Gym Memberships Still Worth It Despite Recession

Much of the advice I share here are lessons I’ve learned the hard way.  I certainly don’t possess any unique skill at navigating the personal finance world, and I’ve made my share of mistakes.  To clean up those mistakes I typically advise families to cut any unnecessary spending, particularly in this time of recession.

We have taken our own advice in the Frugal household by cutting the cable back to basic service, lowering our cell phone plan, signing up for the value Internet plan, and a number of other cuts.  However, there is one expense I am unwilling to let go–my gym membership.

Gym memberships really are a luxury in that I could get adequate exercise with a good pair of walking shoes and a few dumbbells.  However, with our current layout a home gym is not possible, and most of the equipment I use at the gym is too expensive to put in the house anyway.

Over the years I have struggled with whether or not to let go of my gym membership.  I have even gone so far as canceling it and trying to do home workouts to no avail.  Right now my membership costs about $30 a month, or $360 a year.  That works out to roughly a dollar a day.  Actually, because I don’t go every day like I should it works out to closer to two or three dollars a day.  Still, that is not a lot considering the benefits I receive.

Benefits of a Gym Membership

Lower health care costs.  If I can get in and stay in better shape it will help lower health care costs and insurance premiums.  In this way, I consider the $30 a month an investment because it more than offsets the costs of additional doctor visits and increased premiums.

Relieves stress.  After sitting at a desk all day, and much of the night, it is good to get up and move around.  I have lifted weights since high school and find it to be therapeutic in terms of relieving stress.  It would take much more than $360 to outfit my garage with the same equipment I use at the gym–weight bench, squat rack, leg press, barbells and a full weight set, not to mention the various cardio equipment.

Mental clarity.  Ever just feel like you are in a fog, mentally?  Me too.  When I start to feel that way I immediately look at two things:  my diet and my workout schedule.  When I start to slack off on either one I can feel a decline in mental sharpness and often feel more fatigued.  Strange that working to near exhaustion in the gym actually gives you more energy, but it really does.

Adds discipline to your daily routine.  Regardless of what time of day I workout, the workout itself sets the tone for the day.  I used to get up early and hit the gym, but I have replaced that early morning time with writing.  Now I typically workout after I leave work, and it is a nice change of pace to leave the office, hit the gym and then head home.

Networking opportunities. If you are single, this advice may mean something totally different to you! But for us married folks, I am referring more to professional networking opportunities.  The gym is sort of a melting pot for professionals in my area as people from a variety of industries have memberships to the same gym.  It is not unusual to strike up a conversation about the market with the guy on the treadmill next to me.  Eventually we chat about family and jobs and I have established a new contact.  It never hurts to have a few of these casual friends in your network.

Boosts self-confidence.  It is true that better looking people have an easier time getting ahead in life.  Fortunately for me, looks aren’t the only thing that matter!  Hard work and discipline makes up for a lack of looks, but one secret ingredient can override all others–self confidence.  Establishing a workout routine, sticking with it, and making progress boosts self confidence.  The physical improvements are nice, too, but the change on the inside is far more important.

Do you have a gym membership?  Have you considered canceling it to reduce monthly expenses?


  1. My husband is still in school, so I can pay for a spouse card at the university ($40 a semester) and use the workout facilities. This is a great way to stay in shape, without paying the full cost for a gym membership.

  2. I struggle with this one all the time, although my current building has a nice gym on the roof so I can’t complain.

    But I would also add that “getting out of the house” is another big plus. Yeah, it’s annoying when it’s freezing out or you’re tired, but sometimes you need to just get away for a little bit. And that feeling you get after a workout…definitely worth $1/day.

  3. we’ve cut almost all our “leisure” spending entirely. I could almost cut the gym and just run and lift with our dumbbells in the summer, but it’s so nice to have the option in the wintertime 🙂

  4. Every time I read the suggestion to drop gym memberships because they are a luxury I cringe. Don’t get me wrong, if I couldn’t pay the mortgage I would drop it, but it’s one of the best values for our money that we get. My husband and I pay $66/month for our membership. We go 11 times a week (5 times me, 6 times him). I attend 4 instructor led classes a week (boot camp, which pushes me WAY more than I would push myself at home). We both shower there every time we go. We both are a healthy weight and are basically never sick. We both need it for stress management, and I need it for depression management (live in Colorado and HATE cold and snow). The only time a gym membership is a waste of money is when you don’t go. For us, it’s a bargain!

  5. If you’re actually using the gym membership and thus getting value from it, it’s worth it. If you’re like me and go maybe once every other week then felt guilty about not going more often, it’s pretty much a financial leak. We dropped our membership long ago.

  6. Thankfully my workplace pays for single-person gym memberships, so that expense has never been on the chopping block. We pay an additional $25 for my wife to go and the main $40 membership fee is covered by the job. It could help at work to mention adding a gym membership as a perk since it has two benefits, 1) it is a perk, and the employees usually take advantage of it because it is one of those things that they usually won’t get on their own and 2) it increases the overall health of the employees so that health insurance claims actually go down! They may even be able to cut costs if the insurance claims go down.
    For all my talk though, I usually only hit the gym about 2-3 times a week. This is both due to my after work schedule as well as being a lazy-ass sometimes.

