5 Tricks that Kept Me Healthy When I Was Broke

Jacob Warwick
by Jacob Warwick
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5 Tricks that Kept Me Healthy When I Was Broke

I recently made a career shift that resulted in a new full-time job, but, during the transition, there was a time when I had no income—or any money at all for that matter. Aside from being more than a little disconcerting, I allowed this stress to affect my healthy lifestyle negatively. It pained me to let my gym membership fizzle and lower my food standards, but life has a way of interrupting our plans.

This small turmoil did get me thinking: How much of my healthy lifestyle is directly related to my income or budget?

As I really started to think about it, budget should not affect my ability to be a healthy individual. Yet budget is one of the most common pain points I hear when I talk to folks about embarking on their own health journeys.

Sometimes it can be difficult enough to find the motivation to make healthy lifestyle changes, and the last thing that we need is to add the stress of money concerns. I offer an alternative solution: drop the economic dependency, and change your mindset.

Let’s go over a list of things that you need to survive and be healthy:

  • A positive attitude
  • Essentials such as: shelter, food, water, clothing (although some of these may be debatable)

Now let’s take a look at a list of things you don’t need:

  • Diet pills, supplements
  • Liposuction, tummy tucks, spot removal or wraps
  • An iPod or pricey fitness videos
  • A gym membership
  • Diet food, low-carb options, enhanced protein products, etc.

I don’t intend to bad mouth any of the items on the aforementioned list; in fact, listening to a paid workout playlist, and eating non-GMO and organic food has helped me stay focused and feel more healthy. However, if lacking any of these luxuries is an excuse to put off your health journey for another day, I ask that you look elsewhere.

The key to your lifelong health and fitness comes down to finding a combination of good habits that works best for you and your situation. If you aren’t blessed with a blossoming money tree in the backyard, then to hell with it! You can use your circumstances to fuel your motivation and drive onward.

I have used affordability as an excuse for far too long, but I have found a pretty good system that works for me at my current financial state. I welcome you to try some of these tips when looking to save an extra buck.

Buy Sale Items in Bulk

Cutting coupons has never been for me, but when I walk past a good deal on canned beans or whole-grain rice in the market, I pick up as much as I can afford. Although you may spend more initially, when it’s three days before payday and you’re hungry, you have a healthy option to eat rather than settling for a value menu and crushing your dieting goals.

Buy Frozen Produce

Sure, buying organic produce and supporting your local farmer’s market would be ideal, but sometimes this isn’t always within our budgets or time commitments. Frozen vegetables can be as nutritious or more nutritious than their fresh counterparts and, aside from being budget-friendly, they practically last forever.

My favorite parts of buying frozen produce:

  • Measure correct portions easily
  • Find great deals on bulk items
  • Prep work is slim to none
  • Toss frozen fruit easily into a smoothie
  • Toss frozen veggies into an omelet, stir-fry, soup or crockpot

Plan Your Meals and Prep Ahead of Time

This definitely didn’t come easily for me until I found a pretty lazy solution to accomplish this: the crockpot. Typically, I’ll spend my Sunday slow cooking 10 pounds of chicken to toss into various meals throughout the week. Whenever I’m finished making the recipe, I divvy up the portions and freeze the meals I plan on having later in the week.

This can not only make logging your meals very easy, but can also save you money throughout the week since you’ve already done the preparation and won’t need to eat out. Try a few different prep options until you find one that works best for you. If you have a large family, you may need to plan additional meals to serve everyone’s needs.

Value Shop Your Gym Membership

Gyms can be a very expensive regimen. Fortunately, gyms often offer seasonal incentives to bring new members on board. Be wary of signing your life away to a one-year membership or any fixed term with a convoluted cancellation policy—these can be a total nightmare and cost a fortune.

If a gym membership isn’t within your budget, consider visiting a college campus or park with a track or recreational sports fields. Grab some friends, the kids, or just go alone, and get active for free.

Just Keep It Simple

If budgeting is adding stress to your health and fitness goals, be honest with yourself and question if you really need all of the fitness luxuries that we are often told we need. Consider cutting back to your bare minimum—can you still accomplish your goals? Of course you can.

I recommend finding any of the free motivation around you: fitting into a smaller pair of jeans, keeping up with your grandkids, being a positive influence on your family, impressing your spouse, or surprising your doctor at your next check-up. Ongoing health and wellness isn’t about your paycheck, past, or anyone’s opinion—it’s about getting what you want without reservation.


To readers from Jacob: Thanks everyone for the overwhelming feedback and support from What to Do When the Scale Won’t Budge. For those keeping score at home, I made a career transition, and am now a full-time writer.

