Monday, September 12, 2011

Fitting the Gym in your Budget

After researching gyms in my area, I finally settled on a gym this past Saturday. Before making my final decision, I tried out one of the zumba classes offered on Saturday mornings. I went to the gym for the first time tonight as an official member, and I can confidently say I made the right decision.

If you currently belong to a gym or have ever looked into joining a gym, you know that it can be quite a costly investment. But a gym membership doesn't have to empty your pockets. Here are some money saving tips that I learned while searching for an affordable gym.

  • Do your research. Ask friends and co-workers which gym they belong to and find out whether or not they are satisfied. I also used the internet as a resource to locate gyms in my area and read client reviews.
  • Know which amenities are important to you. Decide which amenities and features you cannot live without, and which ones would just be an added bonus. Fancier gyms will typically present a higher cost than gyms offering only basic amenities. I knew that I wanted to find a gym that offered group exercise classes, especially zumba. I also wanted a gym that had enough cardio equipment, so that I would not have to waste time waiting around to get on a machine.
  • Test out the facilities before committing. Many gyms offer you the opportunity to try the gym for free for a day or even up to a week before joining. This gives you the chance to see if the gym will be a good fit for you. This is an important part of joining a gym. You would hate to sign a costly one year contract only to find out you hate the gym.
  • Decide whether you want a month to month contract or long-term contract. Many gyms require you to commit to a one-year contract with a pricey cancellation fee. If you know you will be using the gym for at least a year, this could be an okay option. However, if you are unsure about joining the gym, you may be better off looking for a gym with no long-term contracts. Some gyms offer clients both options, and they usually offer a price-cut incentive to individuals willing to pay for a full-year upfront.
  • Take advantage of employer or health insurance incentives. Find out if your employer offers any discounts or incentives for employees who belong to the gym. I got a discount on both my joining fee and my monthly rate because my employer has a special contract with my gym. Some insurance companies provide gym reimbursement, so it is worth checking to see if yours offers this benefit.
  • Look for special promotions. At certain times of the year, gyms offer special promotions. When I signed up for my gym membership, they were offering one month free (I only had to pay the $25 joining fee).
  • Think outside the box. A gym is not the only place to get a great work out. If a gym just doesn't fit in your budget right now, this doesn't mean you can't be physically active. Going for a walk, run or bike ride around your neighborhood can be a great workout. Workout videos can be a great option, as well. If you don't want to spend the money on a dvd, check out exercise tv or search for videos on the internet.

"Guys, looking at things from this angle sometimes really helps!"

Whatever you decide on, just make sure it is the right fit for you. Find a place where you have fun and will feel comfortable working out. If you enjoy working out, you will be more motivated to hit the gym (or tune to a workout video)!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I Love Me Some Fro Yo

Ever since I left NYC, I have been longing for some delicious soft-serve. My old roommate and I used to frequently make the 20 block walk from our apartment to one of our favorite frozen yogurt spots, 16 Handles. One of our favorite things about 16 Handles, was the fact that it was self-serve. This meant you could get as little or as much yogurt and toppings as you desired that day. Not only was their soft-serve tasty, but they had a ton of both fruit and candy based toppings to choose from. The fro yo wasn't the cheapest, but it was definitely worth the splurge for the ocassional treat. Plus, the one time they offered a Groupon, my roommate and I jumped at the opportunity to purchase one and save a little dough.

Although we have a TCBY here and many other popular ice cream places, I have definitely been missing the opportunity to assemble my own soft-serve concoction. It definitely suits the way I like to eat. I love to eat a little bit of everything rather than have to make the decision on one flavor and one topping!

Well, today I discovered this new place that just opened this past Thursday called 32 Degrees. Just like 16 Handles, this place is a self-serve yogurt bar. They had a ton of flavors and an array of fruit, nut, chocolate and candy toppings to choose from. Just like other self-serve yogurt places, you pay by the ounce, so you have the ability to control the cost of your sweet treat. As I was very excited to find this place, I went a little overboard with how much I filled up in my cup. I always like to add a lot of fruit, that is one my favorite parts! Although by the time I remembered to snap a picture, it was mostly gone :(

Fro Yo From 32 Degrees

Half eaten deliciousness

I enjoyed it right down to the very last drop.

Do you have a favorite frozen yogurt or dessert place you are willing to spend a little extra moola on every once in a while?

I know I have found my place. I also noticed that their facebook page discusses promotions they offer every once and awhile, I'll definitely have to keep my eyes peeled!

Side Tip: The facebook pages of businesses and companies are great resources to check for specials deals, promotions, and coupons.

And lucky for me, to satisfy my soft-serve cravings the rest of the time, our local TCBY offers a 99 cent waffle cone promotion every Wednesday (and yes that includes the yogurt, not just the cone)!

