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a youngandthrifty look at the cost of gym memberships and whether its really worth it to spend that much per month for something you don't have motivation for.

I thought I would talk about exercise, especially after I talked about ways to stuff your face get your money’s worth at a buffet earlier this week.  I have been contemplating getting a gym membership. I was always one to say “no!” to indoor exercise, sweaty bacteria ridden gym equipment, and members of the opposite sex gawking at you while you work out.  I have been wavering lately because of my recent expansion in my midsection (that age and metabolism is catching up to me haha), and I was thinking that good exercise habits will do my blood vessels well as I get into my thirties.

However, there are a few things stopping me from signing up for this.

One of them is that I really don’t like the idea of paying monthly for something that I might not be motivated enough to use.  I would say that perhaps 80% of my friends who have a gym membership (and they are paying at least $30-$50 a month for one) have not gone in the past six months.  Everyone knows that this is ideally how gyms “get you” and how they make money.  You pay for a monthly rate, get locked in, and don’t go to the gym.

$30-$50 of unused gym utilization is anywhere from $360 to $600 a year. That might not seem like too much, but you have to keep in mind that this is after tax income, and it is another monthly expense to add to the other monthly expenses (like your cell phone bill, land line bill, electricity, cable etc.).  This extra money could be going into your 401K or your RRSP.

The lack of motivation could stem from a number of factors, including the aforementioned cost per month.  Another reason is that if the gym is too far from where you live (if you need to find parking, or it’s at least 20 minutes away), then the benefits of staying home and not going to the gym (tend to feel like they outweigh the pros (exercise), especially after a long day at work.

Another factor is time.  Time is really important. If you don’t have the time to go to the gym a few times a week, then you should forget about signing up for a membership.  For me, I have a full time job, a blog to work on (this blog is a time sucker, but a very gratifying time sucker), friends to hang out with, a dog to take care of etc. etc.  I can’t really justifying paying $30-50 a month to work out a few times a week for an hour or two at a time.

One last reason why signing up for a gym membership is not for me at this present time is because you often need to “look good” or “dress up” to go the gym.  People have nothing to do other than check other people out, they can’t help it, staring at the wall is boring.  This concern could be negated by going to a “all ladies” gym though.

For me, I would rather be outside. Walking the dog (free), going hiking (free), jogging (free), cycling(free once you get the bicycle).  I’m also kind of solitary at times, and would rather be doing exercise in the privacy of my own home.  I have a few yoga and pilates DVDs that I like.  They cost me about $10-$15 upfront, but I have used them so much I lost count. Also, the local community centres have drop ins that you can take advantage of.  You can often buy a book of ten “visits” and it costs about $2.50 each.  That way, you won’t have to feel obliged to go X number of times a week.  Then you won’t feel guilty.  Then  you won’t smother that guilt with cupcakes, donuts and a bag of Kettle chips.

Who knows though, when the weather isn’t so beautiful and our dreary winter rainy weather comes around, I might change my mind.  Then again, I might get that pass to the local mountain instead and get my exercise snowboarding down the mountain.

Readers, do you have a gym membership?  Do you find it worthwhile, or is it a source of distress (like “ackk, haven’t gone to the gym again this month!”) when you see the charge on your bank account or credit card?

Article comments

Jen says:

I just saw this through your New Years post and wanted to share my thoughts… I live in Vancouver and while I love getting out in the sunshine to work out I can find a million excuses not to when it’s raining. Mainly, it’s raining (and that’s pretty much 10 months of the year).
I joined a gym but was extra cautious since I’d joined some in the past and paid high fee’s per month and never went, then had to pay a lot of money to get out of the contract (who knew you could transfer it?!?). This time I joined She’s Fit, they have locations around the Lower Mainland and I only pay $15/month for my membership and there’s no contract. This is the most basic fee so you can only use the gym you sign up at and it doesn’t include the extra’s like tanning, but I don’t tan or wouldn’t go to any of their other locations so I wouldn’t care for that anyways. Best thing is, if you want to quit you do. No fee’s to pay, but I’m sure they’ll try the ol’persuade you to stay since you’re so motivated song and dance.

Best thing is, it’s only women (sorry guys). No need to look good.

Since I’m trying to be financially responsible the fact that I’m paying a fee motivates me to go, but I’m not losing $30-$50

young says:

@Jen- Hey weird, I just saw a “She’s Fit” van the other day (like one day before you commented) and was going to look into it. $15 is cheap! I’ll check it out, thanks. I have gotten a bit of a head start with my resolutions/ fitness goals for 2012. So far I’ve jogged every other day with my dog which is encouraging for me lol. I put a sticky on my computer that says “Go Jogging”.

