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How To Lose Weight on a Budget

By David Bakke

lose weight on a budgetSo, summer time is here and if you haven’t done so already, now might be the time to try to shed some of these unwanted pounds around your waist line. As always, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing this. Actually, what I mean is that there is a wasteful way to do it and a “frugal” way. Since you’re reading this article, you probably want to hear the frugal way to do it.

My Own Little Roller Coaster

My weight has been a roller coaster over the past few years. When I worked in the restaurant business, it was never an issue because by working 70-80 hours per week, I was never overweight because I barely had time to eat. Getting out of the restaurant business was great, and working only 40 hours a week was great, but since then I have always struggled with my “spare tire.”

Two summers ago, I lost 35 pounds in the course of about three months. I put about 15 to 20 of it back on, but then took that off over the course of the last six months. I put another 8-10 back on, and am about to get back on track again. I think I still have about 7 to 8 pounds to go. So, as you can see, although I am by no means an expert, I have been down this road a time or two and I think I can give you some good tips and strategies about how to do it as inexpensively as possible.

There are two ways to impact your physical weight. One is to start and maintain an exercise program, and the second is to either reduce or alter the foods that you eat. Regarding an exercise program, my advice is simple. Sure, you could go out and sign up for some overpriced gym membership where you’ll pay whether you go to the gym or not. You could even go out and buy one of those overpriced videos I see on TV like “Get fantastic abs in 30 days” or any one of the many other ones out there, but is it worth it?

Why Not Do It For Free?

Better yet, why not do it all for free? I did it almost all for free. During my two major weight loss stints, I did all of my exercising without spending any money, besides about $10 that I spent on a used set of dumbbells. Let me give you a few insights:

  • All of your walking and running can be done in your own neighborhood or at the very least, a nearby park. 
  • Sit-ups, pushups, jumping jacks, and twists can all burn a great deal of calories and can obviously be done for free at home. There is a great deal of other “do-at-home” exercises that are effective as well.
  • You do not need any kind of large set of weights to accomplish weight loss. If you are trying to strength train, that is one thing, but to lose weight, a light set of dumbbells strategically thrown into certain exercises can increase your calorie burning.
  • Unless you “need” to be seen or have some addiction to checking yourself out in the mirror while you work out, you certainly don’t need a gym membership to lose weight.

What and How Much You Eat

The other aspect that has an even bigger impact on your physical health is what you eat and how much you eat.

During my 35 pound weight loss of a few years ago, the biggest thing I did back then was to completely eliminate sweets. I had “almost” eliminated them before but was able to knock them out completely that time. This goes to a very simple point that affects both your weight and your wallet. The less you eat, the less you need to buy. The less you need to buy, the more you save.

Additionally, another thing that allowed me to take off so much weight in such a short period of time was the fact that I made myself a big salad which I always ate before eating my main course. And I mean a big salad. And no, it was not covered in some highly caloric salad dressing. There are a variety of low-cost low calorie options for tossed salads. The best of which is nothing, or just a dash of vegetable oil. Trust me, it still gives you enough flavor. Another thing I did from time to time was to squeeze half an orange over my veggies. (Quick side tip: When you’re hungry for a snack throughout the day, instead of looking for chips or sweets, mix some yogurt with either granola or frozen fruit. It’s delicious, fills you up, and is a very healthy option.)

Next, I replaced as much meat, chicken and fish as I could with fresh fruits and veggies. In the grand scheme of things, fresh fruits and veggies are less expensive. I am sure that you could give me examples of some individual veggies that are more expensive than ground beef, but all I know is that during my latest weight loss of about 20 pounds, our household had gone to almost a completely “vegan” diet.  We completely eliminated meat, chicken and fish from our diet. I was skeptical at first, but it worked. It worked on two fronts. I lost 20 pounds in about 3 months, and it also decreased our monthly grocery bill. This also involved buying a lot of organic vegetables. If you don’t feel the need to go “organic,” your savings should be even bigger.

And if you can find a local farmer’s market to pick up these fruits and veggies, I think you’ll be shocked at some of the prices you can find. Since we discovered ours several years ago, we probably do 70% of our weekly shopping there. Sally wrote a recent article on ways to save on fresh fruits and vegetables.

I think what also helped in my savings is that I no longer needed a lot of “other” ingredients to prepare my food. If you increase fruits and veggies in your diet, a lot of these foods are eaten “as is.” Meaning, most fruits are eaten as they are themselves. A lot of fresh vegetables are going to be eaten either raw or steamed. What I found is that I really didn’t need to buy things like cooking oil, bread crumbs, fresh garlic, and other condiment-type things. I did not keep track with any kind of hard data how this affected our monthly grocery budget, but I can tell you is that it went down and has stayed down.

Double Your Pleasure

So if you can incorporate these three measures into your weight loss plan: skip the health club, eliminate the junk food and liquids completely, and beef up (so to speak) the fruits and veggies in your life, I think you can kill two birds with one stone by slimming down your waist line and fattening up your wallet. Do you have a “frugal” weight loss plan that worked for you? Please share with our readers below.

