Budgeting For Bodybuilders

About the Author: Eric Cressey

By Eric Cressey

A while back, during the infancy of my transition from business school to the world of exercise science, I wrote Budgeting for Bodybuilders, a collection of thoughts that unified these two facets of my academic background. To me, all the information seemed like common sense; like many poor graduate students, I’m up to my neck in student loans, so I need to be–gasp–cheap. As such, I was pretty surprised to receive dozens of emails from people who really went out of their way to let me know how much they appreciated the article.

Apparently, there are a lot of other people out there like me who are constantly looking for ways to save a few bucks and better manage their dough. These folks thanked me for helping them to save money and better organize their finances and priorities. Heck, one reader even offered me his first-born child. Okay, so I’m lying, but lots of people did ask if I had any more secrets on how to keep on training like a madman and eating like a horse without breaking the bank. I really only scratched the surface with my old “tips;” in case you missed them, here’s a recap:

  1. Buy in bulk
  2. Drink tap water.
  3. Buy generic foods.
  4. Reuse empty cottage cheese containers as Tupperware.
  5. Shop for supplements online.
  6. Order in bulk to save on shipping charges.

Without further adieu, here are ten more magical secrets specifically for the iron enthusiast:

1) Befriend a hunter: This tactic won’t do much for your sex life if he introduces you to his one-toothed, inbred sister, but it’s a sure-fire way to fill your freezer a couple times per year with venison, moose, pheasant, or the odd stray cat. Besides, can you think of anything cooler than knowing that what you’re eating was carved on the back of a pickup truck?

2) Stock up at sale time: Be sure to read mailings and the flyers in the local newspapers; clip coupons, too. When meats are on sale, stock up and fill your freezer. You’ll derive satisfaction not only from saving boatloads of cash, but also from knowing that the mothers in the grocery store will be hiding their “tasty” young children from the carnivore with 47 pounds of chicken in his cart. You can freeze fresh vegetables (and some fruits) that are on sale, too, to save over pre-packaged frozen items. You might even consider some local farmers’ markets for these purchases; they’ll usually offer cheaper, and definitely higher quality produce than larger stores. Unfortunately, purchasing large quantities of vegetables tends to elicit less fear in innocent bystanders, and a lot more vegetarian jokes. Speaking of which, what do you call a vegetarian with the runs? Salad-shooter! But I digress…look for sales, stock up, and freeze.

3) Do your homework when buying supplements!: You’d think that this would be common sense, but I’m constantly amazed at how many suckers there are in the world. Nitric oxide supplements are perfect examples; they’re ridiculously expensive and ineffective, yet how many people do you think have wasted money on them in order to learn that? Way too many frat boys, and most of the time, the ones that do report amazing gains are the ones that couldn’t drag themselves to the gym beforehand. Now that they have this amazing supplement, they finally start to train; talk about magnifying the placebo effect! Plus, even if they realized nitric oxide bit the big one, these guys have too much pride to admit that they got ripped off. Heaven forbid that anyone find out that they spent the money mom and dad sent for laundry and books on crap supplements and…

4) BOOZE!: If you go to bars or sporting events, it’s too damn expensive to get drunk. If you’re sitting at home getting drunk by yourself, you’re an alcoholic with bigger problems; I suggest taking up solitaire. Or, dare I say it? You could exercise.

By the way, alcohol won’t do much for your physique, either. Remember: you want the six-pack, not the keg! If you absolutely must get plastered, you can at least make an effort to return the bottles for a modest return on investment afterward, slacker!

5) Prioritize: When you got into the iron game, you probably realized early on that to make good progress, you also needed to be willing to make some sacrifices. One has to make time instead of finding time to train several times per week and eat 6-8 healthy meals per day. Moreover, if you really want to improve, you need to be take time to read and discuss training, nutrition, and supplementation methodologies in order to learn. Since I don’t want to sound overly harsh in lecturing you here, I’ll just toss out another vegetarian joke:

Q: How many vegetarians does it take to change a light bulb?

A: It’s a trick question; vegetarians can’t change a damn thing!

6) The Magical Change Jar: This tip is absolutely priceless. I started doing it about two years ago; without fail, I collected enough change every month to pay off the monthly interest bill (roughly $12-$15) I received for some of my student loans. Very simply, find an empty jar and place it within five feet of the door to your apartment or house. Each time you walk past it (i.e. returning home at the end of the day), take all the change out of your pockets, wallet, or purse, and put it in the jar. Throughout the month, never buy anything with change. For instance, if you’re at the store and your total comes to $14.02, give the cashier $15; don’t offer the extra two pennies. Instead, take the $0.98 home and deposit it in your “magical change jar.” Think of it as a deceptive way to force yourself to save without even knowing it. Some people may frown on deception, and you may piss off the cashier that is forced to make change, but you’ll thank me when you have enough money at the end of the month for a new training book or a few pounds of protein powder.

