In frugality circles, gyms are regarded as expensive and unnecessary. But if fitness is a goal, says blogger Zina Kumok, it makes sense to budget for a gym membership.
“Just go for a run!”
“Do bodyweight exercises at home!”
“A set of dumbbells costs less than the whole membership!”
These arguments aren’t entirely wrong, but they ignore the biggest obstacle in most people’s path to fitness: motivation. It’s easy to advocate for a DIY workout approach when fitness is already part of your lifestyle, but plenty of Grownups need an extra push to get started.
Going to a gym is the best way to acclimate yourself to that lifestyle, learn which exercises you enjoy, and meet other people with similar goals.
And guess what? Developing healthy fitness habits saves you money!
Pay Now, Save Later
If going to the gym is a good motivator to exercise, it’s worth the cost. Paying for a membership now can save you money later on medication, doctor’s visits, and more. The cost of going to the gym for a month is likely less than what you’ll pay for blood pressure medication or insulin shots.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be frugal when it comes to exercise. Some gyms offer discounts based on income, and some trainers will let you fold towels or clean equipment in exchange for free classes.
Julie Rains of Investing to Thrive said some insurance companies offer incentives for members who work out regularly and/or discounts to local gyms. Some employers also give subsidies to employees who work out regularly.
“A gym membership may also be OK if it enables you to earn incentive dollars on your health plan,” says Rains. “You may get a one-time bonus or a reduction in health insurance costs by participating in certain programs, for example.”
Be Happier, More Productive
It’s not just your heart that will be grateful for your 5AM yoga sessions: Your mind will be, too. In Regular Exercise is Part of Your Job, writer Ron Friedman at the Harvard Business Review cited studies claiming working out makes you more productive, efficient, and an all-around better worker.
If working out regularly could make you a better employee, it could also result in more raises and promotions, theoretically making your gym membership pay for itself.
According to Friedman, other studies say those who exercise regularly get less stressed and sick than those who don’t. Besides, hitting the gym after a hard day is a better way to relieve stress than happy hour or the mall.
Christine Haviaris, CFP®, is a regular gym-goer, taking yoga classes almost every day.
“It keeps me sane and provides value well beyond its cost,” she said. “I would (and have) cut cable, phone, even my cherished cleaning woman, before the gym.”
One study found exercise could be as effective as antidepressants in certain situations. For Grownups struggling with anxiety and depression, exercise can burn calories and stabilize your mood. A gym membership can seem even more frugal in that context, considering that the average cost of a generic antidepressant can be up to $75 a month.
A gym membership is also more than access to a treadmill—it’s a lifeline to social connections. Gym classes let you meet people with similar interests, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation while you’re waiting for someone to finish up on the elliptical.
Plus, if you have a job where you don’t get enough interaction with other people, a gym can be a perfect fix.
“Once I left my full-time job to work for myself, I yearned to get out of the house,” said Grayson Bell, founder of The Debt Roundup. “I realized I wasn’t getting enough exercise and walking around the neighborhood wasn’t enough. I signed up for a gym membership, and it’s been one of my best decisions.”
Working out at home is great, but can lead to injuries. Finding a personal trainer at your gym or an exercise class can prevent those injuries and provide guidance if you’re new to working out.
It’s also easy to quickly lose the will to work out. You might find yourself sore constantly, or you start dreading waking up early. When the weather starts to get cold, going outside for a run seems less appealing.
Personal finance writer Karen Cordaway says, “if you find that you don’t work out at home, but love running laps at the gym, your membership is worth it.”
In sum, a gym that motivates and encourages you can be the difference between an exercise fad and a lifetime commitment.
Zina Kumok is a writer, speaker, and coach.
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