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How To Lose Weight on a Budget

So, 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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