Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: Can I Get A POOR Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss?

Q&A Wednesday: Can I Get A POOR Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

So, when I asked what you guys wanted to see more of here, a reader left me the following:

A POOR GIRLS GUIDE TO WEIGHT LOSS…Most of us cant afford organic foods, go to the gym and such…Some of us needs that extra push, when we lack the extra bucks. What can we buy thats super affordable, healthy, how to exercise @ home…I know a lot of us talk about that and when you dont have that support system to help you it makes it harder….

So, let’s talk about money.

The assumption is that the more money you have, the healthier you can live. And, while there are tons of companies that are financially invested in marketing “healthy living” as “something that requires you to spend all your precious pennies,” that isn’t entirely accurate.

Let me be real for a second. I’m po’. I’m “can’t afford the ‘-or’ in ‘poor'” “poor.” I was a single parent when I first started my journey and, while it is great to have a partner now – yay, dual incomes! – we still have to save every ding dang penny we’ve got for our wedding, for our first house, the child’s now in school, and… all my money’s flying out the window faster than I can count it. As I used to say back when it was just the little one and I, “Even when I have the money, I don’t have the money.”

Hey, look at all the money I *don’t* have…

Besides, it’s just not financially sensible to waste money unnecessarily. If I can do it on my own, why would I waste money on someone else doing it for me?

What am I getting at? Simply. You can be “so poor you can’t afford the -or” and still live healthily.

There are tons of tips all across this blog to help you get to where you want to be, but in the interest of time, I’m going to curate some of the best ones for you here. If any more good questions pop up in the comments section, I’ll be more than happy to update this post with answers.

On buying organic

Lastly, buying organic doesn’t have to equate to buying something – or anything – high priced. As I did my best to illustrate in the #surviveon35 campaign from this summer, you can do so and do it both inexpensively and honestly. I’m a huge fan of Whole Foods’ frozen organic fruits and veggies, and their bulk section has tons of organic staples and…you’ve already heard all this before. Lots of food co-ops and CSAs will trade great deals and even “free” food for a little bit of your time on a regular basis. If you’re on food stamps/SNAP (or considering it), lots of CSAs will offer you a sharply discounted rate, payable in monthly installments (so you don’t have to do the bulk payment, which can be pretty steep) instead of going full price. (And, even more, farmer’s markets across the country are now offering $20 in tokens for $10 in food stamps, to make it easier to buy organic. You didn’t know about the tokens, did you?)

“Organic” is not always inherently healthier for you. I find that so many people believe the choices are “organic” or “dying in a fiery blaze of diabetes and high blood pressure,” but that just isn’t true. The reality is that there is a spectrum, and while “organic, fresh picked on a sunny farm with happy soil and rain water” is on one end with “processed to the nth degree and sold for $0.25 at a bodega on the corner” on the other, there’s still a healthy and bountiful middle ground where you can rest happily and reclaim your health.

Fresh, frozen, and canned are all options worth considering and, with a cursory glance at the ingredients list, you can ensure that you’re buying something with minimal processing and light on the chemicals. I’m a huge proponent of frozen veggies, which leads my to my next point…

On saving money on groceries

So, let’s talk basic shopping tips:

Many of the national brands actually produce store brand products, so besides the packaging, you may not even notice a difference between generics and their brand name counterparts.  For example, Alcoa, the maker of Reynolds Wrap Aluminum foil, produces store brand foil. McCormick produces herbs and spices without its signature label, and Birds Eye, known for its frozen vegetables, produces a number of frozen and canned vegetable products, according to Consumer Reports.

One major reason for the deep discount on store brands is they “don’t carry heavy product development, advertising and promotion costs,” says Tod Marks, a Consumer Reports researcher who blogs by the name “Tightwad Tod” on ConsumerReports.org.


…pick one day – usually a nice, lazy, comfy Sunday – and go grocery shopping. Wake up that morning, spend a good 15 minutes thinking about what you’ll eat this week, what you’ll need, sketch out a list, scratch out the [processed foods and] stuff you’ve already got plenty of in your fridge already and get moving!Why weekly?

For starters, it allows you to avoid your produce rotting. If you dedicate one day to grocery shopping and food prep, you can spend the rest of the week cooking from your fridge, your cabinets and your pantry. It allows you to “shop” from your own reserves. This way, you prevent wasting your money on stuff you “can’t eat” because it doesn’t look quite as fresh as it did when you got it.

Secondly, you have to make a list. How is it that we go grocery shopping, spend an arm/a leg/a first born and still… wind up staring at the fridge for five minutes repeating to ourselves, “I have nothing to cook.” Oh, no. Not only do you have plenty of ingredients and not pre-prepared foods that you may or may not have a taste for – for example, instead of buying garlic cheese bread in a box, why not pick up a baguette from the grocery bakery, some garlic powder, cheese and use your butter/oil? – but you have options. A pre-packaged box doesn’t give you options. At all. Ever. That same garlic powder, cheese and oil could be used on bread, macaroni, leafy greens and rice. Options.