7) Plan and pack ahead: I shouldn’t need to tell you how much cheaper it is to pack your grub for the day the night before than it is to go out to lunch. Hitting the coffee shop every morning is just as bad; if you save that two bucks every weekday, that’s roughly $520 over the course of a year. Either use this money to buy a coffee maker and your own materials, or save the dough and kick the morning caffeine habit altogether. Your pre-workout caffeine buzz will be all the more satisfying if you aren’t a habitual coffee drinker, anyway. More importantly, you’ll have more cash available for more worthwhile expenditures. Again, nothing witty on which to end here, so here’s another one:

Q: Why did the vegetarian cross the road?

A: She was protesting on behalf of the poor and defenseless chicken.

8) Learn the art of the home brew: This one piggybacks on #6. Not only is this a great way to save cash, it’s also a lot of fun, as you get to play the part of “deranged chemist” in your kitchen! Customizing your proteins is useful in both meal-replacement shakes, puddings, and post-workout concoctions. If you’re interested, look no further than Black Star Labs; these guys know their stuff and offer high quality proteins and great service at low prices. From a pre-bed or midday MRP standpoint, you might want a blend with more slow-digesting proteins like calcium caseinate and milk protein isolate. Or, if you’re someone that likes an MRP at breakfast, you might want more whey. You can even buy a few pounds of each and be your own mixer by having a few varieties on hand. Additionally, an added advantage of having separate powders on hand for your post-training “home brew” is that you can tinker with your protein/carb/BCAA/glutamine inclusion decisions. If you’re training with lower reps or are looking to lean out quickly, you’ll want fewer (or no) carbs in your mid/post training shake. In contrast, when volume is higher, and you’re looking to gain some size, you can be more liberal with your dextrose and maltodextrin additions. Finally, when you buy BCAAs and glutamine in bulk, you save a ton over encapsulated forms. Did I mention that most cannibals agree that vegetarians taste better?

9) Be a guinea pig: Check with local universities and independent research organizations to see if individuals of your age, physical profile, and qualifications are needed for studies. You might as well have some fun in the process, so look into something exercise-related. Studies dealing with strength and conditioning always need young, resistance-trained men to participate in various protocols, many of which pay very well: $100-$1000 in my experience, depending on the extent of the intervention (duration, difficulty of the protocol, dietary records, biopsies, blood sampling, etc.). In many cases, you’ll get a free body composition assessment via a DEXA scan or hydrostatic weighing as a bonus. In longer duration studies, you might even get your own educated personal trainer for a few months at a time! Unfortunately, in most cases, women are excluded due to variations that arise with the menstrual cycle. Don’t let that stop you from taking part in supplement, dietary, or other performance-related tasks, though! On a totally unrelated note, how can you spot vegetarians in restaurants? They’re the customers that talk with the waiter for twenty minutes, and then just order garden salads.

10) Be your own butcher: Take a look at the typical cost of a thin sliced top-round steak at your local grocery store. At mine, it’s at least $3.99/lb. Now, when I went to a wholesale club and bought a 73-pound case of top round roasts for $118.99, I paid $1.63/lb. The trade-off? Thirty minutes of my time to carve off some of the extra fat, chop the suckers up, individually bag them, and put them in the freezer. When I’m ready for a steak, all I need to do is hack off part of the roast. If I had let the local butcher do it for the 65 pounds (let’s assume I chopped off eight pounds of fat), I would have paid $259.35. Now, was my thirty minutes worth $140.36? Damn right! And, if that’s not enough, I avoided the time and hassle of having to go shopping every week. Plus, I got the sick thrill of seeing the horrified looks on my neighbors’ faces when I hauled a massive quantity of animal flesh out of my trunk?

That about wraps it up. I should note that although I eat an exorbitant amount of meat, I harbor no ill will toward vegetarians; I’m just not creative enough to write an entire article on being cheap without having a little fun at someone else’s expense. So whether you’re eating vegetables or soft, fluffy, innocent, woodland creatures that were brutally massacred and then carefully carved, marinated, and grilled to tasty perfection, I hope that your wallet appreciates the tips I’ve provided.

Note: no animals were injured in the creation of this article. During the writing process, I did, however, cook and devour the remains of several that were already dead. They were yummy.