Monday, February 18

My Body Is The Most Expensive Thing I Own

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I’ve recently been asked to write more about fitness, so here it is. At first glance, it might seem like this has little to with personal finance — except for how much I spend on gym memberships, nutritional supplements, and workout wear — but how you keep fit might have more to do with your finances than you might think. Aside from the obvious parallels in tracking and goal-setting, your health as much, if not more, impact on your quality of life than your finances. But if you’re not looking for a workout & diet routine, feel free to skip this post and we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming later this week.

“A fit physique is the ultimate status symbol. No money can buy it, you cannot inherit it, you cannot steal it, you cannot borrow it. You cannot hold on to it without constant work. It shows patience, passion, and discipline. It is true wealth.”

I am, right now, as fit as I’ve ever been.

gym selfie

most recent gym selfie (2 weeks ago)

After a childhood and teenage years of gymnastics and cheerleading, I spent my twenties in yoga and running 5K’s at least 3x per week. The first 6 months of my MBA program are one of the only times in my life I’ve been “unfit”, and had 10lbs to show for it. Fed up with how I felt and looked, I got back into yoga, completed the BeachBody Insanity Program and finally went back to lifting heavy at the gym.

When it comes to health and fitness, I am the 1%. Everything about it is a luxury. I feel good almost all the time. Not only do I feel awake, alert, and productive, specific pains like a chronic shoulder injury or the common cold are kept at bay by my active routine. I sleep well and wake up easily. At 29, I look more or less the same as I did at 19. For women, liking the way you look in everything from sweatpants to bikinis is a heavenly state of self-acceptance that can seem unattainable. I enjoy it every day.

I won’t lie, maintaining this level of physical fitness takes far more dedicated effort than it did in my early 20’s. My nutrition is fairly regimented and I hit the gym religiously 3-4 times per week, and when I’m there, I kick my own ass so hard even the personal trainers comment on my “dedication”. To an outsider, my routine might seem fanatical, but as any fit person knows, you hit a rhythm that pumps so many feel-good endorphins into your bloodstream, you hate the days when you don’t workout.

But I bought this luxury. My body is the most expensive thing I own.

I spend $70 per month for my gym membership, which works out to $840 per year. I understand that you can choose to run outside and do bodyweight exercises at home, but I can’t have the body I want without a full weight room. Most women don’t realize there’s a major short-cut to the body they want: lifting heavy weights. The answer to being ultra-fit isn’t hours of cardio and knee push-ups, it’s doing squats with a barbell loaded up until it weighs more than you do.

I burn through 1 pair of shoes per year plus regularly purchase fitness apparel. This probably costs $500 per year. And then there’s my food. So much food and nutritional supplements. Together my fiancé and I spend about $600 per month on groceries, which is a lot for 2 people. I imagine the bill would be closer to $400 if we didn’t consume 2 chicken breasts each, every single day. I’ve outlined what a weight-lifting diet on a budget looks like, and it’s still not cheap, but it’s worth its price tag.

All in, I estimate the individual cost for my fitness routine is $3,000 per year.

It’s the best $3,000 I spend, but I won’t say it doesn’t put a dent in my bank account. $3,000 is not a small amount of money. It’s enough to pay for a nice vacation. It’s enough to pay for my cellphone, Netflix, internet, daily Starbucks habit, and then some for an entire year. Putting $3,000 towards my health and fitness each year instead of into a savings account will leave me $270,000 poorer in retirement. But exercising regularly and eating healthy increases the probability that I’ll see my retirement years in the first place, so that’s the trade off.

At 29, I am 5’8 and about 145lbs, with a bodyfat percentage of ~22% which falls in the category of “fitness”. Most people are surprised at my weight, because my dress size is 4, but since my lean mass is around 113lbs I can’t actually get below 142lbs without taking my bodyfat under 20%. Which would be fine if I was an athlete or fitness competitor and only doing it for a short time, but I’m not. For images that show a visual representation of bodyfat percentages plus explanations of each, there’s one right here.