…and a ton of other tips to help you figure out how to save money and eat healthily:

If you’re low on cash, consider cutting back on the meat products, a bit. I know many of us grew up believing that a plate isn’t “a meal” unless it has meat on it, but that was actually a marketing campaign. Not nutritional policy. There are tons of sources for protein that don’t consist of a pricey-but-high-quality, well-fed meat. Don’t want to go full on vegetarian? Not to worry. You have options. (Before you ask about protein…)

On making government assistance work for you

Are you on food stamps? Your local farmer’s market may be able to help you out with a few discounts, or by letting you use your benefits to buy the offerings, there.

And, if you’ve got a little bit of time, you can use these tips for eating clean while on SNAP.

On at-home exercising

As someone who was originally an at-home exerciser, I’m all for it. I’m a huge supporter of being able to just whip out some weights and a mat and going to work. As I’ve said, before:

When I first started out with exercise, I would take my daughter to the gym in our apartment complex during the hours when most people were expected to be at work. However… during certain seasons, the gym becomes a 24-hour pick-up spot. No matter the hour, it was always full of people. It became less and less sensible for me to bring my little one in there. It was starting to feel like I was developing an excuse to not workout – “I can’t go to the gym because the fellas are going to trample all over my daughter in her stroller.. she’ll be in the way. They’re going to put me out. I can’t go!” – and I had to do something.

So, my little one and I spent a good amount of time at home. Sad that I couldn’t use the gym equipment – and unwilling to spend money (in a recession, no less) on my own – I had to come up with an effective manner of getting in my exercise. My desire to not spend money on getting fit had only a little to do with the fact that I’m cheap (painfully cheap.) It had much more to do with the fact that I needed to know that the effort I was putting forth wouldn’t be dependent upon how much money I could spend to get it. I needed to know that my business could fail, I could go broke and poor and be homeless living with a friend and that I’d still be able to maintain my health on my own. That I could innovate ways to get it done, and that I was devoted enough to my cause to continue to innovate.

And, even when the gym membership is only $10/month (for 10 years, but still), there are legitimate reasons to consider getting it (or not).

So, have you decided to build your gym at home?

When it comes down to equipment to buy, think about what you enjoy – because that’s the final deciding factor in whether or not you’ll commit to it. So, if the program you choose comes from Wii, then make it happen. If it’s a PS23487453 (whichever one they’re on, now), then go for it. (Couldn’t be me, though – I’d be too busy trying to play some form of Grand Theft Auto… but I digress.)

All in all, I can’t tell you or recommend anything in particular simply because a) I’m cheap, b) I’m such a huge proponent of calisthenics and c) I find a lot of the major systems to be a load of bunk, anyway. If I had to recommend a purchase for anything, it’d be a workout mat and a pair of weights. (weights, obviously, dependent upon your own ability level – don’t get those fifteens if you can barely carry them out of the store.) Spend that money creating a space where you can feel comfortable working out, buying a new pair of workout shoes, and maybe a nice progress dress. You can do everything else from there with just those two, and you’ll be golden.

What am I missing? What should I add?

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Tammi September 26, 2012 - 3:14 PM

I actually use the fitness section of my cable television…I can pull up exercises “on demand” in any genre you can imagine. The community section of our newspaper has free zumba/dance classes I attend….Ive also used soup cans or bottles of bleach/laundry detergent for weights. I got a cheap pedometer to monitor how much I was walking and a free app on my phone to track my MPH just like when Im on the treadmill! I lost 42 pounds this way and even though I can afford a gym membership, I’m still not worried about getting one! As far as food, I love the grocery clubs and costco membership pays for itself within a few trips.

Olivia September 26, 2012 - 3:27 PM

I am on food stamps and am blessed to live near one of the best farmers markets around and they accept food stamps. The prices are so good I can buy a weeks worth of fruits/veggies, almost a month worth of grains and meat with the money I got each month. I save money when I plan-on Sundays I get out my recipes and figure out what I need for all 3 meals and get what I need and stick to that list. I only buy organic for the ‘dirty dozen’ such as apples, spinach, lettuce, etc. I tried the gym thing and even with a great discount from the YMCA I couldn’t afford it and now I simply don’t have the time to go. So I walk/jog and use weights at home. I used to use exercise DVD’s-I got the entire INSANITY workout (which is normally $150) for $25 from a person on craiglist and I did the same thing for TurboFire and they provide great workouts. My suggestion is to just rethink how you eat and what you do know and PLAN to be healthy and it will save you money. It is difficult to do so on the fly-it will take some time, thought, and effort but all good things that are worth it do!