Kay says:

I have a membership at the local YM/YWCA and I find that it’s totally worth it.
There’s tons of classes that are drop-in and free, from pilates to yoga to step to bellyfit etc. There’s also classes you can sign up for as programs that are included with the membership and then other classes that are extra but that you get to pay around half of what someone without a membership pays. Another benefit is that the pool is included and that includes adult swim lessons and aqua fit, and there’s squash and racquetball courts that you can reserve for free. I got my own squash racket used online and it saves me 3 dollars a time (still cheap any way you cut it..)

I have some friends that go and so does my partner, so I find that I make plans to go to various classes and actually go. I’m averaging 4-5 times a week and it’s actually fun-I get to combine social and fitness…and I wasn’t someone who was in to fitness at all for a long time.

The best part is the atmosphere..the Y reaches out to people of all age groups, weight, etc..and it’s a lot more welcoming than other gyms that I’ve fallen off the bandwagon of. Plus, you can make an appointment with their financial people if you don’t have the money for the membership, bring in your documents, and they’ll reduce the cost for you accordingly.

They do get you to sign up on a contract that is automatically deducted, but you cancel anytime and there’s no reduced rate for signing up for ___ amount of months.

Because it offers way more than a traditional gym and the atmosphere is so much better for me, I find that I really do go and I love it.

PS-I don’t work for the Y 😛

young says:

@Kay- Hey, thanks for visiting! 4-5 times a week- that’s amazing. You must be super fit. I think if you have people who will go with your (your partner, your friends) it makes going to the gym much much easier and worthwhile. The YM/WCA is a fantastic organization. I didn’t know that they will reduce the cost of the membership, that’s great, because I know monthly memberships cost about $60 here in vancouver for the Y. I like how they are seemingly the essence of what a community gym is supposed to be like. I’m surprised you don’t work for the Y, they should hire you any how!! 🙂

I can

young says:

@Bucksome- Hey we’re the same! =) Yeah you’re right, some people really get good use out of their memberships (like people who go 3-4x a week regularly), but I’m not one of them.

No, I think P90X is a little more extreme, although I’m not too familiar with it. Primal Fitness is more like a fitness plan for life! It’s based off of 5 core bodyweight exercises, such as pushups, planks, and squats.

The exercises are broken down into different progressions based on ability. If you can do the recommended number at the “primal” level (which is actually only level 4 of 9!), then you’re in very good shape, and you probably look it, too!

Yang says:

Here’s an idea: I bet some of your readers live in apartment condos and are paying for unused exercise rooms via maintenance fees. Reach out to those readers and ask if they are willing to host a Young and Thrifty exercise club 😛

This will challenge those condo owners to put on some sweats and actually use the gym they pay for. You can connect with your readers on a more personal level. You wrote that you are solitary at times but everyone can use some peer motivation, especially during those cold, dark winter months.

If enough condo owners are interested in hosting, the club can roam around different Vancouver apartment buildings…like a pub crawl, except much healthier.

Now I’m sure this is against ALL condo rules, especially if money is involved. But keep the “club” small (3-4 “members” at a time) and inconspicuous and this might actually work 😀

Little House says:

Years ago, when I was in my mid-to late 20’s (ahem, I just aged myself!) I had a gym membership. I went religiously the first few months, then stopped going. It was a complete waste of money. I realized I preferred outdoor activities vs. going to the gym.

I now just make it a point to exercise outside more; ride my bike, walk, hike, etc. I also work out a little bit at home to reduce that creeping mid-section (sit-ups and hand weights). Luckily, I live in a region where the weather is temperate; outdoor activities are all-year round.

young says:

@Little House- What??? I can’t believe you’re not in your 20’s! You look so young in your head shot pic! Sit ups and hand weights eh? Okay, I’ll keep that in mind when the dog walking and hiking isn’t working anymore =)

Yang says:

I imagine Vancouver to be a very outdoor exercise friendly city. If you enjoy walking the dog, jogging and cycling, then continue doing that. There is no need for a gym membership. Boggles my mind to see people at the gym running on treadmills in front of floor to ceiling windows looking out to a beautifully sunny day. Huh?

Here in Toronto, there are plenty of drop-in exercise “bootcamp” classes and hybrid dance/exercise classes. I’m sure Vancouver has something similar.

Exercise is WHAT you do, not WHERE you do it.

If you do want to try the gym, look into gym membership at your local community centre. I find that they can be less expensive than the big-box gyms. Best of all, community centre gyms don’t lock you into ridiculous, long term contracts. You can therefore just sign up for six months to a year. If you find that the gym is not for you, you can simply cancel your membership instead of trying to sell it on kijiji. Or just pay monthly for the winter months when the weather is not exercise friendly.