For those in a truly voyeuristic mood, my diet & workout routine are detailed below.

My Meal Plan, My Rules

  • 6 meals per day consisting of 1,800 calories/day on rest days and 2,000 calories/day on days I workout
  • 80% of all calories must come from good food, 20% can come from treats & cheat meals (this will usually be enough to have 1 serving of a dessert, candy, or cheat food per day)
  • Must consume a minimum 125g of protein per day
  • Must consume vegetables or fruit at at least 4 meals per day
  • Do Not Eat: bread, dairy, refined sugar, saturated fat, or alcohol

The first time my personal trainer told me to cut out dairy from my diet I LOL’d, but it ended up being the last thing I needed to tip me over into the physique I wanted. At that point, I had already been a long time without bread, which is still absent from my diet except for treats & cheats. When you give up bread, one of the first things you’ll notice is how ludicrously overloaded the North American diet is with shitty carbs. We have the stupid notion that croissants, scones, bagels, and toast are good breakfasts. We think we need sandwiches and muffins at lunch. For dinner we want pasta and garlic bread. I’m not on the gluten-hating bandwagon, but I still think there is something seriously wrong this picture. If you change nothing else about your diet, cut back on refined carbohydrates and it will likely yield dramatic results.

Of course, with so many bad carbs on our plates, we rarely get enough good food. Most Americans are fibre deficient, and while we’re all getting enough protein by stuffing our face with red meat, we’d all be better off choosing lean meats like chicken instead. All the carbs posing as “variety” keep us from eating enough different foods, which leaves everyone missing out on essential minerals and vitamins. Just to make your body suffer all the more, most people aren’t drinking enough water either.

If you feel exhausted and unmotivated, if you frequently get colds, if you find yourself moody or even depressed, try changing what you eat. It’s the likely culprit. Most people think they can out-exercise a bad diet. You can’t. And the sooner you make peace with that, the better off you’ll be.

Keeping treats in my diet is the difference between the body I have now, and that of a fitness competitor. If I ever wanted to achieve the ultra-lean physique of a bikini pro, it’d take about 4 weeks at my current workout, with the crap axed from my diet. Too bad I don’t want to live in a world without wine or cake.

For those that want to attempt to out-exercise a bad diet, I have a treat for you. My gym routine is hell.

My Gym Routine

I hit the gym four times per week, which most people tell me is actually less than they would expect. If I’ve had a particularly bad weekend eating, I’ll put in another workout, but generally I find 4x is the sweet spot to meet my fitness goals without killing myself. I lift heavy, which means I tend to stick to the weight room. I use a chart like this, and aim to be “Intermediate” to “Elite” in all categories, because I am a boss.

My current workout is 45 minutes to 1 hour long, and is one I designed myself, based loosely on the Insanity program and another workout regimen I found in an issue of Muscles & Fitness. I repeat six to eight sets of a three-part series that consists of:

  • 1 minute of a full-body exercise like weighted lunges, jump squats, or burpees
  • 1 to 1.5 minute sprint (8 mph) on the treadmill at a 5-8% incline (I just leave the treadmill on throughout the workout and hop off to do my other exercises)
  • 2 sets of 10 reps of an upper body weightlifting exercise

My general rule of thumb is if I’m not vomiting or close to it, I’m not working hard enough. This is a level of intensity most people aren’t comfortable with, and I get that, but this will burn 500 to 600 calories in less than 60 minutes if you’re willing to suffer through it. That is the reason I can have a cupcake or a glass of wine at the end of the day. Also I really like that crazy exhausted feeling when you’re totally calorie-depleted and your lungs are on fire and all you want to do is nap.

On days when I don’t do the burpees-sprint-lift set but still want to get a workout in, I’ll do just weightlifting, particularly legs. I’m super proud that I can squat 155lbs for 10 reps, and I don’t want to lose it!

