesome for things like rice and oats, and while the sticker price seems high on a massive bag of rice, it won’t go bad. (We eat a lot of potatoes we buy in bulk as well!) But another big thing for $$ saving in terms of healthy eating is consistency. With just a couple of spices (I’m loving everyday seasoning and chili lime from Trader Joes), you can shift the same basic ingredients into a bunch of different tastes and styles: Burgers and fries one day, a ground beef curry with potatoes the next, etc. Basically, have a set of ingredients that you can continually come back to so you’re not always buying new stuff for specific recipes, going out because you ‘don’t have anything to eat,’ or tossing stuff because you used it for one dish and then the rest of it went bad. We eat eggs + veggies and potatoes for breakfast, leftovers for lunch, and dinner is some protein + veggie + starch combo. By not wasting food or adding unplanned takeout/dinners out, you save a ton and eat healthier!
Camping gear can very quickly get expensive, but if you’re trying to save money and willing to deal with a bit of extra weight when you go, most of us can get out for a weekend hiking trip with stuff we already have in the house. Crappy old tent? Bring a tarp and some rope. The one we used for backpacking Algonquin a couple years back was a $15 tent from Walmart from 10 years ago, and it was fine with a tarp hung over it to ‘rain proof’ it. Hiking clothes = normal clothing. Camp meals = oatmeal, rice and whatever additions we had in the back of our pantry. And while camping in some parks can be pricey, freecampsites.net can show you where you can camp for little-to-no cost.
Free Meditation App
I’m going to come out and say it. I don’t like Headspace. I’m fine paying for something that works well for me, but I don’t think Headspace is the right call for me personally. And a lot of people feel that way but pay for it because it’s the obvious popular option. I HIGHLY recommend trying Oak, a free app that does guided, or just timed with white noise, meditations. Insight Timer is another awesome option that has a lot of great guided meditations. Both are great alternatives, and I feel calmer already knowing I’m saving $150/year.
Rethink Your Strength + Mobility Needs
That featured image above? The only weight I’ve used in the last three years has been a 20 pound dumbbell, plus a cheap $20 pull-up bar. No fancy gym required. My morning routine requires zero gear and I do it in my pajamas. You can get pretty damn strong on bodyweight alone! The same applies to yoga and mobility. There are cheap extras that help, like bands and a few weights, but really, you can get pretty far without any bells or whistles if you’re trying to save $$. (Need help with things like yoga? Don’t forget we have plenty of free videos for yoga + strength for endurance athletes here!)
Hydration on the Cheap
Mason jar = your new eco-friendly water bottle. A squirt of lime and pinch of sea salt? Electrolytes mostly covered. I talk about this one a lot when going through daily self-care/good habits at schools and at shops, because it’s so easy, so cheap and so important. Carrying around a water bottle and sipping throughout the day so you start workouts fully hydrated is just good sense, but most of us end up guzzling water in huge chunks instead of casual sipping throughout the day.
Run / Ride Food on the Cheap
I would definitely sacrifice my training food before giving up certain quality groceries. By that, I mean shifting from gels, powders and bars to DIY ride and run food, like a flask of maple syrup, homemade rice bars, or my personal favorite, cookies that I bake at home. Often, these are tastier anyway, so I’m not missing much! The only caveat here is if you are prepping for a long race where you know digestion will be an issue, you should make sure at least some of your long efforts are fueled the way you plan to fuel on race day.
Figure Out the Must-Haves
For cycling, I would argue that you can go a very long time with bib shorts + your normal tops, tights, and other layers. The bib shorts, with the padded butt, are the essential piece to get you riding like a serious cyclist. For runners, that’s a decent pair of shoes: Not expensive, just ones that you can run in without blisters. The rest, shorts/top/cap, can come from stuff you already have lying around. As I’ve Kondo’ed a lot of my athletic gear and packed for trips that would take me away from home for 3 months of training, I’ve realized that most of my gear can double-duty (and that I have way too much excess). Jerseys can serve as run tops, leggings are for running and living—I don’t need separate types for each, rain jackets act as windbreakers and can go from biking to running to hiking to daily life. Basically, pare down to the lowest common denominators of what you need for the sport you’re doing.
Sometimes, simply organizing your gear and seeing what you already have—making it all easy to access and highly visible—can be better than a shopping spree! One caveat here: If you’re stressed about spending $$$ AND also want to pare down and organize your gear, consider packing away extras (like that 5th through 10th set of bibs) in a box labeled ‘Shop Me!’ Then, when you wear out a set of your shorts, you can ‘shop’ your old gear rather than buying new! There’s a fine line between decluttering for mental clarity but then donating/tossing still-good stuff that you’ll have to re-buy when you wear out your current favorites.
Say it with me… SLEEP
I’ve written a ton about the importance of sleep before but I’ll say it again. If there’s one thing that can make you more productive, alert, ready for training, etc., it’s getting enough sleep. And sleep is a free activity! (Even if you need to drop a few bucks on an eyemask and some ear plugs to get dark/quiet, that’s the cost of a coffee.) I know it’s often easier said than done, getting that 7 to 9 hours of sleep, but seriously, there is no supplement or buy-able product that will do as much for you as getting enough sleep will.
Support the places you do care about
So, all that money-saving is great, but I’ll throw a quick addendum in here. I’m all about cost-saving, but I also firmly believe in supporting places that provide you with value. If you find a ton of value on this site, check out our shop, or visit the Shred Girls site and check out the books and swag on there. Need coaching help? Peter’s got you. (And you can get personal coaching advice with a one-time consult if you’re on a budget!) Personally, I donate to outdoor causes I believe in, and support my friends like Sonya Looney and her Moxy + Grit apparel. You don’t have to do that stuff, obviously, but consider supporting the places that support you!
Free options for athletes? Seriously, the best thing you can do for your wellness has no cost. Get outside. Forget the expensive gym, forget the right gear, just get your ass out the door for a few minutes and go for a walk.
Have one to add? Drop it in the comments!