6 Ways Walking Can Save Money - and Your Life

A pair of shoes, a pleasant trail, and thou...

Family Walking on Forest Boardwalk
Family Walking on Forest Boardwalk. Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty

"We tell people walking is great because it doesn't cost anything," said Seth Bauer, editor of the former "Walking" magazine.

Is walking a sport for cheapskates? What about the fashion and gadget addicts - are they left out? What does it save or cost to be a walker?

$$ Fact 1: Shoes are Cheaper than Cars

You can walk in any pair of shoes that feels good. But to prevent problems like plantar fasciitis, you should find the right shoes for your feet and walking style.

A good pair of walking or running shoes will cost an average of $80 US.

Shoes: 16 cents per mile: Your shoes should be replaced every 500 walking miles. After that point, they lose their support and cushioning even if they look good on the outside. That works out to 16 cents per mile.

Cars: 37 cents per mile: Gasoline costs go up and down, but estimate about 17 cents per mile and a $20,000 car driven for 100,000 miles equals 20 cents a mile, not counting maintenance and repair and insurance costs. Total: 37 cents a mile, twice the cost of shoe miles.

Smart Shoe Buying

  • Read the Walking Shoe Guide thoroughly to understand how to find and buy the right shoes for your walking style and feet.

$$ Fact 2: Walking Gear and Clothes are Cheap or Free

You don't need any special clothing to enjoy walking. I've walked for miles wearing my office attire. In fact, until I took up racewalking all I ever needed were t-shirts, shorts or comfortable pants, and a jacket.

T-shirts are everywhere. I get them free as promotions all the time, as awards for walking events, or buy them as souvenirs. But since I walk in all weather and at all times of day and night, I have a walking wardrobe that covers all conditions. I have eliminated cotton from my wardrobe, substituting sweat-wicking breathable fabrics such as CoolMax and polypropylene.

You probably already have a pedometer built into your smartphone. Start using it to track your walks!

$$ Fact 3: Walking saves you $330 a year in health care

If you walk regularly (3 or more times a week for a half hour or more) you are saving $330 a year in health care costs, according to a survey. These costs included doctor visits, hospitalization, and prescription drugs. Even active smokers spent $369 less a year on healthcare than couch potatoes who smoked.

Want your insurance premiums and taxes to go down? Get some of the 88 million inactive Americans out walking with you and the country could save $76 billion a year, according to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

 Countries with universal health care could also save big by getting their inactive people out walking. Finland has gone so far as to pass a "sports law" that requires local governments to provide exercise and sports programs.

$$ Fact 4: Walking is Cheap Therapy

Stress? Depression? Fighting with your spouse, partner, kids, boss? Take a hike!

  • Walking is Good for Mental and Emotional Health: Studies continue to show time and again that regular exercise can relieve stress and depression.
  • Walk It Out With Them: Do you have somebody you are having trouble dealing with? Go for a walk with them. Walkers have reported to me that their teens loosen up and confide in them on walks. Couples get away from the other concerns and have time together to talk. Families make memories together.
  • A Family Walk Once a Week: Start a new tradition in your home of walking together at least once a week. It doesn't have to be a long walk - a half hour stroll around the neighborhood or through a local park. You will be amazed at what develops.
  • Holiday Walk-Togethers: For holidays and family get-togethers, make a walk together part of the celebration. Again, just a half hour or so around the local area.

What have you saved?

  • Divorce/separation/relocation expenses
  • Lawyer fees and court costs
  • Family counseling fees
  • Drugs/herbal supplement costs
  • Psychology/psychiatry counseling fees
  • Costs of finding a new job
  • Costs of teenage rebellion: drug treatment centers, bail money, unplanned pregnancy expenses, private detectives to locate your runaway, etc.
  • Loss of inheritance from your parents/relatives because you ignore/fight with them.

$$ Fact 5: Walking is Free or Cheap Fun

Just step out the door and start walking - walking is free. In fact, you have to go out of your way to go someplace and pay to walk.

If you want the fun of organized walking, you can still do it for free, or pay a small fee that still is less than a cappuccino, burger, or a movie.

Clubs: Most walking clubs have membership fees of $10 or less per year. By joining a club or a Meetup.com walking group, you can meet other walkers, attend walking workouts and events together, and share your walking wisdom.

Events: Volkssport non-competitive walking events are available worldwide. In the US and Canada, most are offered for free or up to $3, with optional awards (medals, patches, hat pins) that are usually under $10. The standard distances are 5 and 10 kilometers (3 and 6 miles) with a generous time limit - so that everyone is a winner. Going on an AVA Walk

Charity walks and walks held in conjunction with running events range from $5 - $25, with half marathons and marathons being in the range from $35 - $150. The more costly ones include a t-shirt or medal. For a day's entertainment, that is still cheaper than going to most organized sporting events or music concerts.

How Much You Are Saving: A round of golf can cost from $20 - $150. A health club membership can be $20 a month and up. Park entry fees to local, state, and national parks can be from $1 - $15 a day.

Walking Controls Shopping: When you realize that you have to carry with you whatever you buy while out walking, it gives you some restraint. Since I spend so many weekends walking, the only shopping I do happens while I am out on a 6-mile trail, or on the drive there or back. My grubby condition after walking keeps me out of the nice shops, too. When on a walking vacation and traveling light, I can't bring back much other than photos and memories!

$$ Fact 6: Walking for a Cheap Vacation

Walkers can save lots of money on vacation. Plan to spend most of your vacation time seeing the sights on foot.

Travel Light: Only take what you can easily carry in a backpack or what can be easily towed in a wheeled carry-on bag. Then you can select hotels, hostels, or other accommodations that you can get to on foot, or by bus or subway. This saves many dollars over cab fare, porters, bellhops.

Walking Sightseeing: The best way to see almost any area is on foot, at your own pace. Look up walking tour routes at your destination, using the internet or auto club resources. You can also take advantage of the thousands of self-guided walking routes hosted by volkssport clubs around the world. These are called year-round walks or permanent walks. These 6-mile (10 kilometers) routes have maps and descriptions which you can pick up the map either from the club's website or at the starting point. These walks are free (a small donation would be appreciated) or up to a couple of dollars.

Many tourist destinations also have hop-on bus tours where you pay a single fee and can catch the buses anywhere along their route. You can combine this with walking to get the best of both - a guided tour, inexpensive but transport, and your own walking tour.

Going For Free: Sign up for a charity marathon program like the Leukemia Society's Team in Training and you get a free vacation to great spots around the world - Hawaii, Disneyworld, Dublin just to name a few. All you have to do is collect pledges and walk the marathon.

Walking the Camino de Santiago: This is the frugal adventure of a lifetime. Your big expense is getting to Europe. Once you are on the Camino, your expenses are few, and it will change your perceptions of what you need for the rest of your life.

More: How to Plan a Great Walking Vacation


Pratt M, Macera CA, Wang G. "Higher direct medical costs associated with physical inactivity." Phys Sportsmed. 2000 Oct;28(10):63-70. doi: 10.3810/psm.2000.10.1237.

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