I workout hard and I work hard, because that’s just what I do. I don’t really see the point of doing anything half-assed. Not your job, not your body, not your life. Like everything else, you get what you put in, and if your body doesn’t look the way you want it to, it’s because you’re not eating right and exercising hard enough. Just like you choose your income and savings strategy for the lifestyle and wealth you want, you can (and should!) choose your fitness routine based on the lifestyle and body you want.

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About Author

Student debt killer, super saver, and stock market addict. BSc. in Chemistry from the University of Alberta, MBA in Finance from the University of Calgary, and PhD from the school of life in being a badass. Currently residing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but hooked on travelling.

56 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this is so much detail! Investing in your body is so important – your health is your biggest asset! And it seems only natural that someone so rigorous with their finances would be rigorous with their diet/exercise routine.

  2. Thanks for the post! I’m looking to hit the gym more regularly but between soccer (1-2 times/week), keeping up with running and cycling into work (1-2 times/week at 36k return) I am finding it hard to get there more then twice a week. I have found (as stated) cardio is not enough to get me the body I want so I just need to find a balance!

    • That much cardio can make it hard to maintain muscle mass so if you’re going to add weights to routine make sure you get a TON of protein each day!

      It sounds like you’re pretty fit already but weightlifting is definitely the best way to sculpt your body! You’ll love the results!

  3. Love this post! I miss your fitness update on Instagram, they were so motivating to me personally. I fell off the workout wagon after I moved to the city, but in the last month I re-started tracking my calories, my weight and getting back into cardio, and the results are already showing. Keep these updates coming!

    • haha I think the main reason I’ve given up on updates is because it’s not really a “journey” anymore. I’ve reached my fitness & health goals, and now it’s pretty much routine =p

      I miss my insta too but it got too creepy when it was being copied, so I just locked it and don’t update anymore.

  4. And you’re spending a lot of time whilst investing in your body. That’s a lot of $$$ (opportunity cost) right there. But it of course is worth it. I’m very health conscious as well. I can’t think of a more worthwhile expenditure that on your health. *sips a kale/spinach/banana/strawberry/almond milk/pecan smoothie*

  5. I really admire your dedication! How do you balance your schedule with it? I am not looking to make excuses for why I don’t go to the gym anymore, however, I now work two jobs and currently participating more at my primary job. So I always find it hard to make time before or after work when I only work one of the jobs. What is your motivation to be able to dedicate the time and effort for gym routine? Also, do you meal plan? .

    • I hit the gym during my lunch hour — it’s the best time for me because it gets me away from a computer screen for an hour, right when I need it most. I work in a flexible office, so if I go over my lunch break by 10 or 15mins (because I always need a shower after this workout!), and can simply stay an extra 10-15mins at the end of the day. When I was doing my MBA in the evenings, I never worked out on those days — it was just too much back to back!

      Honestly it *seems* like a lot to cram in, but working out regularly makes me 200% more productive so I know I need to do it in order to perform well at work and keep up with my other hobbies & business (Money After Graduation!). If working out 4x per week means I can work 40 hours without being tired, it’s a worthy investment.
      Getting over the mental hurdle that taking the time to exercise will actually put more time in your schedule is hard to grasp at first but I promise it’s true!

  6. Amazing girl! How do you manage the sitting down at work – if you do indeed sit down? I’m constantly given weird looks at work for doing squats, calf raises and foam rolling at work…although some coworkers have gotten into it with me. I’m saving up for a standing desk type deal.

    • haha I don’t workout at work. I sit at a desk for my 8 hours per day. I walk to the gym on my lunch hour and kick my ass in the weight room. Body weight exercises are awesome, but to get the muscle tone I want I have to lift heavy weights!

      • Opps, i should have clarified. I know the heavy weights are the only way to get the shape you have. I was referring to more that ‘sitting is the new heart disease/smoking etc articles that say the hourly gym workout isn’t enough. Which scares me a little, which explains my body weights movements during work (weights for me at the gym at lunch too!).

