Get in Shape! Find the Best Workouts for You and Your Budget

If you’re one of the millions of women who have resolved to “get in shape!” for the New Year, we’re totally behind you. (Although we hope “pay off debt” or “contribute more to retirement” are up there, too!)

But with so many butt-busting, hamstring-stretching, calorie-burning exercises out there, how do you choose the best one? Is more expensive necessarily more effective? And will you even stick with it once you're done paying for the membership and the equipment?

Often, the pricier choices—like exercise classes or hiring a personal trainer—require less willpower because there's a minimum time commitment and an instructor to goad you into first, showing up, and then, working out your hardest. Of course, if you have the self-control to keep yourself on track, you can probably make do with one of the lower-cost variations.

We talked to Amie Hoff, a fitness consultant and Certified Personal Trainer, to find out which exercise option is best for you and your budget. Check out our chart for how much each option costs in money, a recommended time commitment ... and, that intangible, what's most worth it for you.

Then, below, we give you a breakdown of what each choice would entail in terms of effort and investment.

Activity Cost Time Commitment Per Day Good For Willpower Required
Running $100 for shoes and timer watch 20 minutes+ Weight loss and cardio Some. "Runner's high" can be addictive.
Gym $10-$120 a month 45 minutes+ Weight loss, cardio, toning, flexibility A lot. Unused memberships abound.
Yoga $10-$20 a class, or $100+ per month 1.5 hours Toning and flexibility. Weight loss is slower but possible Some. Instructor will lead you; challenging but pleasant.
Pilates $80+ for one-on-one, $30+ for group studio classes, free with gym membership 45 minutes Toning and flexibility. Weight loss possible with cardio pilates classes Some. Instructor will lead you; challenging but pleasant.
Biking $150+ for a bike 1 hour+ Weight loss and lean muscle Some. It's fun, and you can make it your regular transportation.
Team Sport $75+ for season 1.5 hours+ Camaraderie and some weight loss, depending on level Low. It’s fun!
Swimming $2+ per session, plus cost of bathing suit 30 minutes+ Weight loss and toning High. Especially in the winter months!
Walking Free 15 minutes+ Getting started in a fitness routine Low. Easy to get started and keep going.
Personal Trainer $30-$80 per hour 1 hour+ Everything Low. You're paying someone for motivation!

How to Save


Amie Hoff doesn't recommend skimping on the shoes even if you're only doing a few miles a week. "Your feet really need decent support with all the pounding," she says. And it's likely you'll increase your mileage ... that's the goal, anyway. Try on a lot of different shoes at the store to find a well-fitting pair, then go online to a place like Zappos to find them at a good price.

The Gym

Gyms range from bare-bones, franchised outfits for $10 a month, all the way up to $150 or more for the kind with tennis courts, pools and a smoothie bar. Of course, remember that you don't need a sauna to get a workout. Right now also happens to be a great time to find New Year's deals on membership. Other tactics: comparison shop and tell your favorite gym about a competitor's price; pay in full for a year in advance; look for deals on group-buying sites like Groupon; and sign up as a group of friends or family. And don't forget to ask for a free personal trainer session or two when you sign the contract—that's pretty standard.

If a gym isn't in the cards for you (or your nearest one is a 45-minute drive away), Hoff recommends the $140 P90X fitness and nutrition system, which provide the benefits of a tough and varied gym workout at home, or her portable $30 FitKit, which comes with workout tools and online instruction.


Yoga studios often offer great deals on group buying sites, so check there first. Shop around and take advantage of introductory offers at all your local studios, which usually include something like a free week of unlimited classes for the price of just one class. Unless you're really going to show up to yoga three or four times a week, look for a studio that offers class cards (for example, you buy ten classes at once) instead of an unlimited monthly membership. And once you get the basics down under the supervision of an instructor, you can augment your workouts with a Gaiam home DVD, or choose from the abundance of free online videos. (Here are some places you can find free exercise videos).