(photo credit: alancleaver)

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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  • http://www.abczoohome.com Amanda

    For those who want a customizable, structured, community program, try sparkpeople.com. It’s completely free and has a lot of tools and support available for any area of weight loss and health improvement.

    On another note: I was shocked at the prices at our farmers’ market, that’s for sure. $30 goes FAST, and if we increased our fresh fruits and vegetables from there to even twice a day it would run well over $100 a week I’m sure. I still go; they have some great stuff; but I’m under no illusions that I’m saving money. I’ll pay less for seasonal but not local fruit in the grocery store than I will the local findings at the market.

    • David Bakke

      Amanda:

      I am really surprised at the prices you found at your farmer’s market. I’ve shopped at several over the years and have always been able to save over going to my natioanl grocer.

      Great link on weight loss too–thanks!

  • Amanda

    This quote “The less you eat, the less you need to buy. The less you need to buy, the more you save.” does not encourage a healthy eating style – “eat less” is never a good motto to give people who are trying to lose weight.

    • David/moneycrashers

      Amanda

      I understand you point completely, and I should have been clearer on mine.

      What I meant by that was to eliminate certain types of eating, like junk food and other sugary foods. And to replace them with fresh fruits and other healthier choices

  • Tina

    Do you have any tips for a college student? I am finding i am eating a lot of carbs because i can bring that from home and wont go bad. The only meat i eat is canned tuna for the same reason and fruits and veggies are out of my price range when i barely have enough money for gas to get to school.

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com David/moneycrashers

      Tina

      Are you sure that fruits and veggies are out of your budget? I recently became a vegetarian and was surprised to see the reduction in my monthly grocery bill.

      I look forward to your response, an thanks for commenting

      • Tina

        Yeah i am sure. 95% of my food is what i have brought from home and that is all nonperishables.

        • David Bakke

          Tina

          What about your on-campus cafeteria? I remember mine having a pretty economical program, and they offered a variety of fruits and veggies.

          I might be stretching, ubt I’m just trying to help with a solution.

  • Tina

    at my college you even if you are on a meal plan you get very little as you get your plate of food or whatever then swipe your card. that is if you have a meal plan which i dont. they do have a few veggies but not much. I am not trying to be difficult its just the way things are.

    • David Bakke

      Tina

      You just may have stumped me…I wish I could be of more help.

      Do you work? Maybe you could pick up a part time job somehwhere to get some extra money coming in and maybe that would free up more food options. Let me know what you think…

  • Anne

    I’m not sure how old this article is, but any suggestions on how to lose weight on a budget working 70 hours a week? I know it sounds like I should be making enough money to not have to be on a budget, but unfortunately, NJ prices are astonishingly ridiculous.

    I try to get fresh fruits and veggies on Sundays (my only day off), but they go bad by the end of the week, and I literally work 9am-midnight most days. I try to eat whole grains (more filling), and stay away from fatty foods. I’ve swapped out most meats for a little bit of peanut butter (in rationed portions to avoid fat) on an apple or celery. My Mondays/Tuesdays are usually pretty good, Wednesday sometimes, but by Thursday/Friday/Saturday, I’m back to eating mostly carbs b/c of lack of time to grocery shop. i don’t like keeping leftovers more than 2 days, so it seems impractical to make a huge meal on Sunday to last past Tuesday/Wednesday.

    A little background: I lost 35 lbs between July and November, and now I’m holding steady at that. I am looking to continue losing another 25. Any suggestions?

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com David/moneycrashers

      Anne

      First of all, congrats on the weight loss!! A few summers ago, I lost about 35 pounds and the self-esteem boost was tremendous.

      Anyways, you present an interesting situation. Without totally knowing your case, here is what I would suggest—do you have any type of 24-hour gorcery store at your disposal? If so, use them. Second, making “batches” of certain meals, freezing them and then thawng them out used to work wonders for me.

      Besides that, the only other help I could offer would be “healthy food” frozen options such as the line of products by the same name (healthy foods) which I have used before.

      Please keep me updated on your situation, as I would love to be of service.

      And again, great job on the weight loss!!

      David

  • maoni

    hi! I was wondering if you have any advice for me. I am a full time college student working 20 hours a week at a grocery store. I am 200lbs and need to lose about 60lbs. I want to have it gone by my 21st birthday (a year from next week). I am on a very, very tight budget (like $30/week for groceries)…

    • Davidbakke

      Maoni

      Introduce as many fresh fruits and veggies as you can, and stay away from rep-packaged, processed foods. It involves more time in the kitchen, but it’s a healthier diet. Sit down and write out an organized home exercise regimen. I currently walk in my neighborhood for 30 minutes per day, and I’m also doing situps, pushups, jumping rope, and a few other activities. Get a copy or two of your Sunday paper each week, set up a filing system, and cut out and use all the coupons you can. Hope that helps…

  • Ashley

    I like your story… but a lot of what you say is common sense but common sense isn’t that common lol. but im interested in losing weight as well.. but i just cant seem to get motivated or stick to it. and i love meat so much thats its difficult for me to give that up and im not a veggie person unless dipped in a lot of ranch =) but ill get motivated eventually i hope. just hope its soon. but i appreciate you telling your story. it helps.

    Ashley

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