  7. I love this post because I really enjoy when people who work out and are fit explain the process and dedication that it takes to get there. I hate fad dieting and detoxes and all that nonsense, and I really enjoy when people describe how it’s mostly lots of good eating and routine, routine, routine.

    I’m currently the most unfit I’ve been probably in my entire adult life and it’s 100% tied to my job. I find it a tad ironic that I work for a sports event yet due to the hours I am required to keep and the stress I’m under, I can barely commit to a regular sleep schedule, much less a workout regime 🙁 Back when I was in my post-grad and then at my old job, I was weightlifting and doing core/cardio (similar to yours except a step below the vomiting level!) and I felt AMAZING and in such control. I even did a pin-up shoot! (GAMS, GAMS GAMS). I miss feeling like I could trust my body, I MISS being stronger. I’m really hoping that once this job is done I can go back to a slightly more structured life and get back to it.

    ** I do bike to work pretty much every day, rain or shine, but that’s only 15k so pfft.

    • Yah I am NOT of the fad diet/detox camp at all. My bod requires near-constant attention, but once that’s a habit it’s ok.

      I follow a lot of fitness competitors on instagram, and they’d always be talking about killing it in the gym just to achieve these teeny tiny results I couldn’t even see. Honestly they compare competition photos from one year ago to today and I think they look amazing in both but they’ll point out these incremental gains in muscle size or definition. Now that I’ve been going hardcore in my routine for >18 months I finally get it: even after you achieve the level of “fit”, little tweaks are SO rewarding. The body I have right now wasn’t possible 12 or 6 months ago, but after day-in, day-out dedication it’s stronger & better than after. It’s so cliche but it really does have to be a lifestyle!

      Biking 15K is hardcore, don’t pft that!

  8. I agree with you about it being the ultimate status symbol,
    because I have been working out since I was in university but I never took the eating part of the lifestyle seriously. Now, I’m in a slump when I comes to the gym and I let my membership expire. And from than to now, the one thing that remains the same is I have never been happy with or proud about my look. I wasn’t 100% committed and I knew it.

    I’m going to start up again because I can’t expect to a Porsche to run on vegetable oil!

  9. Marc Ramirez on

    I can’t agree with you more, you nailed on every topic. Congrats on your mindset and the great body ypu have achieved, keep the positive thoughts and good changes coming.

  10. This is so inspirational! I only work out 2x per week with the same kind of intensity & similar workout plan but I’m getting there. Thank you for the motivation to push myself and keep at it 🙂

    • Thank you!! It does — it’s a total game changer. I love how taking care of my body spills into every other area of my life. Talk about a high ROI!

  11. Is there anything you don’t do with this level of intensity? Jeez girl!
    Thanks for another glimpse into your fitness. I just got re-focused on my fitness and increased my investment. It’s not fun to see the extra money coming out of my account but it will be so worth it when I start seeing the GAINS!

  12. Do you actually attempt 1-rep maxes regularly? Or do you use the calculator given with the chart? I’ve done a lot of weight lifting in my time as well, but I’ve read conflicting things re: doing 1-rep maxes.

    • No, I use the calculator. I actually used to use a different chart that was on Bodybuilding.com but it’s been moved or disappeared so that was just the most recent one I found in Google search.

      Calculator seems to give pretty reasonable estimates though, maybe a little under.

