Health and Wealth: Working out on a budget
By, Carla Hindman, Director of Financial Education, Visa Canada
It's true – good health really does save you money. While the health care system in Canada covers basic services, there are some expenses that are not covered, such as dental, optometrists and prescription medications. Single or family insurance plans can help supplement primary health coverage, but they may only offer partial coverage. The road to good health starts with making small adjustments to your lifestyle and it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. So before you buy those cross-trainers or sign on the dotted line at the gym, consider the following tips:
Select a workout you like. If you loved swimming or jogging as a child, consider those sports a good place to restart your fitness regimen. Resume your fitness habits modestly but consistently with activities you likeand, if they require a facility, test it out for a few days so you can comparison-shop.
Check with your doctor. Yes, you've seen this warning before for all sorts of reasons, but if you plan to start a particularly rigorous exercise regimen or set a big goal like running a marathon, it makes sense to review potentially costly health risks. Your physician might even have insight into groups or facilities at reasonable rates to help support your goal. Keep your doctor in the loop.
See what breaks your employer offers. Some companies will pick up the cost of a gym membership, smoking cessation classes and even have weight-loss incentive programs that can cut out-of-pocket expenses. Others might offer certain health-based benefits pre-tax, which gives you the opportunity to lower your overall wages–and annual tax burden–through pre-tax deductions. All the more reason to read your benefits summaries and speak with your human resources staff.
Put your tax dollars to work. Check out Government funded facilities and activities that are already available in your community to see what they offer. Community centers are great resources for inexpensive or free classes. You might be surprised how many free public tennis courts, swimming pools and other recreational spaces are available in your city or town. Parks also provide a great free space to start getting active!
Don't overlook what's right in front of you. Many colleges have built exceptional fitness centers in recent years and charge reasonable rates for alumni and community members –worth a look if your alma mater is local. Also, if you live in a development or building with an exercise room in a clubhouse or common area, look into giving that space and equipment a fresh look–it's included in your rent or assessment anyway. Don't forget about online workouts! Explore the variety of workout YouTube videos and apps available at your fingertips.
Know when to join. Check out a gym membership at the peak of summer when everyone's heading outside. You might even consider a series of “free” startup memberships until you decide on a particular venue to join. And always ask if you can get lower annual or monthly fees by making more than a one-year commitment. Also, if a membership/warehouse club you belong to is selling fitness memberships at a reputable chain, compare its retail rate to what you could pay through your club membership directly.
Find buddies. You've seen them when walking or driving past a park or other locations around town–people who run together, walk together or dance together. Joining a fitness group doesn't have to cost any money at all; you might make new friends that will hopefully challenge and motivate you to stick with it.
Get out of that chair. Sitting still can impact your health. Consider a pedometer or walking app to measure your daily steps, and consider adding more walking to your commute. Every step helps and walking is free. If possible, leave the car at home and take public transportation, which will also likely require more walking.
You don't need all of the latest gear. Unless you need specific clothes or equipment for protection or safety, raid your closet to save on your fitness costs. Keep it inexpensive and focus on improving your health. Consider setting workout milestones and reward yourself with a new purchase after hitting your goals.
Bottom line: Poor health habits can cost more than you may realize. Working out doesn't need to cost a lot and there are plenty of ways to do it on the cheap–or for free.
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.