When I started running, I was a single mom living on my teacher’s salary during the Great Recession. Let’s just say there were many grocery store trips where I decided my favorite feta cheese was too expensive. My running gear investments included a pair of shoes and a sports bra. One of the greatest things about running is that you don’t need a bunch of super-expensive gear or instructor-led classes to get your run done. When I started, it was a relatively cheap hobby and even now when I’m up to seventy mile weeks it still costs me less than a monthly gym-fee to maintain.
However, at this level running this cheaply is not easy. Eight years into this hobby/lifestyle/addiction the costs can quickly add up. Between run-cations, race entries, high-tech gear, fancy outfits, medical costs, and shoes, shoes and more shoes, running can get really expensive really quickly.
Additionally, like everything in our consumer culture, there is an endless amount of running gear cleverly marketed to convince us that we need that shiny new product to run better. Although I don’t need to worry about splurging on the feta anymore, I am a cheapskate who is turned off by the running catalogs that tell me life just isn’t worth living without a $90 sheer color-block tank. Whether you’re a cheapskate, on a tight budget, or simply looking for a way to spend less on running, here are my tried and true tips for running on the cheap.
Do pay premium for the most important part of your running gear, your shoes. When searching for the right make and model, start with your local running store where you may or may not (see GO LOCAL below) pay a premium for a knowledgable salesperson to fit you. However, once you know what make and model works for you, you can likely find it at a discount online. The site Shoekicker can guide you to the cheapest deal online, but I’ve also found some epic deals on the brand’s own site or non-running sites like DSW. Sign-up for your favorite brand’s email newsletter to receive notifications of sales.
New models tend to come out in the beginning of the year, which means right before that is when you might find steep discounts on the slightly stale model. Salty, for instance, counts on stocking up on running shoes around Christmas when they’re often offered at a steep discount. Any time of the year, look for last season’s version of your shoe for big savings. And for goodness sake, if you find a particularly great deal, buy in bulk because they go fast, especially if you have an average sized foot. I got four pairs of my $120 shoes for $50 each once. And go by feel as far as how many miles they’ll take rather than what they say they’ll get you; my shoes say they’re designed for 250-300 miles, but I routinely put 500-600 on mine.
Shop stores like TJ Maxx or Ross; they have a huge selection of sportswear, often name-brand and super cheap. I have a $14 bra and $4 shorts that I love from TJ Maxx. Costco, Target, Old Navy, and H&M all sell their brand of gear for lower cost and are still decent quality. What I’ve found from owning a mix of name-brand and random-brand running gear is that the brand or price does not always determine the most comfortable, my favorite, or longest-lasting gear.
Become friends with your local running store. I’ve got an on-going discount at mine, occasionally get left-over race shirts for free, and hear about other opportunities to get involved with my local running community. Networking leads to friends and money-savings! Your local running store might also sponsor a race team; consider joining for the team community, the store discount, and possibly the free swag. Going local also includes racing local for cheaper entry fees and shopping the Goodwill for left-over race shirts that didn’t get claimed.
FREE STUFF/GET PAID
Become a gear-tester! I currently do short- and long-term shoe testing for Nike; I found out about the short-term opportunity from my local running store, then the Nike rep asked me to apply for a long-term spot. I get a gift certificate to my local store for running a mile in three versions of a prototype and giving my opinion of them. For long-term testing, I have to run 300 miles within two months in a pair of prototypes, keep training logs and track wear, and answer surveys. This basically gets me the use of a free pair of shoes for several months, plus the added bonus of feeling like a V.I.P. Brooks, New Balance, and most likely your favorite brand, have testing applications available online.
Let people in your life know you’ll always appreciate running gear for gifts for your birthday and holidays. (Thank you in-laws for the tights, tank, and neon long-sleeve for Christmas this year!)
Reserve spendy purchases as rewards for yourself, like after signing up for a big race or achieving a PR. I liken shopping for a big race like prom dress shopping.
Take care of your gear! Don’t let it sit in a forgotten swampy pile in the trunk of your car. After your workout, immediately hang that running gear to dry if it’s going to be a while before you wash it or, better yet, wash it right away. Former Saltine, Saffron, writes a fabulous step-by-step guide to using good ol’ vinegar and baking soda to keep your nastiest gear smelling fresh. Seriously, it WORKS even for the oldest, foulest tech fabric you own.
There is a ton of extraneous gear out there you don’t need. Remember those catalogs? Before you splurge on something, think about whether you really need it.
Case in point: I live in Western Oregon where it is WET much of the year and I run in all types of rain from heavy mist to precipitation best described as an atmospheric river, yet I do not own a running rain jacket, which often cost $100 or more. I am sure some will argue with me on this, but I’ve found that layering a long-sleeve or two over a tank and wearing a brimmed running cap actually works just fine, fine enough that I’ve never thought about investing in a jacket.
I also have never owned a pair of running gloves; layering a couple of cheap stretchy gloves with a hand-warmer tucked in on seriously cold days works great. Plus, if I lose a glove? Big deal. There went $0.99!
What are items you splurge on? Any other tips for saving money?
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