Saving On the Little Things

Saving on fitness can make a difference in your budget, but what other little things are making room in your wallet?

Hear from fellow LearnVesters and share your own lifestyle tips in LV Discussions.



Because pilates usually requires equipment, sessions rarely have more than a few people, which also contributes to the expense. However, pilates mat classes are also very challenging, can build great tone and are more affordable (akin to yoga class prices). See if your instructor will conduct a private session with you and a couple friends at the same time. You can carry over mat exercises at home. An at-home option? Hoff likes the STOTT PILATES DVDs


A bike is an expensive investment, so until you know you'll stick with cycling, try borrowing a friend's for your workouts. When you're ready to purchase one of your own, check out used bikes on Craigslist, making sure to give the bike a thorough test ride before buying. And get a new helmet—we want you to be safe!

Team Sports

We wouldn't recommend a weekly team game as your only workout, but it's a great way to make friends and get in some light exercise. Signing up as a team will save you money, so start recruiting friends and friends-of-friends, or look for leagues in your city that offer different sports. Though pick-up games are free, they're much less reliable, so join a community league if you're serious about wanting to play. To find a league, try Sportsvite or Zogsports.

Also, if this is for exercise, watch out for post-game calories at the bar, which are de rigeuer for most leagues.


Some nicer gyms include pools in the package, but with a little bit of sleuthing, you can find a public or YMCA pool that will charge you just a few bucks to enter. Grab a basic athletic swimsuit and goggles, and you're good to go.

Personal Trainer

This may seem like the Cadillac of options, and sometimes it is. But if you do your research, you might be able to find a personal trainer for as low as $30, depending on your location. Lower the price even further by signing up for a group session or bringing your friends along. And, of course, there are hundreds of good-quality fitness DVDs out there by personal trainers—you can even stream workouts on Netflix Instant Play, if you already subscribe. You just won't get the personalized workout advice (and the kick in the butt) you would from a trainer.

More From LearnVest

Good for your wallet, but bad for your health: Avoid these five cheap foods.
If you would like to overhaul your eating habits, a dietician can help. Should you get one?
What if you could get all your household basics online for less? We show you the best stores for deals.

  • SmartAssetTeam

    This is a pretty good chart, but I feel like the time commitments are a little off.  You have to include prep time, transportation, and grooming as well.  I go to a gym regularly in the winter, and it takes me at least 15 minutes to get there, 5 minutes to pack my bag, then I have to change, then I do my workout and stretch afterward, then I shower and change and get home. When this is all said and done, I have spend two hours on the whole operation.  The chart makes it seem like exercising won’t take up that much of your day, but it really does take a lot of time.   

    • Ladygellringerm

      Also, it looks like the chart was written by one person who enjoys team sports.  Believe me, that is not all of us.  It would have been more accurate to preclude the statement with “If you enjoy team sports, . . . ”  Now dancing, on the other hand, everyone enjoys! ;-)

  • pandadot

    I would argue that walking isn’t free, because you need to make sure you have a decent pair of shoes for that, as well.  You’d probably get fit walking everyday in a pair of Uggs, but you’d destroy your arches in the process.

  • Carolyntherese

    I am a big YMCA fan. Most places have a young adult membership (up to age 25) that is $30-$35 dollars, no membership fee, can be paid month to month, plus free classes. 

    And please, don’t cheep out on running shoes. I have run up doctors bills recently with a foot injury mostly due to an inadequate pair of shoes. Go get fitted at a place where they can tell you what you need, not pick out the cutest pair of running kicks. 

  • April_eric_always_forever

    You forgot to add dancing. Dancing is a wonderful way to get in shape and you can do it in your own living room with just a radio. It’s also very enjoyable.

    • Alexa

      i love Dancing. Thanks for reminding me of this!

  • Sandleach

    Runners common need a stability shoe if they over-pronate. If you don’t know what that means, find a good running shoe store. Recommending customers to browse at a brick and mortar store and them but elsewhere is the very practice that is strangling our brick and mortar stores. Sales pay the rent and that extra few bucks you pay goes towards fitting the right product to the customers’ needs!