    @FrugalDad, how the weight loss regimen coming along? Have you made any significant losses yet? Even 10-15 lbs is something to celebrate!

  7. Sheila points out another small savings to consider when deciding on gym membership. If you always shower at the gym, and if they also provide soap, shampoo, and towels, that’s another small but not insignificant savings to put on the positive side of the gym membership register.

    It would be a waste for me, because I would go only rarely. But for others, I can see that gym membership could be a worthwhile expense even when money is tight.

  8. My wife and i each pay $10 for our gym memberships each month. I go 5 days a week and she goes 3-5 days depending on her schedule. i think the cost is definately worth the benefit.

  9. Thank you so much for this post! This is definitely a topic that I struggle with. I’ve considered switching gyms, because I currently pay $36 per month, but there’s a gym closer to my home which offers a $10 per month rate. The facilities aren’t as nice, however, and they don’t have a pool or classes like my current gym. Despite the economy, I stay at my current gym because I love it! I look forward to seeing the people there and if I can just get myself through the door, then I’m motivated to have a great workout. There are a few things that can’t be but in our budgets and it’s a matter of importance for each of us. I see a direct correlation between fitting my workouts in and my happiness level… so I continue to pay!

  10. I actually have 3 gym memberships, I’m embarassed to say.
    But fitness is so important to me, I plan on keeping them.
    I like variety – if I get bored at one gym, I can go to another one.
    Plus, one of my memberships is for life and is only $19/month so I plan on keeping it, even though I hardly go.

  11. I pay $39 monthly for jazzercise classes and $39 monthly for Curves, and go to each 3x a week, back-to-back, like clock work. I am convinced that doing so will enable me to age gracefully, or keep the aches and pains at a minimum. To me this is as important as eating healthy. I could do exercise tapes at home and save the $39 for jazzercise, but would I? No. There is a social aspect here too, w/the regulars at both places. I enjoy the commraderie. I’m willing to cut back on all other areas, but not this one. My good health matters to me. I personally would never apologize for having healthy habits. (Motivation is what gets you there. A Habit is what keeps you there).

  12. @DavidK: No, I lost about 10 pounds rather quickly and then hit a plateau. But to be honest, I haven’t been giving it 100% effort either. At this point I’m ignoring scale weight and focusing on how I feel.

  13. I couldn’t agree more. I think there are so many benefits that you can gain out of your gym membership when committed. Besides health benefits, there are like you mentioned mental benefits. Increased outlook, optimism, confidence, etc. I would rather spend my money on bettering my health than anything else. That is also why I join sports leagues, and am even thinking of signing up for boxing classes on top of them both in the spring.

  14. I’m on the fence about my annual renewal. We pay it all up front to save a bit and so it’s a nice chunk of change to be spending around Christmas. A necessary evil like you suggest though, I think. Go workout!

  15. Hi Sandy, I also attend Jazzercise for $40 a month. I consider myself a cheapskate, but I need the social, music and “go at a certain time” motivators. I did notice they are offering an option at mine this month on gift certificates
    Buy a Month, Get one free (up to 6mos/1year)!!
    Fitness for Half Price!!

  16. I think that if a gym membership works for you and you use it and get your money’s worth, then that’s fine. But I think that too many people sign up for gym memberships for the wrong reasons and then end up wasting the money–especially if the gym has an automatic payment plan where the money gets taken every month and you’re not every aware that you’re spending this money for which you’re not getting the full value. I recently gave Exercise TV my Suddenly Frugal Seal of Approval (read about that here: ) because it’s the “free” exercise option that works for me.


  17. I had a Bally’s membership for several years but I was not going so I canceled it. My wife and I have a huge master bedroom so we put in an elliptical and a weight bench and have been using that for a year. It’s nice but I do miss the gym and being around people but I also don’t have to wait for “Biceps Boy” to do 100 reps on a hammer strength machine.

  18. I have a yoga studio membership which I have to admit is really expensive. In theory, I could get all the exercise I need by just walking with weights. In real life, I find lots of excuses not to do this. On the other hand, I love going to yoga, so it’s easy to motivate myself to get the exercise I need. Unfortunately it’s adding years to my life, which means I’ll have to keep paying for yoga membership that much longer!

  19. I opted to invest a year ago and paid up front for the first 3 years of a 24 Hour Fitness membership. When you pay up front, they give you a price break, so it cost me $750($250/year). The great thing about this plan is that once the three years expire, the membership will only cost me $40 per year, lifetime. I’m glad I made the investment a year ago when I was more financially stable, although if I were put to the decision, I would still opt to keep my membership even if I were paying month-to-month despite the recession.

