Is It Worth It To Join a Gym?

I have a confession to make.

And when you hear it, you might want me to turn in my personal-finance-blogger card. And my kind-of-frugal card.

Like, immediately.

I joined a gym.

You might be thinking,

Des, that’s not so bad! It’s not like you bought a yacht!

It gets worse.

I joined the fancy gym.

Now, this is only A Thing because I blog so often about increasing my savings rate, and being frugal in general, and cutting down on my monthly recurring expenses. And, of course, because as many other personal finance bloggers can attest, you can get a great workout at home without a gym membership, fancy or not.

I’ve even been that person! I own weights! I have done the Home Workout Thing!

But I still bought a gym membership.

Here’s why, in a hopefully-helpful format if you’re considering a similar purchase while maintaining a shred of your personal-finance street cred. (No? I’m the only one who cares about that? Cool.)

Is health and fitness important to you?

Ok, this seems like a gimme question – I don’t know anyone in the world who would be like “Nah I really don’t care about health OR fitness, they’re not my things.” It’s your health. You probably care at least a little bit.

Or you care that you can continue to fit into your clothes.

Or something along those lines.

For me, this answer was a big part of my decision, because yes: I care about my health and fitness, but I wasn’t doing anything that would actually prove that I care as much as I do.

Beyond walking the dog, I wasn’t prioritizing any kind of regular physical activity in my day to day life, and I was starting to feel the effects of it.

So something had to change. Maybe it was a gym membership, maybe it wasn’t, but something had to happen. To figure out what it was, I asked myself the following.

What systems work best to get you to change your habits?

I thought back to times when I had effectively built new habits and made fitness a regular, important part of my life.

Honestly, the one example that stood out beyond all others was the time I started going to a yoga studio that had a reservation system in place for classes.

If you wanted to attend a class, you had to reserve your spot online ahead of time. Well, I mean, you didn’t have to if you wanted to risk not getting a spot, but the classes were pretty popular and they filled up fast, so a reservation was an easy way to make sure you got a spot.

But if you made a reservation and didn’t show up? One strike.

Three strikes, and you couldn’t reserve spots in classes anymore.

That kind of accountability worked really well for me, so if I’m looking for ways to add fitness habits back into my life, accountability had to be part of it.

What types of workouts do you like?

The other thing that really stands out for me when I look back at my time attending yoga frequently is that I really, really like yoga. I loved the classes, I loved the style of workout, I loved the instructors and I loved that I saw the same people over and over again at my regular classes. The studio was lovely, and it felt like a community.

Which is in pretty stark contrast to my time joining a mid-range gym chain in my area a few years later. I was so convinced that it was going to be a good fit for me, but just going to work out in the crowded main room or taking classes that I didn’t love there was a struggle.

So much so that I was the perfect picture of Person Who Joins Gym, Goes For Two Months and Then Pays For a Year Anyways.

If I’m being honest, it all really did come down to the experience. I always felt like I was serving my time while I was there, and I never really connected with any of the classes, the people or the experience overall.

So when I went through this round of “Des needs to get fit and regularly do an activity,” I knew that the experience and how much I liked the type of workout mattered – a lot.

Like, wasting-ten-months-of-gym-membership-payments a lot.

How much does it cost?

And here’s where I took all of those feelings and looked at the numbers.

Specifically, the numbers around the options available to me that would…

  • help me prioritize health and fitness
  • give me ways to stay accountable, and
  • have the types of workouts I like available (yoga, fitness classes, non-intimidating weight room situation.)

Option One: Yoga Studio
Cost: ~$100 a month for unlimited classes, ~$15 per class with a 10-class pass

Well, if yoga studios had worked for me before, they could work again, right?

I seriously considered this, but was wary of the high cost – even if I was attending multiple classes a week, the monthly unlimited plan is not cheap. (And yes, I looked at volunteering in exchange for classes, but the standard set-up at most studios I like is 4 hours a week, at the same time every week. I’ll be honest, with the blog and work and trying to add in workouts, those four hours would eat up most of my workout time.)

Option Two: At-Home Workouts
Cost: ~$40 for heavier weights, ~$20 for a yoga DVD

I’ve actually had some recent success completing at-home workout challenges, but I really missed the feeling of being in a class with people – and after a 3-week at home workout challenge, I’ve done just about all of the self-motivating I can do. Every time I finish one, I fall off the fitness bandwagon for a looooong time.

That said, it was an option. I looked at what I would need to do to switch up my regular at home workouts, and it was limited to the cost of heavier weights (trust me when I say that’s relatively heavier, not actually heavy) and maybe a yoga DVD to add into the mix.

Option Three: Work-Discounted Gym
Cost: ~$40 a month

My workplace has a deal set up with the exact same mid-range gym that I had tried before, which is actually a killer deal when you look at their regular monthly prices. For just about $40 a month, I could have an unlimited pass to all of their facilities – and there are four in my neighbourhood, with different styles of class at each one.

But I’ve learned my lesson on this one. When I think about what I want – yoga, ideally in multiple styles, a good environment and a sense of community – I haven’t found it at these gyms before. I’m not saying it’s not there either, because I know a lot of people who absolutely love it.

It’s just not what I’m looking for.

And $40 a month is still expensive for something I’m not going to use.

Option Four: The Fancy Gym
Cost: ~$60 a month

I mean, total spoiler alert, I already told you I chose this one.

But here’s why.

I had never even really considered this gym as an option, but when I realized that being in shape wasn’t just something that was going to magically happen to me (I know. Trust me, I know.) I looked into it a bit more.

And holy cow. There’s a reason I can call it the fancy gym.

  • It has unlimited yoga classes as part of your membership.
  • It has unlimited hot yoga classes, in a separate studio, as part of your membership.
  • It has two pools, as part of your membership.
  • It has a women’s only weight room, as part of your membership.
  • It has like a billion* fitness classes in a ton of different rooms, as part of your membership.

*a billion is probably the accurate number. I know numbers, guys. Trust me.

So it easily checks the boxes on the types of workouts I like (mostly yoga, but also barre fitness classes and a non-intimidating weight room option) and aligns with how much I care about health and fitness.

All that’s really missing is a solid accountability system, so that’s why I did this.

20160309_073536

Yes, I am a kid who wants to earn stickers on a chart on the fridge for good behaviour, but hey – if it works, it works.

And I know myself, and this will work.

My goal is to go at a minimum, twice a week, which brings my cost per visit down to about $7.50 a class. That’s cheaper than any other yoga class I can get, especially because at two classes a week, the unlimited yoga deals at studios would run me about $12.50 a class.

But if we’re being really, really honest with each other?

My goal is to go four times a week. Two is just the number that I have to hit to make sure I’m consistently using the membership.

And that’s what this all really boils down to: whether or not I’m using the membership.

If I am, this is a totally worthwhile and, dare I say it, cheap purchase when you look at what I’m getting – not only the unlimited yoga side of things, but the health side of things too.

If I’m not… then you can take away my personal finance card.

So I’m going to add “cost per gym visit” to my monthly spending updates, to keep myself even more accountable than my totally high-tech piece of paper on the fridge.
What do you guys think – are gym memberships worth it? How do you balance fitness and your budget and your time? I would love to hear how other people went about figuring out this conundrum!