I come from a frugal family. My parents taught me to make smart money choices from an early age. Now that I’m an adult—and successful by many measures—those habits have proven so useful that I can’t imagine being any other way.
It wasn’t until I started hiring and mentoring other trainers that I realized just how much money people waste on unnecessary stuff: designer clothes, takeout food, top-of-the-line equipment, supplements. Their lives look great on Instagram, but what you won’t find in their profile is that they’re still sleeping under their parents’ roof because they can’t afford their own place.
I once had a trainer request a pay advance—for $300 jeans. One gym owner I know orders takeout for every meal and pays a $7 delivery fee each time. Factor in food and tip, and that’s easily $1,000-plus a month.
Thanks to the rising cost of living and our culture’s general penchant for extravagance, learning to manage your money early is more important than ever. For young trainers in particular, what you do with your earnings now can mean the difference between struggle and success later on.
A stock trader once told me that wealthy people feel valuable when they save money, and poor people feel valuable when they spend money. That resonated with me because it highlights the true secret to money management: confidence and self-belief.
I’ve seen so many young trainers unable to reach that next level because deep down they don’t truly believe they can. They don’t take themselves seriously enough, and that leads them to spend their money on superficial things instead of investing in themselves.
But you can do this. You can make six figures. You can live the life you imagined for yourself. You can achieve anything you want as long as you’re willing to work for it. (Mom and Dad taught me that too!)
It all starts with the right mindset—and a few simple tips.
1. Sell something before you buy something
Look, I love Lululemon too. But when it comes to clothes, my rule is if I want to buy something, I have to sell something.
Trainers get Lulu apparel at a 25 percent discount, and that stuff retains its value. So if you sell it, you may make back almost what you paid for it. I do this all the time on Facebook Marketplace, and I find that brand-name fitness apparel sells quickly.
Just be sure to price it right. Often sellers will overestimate the value of their item. You wouldn’t believe how often people list products at prices that are the same—or higher—than what you’ll find in stores. If it’s available brand-new for cheaper elsewhere, no one’s going to buy it used from you. (And you do want someone to buy it, right? That’s kind of the whole point.)
2. Invest in yourself
There are a couple ways to accrue wealth. You can save. Or you can put your money to work so it makes money for you. That’s what I try to do.
When I see young trainers failing to invest in their business or their self-education, they always give the same excuse: “I can’t afford it.”
If that’s you, I have news: Yes, you can.
When I was 14, I wanted a snowboard. My dad told me that if I could earn enough to pay for half the cost, he would cover the rest. I did laundry, dishes, mowed the lawn … Okay, fine, my dad paid my allowance for those chores, so technically his money was footing the full tab. But my dad was teaching me a lesson: You can afford anything if you work hard enough.
Several years ago, I wanted to sign up for a coaching program. The course was $2,000. At the time, I was making $1,500 a month. (You do the math.) With just a week before the cutoff date for registration, I was selling off everything I could think of—snow pants, shoes, whatever. In the end, I raised enough to fund the course, and I guarantee that investment has paid off many times over since then.
I recently spent $500 on a Facebook ad that brought in $30,000 in revenue. That seems like a no-brainer. But many young trainers will say they can’t afford that initial investment (though their designer boots suggest otherwise).
Entrepreneur Russell Brunson has talked about a concept called “lead or gold.” If you absolutely had to make $500 by tomorrow or you and your whole family will die, you’d find a way to make $500. If you’re serious about your career, pretend that the stakes are that high.
3. Gamify your finances
My partner and I like to make a game of finding deals. We make a competition of it, and that helps us both stay on track. After all, if there’s one thing that motivates us fitness pros, it’s tapping into our competitive spirit.
Tech gives me the edge: I love Flipp, which searches circulars and coupons to find the best deals for all the items on your weekly shopping list.
I also like Mint. It links to all your accounts so you can easily see what you spend money on. It lets you create a budget and sends you notifications if you’re coming close.
I do my food shopping at the end of the day, when near-expired food gets discounted. Just the other week I snagged $100 worth of antibiotic-free meat for $38! Believe me, the rush you get from a deal like that is way better than fancy jeans.
I take the game further by establishing rules. For example, I refuse to throw out any food. At the end of the month, I clear out my cupboards and fridge and eat everything that’s about to go bad. I’m like Pac-Man eating pellets.
4. Set aside money for taxes
I have friends who gross six figures a year, and because of that assume they don’t need to worry about saving. Then tax season hits, and they understand why that’s a mistake.
If you, like many trainers, are self-employed, you should be setting aside at least 25 percent of your income for taxes. If you make about the same amount each month, you can have your bank automatically transfer a stipend over to savings.
You should also be using accounting software like QuickBooks. For a small monthly fee, you can see how much you’re actually making after expenses. And that’s a number you should know.
5. Treat one client as your pension
If I have one financial regret, it’s that I didn’t start saving for retirement in my early 20s. I convinced myself I couldn’t afford it then, but I’d get to it eventually. When I think about the amount of exponential growth I missed out on, I can’t help but get annoyed with my younger self.
Research shows a way to think more seriously about your future: In one study, people who viewed aged images of themselves contributed more of their earnings to a retirement plan than those who viewed images of their current self. When you relate to your future self, you’re more likely to make good decisions for that person’s happiness and well-being.
Setting aside a couple hundred dollars a month can make a huge difference. Try this easy hack: Take the revenue from one client and put that into a retirement fund. So if you’re charging one client $300 a month, consider that your retirement money.
6. Take your own advice
Trainers are always preaching to their clients about the importance of meal prep—right before they grab another takeout meal.
And I get it. I still remember when I first started and was working all hours, taking on every client I could. By the time I was done working, the only places that were still open sold fast food. I was spending $150 on takeout every week, and it wasn’t even quality nutrition.
Those meal-prep tips we give clients aren’t just lip service. They work. And you can save a ton of money following them.
I make sure to keep quick, ready-to-go foods in the freezer, and I always have cooked chicken prepped and ready to go. After a recent long day, I used that chicken, some frozen peppers, and frozen tortilla shells to whip up fajitas in about five minutes.
As a trainer, you’re setting an example for your clients. When you advise them to avoid takeout, be sure to follow your own advice.
READ ALSO: “A Trainer’s Guide to Protein”
7. Realize something is better than nothing
Thinking about opening your own training space? Good for you! Just don’t feel you need to start out with the works.
I remember one new gym owner who dropped six figures on equipment alone. The gym looked beautiful—they even had brick professionally installed on the walls—but I cringe to think of the sheer number of hours they’ll have to work just to pay off those bills.
A lot of people have an all-or-nothing mindset. I like to teach that something is better than nothing.
Opening a gym with over $100,000 worth of equipment is a big jump. But you can get a solid start by renting a small space inside a larger gym for a fraction of the price. And don’t assume you need the shiny new equipment, either—I’ve found great deals for used equipment online.
People tend to misjudge what will have the greatest impact on their career. Truth is, more than any amount of fancy clothes or equipment, grit and personality will take you much farther. And those are free.