  • Julie Ann Williams

    If you are someone who really wants to get into bicycling for fitness, I do not recommend buying a bike on Craigslist. Spend the money to go to a bike shop, with trained specialists, and have a bike fit for you. Millimeters on the fit of a bike can make all the difference in how the bike feels, handles, etc. And, if you’re not comfortable and having fun, you aren’t going to stick with it, right? So, make the investment, and have it done right. As someone who has put thousands of miles on my bike, and thoroughly enjoys it, trust me – it made all the difference in the world, and was worth every penny. Also, don’t skimp on safety, and learn (and follow) the rules of the road!

  • Tenley

    You forgot Wii Fit! :) Maybe not the most challenging physical activity, but definitely quite fun and can burn some calories. Or any of the Wii Sports games — I’ve heard of people getting tennis elbow from Wii tennis! You can definitely work up a sweat.
    I also enjoy using exercise videos in my living room. Some people can also access some free content in their video on-demand through their cable company, and a number of websites also offer free exercise content. If you have friends who also collect exercise vids, you can trade with them for free once you get tired of the ones you’ve purchased.

  • Trapa

    I too am not a fan of the idea to go to a store to find the right shoe and then shop around online to find the same pair at a cheaper price. If someone has no intention to buy, it’s rather selfish to waste the time and efforts of a salesperson whose livelihood depends on making sales, when he or she could be making a legitimate sale instead. Although the reality is that there are definitely people who do so, I’m still surprised to see you suggest and endorse it.

  • Marissa

    buying running shoes online is not such a good idea……. you really need to try on to find the best fit for your foot!

    • Marissa

      also I agree with the person below, if you go to try on the shoes, you may or may not find them cheaper online, and then there is the waste of time with all the go here, go there.  Just buy them, put them on when you get home excited from the purchase and go run!!!

  • Yvonne

    Due to a bad knee I’m not a runner.  I’ll leave that to the younger & fit folks.

    Have found I do enjoy exercising to the variety of YouTube videos.  SparkPeople has quite a library of such videos for FREE.  Granted, some of the earlier videos are not as polished as the more recent.  Plus, you can see the progression of the instructor as she matures and comes into her own over time.  It’s worth check out.

  • Anonymous

    If you count the cost of running shoes in the cost of running…you should also include the cost of shoes for walking.  Also, I disagree that Zappos would have shoes at the best price…they do fast, free shipping.  If you’re buying online try a place like runningwarehouse which has good prices and free shipping.  But if you’re just getting into running – I agree with other commenters about going to an actual brick-and-mortar store for a gait analysis and shoe recommendation.  At least buy your first pair in the store since they helped you find the right fit — and if you find a model you like, then buy your next pair online.

    If you already pay for cable, you can find fitness videos in the OnDemand section (I know this is on Fios and Comcast). I’ve tried Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred, Yoga, and other light weight lifting videos.

  • Shelley Cox

    Hi, I’m from Australia and currently there is a FREE happening that provides nutrition, exercise and motivation, a forum etc. some of your readers might like to take a look. It’s a ten week program, starting from January 26th.

  • Pro Gait Analysis

    Excellent post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  • ClaireF21

    If you are living in NYC there is no excuse to spend big bucks on the gym…NYC Parks and Recreation Centers cost $100 for the year or $50 for six months and provide all the perks of a well suited gym without any fanciness. I recommend the Lost Battalion in Rego Park for my Queens girls!

  • Absmith225

    For even cheaper yoga, if you have the space at home and don’t mind doing the same routine for a week, is free to become a member and all members get access to a free class video for the week.

  • manhattanette has a lot of great free fitness videos.

    I would also suggest Mat Pilates – it doesn’t use the big Reformer machines, and can be done at home once you learn the moves. Classes can be as low as $10 in some areas (Minnesota) or as low as $15 in Manhattan.