Kellie September 26, 2012 - 7:38 PM

Back in the day, I started my fitness journey using workout videos I found at the second hand store for a buck. Yard sales are often a gold mine for exercise DVDs. Local libraries also have DVD rentals. You can try out different ones for free (as long as you remember to return them in time)!

Jay'l Harris September 26, 2012 - 8:25 PM

Walking is free easy & one of the best ways to get fit.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 27, 2012 - 10:14 AM

People REALLY discount the benefits of walking… gotta walk before you run. LITERALLY.

Anna Marie Hopewell September 11, 2013 - 11:14 AM

Hey Erika, I’ve been walking consistently for 6 months now and although I can’t see any obvious signs of extreme weight loss – I DO feel healthier, I enjoy my time outdoors, I’ve developed new muscles and have upped the mileage! I’m a size 22 on top and 24 on bottom with a large bust, so most floor exercises are a no-no and running/jogging hurt both my chest area and joints. I’ve also just started swimming. It’s baby steps for me..this journey to health has been on-going for the last 3-4 years, as previously I suffered from an eating disorder for 10 years. All this to say – I agree – WALKING IS GREAT!! And also thank you, for sharing your journey, being an inspiration and showing others that it’s possible. No gimmicks, no drastic measures, just plain old hard work and determination!

marie September 27, 2012 - 2:10 AM

I think this post is a good idea, it allowed me to find some posts I forgot. Do you think it could be useful to have one or two other posts like this on other major topic you discussed gathering the links to all the posts related to the subject? Like a big one on fitness and training, one about motivation etc. Sometimes, I want to read a particular post and if I don’t remember the title I struggle lol ( the comment has nothing to do with the post…. )

Aria Loveland September 27, 2012 - 10:13 AM

Training at home is the best. There are so many options to chose from. I, for one, love fitness magazines. A good fitness magazine will have tons of different workouts that are either meant to be done at home, or can be modified. Plus the magazines that are geared towards fitness competitors tend to have a lot of info on good form and technique, the proper way to build muscle, how to eat pre and post workout and how to change the shape of your body. You may not want to look like a body builder, but you can learn a lot from their discipline. Oxygen magazine is my favorite because it features in-shape women who work hard, not airbrushed models. I find it very inspirational to see women of all ages competing in fitness and reaching the goals they’ve set. Magazines are cheap, full of info, and you can grab them anytime for reference.

Rosie September 27, 2012 - 10:34 AM

I recently joined NYSC (a month pass brought on groupon) and decided not to get a membership because everything I was doing I can do for free outside of the gym. I am fortunate to have a park not too far a way but if you have to run around your block then do it, it’s free. When I first started running I brought one sports bra on sale at Target and used t-shirt and sweat pants I slept in. I would hand wash the sports bra when I got home and reuse it again the next day until I officially became consistent and slowly invested in real gym clothes (still on sale at Target). Weights/yoga mat/exercise ball you can buy at Marshall’s or Target and have in your house to use while watching American Idol – no excuses. If you already have Netflix you can rent exercise dvd’s if you need a little more structure.

ashe_phoenix September 27, 2012 - 1:35 PM

Hulu also has some full-length exercise videos and programs, including yoga, dance, and barre workouts. Paying about $8 a month for exercise (and plenty of other entertainment) is more reasonable than nearly $80 for a gym membership, no? 🙂

Also — not trying to throw shade — but it seems like the person who asked this hasn’t read this site. I find nothing but tips to save money and to shop smart here! I love this site precisely for that reason.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 28, 2012 - 7:02 AM


Savvy Mom October 17, 2012 - 10:16 AM

Oh, I have lost over 40 pounds in the last year by going to “Collagevideo”…reading reviews/previewing the video and buying it used on Amazon “for cheap”. A ‘gym membership” is not going to automatically make you “fit and thinner”…Consistency will!! SO, if I roll out of my bed at 5 am and do a Jari Love video 3 times a week..I am good…NO EXCUSES!!

So, correct about national brands doing store brands. For instance, Coleman’s organic hot dogs and Rancher’s Own(the Whole Food Brand) are one in the same. Also, with organic milk…the store brand is usually produced by a boutique or national brand. Frozen veggies are the best..beans are great…. chicken thighs are just a few more calories but they are high high in iron..So, don’t “run:” from the extra calories, you are getting a gold mine with the iron and if you are over 35 (which I am) that cuts down on having to buy iron supplements..

El January 30, 2013 - 4:48 AM

People who have Krogers in their area: hit up those simple truth items and the 10 for 10 produce sales when they happen. Seriously, for things like cereal, pasta, cage free eggs, milk, hormone free, cage free chicken… I’ve been so happy with Simple Truth. No creepy corn syrup, no lists of things I can’t pronounce, and cheaper than the fancy-pants organic brands. Not all of it is totally Clean I’m sure, but it’s still a head and shoulders height or more above the normal crap lining the shelves- and it isn’t Whole Foods pricey.

