Getting Healthy on a Dime

by Megan Erdmann


As college students, we have a million things on our plates. All too often one of those things is not a well-balanced meal. Between classes, jobs, volunteer positions, and attempts at maintaining a social life, we hardly have time to breath. We certainly do not have time for lengthy gym outings or elaborate meal preparations. Also, most college students do not have the money to spare, and when trying to follow a budget it is often food and fitness that are neglected. Between the demands on our schedules and bank accounts it can seem impossible to eat healthy and get in shape, but that is not the case. These simple steps are guaranteed to make you feel lighter and your wallet feel heavier.

Gyms Need Not Apply


Find a friend to be accountable to.
There are two fatal mistakes we all have a bent towards: overestimating our own self-control and underestimating the value of a partner. No matter how disciplined you might be, there will come a day when you had three tests, got a flat tire, and your fish died. It is on that kind of day that you just cannot will yourself off the couch and you need some encouragement. It can be difficult to coordinate schedules and “get your fitness on” together, but just a call or text can be enough to keep you on track.


Stretch for 30 minutes. This can be done at any time—while you are waiting for your dinner to cook, when you first wake up in the morning, or while you are watching TV. We all have thirty minutes that we could devote to a few simple but purposeful stretches. It burns calories, focuses your mind, and makes muscles leaner. Who ever said nothing gets accomplished just sitting on your butt?


Use household items as weights. No need to go out and spend money on hand weights when everything in your apartment or dorm already weighs something. Cans, jugs of water, text books, potted plants, jumbo bottles of shampoo—it can be literally anything. It may feel awkward at first, but don’t be afraid to look a little silly. Yes, you are doing bicep curls with a chemistry book, but that means there is an extra $20 sitting safely in your bank account.


Circuit training. This is the best thing you can do to tone muscles and burn fat, and it can be done without even leaving your house. Do three sets of 10-20 reps for each, and throw jogging into the mix after every few exercises.


  1. Sit ups
  2. Push-ups: these are most effective when in a wide grip stance (hands farther apart than shoulders)
  3. Bicep curls: the perfect time to use your make shift weights
  4. Shoulder presses: grab that shampoo bottle again
  5. Jumping jacks
  6. Jump squats
  7. Planks
  8. Wall sits
  9. Two minutes of jogging: this can be done in place or around the room


Don’t be afraid to walk. College campuses have some of the worst parking issues on the planet. Having to get to campus forty-five minutes before class just to find decent parking spot may seem like a nightmare, but it is actually a blessing. Do not stress about getting the furthest possible spot. In fact, aim for it, because it is the perfect opportunity to incorporate some aerobic exercise into your day. In the same way, do not fret over an out of order or jam-packed elevator—take the stairs. These choices will add up over time.




Shopping with a Strategy


Follow the coupons. This is where a little diligence is needed. Different stores have different things to offer, and we want to take full advantage of it all. That means doing your research and being committed to going where you can get the most bang for your buck. Check for coupons and special offers on store websites and in local newspapers, and make sure to understand each store’s policy on accepting competitor’s coupons. Do not let laziness or the answer of an unsure employee cost you more money.


Do not forget your list. Going to the store with just a general idea of what you enjoy eating is a recipe for ending up back at home with a smattering of delicious foods that do not add up to a single well-balanced meal. Before you leave your house, make a list of meals for the week. Think about breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Take into account your schedule for that week and how much time you will actually have for cooking. Know exactly what you need before walking out the door.


It’s not homework, so don’t procrastinate. The last thing anybody wants is be out of the house and grocery shopping first thing Saturday morning, but they do not say “the early bird gets the worm” for no reason. As it gets later in the day, stores get more crowded, employees get more agitated, and you lose the chance to truly focus on the task of monitoring your spending. Getting into stores before the rush means you will have both physical and mental space to think, and employees and managers will be more helpful if you have any questions.


Keep a calculator handy. Know your budget and stick to it. With either your phone or a pocket calculator, add up each item as you put it in the cart. The last thing you want is to get to the register and be over budget. It can be pretty embarrassing to put something back after it’s been rung up.


 Do not shop on an empty stomach. Life is crazy and because it is convenient, running to the grocery store on your way home from work or when your roommate is already going can be tempting. What we regret to realize is that the most effective grocery shopping must be done under the perfect conditions. Being surrounded by food while your stomach is growling like a ravenous lion is less than ideal. Shopping when you are hungry or tired increases your chances of buying more food and unhealthier food than you normally would.



Find the Right Food

Know what to buy.
It is important to balance your concerns for health and saving money. With things like organic and local food often being double the price of standard store-bought food, these desires can seem to be in distressing opposition. This does not have to be true. There are foods that cost less than $2 a serving, are low calorie, nutritionally sound, and can easily be portioned into meals for one. Here are ten examples:


  1. Yogurt
  2. Oats
  3. Fresh bagged spinach
  4. Whole wheat pita
  5. Frozen vegetables
  6. Frozen edemame
  7. Lentils
  8. Frozen chicken
  9. Brown rice
  10. Whole wheat pasta


Don’t worry, frozen is fine. These products are flash frozen to preserve both freshness and nutritional value. This allows you to get essential nutrients and not have to worry about food spoiling before you have the chance to eat it.

Get to Cooking


Cook and prep in bulk. The week can get away from us before we even know it, and sometimes we do not have the time, energy, or will power to cook. That does not mean it is time to plop in front of the TV or Calculus book with a bag of Cheetos. The trick is finding a chunk of time when you will be able to cook and taking full advantage. You can make multiple portions to be frozen and reheated, pre-chop and bag fruits and vegetables, portion out rice and pasta for each meal and bag snacks into acceptable portion sizes so you will not be tempted to over-snack. It may seem tedious in the moment, but the next time you have to rush out the door to catch the bus for class you will appreciate those pre-bagged nuts and fruit salad.

 Take advantage of all-in-one meals. Trying to cook a filling and balanced meal can feel overwhelming. The idea of making salad, pasta, chicken, and garlic bread for yourself on a Tuesday night seems like a lot of work for little reward. We do not want to prepare elaborate meals every night, but how else do we make sure we are visiting all stops on the food pyramid? Make things that combine all of the necessities. Smoothies with fruit, dairy, and protein, or soup and chili with meat, vegetables, and grains are great all-in-one options.

Dried foods for one, please. It is no easy task to prepare fresh mashed potatoes or apple pie in a single serving. There are some foods that lend themselves to feeding the multitudes—these are the ones we want to avoid. Grains do not fall into this category. Rice, pasta, quinoa, and couscous are perfect bases for a meal when you are riding solo.


Get creative with leftovers. Do not just stack up containers of leftovers in your refrigerator until you have eaten the same meal five times or you have to throw them away because they are two weeks old. This leads to boredom and waste—neither of which have a place in a healthy and budget-conscious life. The idea is to take the rice you used as a side for one meal, and include it in a casserole or soup for the next. Repurposing leftovers will save both money and fridge space.


Don’t get stuck in a box. Eating chicken alfredo twice a week, every week will eventually make you loath the idea of cooking or eating it ever again. This can lead to eating out or grazing instead of being forced to cook one of the only three meals in your repertoire. Get creative, and do not be afraid to take chances on a recipe you have never tried before.


One Small Step

There are a lot of tips and tricks for getting healthy, but the most important one is to get started. Do not look at this list and think it is overwhelming or that you do not have time to work these ideas into your busy life. You are never too swamped to take care of yourself and your bank account. Pick one from each section and work on it before moving onto another. Or just focus on one section at a time. It is a process. Nobody can become totally healthy and frugal through one week of will power, but you have to start somewhere.