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Delicious Post-Workout Snack

The past few days the weather here has been beautiful, finally! After a summer full of temperatures in the high 90's, I've been craving some cooler weather. Although I know fall down here will be nothing like the beautiful weather that I am used to, a girl can dream right? I know the temperatures are going to shoot back up soon, so I've been trying to take advantage of the nicer weather as much as possible.

I've been taking this guy for a 30-40 minute run/walk around our neighborhood in the late morning.
How can you say no to this face?

We love spending time outdoors together
Most of the walk is spent with Matson either pulling me to chase a squirrel or to meet a person on the street, so it usually turns in to more of an upper body workout than anything ;)

But Mom, Dad, there is something in the water...I NEED it!

Regardless of this behavior, I always enjoy the time we spend together, especially since I know it will be much more limited once I start my new job next week.

Post-workout Snack

So, anyways...after my little workout with the pup today, I decided to come inside for some post-workout fuel in the form of a mid-morning snack.

Yogurt parfait ingredients, yum!
I mixed together pineapple Chobani yogurt, cherry vanilla granola, and fresh raspberries for a delicious yogurt parfait. I know that may sound like a strange combination, but it was delicious! Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the final product before devouring it, I was hungry! Pairing together a carbohydrate (granola and fruit) with a protein (yogurt) maintains more stable blood sugars, helping to keep you full longer. When you eat a carbohydrate by itself, you produce an initial spike in your blood sugar that results in a rapid drop in your blood sugar leaving you feeling fatigued and hungry.

Another great thing about this snack, it was an affordable choice. You may be saying, "no way, I don't believe you!" But I promise, I'm not lying!

This week chobani yogurt was on sale for $1.00, which is a great price here. Then I had a $0.30 off coupon I printed from the chobani website. So, I paid only $0.70 for my favorite Greek yogurt! I may have stocked up on extras even though I only had one $0.30 off coupon.

The (non-organic) raspberries were on sale this week for $2.00. I used a handful of raspberries (about 1/4 of the package), so technically that was $0.50 for the cost of the raspberries.

I like to buy organic produce when possible, but we don't have a huge selection of organic produce here. Often the organic produce that is available is at least three times as expensive as the conventional produce. If I find a good sale on organic produce, I stock up! I also like to take advantage of the local farmer's market. Although most small farms are not certified organic, they typically report that they are growing their produce in an organic-style (i.e. without pesticides etc). Okay, enough on that tangent, organics will be a topic for another post at a later date!

The Back to Nature granola is something I purchased awhile ago. It was on sale for $3.79 as part of a Buy One Get One Free Promotion. I paired the sale price with some $1.00 off coupons I had for the items. At Publix, you can use two coupons on a BOGO promotion because you are technically "purchasing" two items. A great way to really save big! So I used two $1.00/1 coupons that I printed off the internet, and I paid $1.79 for two packages ($0.90 per package) of this delicious granola. That means that each serving of granola I use in my yogurt costs probably less than 10 me this granola has lasted me a LONG time!

That brings the grand total for my breakfast parfait to less than $1.50! You can't say eating healthy can't be affordable. That is cheaper than going to the drive through for breakfast, and it took about 2 minutes to assemble the entire parfait!

Working Out: A Long-Term Investment in your Health

Ever since I left NYC a little over a year ago, I have been a lot less physically active. One of my favorite aspects of NYC was the fact that even on days where I didn't make it to the gym, I still got plenty of exercise walking up and down the city streets.

View Looking Downtown from Central Park

Having traded in that NYC lifestyle, I now depend on my car to get most places. Even the closest grocery store is not really in walking distance of our house.

When I lived in NYC, I was lucky enough to have an affordable gym located on the top floor of my apartment building. Although the gym didn't offer any classes, it did provide brand new equipment and an indoor pool. I didn't quite take advantage of the gym as much as I should have, and I definitely miss having a great gym so nearby.

After settling in to my new home in Florida, in an effort to save money, I tried workout videos in lieu of joining the gym. However, I found that I wasn't pushing myself hard enough and was quickly losing interest. 

Sometimes all I want to do is snuggle up on the couch next to this guy!

Lately I've been feeling a lot more motivated to get back in shape, so even though we will only be living in Florida for about another 6 to 8 months, I've decided to "bite the bullet" and join a gym.

I opted for a gym with two convenient locations that offer an array of classes, including zumba, which is one of my faves! Although it is not the cheapest gym in the area, it is the best option for me.

From past experience, I have learned that I have trouble motivating myself to head to the gym for a 30 minute run on the treadmill. But, if I know there is a class at a certain time that I want to attend, I get a lot more excited to hit the gym. It feels like a lot less work if you are having fun, right?

