Historically, I haven’t been one to shy away from the dessert table. Obsessed with all things sugary and delicious, I used to stuff my craw with any bit of junk food that came my way. The more chocolate, the better.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that my eating habits and sedentary lifestyle caused me to gain 30 pounds in 5 years. Yikes! Meanwhile, it seemed like the only thing that was getting lighter was my wallet.
Five months ago, I decided I needed a change. After a lot of work, I’ve lost 21 pounds to date—without spending a boatload of money. While weight loss is a deeply personal matter, here are the 6 tips I follow to keep my weight in check without busting my budget.
1 – See your doctor first. Seriously.
Yes, everyone tells you to see your doctor before changing your lifestyle. I feel like this is the advice that most of us just skip over because nobody wants to visit the doctor for something so mundane.
But guess what?
If you’re concerned about your weight (and especially with sudden weight gain or loss), there could be something medical going on.
Case in point: I went to the doc and found out I had thyroid problems. While my lifestyle wasn’t that great, I was also gaining weight because of a health condition. I would never have known that unless I went to my doctor first.
That means I would have wasted a lot of time & money trying to lose weight and likely wouldn’t have kept it off.
If you have insurance, you’ll likely be on the hook for a modest copay for a physical exam with your doctor. Take advantage of that!
Even if you don’t catch an underlying health condition, it’s still great to know your blood sugar, cholesterol, and other numbers before you start your journey.
So, please, if you have insurance, don’t skip this step.
2 – Eat more plants
I went vegan for my weight loss journey, but I promise I’m not trying to convert you. However, studies suggest that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet can have a positive effect on your weight loss goals.
When I’m busy stuffing my face with hummus and carrots, I’m too satiated to think about the chips that my husband is hiding in the pantry.
I’m able to avoid the high-calorie junk food by eating plants, which tend to be lower in calorie density (translation: they fill you up without a ton of calories).
Oh, and guess what? Whole grains and produce are cheaper than junk food and meat. If you make plants the star of your plate, you’ll likely lose some weight, feel better, and save money.
If you’re on a tight budget, you don’t need to buy organic produce, or even fresh produce. It’s okay to buy conventional produce, canned beans, and frozen berries. Just make sure to wash your fresh produce before you eat it and shoot for low-salt, BPA-free canned goods.
Again, I’m not here to convert you into veganism. You can still eat your steak; just make fruits and veggies the focus of most of your meals to save money while losing weight.
3 – Prep healthy snacks (and stop buying junk)
If you also struggle with your junk food demons, make it as difficult as possible for you to make poor food choices. For me, that meant:
- Not buying any junk food at the store: It’s hard for me to eat junk food if it isn’t in my house to begin with. That’s why I stopped buying Hostess Cakes and Cheetos at the grocery store. If I worked in an office, I would stop carrying loose change and dollar bills for the snack machine. It’s all about eliminating your access to convenient junk.
- Prepping healthy snacks: When healthy eating is as easy as eating junk food, it’s easier to lose weight. I prep all of my snacks for the next day while cooking dinner. This way, I just open the fridge and my healthy snacks are ready for eating. I even put them at eye level in the fridge so I won’t be tempted by anything else.
- Filling the fruit bowl: Keeping fresh fruit visible and available is not only cheap, but it can help you lose weight. My go-to cheap staples are apples, bananas, and clementines.
4 – Find joyful exercise
For me, diet was a huge part of my weight loss journey. But if you want a true lifestyle change that leads to weight loss, it’s important to embrace some kind of movement in your daily routine. Best of all, most exercise is free or very cheap!
What people don’t tell you is that exercise is hard. If I’m being honest, I’d rather do anything than exercise. But regular exercise can help you create a calorie deficit, which is an important part of losing weight.
The thing is, most of us don’t keep up with exercise because it isn’t fun. That’s why, if you’re trying to lose weight, you need to find a particular exercise that gives you joy (or that you can at least tolerate).
For me, that’s been:
- Walking: I go on a 40-minute walk every day during lunch. I don’t burn a crazy amount of calories, but it’s low impact, cheap, and gets me out of the house. If you’re just getting started, walking is a great beginner’s exercise. If you get bored, just create a fun playlist or listen to a podcast.
- Elliptical: I kick off my mornings with a 30-minute cardio session on my elliptical machine. Yes, I did buy an elliptical machine to have at home, but it made financial sense in my case since I’m a big elliptical fan and use it daily. If you’re currently pouring money into a gym membership and only use one machine every time, it might be cheaper to just buy the machine! Weigh the costs to see if the costs make sense. If you want a good deal on used equipment, look at Goodwill for exercise stuff before you buy it new.
- Dancing: Yes, dancing is great exercise and it’s free! If you like to boogie, check out The Fitness Marshall. I do his routines a few times a week and work up quite the sweat. You can even create a YouTube dance playlist for free (with ads), so this is a super affordable way to exercise at home on a budget.
While some people join a gym to lose weight, that didn’t work for me. I need as few obstacles to working out as possible, and that meant driving to the gym just wasn’t going to work out.
If you’re a gym person, though, try to go for more affordable gyms like Planet Fitness. Just read the fine print carefully; you don’t want to be on the hook for a membership if you aren’t going to use it enough. The YMCA also has affordable group classes if you want to work out with a group.
5 – Eat at home
On average, Americans spend $232 every month on takeout, eating over 18 meals a month away from home. That’s $2,784 a year out of your pocket. Plus, since the average takeout meal is 836 calories, you’re making it harder to hit your calorie deficit.
If you cook more plant-based meals at home (which tend to be cheaper and lower in calorie density), you can both save money and lose weight. It’s a win-win!
6 – Buddy up
Weight loss gets lonely, guys. When you’re the only one at the table who’s eating a salad and skipping dessert, it’s easy to feel like the odd one in your family or friend group.
In my experience, losing weight with a friend helps you overcome these feelings of isolation. Plus, it’s an essential way to stay accountable to your goals, which is a must if you want to lose weight!
Ask a good friend if they’ll hold you accountable. That could mean grocery shopping, cooking, or exercising together. It can also just be a quick weekly check-in over text.
Fortunately, buddying up is cheaper than signing up for Weight Watchers, so this approach will help you save money, too.
The bottom line
Weight loss is very personal. What worked for me might not work for you, but there are definitely hacks to weight loss without spending a lot of money.
You might need to change things up as you go, but eating more healthfully, exercising regularly, and sharing your goals with a friend can help you get on the right track.
Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for diet pills or a weight loss fad, follow these 6 frugal tips to get healthy on a budget.