  13. Wow, inspirational. You could give Laura Harris a run for her money 🙂
    This post made me feel like a sloth though, lol.
    I’ve always had an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise.
    I used to be an obsessive exerciser, and from the ages of 12 to 19 I would run on the treadmill for 2 hours every single day, or until I felt like I was gonna black out. I was also on a swimming squad, & done ice-skating so was very self conscious of how I looked in swimmers / leotards.
    I restricted myself to 3 small meals a day too, which was hard because I’ve always loved food.
    Now I’m in my mid twenties and the only exercise I get is from running errands / unintentional exercise like housework and washing the car, etc. I do go on hour long walks a couple times a week, but it’s more for my state of mind than for fitness.
    I also have (diagnosed) coeliac disease, but it hasnt stopped me from stuffing my face with gluten free breads, pasta’s, and starchy carbs. I only eat savoury foods though and it’s near impossible to get gluten free takeaway so my weight is pretty much the same as when I was young. Admittedly I was way underweight back then, but I’m in a healthy weight range now (still on the lower end).
    I might see if I can convince a friend to go to the gym with me, I’d be more inclined to stick it out and less likely to revert to old habits.
    You look fantastic BTW

    • I think some people are surprised how little exercise (1hr 3x per week vs. 2hrs every day) you need to get fit… it all depends what you do. Working at a high intensity let’s me workout less often and still see the same results as I would choosing easy or moderate workouts every day.

      Even though I have no gluten intolerance or allergy can I just say I LOVE gluten-free desserts?? Gluten-free chocolate cake is 100% more fudge-y goodness than regular cake!

      I love to eat too — which is one of the reasons I choose a weightlifting routine. 2,000 calories per day goes pretty far. Not McDonald’s far, but the six meals far, and that’s good enough for me. I am “bigger” than I would be on a lower protein & lower calorie diet that I would do if I wasn’t lifting weight, but I prefer muscles over being slim.

      I had a really weird perception of my own figure, even over the past 12 months where I thought I still had ~5lbs to lose because I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get below 145lbs. In my head 145lbs was heavy, and I erroneously thought I needed to get under 140lbs to be truly fit. It wasn’t until I got my bodyfat percentage assessed with calipers and was told I physically couldn’t get below 140lbs without getting my bodyfat under 20% (which while still ok for athletes, etc, can actually do crazy things like stop your period). Now I just accept that I am a beast and that weighs a lot 😉

      • congratulations girl – you look good! Totally inspirational! I’ve finally got the message that strength training is where it’s at! I’m still struggling with the eating though – I’ve recently found out that I have hypothyroidism, and that explains a lot about why I could eat so much and never lose weight! I’m glad to have an explanation, but it makes getting the body I want that much harder. I’ve recently been told to give up dairy too and I think I just have to accept it! There’s no magical pill except to just do it. Any advice on how you got over cravings for carbs and sugar? Treats are definitely worth it once and a while – but not if it starts Avalanche of not eating well. Thanks for any suggestions!

        • Thank you!!

          The eating is the hardest part, no matter what. It’s hard to shake that sense of deprivation when you give up the foods you love.

          Honestly, to get over cravings for carbs & sugar, it just takes some time. I know this is what everyone says (because it’s true!) but eventually if you eat healthy, your cravings for bad food goes away. So as you cut sugar out of your diet, you’ll notice your dependence on it also goes away.

          Something that I really love that helps are Quest nutrition bars — they are SO GOOD that they taste like a dessert (I love the cookies & cream one!), but they’re protein bars with very low carbs. It tastes like a cheat without being one! So having one of those every day definitely curbs cravings, then the rest is just being full on good food & getting enough water. I only crave bad food when I’m hungry, so usually I try to eat something healthy first and that takes away the craving.

          • I agree with the sugar/carb cravings going away after a bit. I haven’t had regular yogurt in ages (I know I should probably cut the dairy period) but I had a sample at costco of a “fruit” yogurt and I could not get over how sweet it tasted, but fake gross sweet. I eat fruit and to me there is nothing better then in season strawberries or peaches etc. thanks again for all the post! Ever think of writing a fitness blog?

  14. Your commitment and dedication to fitness is impressive. Based on my results lately, I could use some of that… I’m going to be trying a new approach to organizing my life, so hopefully with that will come the ability to plan and eat better, and also fit in more time for fitness and exercise.

  15. Damn girl! Lookin’ hot!

    And here I felt good about going for a 10 min run last week for the first time in 3 months, haha…

    that’s some major commitment over there – and very similar to paying off debt or saving up for something big. You REALLY gotta want it and prioritize it to make it happen, and you my lady are killin’ it.