I want to thank everyone again for keeping up with my story and sharing my articles. The feedback that I have gotten from the MyFitnessPal community has motivated me to become a better person each and every day. Those of you whom have reached out and shared your personal stories with me have been especially exciting, and I could not have asked for a more awesome community to support. Until next time, stay motivated and stay healthy, my friends.

About the Author

Jacob Warwick
Jacob Warwick

Jacob Warwick has transformed his life by tackling a variety of fitness and nutrition goals while motivating colleagues and friends to do the same. He works as a marketing professional, and manages personal branding at ThinkWarwick. To contact Jacob, visit him on LinkedIn or Twitter.


39 responses to “5 Tricks that Kept Me Healthy When I Was Broke”

  1. Avatar Julia Zimmermann says:

    Thanks for the tips! One quick question: you mention that on Sunday’s you slow cook 10 pounds of chicken to toss into various meals throughout the week. Can you share your recipe for that?

    • To be honest, I do not have much of a recipe for it. Just add enough water to cover the chicken and cook for 4-6 hours. They key is to do it on a low temperature. I don’t add seasoning prior, because I toss the chicken in with meals and season accordingly. You can add a variety of spices or sauces to change it’s identity; however, my focus is on keeping it from being too dry.

  2. Yay for frozen veggies! It took some willpower when I was in this predicament to ignore the fact that a certain very popular noodle brand was 45 cents per package. (What a bargain!) But frozen veggies are just as good a bargain, especially when it comes to Volumetrics (when your meal takes up more space your brain convinces you that you are full). To this day I relish the fact that frozen veggies are often 10 for $10. On Sundays I steam a pound of veggies so I’ll have something quick and easy for those nights I get home late, famished. Toss a bowl-full in the microwave, add parm/garlic salt and try not to snack on anything as they’re heating up.

    • Avatar Catherine Kalberg says:

      I put low sodium heart health red sauce (45 call per half cup!) On my veggies when my kids eat their pasta. It’s surprisingly satisfying if you are in the mood for pastas. Add a little parm and… heaven!

  3. Avatar lwright311 says:

    Dollar stores and 99¢ Stores offer lots of healthy food including nuts,frozen fruits and veggies, eggs, and milk. Just be careful that the packages aren’t tiny. Also, I buy exercise videos on eBay and Amazon for about $4 including shipping. Or the public library has lots of exercise books or there are even free workout apps and youtube videos. I have not joined a gym in many years because we live in the boonies. But when I lived in town the YMCA is good bargain.

  4. Avatar Natasha M says:

    Thank you for posting this! It’s a great motivation for someone like myself that’s on a budget but still wants to be healthy and fit. It’s so easy to make excuses and get off track (speaking for myself of course) so its nice to have a reminder that it is very possible and favourable to save a buck and not bargain your health!

  5. Avatar Mai Linna says:

    Back to the jungle with ye…

  6. Avatar Mary Salvati says:

    Hi Jacob! I just read your blog post and really enjoyed it! So I decided to check out all of the others you had written previously for MyFitnessPal. You’re story is so inspiring! I’m so glad I found your blog posts because not only are they well written, but they are also very motivational! I love the advice you give on setting big and small goals (definitely will keep that in mind!), along with simple ways to save money while still enjoying healthy foods and good fitness choices. I have always been pretty active, but just recently in the past year I became aware of how important it is to follow a healthy diet. I’m so glad I found MyFitnessPal because it is truly an amazing app! All my friends and family use it! As a ballet dancer, I have learned that eating a healthy diet really helps keep myself feeling my best! (Although occasionally I will cave and have a small bowl of raspberry cheesecake gelato!) Working out and following a healthy diet makes me feel so much happier and healthier. Now my confidence is boosting, whether I’m performing a routine or just hanging out with friends! I can’t wait to start setting big and small goals for myself! Thanks again for your awesome articles and motivating words! I look forward to your next post. 🙂

    • Thank you for the kind words Mary and I appreciate you diving into some of the other posts I’ve written. To be honest, comments like these keep me motivated, it’s pretty difficult for me to justify skipping the gym when I want to be the best influence possible.

      Have a great Tuesday!

  7. Avatar Yvette Richardson says:

    “Surprise your doctor at your next visit.” This one is fun to do!

  8. Avatar My Name Is Oliver Queen says:

    If you are broke towards the end of the month, I wouldn’t be looking at ways to keep healthy but at my bloody spending patterns for the rest of the month!!! You don’t need someone to tell you that & if you do then you shouldn’t be allowed to have bills, property, car, etc!!!! We are on a limited income in this household, but we still have money left over at the end of the month and do not go without meat or branded produce. We don’t waste our money on things that we don’t need, that is all!!!

  9. Avatar Jessica Carreras says:

    I buy fresh vegetables and fruits in bulk when they’re on sale, then cut them up and store them in the freezer. We had strawberries for smoothies all winter, and only paid $1/pound!