  20. Sara:

    If I had a 24-Hour Fitness near me, I would probably do what you did. There are times that I’ve wanted to work out at 10 p.m. but since the kids are in bed, even Exercise TV won’t do it for me. I’d make too much noise with my jumping around. Having a 24-hour gym would be awesome but the nearest location to me is in NYC and that’s two hours away. Plus, I’m a huge fan of “The Biggest Loser.”

  21. I really enjoyed this post. We have considered doing this to save money. We did cut cable back to basic because we weren’t really watching the special channels.

    My husband and I have been members of the same gym since 1997. Back then it was Gold’s. Just a basic gym. Then it got bought out by a fancier club line here, and it started getting…nicer. Upgraded equipment, towel service, all types of classes included (spin and pilates were extra before).

    But our rates went from $60/month to $100/month for the two of us (gradually).

    One of my friends switched a few years ago to a new 24-hour fitness. We tried it out. Decided it was okay.

    We got a special on a holiday weekend: $1200/ 3 years, then $198 per year after that.

    So it will pay for itself after one year, as we’re getting 3 years for the price of one. It’s not as nice, the classes aren’t convenient, and I miss my step and spin instructors. But I’m just as fit and now at least my gym is recession-proof. I’m paid up until May 2011.

    And I have insomnia, so if I want to go at 3 am (which I’ve done, twice), I can.

    I live in So. Cal, so I could make do with weights, running, walking, biking, and videos. I like the variety at the gym, and frankly, I work out at 5:30 am and it’s dark.

  22. Gosh. Am i the only person in the world who doesn’t have a gym membership? (chuckle)
    I run the stairs in my house, walk the dog and have workout videos as part of my On Demand portion of our basic cable.
    I so admire those who can lace up and work out OUTSIDE of the home. KEEP IT UP!!!

  23. Tammy – I don’t have a gym membership either! While it might be nice to go (I used to) I just don’t have the time anymore. I work constantly on my consulting and writing when I am not caring for my children. Until my youngest gets to first grade I will be juggling my schedule like this so I continue to bring in the big bucks _and_ care for my kids.

    I still work out though! I go for regular speed walks that take 20 minutes and get me that all-important outside light that lifts the mood. I also supplement those with jogging in place while watching TV for 30 minutes as a break. Sometimes I even watch business videos on the web while jogging so I can learn/jog at the same time.

  24. For some, gym membership is the only way they’ll ever actually work out. So for those, it’s definitely worth it.

    But if you’re nice and motivated, you can find cheap fitness magazines that will tell you how to do most exercises or workout routines from home/in the real world.

    We had a membership, but with my chronic fatigue, we just weren’t going enough to make it worthwhile. Perhaps if we found a closer, affordable, gym we’d reconsider. But for now, the money goes toward debt.

  25. Here’s another big perk – if your gym has a childcare center, it can be among the most cost-effective ways for a stay-at-home parent to get down time.

    I joined a gym back when my husband was working out of town and I was left behind with a 2 y.o. A teenage babysitter for even a few hours could’ve cost $25 – and I’d have felt guilty getting a sitter when I wasn’t “doing anything.” I paid about $40/month for the membership. The gym’s child center was free, convenient and gave me an hour every day to read a book while riding an exercycle or chat with other adults.

    And yes, I finally lost the baby weight. 🙂

  26. I have tried many times the “home workout” routine, always unsuccessfully. The most I could ever afford, in terms of money and space, was one excersize machine, and even between that, video game workouts (EA Sports Active, Wii Fit, etc), excersize videos, and neighborhood walks, I was plagued by boredom. I dreaded the workout, and even 35 minutes was torture. I finally broke down and decided to join a local gym, and I agree, it was a recession-proof part of my budget. I go there for an hour that flies by while I have a huge selection of state-of-the-art machines that give me more info than my home machine ever did, both cardio and weight training. I can watch any of my favorite cable tv channels at the machine with some headphones(I could never watch tv while using my machine at home because it was so noisy!)Finally, a routine I can stick with that is not agonizingly boring! And no more “plateau” that you reach doing the same routines every day so in that way my workouts are more productive too.

  27. Hi Jason!

    First, thank you for sharing this.. I was going out of my mind for re-activatingnew gym membership. In my case, in order for me to lock in the cheapest rate I have to pay an initiation fee of >$200. I really did not want to pay the initiation fee , but I would feel terrible allowing myself to continue paying >$62 ( $59.99 + tax) .every month, I actually cancelled my gym membership because I needed to cut cost, and I thought I will be leaving my neighborhood. Anyway, I live in a neighborhood i Seattle wherein this gym is the closest one on my neighborhood.. and after getting into the habit of working out on my own at home.. it just wasn’t as effective for the following reasons:
    1. I am renting a small space
    2. weather conditions really is not great . I really do not like power walking when it is raining or freezing cold outside.. I also do not want to spend over $150 for a work out gear. The last time I attempted to sho for gym clothese the good ones for the cold weather can vary from $150- $300.

    Anyway, I thought I could be staisfied with the small work outs that I do evey morning , however, given the nature of my work, For me anyway, workign out and the time using the sauna really helps me deal with stress…
    Thank you for making me feel not too bad for my decision..