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Frugal Family Fitness: 8 Tips For Having More Fun Together On Less

by Sarah on March 15, 2011

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If there are two things that can cost a bundle – it’s kids and fitness equipment.

Put the two together and you might worry you’re about to head way over your frugal family budget.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Certainly, when it comes to family fitness, I recommend you invest in a few pieces of key equipment.  Some of these recommendations will give you some great options – and even help you save money in the long run.

But do it strategically and you can keep it within budget.

For years we’ve lived extremely frugally – and I mean frugally! Yet we’ve managed to get lots of activity in together as a family.  Here’s how to do it . . .

Frugal Family Fitness Tip #1: Keep It Simple

I’ve already talked about how keeping exercise simple makes it easier to stay fit as a family. But it works for keeping it within budget too.

Plan simple activities – like hiking and walks.  As I mentioned before a simple game of freeze tag or turning on the music and dancing in the living room can give you the best workout without the cost.

Go back to simple calisthenics.  Jumping jacks, push ups, and jump rope can all give you a killer workout in your spare 10 -15 minutes if you need to add on a little extra after playing with the kids.  No special weight machines needed.

Frugal Family Fitness Tip #2: Use The Gym Strategically

Along the same lines, we rarely belong to a gym.  Unless you’re fanatical, it’s really hard to make it worth the money for a family.  Plus, trucking everyone and their essential stuff to and from the gym makes it less likely you’ll go at all. You’ll get more exercise staying at home and fitting fitness in wherever you can fit it. (A key strategy of Fit Family Together!)

On the other hand, there are times when it makes sense to have a strategic membership. For a couple years, before we got more into outdoor winter activities, we signed up at a local gym for 3 months during winter.  It was a welcomed relief from cabin fever and a great way to get moving when we were stuck indoors.

Better yet, with only 3 months of gym time, it stayed novel and exciting. We were all more motivated to make the schlep over there and use each and every aspect of the facility. We got our money’s worth!

You might find the same is true in the summer when there are just so many activities – swim lessons, etc.- available at a gym that it just makes sense.

But think carefully – gym memberships for families can often get in the way of regular exercise together.  Not help it.  Be wary of leaning too heavily on the gym’s child care services and missing out on family fitness activities.

Frugal Family Fitness Tip #3: Be Creative

For a long time getting a workout meant going for a jog – that’s it.  Boorring!

If there’s one thing that you learn from kids, anything can become an exploration of what the body is capable of.  (Including weird noises!)

Follow your children’s lead.  If they’re having a blast jumping up and down the stairs, try it.  You’ll get a great leg workout.  If they’re hanging off the couch backward, arching their back as they stick out their tongue – try it.  Take that yoga guru!

If they decide to walk to the store in a really funny way, wiggling your but or high-stepping it – try it.  You’ll discover entirely new muscles doing “funny” walks.

And use what you have around the house.  Do curls with soup cans, make a set of stepping stones to leap around to with your living room throw pillows.  Create an obstacle course in your back yard using garden hoses, a few found junk tires, and your imagination.

Frugal Family Fitness Tip #4: Invest In Some Key Equipment

Spending money on good fitness equipment can bring you big savings in the long term – plus much more incentive and capacity to really do some family activities.

I’ve given more thorough reviews on some of our standby’s:

A good baby carrier backpacks to take little ones on adventurous hikes – or down the block to pick up groceries.

A nice jogger’s stroller with good safety setups (like handbrakes).  Not only are these great for jogging, but they also can usually handle more terrain than your average stroller making them ideal for a back-country walk.

And, while I don’t advise this unless you’re extremely skilled, we used ours with roller blades too.

Some home gym equipment like a treadmill.  I strongly objected when my husband first suggested it – but it was the best thing for sneaking in an extra 15 minutes of intervals that supplemented our family activities.  You can get a good one for way less than the annual cost of a gym membership – and you’ll use it so much more!

Good bike accessories for taking everyone on the road – a child bike seat, trail-a-bike for when they’re a bit bigger and finally a trail-gator for moderate independence.  Invaluable for hitting the road at all ages.