  10. Avatar MawMaw says:

    Ugh. I’m getting tired of the no excuses brigade. Paraphrasing no excuses once would have been more than enough. After a certain point it doesn’t feel so much encouraging as it does judgmental. And I budget strictly and make sure to prioritize healthy eating and fitness.

    Frankly you didn’t really have any excuse to be broke when you made that career shift. As a responsible adult you should have had an emergency fund (3-6 mo living expenses) and a fund for that career shift because people usually plan a career shift.
    As someone who grew up on a very tight budget, none of this is new nor that inspiring. It’s probably helpful for younger people that don’t financially plan well because they’ve never bothered to learn.

    • Avatar Tony Choi says:

      Not everything you planned work out the way you wanted. This is just some ideas to share to others. Say something positive, please.

      • Avatar MawMaw says:

        Not everything has to be positive. It’s nice that this article can help those in similar situations or as a starting point and I’ll admit maybe I wasn’t the nicest. I reacted more to the times the article framed it as you don’t have an excuse because I’m really starting to get tired of that. If you’re going to say no excuses be prepared for someone to say the same to you.

        And yes things often don’t work out as you plan them but that’s typically the point of efunds and budgeting to ensure that if they don’t you still have a safety net. Some people are SOL, but I’m doubtful it was the case here. Your financial habits are as much a part of your physical, emotional, and mental health as your fitness and your nutrition habits.

        • As a 25 year old, I’d agree that I should have more in savings, yet that wasn’t the case, instead I was in the hole about fifteen thousand.

          This article was written for folks who are not financially stable, regardless of age, poor financial planning, or other circumstances. However, you do bring up important points, and I agree that the “no excuses brigade” can be frustrating in the wrong context. I appreciate your feedback and will consider these points when moving forward.

    • Avatar Heather Myers says:

      Love your holier-than-thou attitude, thank you so much. This blog is for people who may have let things get a little off course, or may have never been on a good one to begin with, and I find it very encouraging. Since you seem to have it completely together and require no support, maybe you should spend your time elsewhere.

      • Avatar MawMaw says:

        Relax. I stated I didn’t put it the nicest way. I admitted to that. My tone wasn’t spiteful just annoyed. I also stated what exactly bothered me about the article. I didn’t intended to come of holier than thou just wanted to convey my annoyance with a certain aspect that I often find holier than thou. My intention was to be critical not mean. I was rude though. I still find it an important point.

        And yeah I care about financial planning. It’s what allowed me to prioritize fitness and figure out how to live a nutritious healthy lifestyle. But you’re correct that this probably isn’t the best forum for such criticism.

        • I wouldn’t shy away from strict criticism, it’s appreciated.

          As a writer, it’s important to receive this feedback to create more rounded pieces moving forward. Thank you @disqus_O9FmkTd2fH:disqus

          • Avatar Heather Myers says:

            Those are both good points, and I don’t disagree that financial planning is a good idea; she just sounded rather judgemental, without seeming to take into account that everyone’s situation is different and she is obviously not aware of the circumstances and reasons certain choices were made. Points well taken though, and I am working on all of that.

          • Avatar MawMaw says:

            …Yeah I am aware of the circumstances and reasons certain choices can be made by various groups of people. You don’t fully understand what I’m reacting too. I’ve admitted I wasn’t nice about it and I’ll admit further that what I took offense to in his article was not a big deal in this specific instance. I’ve just been seeing a lot of it lately that I took it out on Jacob here.

            I pointed out what I took issue with, the “No Excuses” mantra that I keep seeing. It isn’t necessarily as motivating as people want to think, but rather judgmental and yes comes off holier than thou. I mentioned I was rude, but still feel I was making an important point as to how obnoxiously judgmental it can be when I pointed out something he could have done that easily can be a “No Excuses” issue (and yes it can. Visit a boglehead, budgeting, personal finance forum and it’ll be one of the first things you learn). I’m just not a fan of “No Excuses” because fitness enthusiasts who use this line often turn into judgmental people who are incapable of understanding other’s situations. It’s supposed to be something that motivates you to prioritize your health and fitness, not an indictment of someone else’s character.

            You’re still right it’s not the best place for such criticism.

          • Avatar Heather Myers says:

            I fully understand what you’re reacting to since you made it perfectly clear in your responses. I’m just saying that you came across a certain way in your original comment, just as you are saying that Jacob came across a certain way. I disagree with his blog sounding judgmental, as I did not take it that way at all. This just goes to show how things can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It is all said and done now, and this proves that I should also work on not jumping to conclusions when there is a possibility that I am incorrect in my interpretation of someone else’s statement or actions.