Twyla January 30, 2013 - 4:45 PM

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
This is the one I have been waiting for, something for those of us who are strapped for cash.

Tahmeka Thompson February 21, 2013 - 12:24 AM

If you have Internet access, you have Youtube. There are thousands of fitness videos there. Garage sales are great for equipment.
As for food, I cosign with meal planning. It helps so much. A whole chicken is $6. I will roast one or buy one already roasted and get 2 dinners and 2 lunches out of it. Remain flexible. Buy what’s on sale and be creative. You might not like oats every morning but it does the trick and it’s cheap and there are so many ways to dress it up. And a good variety of spices will add some variety to cheap cuts of meat and poultry. My farmer’s market sells tons of spices at $1 per huge scoop.

Nubian July 31, 2013 - 10:15 PM

I try working out at home but I get bored with it. I do the videos but I got bored. I free-style and try to do my own thing but I get bored. As much as I love walking, I would never go walking in my neighborhood; it’s just not advisable especially in the evening. I’m up at 5am every morning trying to get myself and my child ready for the day so I can’t get in a morning exercise plus I find that my body is most stiff from early morning to mid/late afternoons; even on the weekends it’s best for me to wait until the evening to exercise. What is a girl to do when she is bored with the exercising but also bored with her current weight??

Erika Nicole Kendall August 4, 2013 - 9:40 PM

Work REALLY hard on those eating habits, and remember that exercise isn’t done with the express purpose of serving as entertainment. It needs to be functional first, and goal-oriented second. And nowhere on that list, will you see “entertaining.” Boring or not, you still need to work within your constraints. *hug* It sucks, but you’ve got to figure it out.

Angel D September 11, 2013 - 4:08 PM

I shop at ethnic grocery stores and it saves me a lot of money. Instead of buying convenience foods I just make my own. Like going to the dollar store and getting packs of ziplocs and freezing individual packs of cut up veggies and beans and meat. I cut up and prepare everything myself and that saves me a ton of money. Also, I buy reduced (close to expiration date) produce and meat. That way I can get organic and non-GMO foods for way less and just freeze them.

Angel D September 11, 2013 - 4:09 PM

Also youtube has tons of free workout videos you can do at home and websites like sparkpeople.com do too.

Karen October 16, 2013 - 9:59 AM

And don’t forget the “free” section of Craigslist for exercise equipment.

JC September 28, 2014 - 11:22 PM

Also another good thing you could do if you are fresh out of school or still attending school is to use the on campus fitness center which usually lets students or even the close community use the equipment for free which is what I do now. I am dirt broke but right now I am living on my foodstamps and using the school fitness center that is only a block away from where I live. When I move which is going to be pretty soon, I don’t know how I’m going to get my workouts in but hopefully a school will be near where I live at or my apartment has one.

Laura May 26, 2016 - 11:44 PM

This is old, but I feel like the thing I can’t seem to afford is Time.. Get up early, come home and watch kids/ do housework. If I want a minute to myself I have to pay for it. If I want a breakfrom the chores, I have to pay, If I want to go somewhere that with some floor space, I’ve got to pay (and bring the kids) And… I can’t do that. I have roommates and I just can’t bring myself to work out in front of them (or in public where everyone in the world with no appreciation for what I’m going through can stare at me), but my personal space does not have enough room to do a jumping jack, much less a plank. I’ve tried walking with the kids, but it’s not exercize. It’s… very slow. Short legs, easily distracted, what can I say.
I’ve had a gym membership before, and I kind of crave just going out and getting it done without distractions. But even if I could manage the membership, I don’t have a car, and I definitely don’t have time to work out AND take the bus, especially with the kids.
I realize this is an old post, I am just frustrated and had to let it out. If I had a million dollars, I’d have my own space AND a gym membership, reliable and trustworthy childcare, and transportation.

JC June 1, 2016 - 12:47 PM

CICO: Calories in Calories Out is the rule of thumb when it comes to weight loss. Exercise is important but not as important as staying within your calorie allowment. I know some people don’t like to count calories and it can become time consuming especially with kids but it is vital and the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off. I am living proof of that. It took me a while to lose 80lbs but I have lost it and still have another 70 to go but i am more than confident that i will get there now that i know that proper nutrition is key and what I have found to work for me more than anything else is keeping track of my calorie limit. Don’t focus so much on exercise if you don’t have proper nutrition because exercise is pointless when you are still eating the wrong foods or over your calorie limit. Not to say exercising didnt help but it mostly helped keep my appetite down. Thats about it.

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