Dumb Money: The Gym

by Kevin on January 14, 2008

Chandler: Oh yeah, gym member. I try to go four times a week, but I’ve missed the last 1200 times.
Ross: So why don’t you quit?
Chandler: You don’t think I’ve tried? You think I like having 50 dollars taken out of my bank account every month? No, they make you go all the way down there! Then they use all of these phrases and peppiness to try and confuse you! Then they bring out Maria.
Ross: Who is Maria?
Chandler: Oh Maria. You can’t say no to her, she’s like this lycra spandex covered gym…treat.

Thanks to the writers of Friends, we can kick off what I hope becomes a regular post that we’ll call Dumb Money. Simply put, these posts revolve around dumb money moves that are keeping you from getting out of debt. Keeping you from moving forward with your financial life. Sort of like Dave Ramsey’s stupid tax.

Physical exercise is a great thing. Staying in shape should help your finances down the road because you will be healthier. Exercising creates endorphins which puts you in a better mood. All around, exercise is a good thing and I’m not knocking it. In fact, I need to do more of it.

I am knocking paying $25 or $50 per month to let someone allow you to exercise.

What does a gym offer that you can’t do at home?

  • Equipment? You can get by with the basics.
  • Special showers? No; at least not that I’m aware of.
  • Convenience? What is more convenient than your house or apartment?
  • A warm space in the winter or cool space in the summer? If you work out at home, it will be heated and cooled just as much as the gym down the road.

In regards to equipment, you don’t need a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stationary bike. Some basic equipment you can use at home: tennis shoes and dumbbells. Of course the shoes are to jog/run outside. You don’t need fancy $100 running shoes either — I use tennis shoes I’ve had since high school. I’m 23. (Again, I’m not a fitness expert, but these work for me.)

Dumbbells are surprisingly diverse … you can work a lot of different muscles with such a simple tool. Judging from a quick Google search, you might expect to pay $1-2 per pound per dumbbell. So your $25/month gym membership would buy you two 10 lb. or one 20 lb. dumbbell in the first month. That would keep you busy for the first month, and you get to keep them! The next month you could buy additional weights, or save for something larger; in essence building your own home gym.

On top of jogging and dumbbells, you can do push-ups and crunches. All for free. In your living room. In your underwear (blinds closed, please).

Just like any other service provider, gyms want to entice you with “free” benefits — especially this time of year. It’s New Years resolutions time, so sign up now and get three months free! Or free spa treatments in your first month, or, or, or…

$25 per month is $300 per year. $50 is $600.What if you put $50 towards your debt snowball, emergency fund, or retirement account?

So don’t be Chandler. Suck it up and quit the gym!

* * *

I just noticed Flexo at Consumerism Commentary wrote an interesting article in 2007 about the gym: 10 Things Your Gym Won’t Tell You.


Tiffany February 6, 2008 at 11:21 am

I must say that I humbly disagree…to a point. Personally, I belong to a gym that I visit nearly every day of the work week, and I love it. Because of the convenience of the gym (next door to my office), the wide variety of equipment (can we say rowing machine?), the knowledge I have gained from my instructors in group exercise classes, and the friendships I have made in the classes, I have been able to make a 180 degree change in my health over the last two years. In fact, what I learned at the gym (in addition to my own ongoing research) inspired me to do other forms of exercise outside of the gym, like running and pilates. My gym requires no contract, and while it may not be the hottest gym in town, it is certainly the best deal ($27/month). For people who already know a lot about health and exercise AND can happily exercise alone most days AND who require little to no variety in their routine to stay interested and committeed, a gym membership is a waste. Unfortunately, I do not fall into those categories, so I consider my reasonably priced, no-contract gym well worth the money I pay. As long as the benefits of your gym outweigh the costs, and as long as you don’t buy into the materialistic so-called “need” for the gyms with the fancy juice bars, I say go for it!

Kevin February 7, 2008 at 2:37 pm

I think that would be one of the rare exceptions. A gym without a contract? Unheard of, for the most part.

If you are getting value out of it, then by all means keep going. I sit in an office full of people that complain about needing to go the gym, and never end up going. I can see the $25 or $50 burning up in their wallets and purses from where I sit.

Also, if you need that motivation, then the cost can be better than never exercising.

Ricky February 7, 2008 at 3:54 pm

I am currently paying this stupid tax… I signed a 2 year contract in July of ’06. I never go to the gym and my Amex gets hit for $29 every month. That equals $696 that I will never see again. That amounts to $696 that could have been applied to debt or if I had invested it and left it alone until I retired it would be about $80,000. OUCH! I think I am going to use this investment calculator whenever I am thinking about making a purchase. IT really puts things into perspective.

Tim L February 19, 2008 at 8:35 am

A gym without a contract being unheard of?? Lifetime doesn’t have a contract.
How would I otherwise run in an indoor track when it’s -10 degrees outside?
Can’t afford a pool in my basement!
Spinning classes, pilates classes and a huge variety of equipment.
Not only that but 2 hours of childcare so that I can do it to begin with.

The problem isn’t the cost of the gym. The problem is not going, not having a goal, a plan. Sign up for a 1/2 marathon or sprint triathlon.

Yes, it costs money. But it’s money spent well.

DanL February 19, 2008 at 9:33 am

Agree to disagree…I think the point of Kevin’s post here is that the gym is not a NECESSARY expense as many people make it out to be. You can get great cardio workouts at home–not necessarily needing some of the fancy machines you pay for at the gym and get just as good of a work out.

The gym was one of the first expenses I cut out when I began to pay off my debt. In fact, rather than even purchase the dumbells, I use two jars of peanut butter (about 5-7 lbs each). Some of the ideas to cut cost on a gym membership are bush league but if you’re really concerned about eliminating debt or cutting costs they can be practical.

Shannon February 19, 2008 at 10:21 am

Running shoes need to be replaced every 500 miles! If you’re wearing them in your daily life out and about in addition to exercising they’ll definitely be past their limit. The support wears out and you can injure yourself.

And many gyms these days have no contracts. I was a member of a no frills one that was $20 a month. No locker rooms, just bathrooms and dressing rooms. No pool, courts etc, just workout machines and weights. It got the job done but I wasn’t going there enough.

Many articles I’ve read on the subject say to count up how often you visit and divide your payment by that to get the cost per visit. If its more than a couple bucks, you’re wasting your money.

LAL January 29, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Yep running shoes need to be replaced quite a bit. I love being a member of a gym. I’m thinking of joining because I have to rehab my knee.

I used to be a member in CA and I went daily. Best shape of my life!

Now I’m a cheap out of shape slug.

I paid $99/year and it was ridiculous the price per visit. Since I pretty much went daily.

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