          • Look at all of these reasonable conversations online. Humanity should be proud. Thank you both for the genuine conversation. No hard feelings.

          • Avatar MawMaw says:

            I’m 25 and fully aware of how tough it is at a young age to get to a place of financial stability, so I apologize for my rude example. It wasn’t nice. I had a visceral reaction to your article because I grew up hand to mouth and any sign of no excuses felt like the cliche of “poor are lazy.” Apologies.

    • Avatar Brandi Marie Keith says:

      I think it’s ironic that you mention you didn’t like the feeling judgement on perceived excuses and then judged the author and young people in general on finances. It’s a broad brush to paint everyone with.

    • Avatar barbwire13 says:

      who’s being judgemental

  11. Avatar lrm710 says:

    Seems like common sense to me. I also despise smoothies.

  12. Avatar Aimeepie says:

    We buy reduced meat whenever we see it, portion it up into enough for one meal and freeze. Saves spending a fortune on smaller convenient packs of meat as and when.

    Also, I have a yoga mat, exercise bike and some weights that cost me approximately £55 ($80) – the same price as some of my friends pay for a months gym membership and I don’t even have to leave the comfort of my living room…

  13. Avatar Yetunde says:

    For the workout videos bit, you could always try finding workouts on YouTube. My favorite is Fitness Blender. Over 500+ workouts, so I don’t get bored and no excuses. And it’s all free too!

  14. Avatar Kim Freedman says:

    I’ve always found that having no money to eat out and lots to time to run (and not a lot of money for other entertainment) makes me skinny and fitter. It’s not my favorite diet but its very effective.

  15. Avatar carla giovanella says:

    I loved this post! Thank you so much

  16. Avatar Karyn Beach says:

    If you live near a Farmer’s Market, buy your produce there. It is fresh, it is local and cheap compared to most grocery stores.

  17. Avatar Stace says:

    I don’t understand what eating non-GMO and organic has to do with being healthy?

  18. Avatar Nicole says:

    You can easily buy good healthy food cheap! Take porridge oats for example, one of the most unprocessed easily prepared foods, I picked up 1k just last week for 75p – and I’m pretty sure you can find it even cheaper than that! Ofc the banana and syrup I like to put with it isn’t so cheap, but anyway Humans are good at adapting to the situations around them..

  19. Avatar Anne Marie Lowndes says:

    Just read the Fitness Pal blog! So inspiring! I am a 58 year old (young?) lady and am careful of what I eat which is why I guess I am still a size 8 at around 8 stone-no I rarely weigh myself. When people comment ‘your’e so lucky to be so slim’they obviously don’t realise that it is all to do with MINDFULNESS of what you put into your body and of course portion control. I love walking and as I don’t drive carry some pretty hefty bags-so no bingo wings! It’s all about looking after yourself and enjoying your food-yes even chocolate (horror!) All in moderation and keep active I say so no faddy diets and just being happy!

  20. Avatar J says:

    I call it “cutting” but really I’m just broke haha 😀

  21. Avatar Dwight Von Heeder says:

    My Family and I live in a retirement center. I’m suppose to change my lifestyle by eating more healthy. The Dr. put me on the South Beach Diet 2 years ago and I lost 30 pounds. We moved into the retirement center about then and when we moved in I got off of the diet and gained the 30 + more. I have no control over what we have to eat. We eat what we have or we don’t eat. We have a lot of corn and starches. We have a salad bar but it’s basically the same every time. I am prediabetic and am trying to keep from getting full blown diabetes. I contacted SBD on Facebook and they advised me to exercise more. I have been doing that and I walk so much that some of my friends think I need to enroll in a marathon. I weigh 190 as of this morning and the Dr. wants me at 170. Nothing I’m doing is making my weight budge. We get less than $100.00 a month to spend on ourselves. I can identify with how to stay healthy when you are broke. I have to take 2 pain meds an antidepressant and 2meds for my stomach and 3 different vitamins twice a day. Does anyone have any suggestions. I have even been watching my portions when I eat. I am trying to take more time and chewing my food more to see if I can feel full sooner. I’m sorry I did not intend to get this strung out on this thing but I am at my wits end on this subject. Maybe I need to check into eating anonymous. Thank you for letting me vent. May the Lord bless you all today and always.

    • Avatar Mel says:

      Hi Dwight, find one protein from the dinner line and always get the salad bar. Ask for vinegar and oil dressing. Talk to the management or owners of the home you live in that you are paying for that you demand they serve healthier foods! Remember, you are paying them for a service! And if it doesn’t work, you can call the BBB as it is a business. I wish you the best in there and make the best of it. 🙂 do they have a pool? Could you break up your walking routine that way and try to get off some of your medications? Stay strong and keep fighting the good fight! -Mel

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