Budget Friendly Competition Prep

This is the side of competing that no one talks about – money.  Competing gets incredibly expensive very quickly, as all of the little costs add up.  I know that when I first started competing, I felt like I had to buy everything my coach recommended if I wanted to win and get as lean as possible.  I’m embarrassed to say that I spent about $150 a month on supplements, without checking to see if they were even proven to be beneficial in clinical trials.

Looking back, it wasn’t even worth it.  I should have just spent more time dieting down to stage leanness instead of trying to push for a set date.  I should have considered more thoroughly whether the cocktail of fat burners would help me reach my goal.

This list of costs is intended to help you decide what costs are worth it, and which ones aren’t.  As a grad student with fairly shallow pockets, I’ve had to pick and choose what I wanted to spend on. I also saved money all last year knowing that this season had the potential to become very expensive if I had the opportunity to chase a Pro card. For transparency, I spent $2300 on everything but food/groceries for a 20 week prep and one competition. Some of these costs I paid before prep (like the bikini and accessories).

There’s no way around it – competing is expensive – but it can be less expensive. Here’s how.

Leading Up to the Show

Coaching with once a week check-ins and unlimited contact: $150-250/month

  • They will set your diet and training plan, and adjust weekly based on how your physique is progressing.  They also should have experience with what the division standards are, and be open to whatever your goals are.  They should also be honest about whether you’ll achieve those goals in the time-frame that you set.
  • If this is your first time seriously dieting, I would highly recommend at least starting off with a coach so that you get to know your body and metabolism better.  They take the guesswork out of your diet and training, and good coaches are willing to teach you about their methods.
  • I highly recommend vetting your coaches first – if they’re not willing to have a sit down conversation with you as part of their consultation, they’re not going to have time for you as a client, and will see you just as a monthly payment.
  • For an in-depth discussion on how to find quality coaches, check out my previous post here.

Posing: $60-75/week

  • Some coaches offer posing sessions at no extra cost to you.  This is great if they offer it, but don’t pick a coach based on this alone.
  • Most posing coaches will recommend that you pose with them once a week starting at 12 weeks out.  The first few sessions are really helpful to beginners, as they walk you through what to expect on show day.  Show day actually has a lot of components, so being prepared prevents you from looking completely lost on stage.
  • If you are diligent about practicing on your own, you can space out posing to twice a month.  Record yourself, review, and revise.  You might feel really cute during your routine, but may realize that your arms are swinging wildly or your steps are too heavy.
  • Check out my previous post on NPC posing for more tips and tricks.

Supplements: $50-$200/month

  • Examine.com is your best friend.  They do a thorough literature search on clinical trials and summarize all of the findings for you.  It’s incredible.  They are as unbiased as you can get.
  • Really understand why your coach is recommending certain supplements to you.  If they’re pushing supplements that they sell themselves in an online shop, maybe consider that they may have a conflict of interest.
  • I would be wary if your coach tells you to take a supplement but can’t explain why or how it works.  That means that they did very little research past the advertisement/tag-line.  Personal anecdotes are not evidence.

Food: $50/week

  • If you follow your coach’s meal plan to a T, getting the expensive grass fed beef or seafood for every meal, your food costs might absolutely explode since the majority of your meals are protein.  I burn through a pound of chicken a day.
  • If it is really crucial to your coach that you get XYZ micronutrient from a certain type of protein, look it up on examine.com to see if it’s worth the money.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions.  Between animals, the protein quality is the same.  If getting ground chicken or chicken breasts is better for your budget, do it.  Protein is protein, and the type will make no difference to your metabolism.

Picking a Competition


  • If you’re looking to save money, pick a show closest to you. That way, you can sleep at home (no hotel costs) and rest easy knowing that you know how to get to the venue. Don’t get pressured into a show far away because your team competes there – if you can’t afford it.

Lodging ($50-200 a night)

  • If you do travel, you don’t have to stay at the host hotel. Pick an AirBnB or cheaper hotel in the area. It’s an early day, and you don’t want to stress yourself out by having to drive in an unfamiliar city.
  • I’ve almost always stayed in an AirBnB and have loved my experience. It really feels like a home away from home and you can kill some time chatting with your hosts (if they’re amenable, of course). If you’re interested in trying it out, here’s a $40 dollar travel credit you can use for your next trip.

Show Day

NPC Card/Registration with Federation: $125

  • This expires at the end of the calendar year, instead of a year from when you purchased it.  This is unfortunately a non-negotiable cost as it is required.

Show Entry Fee: $100/class

  • There are several classes available to compete in – Teen, Novice, Open, and Masters.  Anybody can sign up for the Open class.  Novice classes are restricted to those who have not won 1st place.  True Novice is restricted to those who have never competed.  Masters is for 35+ years old.

Competition Bikini: $150-600

  • You can find a plain, quality bikini with a flattering cut for as low as $150 and apply rhinestones yourself for cheap.  You also can just go with a plain bikini if crafting isn’t one of your skills.  Sandy Williamson, a head judge, tells competitors often that they’re not judged on their bikini and the cut is the only thing that matters.
  • I highly recommend getting a fully bespoke bikini.  This means that they’re taking multiple measurements (not just of your hip and waist), and really tailoring the bottoms so that they compliment your body.
  • Highly recommend BB Custom Suits – Becca is so attentive, creative, a competitor anddd used to be a costume seamstress in her previous life. Use Code: Jackie10 to save 10%!
  • Here’s my previous post on how to find a quality competition bikini.

Accoutrements (shoes and jewelry): $75-100

  • Clear competition heels are required.  The jewelry looks nice but you don’t have to splurge on the expensive stuff.
  • This is where you can really save money.  Check out my previous post on where to find the same shoes and jewelry that many competition accessory companies will sell you for a mark up.

Stage Tan: $100-150

  • A tan can break or make your physique.  Everyone looks much more defined and leaner with a high quality spray tan.
  • A local salon will not be able to get you dark enough for the stage lights.  The spray tan used by competitors is almost like a dark brown skin paint.
  • Here’s my post on how to get a flawless spray tan.

Hair and Makeup: $75-150 each

  • Bring your own hair extensions if you’re having someone do your hair.
  • If you know how to straighten your hair/do curls, you’ll probably do okay with styling it yourself.
  • If you are really good at make-up, you can probably save some money by doing it yourself.  Stage make-up, however, is a completely different ballgame than regular make-up.  It’s very dramatic, as you need all of the extra contrast to stand up to the harsh stage lights. Think drag queen.
  • You will have to match your face to your tan (relatively). This means going MAC NC40/NW40 or darker, depending on your complexion. Contour with complementary shades.
  • Here’s my Pinterest board on good stage eye makeup, and some tutorials.
  • These tasks do add extra stress on an already busy day, so it may be worth it to spend money on a professional.

For a more in-depth look at how I got to the stage, take a look at my blog post here.

Finally, make sure you’re not forgetting anything on this packing list! I can give you suggestions on specific products or people I recommend if you contact me.  Follow me on Pinterest for more ideas on how to save money without cutting corners.

3 thoughts on “Budget Friendly Competition Prep

  1. Can you tell me anything about competing with stretchmarks? Do the judges ding you for them? Do other girls have them? I have some on my sides (love handle area) from growing as a teen and I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do to conceal them or if people will even notice? love your blog, Thanks!!

    1. Judges will not ding you for them since almost every woman will have them *somewhere.* The stage tan will cover most stretch marks too (and make even tattoos hard to see), so you have nothing to worry about. It’ll be barely noticeable. 😊 Hope this helps, and thanks for reaching out!

      1. Great thank you so much!! I look forward to continuing to follow your journey!

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