Community centre gyms are likely subsidized by the municipal government so you are already paying for them (sort of, via taxes). Go get your money’s worth 🙂

young says:

@Yang- Vancouver IS a very outdoor exercise friendly city =) Yeah, it does to me too. I see people jogging on their treadmills staring at the beautiful sunny day outside and staring at traffic (me looking up at them, quizzically).

Yeah, this bootcamp thing has really taken off, eh? It’s really taking off here- lots of people I know do bootcamp instead of the gym. I guess it sounds cooler too.

I was thinking of the community centre (for your above mentioned reasons, which are uber cool because I am paying for it in taxes, might as well take advantage of it), but they don’t have the yoga classes (you have to pay extra for that), but I do like how you can just pay for a few months (instead of getting locked in for 2 years) which would be great in the winter. Thanks Yang!

I’m currently contemplating a gym membership. I am looking at taking over someone else’s from kijiji so I have a shorter commitment and I can avoid the hard sell when you go to ask about prices (I hate that part). I did work out videos at home for a while but the attraction wore off. I find it too easy to talk myself out of working out when it’s something I do at home or something like going for a walk or a run. I used to go after work every day so I’m hoping I can start that again!

young says:

@Tiny Potato- $20 a month! That’s so cheap! Directly after work is a good idea, you can bring a change of clothes to work. You’re right, I would get wayyy too comfortable at home and then not go work out. Perhaps a place between work and home- perfect balance there.

@Kevin- No, I haven’t. is that like P90X? =)

@Jenn @Paying Myself- Are you taking over Echo’s membership from Kijiji? 😉 Me too- I used to be so devoted to my yoga videos, but somehow, I haven’t gotten it started up again since I came back from my trip. =( I hate hard sellers- but I guess that’s what they’re ‘personally trained’ to do. (Sorry, had to throw that one in there har har!)

lol “personally trained”…

I bought at Goodlife once before and when I went in they did the whole tour and it was all “sign here! sign now! price is low! you’re so motivated! don’t lose your motivation! sign up NOW!!”

The next day I felt so swindled and realized I might never use the gym or I would go for a couple months then never again. I checked my contract and realized I had ten days to back out so I went back. They made me meet with the same guy (tricky tricky) and he gave me the “you were so motivated yesterday! this makes me so sad!” speech. I said thanks but no thanks, I’m outta here.

I really dislike those guys/girls.

young says:

@Jenn- EW. I can’t believe they said “this makes me so sad” I can just imagine their faces when they said that. In this fake shocked tone of voice. Yeuch!! Good for you for sticking it up. I think a lot of it is that confrontation. Many people don’t want to quit their gym membership solely because of that, I would say.

Have you ever checked out “Primal Blueprint Fitness”? They discuss ways to exercise, using only bodyweight, and they can be done indoors or outdoors. No need for a gym membership!

Tiny Potato says:

I have a Gym membership that is just under $20 a month (I’ve been a member for many years). I find that going directly after work makes it easier since you won’t be home in comfy clothes already.

For most people though, after an initial period of commitment most will fall off the bandwagon. I see this every January when the gym gets a bit busier due to NY resolutions!

Echo says:

My wife and I had a gym membership that went un-used for almost a year. We had signed a five year contract because it gave the lowest monthly rate with no upfront sign-up fee. Sold both memberships on Kijiji, basically getting someone to “take over” our contract.

Don’t do it…so many better ways to get exercise, just like the ones you mentioned in your post

I go to a dance class once a week for two hours. I also perform during the summer. Not necessarily a gym, but I still get exercise and have motivation from others to come.

leslie says:

I will not pay for a gym but I do like the idea of getting away from the house to focus on my work out.

I drive a few miles down the road to a local park and run there. That way, I am far enough away that I am not tempted to just run back home instead of finishing.

Also, it feels like I am getting out and exercising. Rather than just taking a jog around the block.

young says:

@leslie- good point! I think I would be tempted to just run back home too lol =) Too easy, too close. I guess you need to go a bit further, but not too far that it sucks up too much of your time. Thanks for your tip!

@Tekla Carrol- dance class is good! What kind of dance do you do? If I were to join a gym, I would definitely look for a gym that offers classes like yoga and dance too.

@Echo- Ahh another example! Thanks for sharing your experience. Good to know you can sell your membership on Kijiji- at least you’re not tied down forever. Don’t they give you ID’s though? Do gyms permit the selling of memberships?

Echo says:

Actually it was the gym who recommended that I try and do that. I had a really good monthly rate, so it didn’t take long for another couple scooped it up. I just had to go in and pay a $50 transfer fee, which I split with the other couple.

young says:

@Echo- That’s awesome- thanks for the scoop!