I cannot tell you how many budgeting books and blogs I’ve read that ask people to cut their gym membership to save money. The suggestion comes from a perspective of budgeting, saving money, or paying down debt. Usually, this is accompanied by a suggestion of taking walks or runs around your neighborhood, or checking exercise videos out at the library to follow at home.
For me, this is the worst idea ever.
Ok, maybe not ever, but it is pretty bad.
Let me tell you why.
When I was in college and grad school, I took advantage of the tracks, sidewalks, paths and wellness centers to exercise. This was included in my student fees, so it was easy to take advantage of it, financially. In grad school, I was even able to add my spouse onto my wellness center membership for a nominal fee. Win-win.
After graduating, I tried taking walks (usually with my dog), but I didn’t live in a neighborhood with many sidewalks, which forced me into the street. This isn’t a huge deal if you live where no one ever speeds. If you live there, please let me know because I’m going to look into moving to your neighborhood!
In addition to dealing with speeding cars, let’s face it–I’m a woman walking alone. Sometimes my husband’s schedule would work so that he could come with me, but it was usually just me and my dog. If you take many walks, you will probably eventually find yourself in a situation where you feel unsafe, whether it is from a stranger, a stray aggressive dog, or some other hazard.
And of course, sometimes it rains. Or snows. Or is 105 degrees outside. My work schedule didn’t always allow me to exercise outside around the weather.
At this point, you are probably thinking, Oh Amy, you could just follow a video when you can’t walk or run outside!
Sure, if you don’t mind moving furniture to make room and vacuuming all the dog hair off your carpet first. Or having the dogs or children climb on you while you are trying to do leg lifts.
Maybe it sounds like I’m just making excuses, but I’ve learned from experience what works and doesn’t work for me. If moving furniture doesn’t kill your motivation to Zumba around the living room, or you don’t mind running after dark, that’s great.
For me, I had to learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t work for an exercise routine.
Before I got pregnant with my first child, we had joined our local YMCA. It was great. I went to different classes to find out what I liked, I swam, I lifted weights. As soon as I found out we were expecting a baby, I panicked about money and we cut our YMCA membership. Budget wise, it made sense at the time, but despite almost daily walks and an active job, I gained 70 lbs that first pregnancy! Yikes!
Well, I didn’t think we could afford a gym membership while my daughter was little, but my weight had hit a plateau, and even though I was pushing a stroller around our neighborhood (whenever it wasn’t raining or dark or crazy hot), I really needed something more.
I tried exercise videos with some success, but it was difficult to fit them into my day when the baby would wake from her nap before I could finish my workout. For me, this was beyond frustrating. I felt like I couldn’t manage basic self-care like 30 minutes of exercise and a shower. It is life as a parent, yes, but I learned that I needed more support to be able to do these things.
Finally, a new gym was opening with super-low rates–and childcare was only an additional $10 a month! I had been hesitant about dropping my child off in childcare, but they had a live video feed, I met the workers, and I reminded myself that it was only for an hour.
You know what? It was great! She adjusted quickly to being around another caregiver and other kids for a short time in her day, I got to exercise (and shower immediately afterward!), and I got to meet other adults. As a stay-at-home mom, this was priceless.
Unfortunately, that gym closed about a year later. They didn’t have enough members at that location to stay open, but that experience taught me that having a place where I can actually complete a workout, take a shower, and talk to an adult are more important than having a little more wiggle room in our budget.
After that gym closed, we joined the YMCA. it cost a bit more than the super-cheap gym, but childcare was included in the cost. Even better, they offered swim lessons, Parents’ Night Out, and hosted family nights!
You know what happened?
I became a better mom, a better wife, a better me! Having a place that I could rely on for a little “me time” in my day was a sanity saver. Being able to de-stress through exercise, meet other adults, and have some kid-free time in my day has made all the difference in how I function in my day-to-day life.
We have moved again, and within our first month here, I joined the local YMCA. This is now the third Y that I’ve been a member of, and I really can’t say enough good things about it, especially if you are a parent.
Since I know that I’ll get an hour of kid-free time and my kids are happily playing with their friends in child care, I get my gym clothes on and haul us to the Y. Can we say motivation?! I might even look better and live longer for it!
So is this a wasted gym membership? Absolutely not. It is as vital to me as electricity and water, and we budget it as such.
If you are a parent, especially a stay-at-home parent, who is on the fence about a gym membership, I hope you’ll research your options and find a gym with good childcare. I promise that it will make a huge difference in your sanity and well-being if you take advantage of it!
And if you are thinking of joining a YMCA (or any gym), please get a tour and ask if they have a free pass for a day so that you can see if it is a good fit for you! If you know a YMCA member, they get a few free passes with their membership to bring a friend, so that is a great way to get started and see what you think.
If you are so stretched financially that you can’t see how to make a gym membership work for you, ask a YMCA about financial assistance.
Do you have a gym membership? Is it wasted money for you or a vital expense?