    Great post.

  16. Wow. I have to say I am super impressed. I really like your rational for why fitness is such an important part of the budget. When I was trimming my budget last year, I cut my gym membership. I try to do home workouts/runs but it can be really hard to motivate yourself when you’re not in that environment or have a trainer/instructor yelling at you. Thanks for this article, you have given me something to think about.

  17. You only go through a single pair of shoes in a year? I do a couple of sprints in addition to kettlebells, but I’m looking at 3-4 pairs. On the other hand, I guess I am a little more clompy than most when I workout.

    • I’ve never found I’ve needed more than one pair per year… the shoes I have now are just starting to get a hole in them and I bought them last July, so it’s right on schedule =p

  18. Yesss put in work!! My fiance and have been weightlifting for a few years, and I can relate to the grocery bills! We make our own preworkouts too (because it’s healthier and wayyyyyyyy cheaper). We usually stick to strength building so we lift for around 2 hours 5-6 days a week so it takes up a lot more of our time, but like you said, it’s worth all the dedication and $$ commitments.

  19. Just out of curiosity (not sure if you’ve mentioned it) but you also had a health blog, did you close it down?

  20. Great write up. My husband and I are pretty thin but I think it’s a bit of genetics… He loves sweets and is of the mentality that you can work off a bad diet…. I know its not true… Something we will have to work on as we get older and our bodies naturally become less efficient and burning excess fat off

  21. Love this post! Thanks for breaking it down(guess I was in the voyeuristic mood!). I’m getting back into a regular routine again after a few months off, and swimming and Pilates are my current exercise drugs of choice. People always say it takes awhile to see results, but I start feeling them again right away. More energy, more focused, more productive. I’m hoping to get over that hump soon where I miss working out when I don’t. But for now, I remember that, much like Matthew Inman, I *am* The Blerch.

  22. Really like this post. I think a lot of people who are really serious about their finances can convince themselves to put their health on the back burner while they kick their savings in to high gear. That’s OK for the short run, but really your health is by FAR your most valuable asset. Nice write up.

  23. Insanely inspiring! I really do need to be more objective about my health. It’s so easy for my to come up with excuses.

    • Thank you!! It’s easy for me to come up with excuses too.. and sometimes I give in haha. Overall I just try to create lifestyle hacks that don’t let me make excuses. Routine is my savior.

  24. awesome post! I also agree that my body is my most expensive asset LOL
    The thing I did notice, everyone’s calorie and protein intake is different. It all depends on the individual. How active they are, their lean body mass and specific needs/desires. So while it’s amazing to see your specifics, no one should follow this routine unless it fits them specifically.
    I only need 102 g of protein a day for example.
    It takes 1300 calories to sustain me, and I need 2100 calories in my diet a day the way I train.
    I am 33 5’5, 126 lbs 20% body fat with 102 lean mass. I weight train 5 days a week, do cardio the other two.
    I don’t compete and this is a lifestyle for me. I just wanted others to see the comparison between bodies.
    Thank you so much for sharing!! I just wanted to stress that point to people reading this really was wonderful to read 🙂

    • Thank you! I agree that protein & calorie intake totally depends on the individual. I just got my measurements done this past Monday, and I came in at 145.0lbs total, with 113.4lbs lean mass. My bodyfat came in just under 22%.

      Nicely done hitting the gym every day of the week! That is impressive!

  25. Wow. I have never been to your blog before. I found it through RockStar Finance. This is one of the most useful blog posts I have ever read. I am fairly fit myself, but I am taking notes. Just amazing.

  26. Raquelle Graham on

    I truly appreciate how detailed you were in your article. Half the time, I feel like I am pulling teeth when asking someone for their regimen. I also love how abundantly clear you made it, that it is hard work to maintain. Oftentimes, people believe some were just born that way. Thanks!