I look at the extra cost of the gym as an investment in my health for the long-term. A little extra money spent up front will hopefully mean fewer healthcare costs later...think preventative care. Not to mention that since I will be working many 12+ hours a day over the next coming months, I know I will welcome the stress relief and endorphins from hitting the gym.

Has the cost of a gym membership been holding you back from being physically active? Stay tuned for my next post which will offer some tips for fitting the gym in your budget.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What's the Plan, Stan?

Whoops..I have been MIA from this blog for way too long, not sure if any friends or family are even still reading! I apologize for disappearing for two months, and I promise to blog more regularly. Life just somehow got way too crazy, and I inadvertantly neglected Healthy Eating on a Dime. So, if anyone is still there, here goes nothing.

For me, weekly grocery shopping and meal planning go hand in hand. I compile my grocery list using the weekly sales circular for my local grocery store. I typically do my grocery shopping for the week on Sundays.  Prior to heading to the store, I sit down and plan a tentative list of meals for each night. Meal planning is an important part of both saving money and healthy eating.  

I have several go to recipes, but I am a big fan of trying new recipes. Every week I always seem to come across new recipes I can't wait to cook. I use an excel spreadsheet to type up my shopping list. This keeps my list very organized, and I have it set to auto sum my spending totals to save me time doing calculations. Here is the step by step for how I plan my weekly grocery shop.

My favorite page of the sales flyer--the fresh produce, yum!
(Sorry for the poor picture quality...I had to use my phone because my camera is currently MIA)

1) Skim through sales flyer and circle deals that I think I want to add to my grocery list.
2) Use a coupon website such as The Krazy Coupon Lady or I Heart Publix to help me save time matching up coupons to the weekly deals I plan to take advantage of in my grocery store sales flyer.
3) Then in my excel spreadsheet, I type up the following headings: item, # to buy, price each (for each item), price (total price before coupons--may be different from each price if buying multiple of one item), coupons (this is where I list any corresponding coupons that I will be using), and final price (this is the price after coupons for that item). This makes it really easy to keep track of what I will be buying and what I will be spending.
4) The first items I add to my excel spreadsheet are always sales promotions I don't want to miss out on. These are not necessarily items I will be using this week. They are items I want to stock up on for another week because I can get a good deal on them either with or without a coupon. This might be something along the lines of frozen or canned vegetables, frozen fruit, cereal, oatmeal, fish, chicken, lean beef etc. Also note, when I say stocking up, I do NOT mean in the style of TLC's Extreme Couponing. Since Publix does a lot of buy one, get one free promotions, I typically stock up on 2 or 4 of a particular item depending on how good the deal is and how frequently we use the item.
5) The next set of items I add to my list are fresh fruit. Opting for in season fruits can help you save on your grocery bill. I try to stick to the fruits listed on sale in my grocery flyer each week, which are usually fruits that are in season. Since the sale fruits will differ from week to week, I never find that I get bored of my fruit choices. In fact, in the past, I had always bought pretty much the same favorite fruits from week to week, but now I find that I incorporate a lot more variety in to my fruit choices!
6) At this point, I would now make my meal plan list for the week. When choosing recipes, I try to choose recipes that incorporate mostly ingredients that are on sale. I especially focus on the vegetables and meats or fish that are on sale, as these items can put a dent in your grocery bill. Again, I try to stock up each week when foods I enjoy are on sale to allow for more variety in my meal plans.
7) Once I add the ingredients for my meal plan to my excel spreadsheet, I give the sales flyer one last look to make sure I have not missed anything. Then I gather any coupons together and I am ready to shop!

A few additional pointers, if anyone is still reading this ridiculously long post!
It is helpful to set a weekly grocery budget before starting. My goal is to spend $50 or less each week, or $25 per person. Obviously this may not suit your financial state, so you just need to figure out what works for you--whether it is higher or lower, just remember you can make it work. I am filling my cart with primarily healthy foods, including some organic foods. You can definitely eat healthy on a budget, it just takes a little planning.

When meal planning it is also important to make sure that you have a handy helper who sleeps by your feet, while you are hard at work ;)

If you are really lucky, maybe you can find a helper that will do all the typing for you!

Although this may sound time consuming, I really only spend an hour or less prepping for my shopping trip. Going in to the grocery store prepared saves me a lot of time at the store. Since I have been using this method to shop, I also find that I no longer wander the grocery aisles looking for other items to add to my cart, saving me both time and money. I can usually be in and out of the store in 45 minutes or less. Also, having my meals planned out ahead of time saves me time during the week. There is no guessing on what I will make for dinner and no last minute trips to the store to grab missing ingredients. I always try to stay flexible, since weeknight plans for us can change. I like that I have all the ingredients for all my recipes for the week on hand, so I can easily substitute one night's plan for another night.

How many of you plan your meals each week? Do you typically go in to the grocery store with a plan? Good luck with the meal planning and I'd be happy to answer any questions!