The average gym membership in America costs in the region of $700 a year, though this could extend to over $1,000 if you live in a busy city like Brooklyn. Of course, you shouldn’t forget the initiation fee, which can add another $800 or so a year. Membership fees aren’t the only expense fitness buffs have; expenditures such as workout gear, health foods, supplements, and protein shakes could tack on another $100 or more per month. It is ironic, perhaps, that dietitians and doctors alike often point us in the direction of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who were free of problems like obesity thanks to their active lifestyle. Does it have to cost an arm and a leg to stay fit? Absolutely not, but you have to get smart and start crunching numbers or you could quickly rack up a monthly bill for amounts that should be going towards savings.
Building a Reasonable Budget
Effective budgeting will reduce or eliminate unwanted and unnecessary expenditure. Start out by analyzing how much you are already spending so pull out your smartphone and download an expense tracker app like Penny, Waly, or Mint. These personal finance tools link up to your account so at the end of the month, you can account for every penny spent. Pay for everything by card during your analysis month (even for small purchases like energy drinks or healthy salads at the gym) so nothing slips by. Identify the expenditures you could do without. For instance, after a workout you can feel famished. Instead of immediately heading for the trendy gym salad bar, pack a healthy lunch and head for the Great Outdoors, enjoying a packed lunch with a friend beneath the sunshine.
Reducing Your Gym Membership Fee
Joining the gym at the right time is key; many gyms offer discounts at specific times of the year or month. As noted by Consumer Reports, many gyms lower their prices close to the end of the month in order to meet sales quotas. During low season (such as summer, when many people are on holiday or taking a break), many offer discounts on initiation and monthly fees. You should definitely shop around before settling on a gym. Most offer a free first class or training session. Definitely take advantage of these offers; they will give you a good insight regarding whether or not a gym is likely to give you your money’s worth. Trying before you buy is also likely to give you a surprise or two. A gym that may not have caught your attention before may have excellent classes and/or super motivating staff. During your trial, talk to staff about ways to bring down your membership fee. Some gyms allow members to pay less but restrict members’ hours of attendance to non-peak moments of the day. If going to the gym earlier or later than most people do sounds appealing, go for it!
Options for Finance
If you are currently cash short and you are considering using a form of financing such as credit to pay for an upcoming fitness event, fitness equipment, or even a medical procedure you need to keep practicing your chosen sport, then taking a long hard look at your financial situation is important. Your bank manager or a friend with experience in finance can point you in the right direction by suggesting specific credit cards or personal loans with interesting payback rates. Ideally, if you have various credit cards, you should aim to pay off those with high interest rates before those with lower rates. Don’t be tempted to consolidate your loans without doing the numbers. An average 60-month loan consolidation may cost you considerably more than a personal loan or credit card. Plan financially in the long term, coming up with exact figures on what each debt option would cost you.
Negotiating Cheaper Prices
If you have a big competition or a major goal (such as weight loss or an upcoming marathon or triathlon event), you may have started working out with a personal trainer. The cost of an experienced trainer can vary from around $50 to over $500. If your newly trimmed down budget means you may have to consider giving up personal training altogether, ask your trainer if they can sell you a personalized fitness plan you can carry out on your own, meeting them perhaps once every couple of weeks for a follow-up or occasional training session. If you need extra motivation, try to entice a fit buddy to join you in an upcoming competition, or see how much less experienced (yet equally passionate) personal trainers are charging in your area. This way, you won’t have to forego your favorite trainer altogether, but simply see them a little less often.
[Related Reading: New to the Gym? Here’s a Simple Newbie Guide]
Head Out into the Great Outdoors
It may sound like a cliché, but for many athletes (including cross-country runners, mountain bikers, and trekkers), there is nothing quite like the free, energizing workout that Nature can provide. Research has shown that runners burn more calories outdoors (owing to factors like wind resistance and changeability of the terrain), but many studies also point out the unique calming effect that exercising in the Great Outdoors has. Stress hormone (cortisol) levels drop significantly when we head to beautiful outdoor spaces, and this means that in addition to exercising for free, you can also benefit from the powerful mental benefits of an outdoor workout.
It’s All Online
When the weather is less than sunny and an outdoor workout doesn’t appeal, it’s time to rely on online training sessions. These days, you can find entire yoga, strength, aerobic, and dance sessions free on YouTube and other channels. Some channels require subscription, but fees are generally much lower than a gym membership and paid channels will be especially focused on keeping subscribers by offering them a top notch workout.
Staying fit is almost as easy as putting on a pair of running shoes and heading for the nearest park or mountainside path for an energetic workout. Of course, many busy workers find a gym to be convenient and practical, so if this is the case, look at your monthly budget and try to identify ways to cut back on expenses and keep your membership. When it comes to fitness, it doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing’ approach. Half-memberships, training apps, and online fitness sessions are just a few ideas that will help you stay fit while reducing your monthly fitness expenditure.