The 5Ks to Running Frugal

Sam Lustgarten Running Race

Guest writer and runner, Sam Lustgarten.

This is an article from Sam Lustgarten, pictured to the right. Sam also blogs at

Winter has finally abated and a powerful sun means summer fun.

I'm dusting off my old running shoes for some healthy exercise. But contrary to popular belief, running hasn't always been affordable for me.

I started in middle school. It felt like a hazing ritual that every 7th grader must endure under the auspices of a whistle-blowing gym coach and a well-worn running track. I wasn't fast and the comparisons to peers left me reeling. Running wasn't for me.

Despite this initial distaste, I “participated” in high school track & field. I was a twig with a runner's body, but I lumbered like a 7-foot center. For my terrible races, I only needed running shoes. It was my only piece of equipment.

As I grew older, running became a relaxation strategy and important health consideration. Races and amateur competition intrigued me, and I entered into them every couple months. $20 here. $40 there. The costs began to add up.

Then, before I knew it, I was buying running clothes, shoes, and accessories along with the race entrance fees. What started as a casual hobby quickly became a bank account siphon. It was costing hundreds of dollars per year.

But I'm not alone. According to, in 2011, $2.46 billion in running shoes were sold. That equates to about 3 pairs per year per person. On top of that, 77% of runners spent over $100 on running apparel over the last 12 months (citation).

Running can be an expensive business.

Fortunately, there's a better way. Here are my hard-learned lessons, 1 kilometer at a time, that will help keep you a frugal runner:

Know Your Charity Runs

“More and more [running] events are aligning themselves with charities, runners are sporting team jerseys to support the cause, and social networking is providing the “buzz” to spread the word. While the exact number of charity runners in the United States is not available, there is no doubt that the part of the increase in road race entrants over the past decade has been driven by charitable running…The Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council released its annual study on charitable dollars and the top seven [charity] programs listed raised more than $1 billion in 2011.” –

Most long-distance races (half and full marathons) offer special charity entrants. These opportunities, often dubbed, “Race for a Reason,” are a win-win for you and an important cause.

Charities reserve slots and publicly request volunteers to raise a given amount. For instance, I ran the Chevron Houston Marathon for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital after raising the requisite $1,000. This can be a fantastic way to support a worthy cause, find motivation to train, and run for something bigger than yourself.

Savings: $175

Get Your “Kicks” at Discount, Online Retailers

Shoe companies work tirelessly to advertise their latest offerings. This year's version is supposed to be revolutionary, wonderful, and include innovative technology. The reality: They're shoes, and this iterative design doesn't change much year-to-year.

Use this to your advantage and find an online retailer that has your running shoe at a discount. Websites such as,,, and all have year-end shoe sections. On top of that, many credit cards offer cash back/points malls at these online retailers. Pair those exceptional bonuses with coupon codes and you have a steal of a deal.

Savings: $30 per pair

Knock Out (K.O.) Your Old Shoes Only After 600 Miles

Some advice suggests buying a new pair of shoes every 350 miles. You should seek your own expert advice in this matter, but be wary of where you find it. Running stores have a direct interest in having you cycle through shoes at a faster rate, as do the manufacturers.

Personally, I run at least 250 miles beyond this “recommended” rate. By extending your shoes about 250 miles beyond this guideline, you'll effectively get 71% more value for your purchase.

Savings: $71 per pair

Kiss That Running Gear Goodbye

The solution is simple: Don't buy running clothes. I made this mistake countless times, and you shouldn't have to. The running industry propagates a packaged look – don't follow it.

All you need to run is a t-shirt, shorts, socks, underwear, and a good pair of shoes. As long as you're running in mostly cotton materials, you'll be able to handle conditions.

The biggest irony is that distance racers constantly are given free, high-quality clothing. Wait for those free opportunities at a run for charity.

Savings: $100+

Keep the Fun in Running

Oftentimes, races can be a catalyst for change, motivation, and desire when first starting to run. But, at the heart of frugal running is realizing that they don't breed the fun.

The pure and simple joy is born from the day-to-day jaunt without time limits, goals, or expectations. It took me years to recognize that simple fact.

Savings: Priceless

What are your tips for running frugally?

Sam Lustgarten is currently a doctoral student, marathon runner, and avid work-life balance advocate. He writes about student loan debt, personal finance, and making money as a student at

With $40,000 in student loans, Sam decided to take responsibility for this massive debt and get frugal. He has also been a strong advocate for charitable causes, and raised nearly $30,000 for suicide prevention as an undergraduate.

Check out his latest article about the 3 Psychological Tricks Restaurants Use to Make Us Spend.

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  1. CommonCentsWealth says:

    I only run for excercise and fun (not competitively), so I try to get by for as cheap as possible.  I have decent running shoes which I’ve had for 5 years and then I just wear normal t shirts and shorts.  Doesn’t require much money and I still get a work out.

  2. Pad the Edges says:

    I have bought lots of technical running clothes from Target on sale. I also buy shoes online after a new model has come out. They can be as much as 50% off. Make sure you invest in good shoes, though. It is not worth the injuries.

  3. RFIndependence says:

    I don’t care much about clothing but did spend on a good bra. And since I recently started running more seriously I got fitted for running shoes, they were expensive but no problem so far so it was worth it.

  4. OneSmartDollar says:

    It’s probably not good for me, but I usually keep running shoes until I starting feeling my shins  start to hurt.