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You don’t have to starve your wallet to be healthy. Nutritious foods and healthy living has a bad reputation for being expensive, and that’s certainly true to some extent (hello, shopping at Whole Paycheck)! But you don’t have to spend a fortune to improve your health and feel better.

It only costs about an extra $1.50 a day to eat a healthy diet, according to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health. While that adds up to an impressive $2,200 a year for a family of four, a healthy diet will pay dividends for a lifetime. For less than the price of medium french fries or a small coffee, you can eat better and invest in your long-term health.

Being healthy and fit doesn’t have to be expensive — despite what $35 per class boutique fitness studios may lead you to believe. There are countless inexpensive ways to live a happier, healthier, and longer life. Here’s how:

Schedule free preventive care

Under the current Affordable Care Act, health plans must offer free preventive services such as:

  • many vaccines
  • diabetes screening
  • cholesterol tests
  • STD screenings

Check with your insurance provider to see what’s covered at no cost to you and make the appointment. It’s cheaper to head off problems before they start or grow into a serious medical condition.

Get a great deal on a gym membership

January is actually a terrible time to join a gym. Sure, the prices may be lower or some gyms may waive the initiation fee, but prices are often even better in the summer when fewer people are signing up. Plus, gyms are also packed at the start of the year — it’s all too easy to decide not to go so you don’t have to deal with the hordes.

Get a better deal by negotiating. Check out the offers at gyms in the area and pit them against each other to get a lower price. Local community center gyms often have the best deals in town and give you access to fitness classes and equipment. You may also have a slight advantage if you sign up toward the end of the month when the pressure’s on to meet sales quotas.

Or… skip it altogether

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Do pullups on the monkey bars. Run on your local trails. Hit the stairs at work for a lunchtime workout.

The whole world is your gym. Some community parks have easy to use equipment outside, or you can take advantage of the tennis courts, swimming pools, and fields around you. Or do it at home: Turn your house into your favorite fitness studio with free exercise videos and full yoga classes.

Get group fitness without the cost

Fitness is way more fun with a crew. Join a local running group or a free fitness group like the November Project, Shape Up NYC, or the Nike+ Training Club. Meetup also connects you with groups near you.

Local running stores and specialty sporting equipment shops are a great place to start. Many organize free groups or know the groups in the area personally. Pro tip: Many stores also offer free classes — just be sure to leave your credit card at home to avoid impulse buying those $99 yoga pants after your boot camp.

Check out local parks for pickup basketball, tennis, softball, and soccer games — and maybe even meet a new workout buddy or two.

Skip the green juice and moon dust

The latest and greenest food trends are often expensive. You don’t need to chug $10 worth of green sludge to be healthy.

Studies have shown that people who eat more whole fruits and vegetables tend to be healthier. You’ll help ward off chronic disease, fend off cancers, and maintain a healthy weight. Just add seasonal whole fruits and vegetables to each meal and call it a day.

Track activity with your phone

You don’t need a fancy gadget to count your steps or map your run — chances are you already have one in your pocket. Free apps can track your running, cycling, steps, and even daily calories.

A phone may not have the latest and greatest fitness tracking features, but it’ll at least give you an estimate of your activity and help you stay motivated — with so much convenience.

Tune in to calm

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Stress and anxiety can sabotage your health. Heart pumping, head throbbing stress does more than just make you feel like you’re going to implode.

From heartburn and muscle pain, to a missing sex drive, stress has severe impacts on the body. Reduce stress and anxiety by learning a handful of breathing techniques, going for a walk, or doing a mindfulness exercise. There are also countless free meditation and anxiety management apps to choose from. There are numerous ways to manage your stress, and you can find one that works for you.

Carry a water bottle

Replace juices, fancy coffees, and sugary drinks with water. You’ll save money and boost your overall health. It’s much easier to get enough water when you always have it on hand.

Most places in the United States have safe tap water, but a filter is still significantly cheaper — and better for the environment — than bottled water, if you’re worried about the water quality in your area.

Make fitness a part of your everyday routine

Fitness and exercise aren’t just something relegated to the gym. Your whole day is an opportunity to get your heart pumping and your muscles working. Take the stairs at the office, walk from store to store, or bike to short errands or to work.

Every small choice you make to be active has an impact on your body and your overall health.

Meal plan and prep

We throw out a staggering amount of food — approximately a quarter of what we put in our carts gets tossed. Unused food costs the average U.S. family of four between $1,365 to $2,275 a year according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. That’s a lot of money going right into the trash.

A realistic meal plan will help you prevent food waste and save money. Map out your meals and snacks for the week before heading to the store. Stick to your list to avoid spending extra on impulse buys. Prep your meals and snacks all at once to save time later and make it easier to stick with the plan and eat more nutritious foods.

Buy used gear

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Fitness equipment, sporting gear, and even key kitchen tools can be expensive. Save money and buy them used. Craigslist, Nextdoor, and eBay are great ways to get specialty equipment without the added cost.

Choose cheaper foods without sacrificing nutrition

A little price comparison can go a long way. Opt for in season fruits and vegetables, and don’t be afraid to venture into the frozen food aisle to save on produce. Big box stores may also have less expensive fruits and veggies.

If you can’t eat it all, try splitting your food haul with friends and family, or freezing any leftovers. Some local community supported agriculture (CSA) groups have less expensive, freshly-harvested produce, but you often don’t have control over what you get.

Farmer’s markets may also be less expensive, especially if you go toward the end of the day when prices are easier to negotiate. And the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can be used at some farmer’s markets and most chain grocery stores for healthy foods. There are numerous ways to eat healthy while staying on budget, so don’t give up.


It’s possible to feel and be healthy without spending an entire paycheck on gym memberships, ‘functional’ drinks, and a spot in the latest fitness craze. While there are plenty of free options, there’s also a time and place for a little bit of spending.

Investing in your health can save you in medical expenses later, improve your quality of life, and even help you live longer.

Mandy Ferreira is a writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s passionate about health, fitness, and sustainable living. She’s currently obsessed with running, Olympic lifting, and yoga, but she also swims, cycles, and does just about everything else she can. You can keep up with her on her blog and on Twitter.