While some of these you can get used, I highly suggest you look at used equipment along these lines very carefully since your child’s safety depends on it.  Check the brakes thoroughly.  Examine every bolt and even take it for little test ride without a child so you can see how it holds up after hitting a few bumps.

And when it comes to skis, bikes, boots, soccer balls, cleats, and all of that, here are two other suggestions to keep the costs down . . .

Frugal Family Fitness Tip #5: Buy Used

While I suggest using some caution when it comes to used sports equipment, especially for kids, it’s one of the best option in many cases.

We regularly outfit in soccer cleats and snowpants found at the Goodwill store.

We’ve found great skiing and snowboarding deals at a local ski/snowboard swop run by a local university ski team.

You can find great used bikes and ice skates at yard sales and consignment shops.

Look on Craig’s list and in your local newspaper’s classifieds.

Even start your own kids’ sporting equipment swop with other families.  I know one mom whose kids do hockey and the parents get together every year to trade and cut down on equipment expenses.

And when you do purchase something that has lots of moving parts or bindings – like a bike or snowboard – take it in to a shop to have it looked over and tuned up before your child rides it.

Finally, some sports equipment shops offer used equipment and even will buy back used equipment when you come in for next season’s supply. Our local ski shop will buy back (for a very small price) outgrown equipment.  They deduct it off your new equipment price.

Frugal Family Fitness Tip #6: Rent

Kids grow.  And they are also fickle creatures.  This year’s fixation may be forgotten in a few months.  For this reason, if often makes good sense to rent equipment first to make sure it’s worth the investment.

Near us, a local cross-country ski center rents kids’ skis for the entire season at a very reasonable price.  Our rock-climbing gym rents out harnesses and shoes.  You can rent everything for skiing and snowboarding (including helmets) at most ski resorts.

Look around and always ask if rental equipment is available.  You may be surprised at your options.

Frugal Family Fitness Tip #7: Buy Off Season

Go against fashion and advertising.  When it’s spring, stock up on skis, parkas and mittens.  Fall comes – time to buy slightly big swimsuits for next year.  And you can get amazing deals on all kinds of equipment – like bicycles in January after the holiday season has passed.

Just as good, look for last year’s models, closeouts and clearance sales.  Who cares if it’s a year out of date!

When you’re not buying right when you need to use equipment, you can sit back and watch and wait for the best deals. And then pounce like a strategic tiger when the opportunity arises.

Frugal Family Fitness Tip #8: Bring Your Own

Food and beverages can consume a huge chunk of money when you’re out and about.  You’d be surprised at how quickly a six-year-old can down a hamburger and fries after a day skiing!  And then ask for more!

You’ll be even more surprised when you see how much that hamburger and fries costs at the average ski lodge.

For this reason, we have gotten quite good at packing our own favorite exercise food.

Whenever we go out we bring 1-2 gallons of water (much cheaper and better hydration than even most sports drinks), plus sandwich fixings, carrot sticks, nuts, fruit and more.

When we ski and snowboard we always have 2 big thermoses – one of tea and one of hot chocolate, plus our lunch cooler.  When we take our bikes to a state park, we also take a cooler packed with lunch.

Sometimes we still splurge a bit and buy some fries or a chili or stop for a meal afterwards.  But this way it’s our choice – not driven by hunger cravings and kids on the end of their ropes (not to mention parents).

When You Use Frugal Family Fitness Strategies, You Can Fit More Fitness In

These are just a few of the numerous ways you can save while investing in family fitness.  Not only do these smart strategies save you money, they also make it easier to do stuff.

It’s terrible to not be able to go biking because you don’t have a bike for everyone.  Or miss out on the simple joys and nice workout of a walk or hike because you don’t have a baby backpack.  These tips will make it easier to do these things because you have the right stuff.

Better yet, it gives you flexibility to splurge on special treats – like a ski weekend away or a special active family vacation – because you saved the money up front.

What special frugal family fitness tips do you have to share? Or budgetary problems? Add your two-cents and we all can gain (and save) as a result!

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