It’s always amazing how quickly the year goes by. Summer will be here before we know it! From beaches and barbecues, to parades and pools, people will be out and about. And I’m thinking about what I thought back in the summer: Do I need to switch gyms or quit?
Why The Hell Should I Pay Money To Have Someone Else Kick Me In The Ass?
Gyms can be time-consuming (assuming you go regularly) and expensive. But so can the potential repercussions of not taking care of yourself properly, whether short- or long-term. When deciding to join or switch gyms, I’ve considered the following three items:
1. What am I looking to accomplish or acquire?
This can include anything between weight loss or fitness goals, to increased social well-being via dating opportunities, friendships, or camaraderie. I’ve known a few people who have joined a gym primarily for access to an awesome spa and pool facility — it was much cheaper than joining other organizations located in New York City. In college, I just wanted to get really big arms and a big chest to feel confident when answering the question, “How much do you bench, bro?” — a very dumb thing when looking back.
2. What tools or resources do I need or want to be successful?
Some people need lessons on technique, support and encouragement, or a structured plan. Some people want to swim, lift, run, rock climb, lounge, or do any other number of activities. For me, it was variety, motivation, and accountability. My wife recently began working with a personal trainer once a week, a couple of times a month, and found it extremely motivational and effective. Last year, I tried an at-home, free body weight-based curriculum that I found online. It lasted six weeks, and I had fun completing the effective program.
3. What is the cost vs. benefit for my time and money?
Depending on where you live and what you do, gyms and other related activities can range from outright expensive to dirt cheap. I paid between zero for “free” gyms in apartment buildings that I’ve lived in, and $179 a month on other class-based programs. There are also options besides traditional gyms or group classes, such as training for races (5/10Ks to half/full marathons) and other increasingly popular obstacle-based courses (Tough Mudder, Muckfest, Spartan).
I’ve frequently thought about what I could do with $179 invested a month in either my retirement or taxable investment accounts. Perhaps more important than money is time. We all have a finite amount of time in a day and in our lives. How do you want to be spending it?
10-Year Personal Reflection and Analysis
When reviewing expenses over the last several months, we averaged ~$500-$600 a month on “personal care,” including memberships and related activities. This number initially surprised me, as I’ve felt things have been “cheaper” since moving to Chicago from New York City.
Related: About Balanced Dividends
Admittedly, I don’t have the line-by-line transaction history from several +years ago since switching tracking applications, but here is a rough recollection of the timeline (give or take a few months) and approximate costs.
Summer 2007 – Spring 2008 (New York City)
We graduated from college and moved to New York City. Utilized a “free” gym included with my rent in the 52-story high-rise I lived in. Overall, the gym was very nice and had decent equipment and options for an apartment building, but it got very crowded at times.
Monthly Cost= $0 / Total Approximate Cost = $0 (12 months)
Summer 2008 – Winter 2008 (New York City)
My wife (girlfriend, at the time) and I moved in together. Our apartment building also had its own gym, but it cost around $50 per person; we tried it for a few months and hated it. The cardio machines broke frequently and the gym could only accommodate 3-4 people at a time without bumping into each other.
Monthly Cost = $100 / Total Approximate Cost = $600 – $800 (6 – 8 months)
Spring 2009 – Spring 2011 (New York City)
While still in our first apartment together, we canceled our residential building’s gym and both joined New York Sports Club (NYSC). The gym was decent and had a wide variety of equipment and options; the facility itself was not very modern or clean (at least our location).
I did receive a discount through work though, so that helped in our decision to join — especially as the “initiation fees” and other miscellaneous upfront costs were waived.
Monthly Cost = $160 / Total Approximate cost = $3,520 – $3,840 (22 – 24 months)
Summer 2011 – Spring 2013 (New York City)
We moved literally down the street four-tenths of a mile to a new apartment building after getting a great deal on a “promotional” rate in a newer and bigger building (with a larger unit, too!). Our new building had a New York YMCA downstairs on the street-level with a (I recall) six-lane, 25-yard pool, plus a number of classes and other equipment. We checked it out but decided to stay with NYSC, as they had a larger, nicer location closer to our new place.
Monthly Cost = $160 / Total Approximate cost = $960 – $1,280 (6 – 8 months)
Several months later, my employer updated its gym options / benefits and began to cover Equinox. We heard good things from colleagues, tried it out, and joined. One of the nice benefits offered at the time was the elimination of extremely high initial fees (a few hundred bucks) waived via my work benefits.
I also received a monthly discount, but my wife had to pay the full monthly price (although her initiation fees were waived as well). We also received a few complimentary personal training sessions. Overall, we loved Equinox; it was more expensive than other gyms (but definitely not the most expensive — especially in New York City), and we felt we received a lot more value for what we paid.
Monthly Cost = $210 / Total Approximate cost = $3,360 – $3,780 (16 – 18 months)
Summer 2013 – Spring 2015 (New York City)
With rents on the rise after three years in our current unit and the economy rebounding, we again decided to move. This time we doubled our move distance to eight-tenths of a mile (although we somehow, unintentionally, managed to stay within the same zip code as our prior two buildings). Our building had its own gym, complete with separate cardio, studio, and weight areas. The building outsourced the gym management to a third-party company, so it was well-maintained.
Similar to our first building, residents had to pay extra to use the facility (as well as the reserved “club” or lounge space). It cost $70 a person, but we managed to get this reduced to $35. We joined and, overall, we enjoyed the space. It didn’t have all the bells and whistles of Equinox, but it was decent.
Monthly Cost = $70 / Total Approximate cost $1,540 (22 months)
Summer 2015 – Fall 2016 (Chicago)
We moved from New York to Chicago; our building also had its own gym facility, which was “free” to all residents. The gym was mediocre but a new management company acquired the building and renovated the space last year with brand new equipment.
We both utilized the space, but my wife wanted some additional variety and tried ClassPass for a number of months. Prices vary by location and how many classes you want to take a month.
Monthly Cost = $110 / Total Approximate cost = $1,100 to $1,320 (10 – 12 months)
My wife then switched jobs and her employer offered some gym benefits; she ended up joining Fitness Formula Club (FFC). It’s about $75 a month, plus she’s utilized a weekly trainer on and-off in the second half of 2016 (around $90 a session, averaging around 3 times a month).
Monthly Cost = $345 / Total Approximate cost = $2,070 (6 months).
Winter 2017 – Fall 2017 (Chicago)
My wife continued with her training program and trainers at Fitness Formula Club (FFC). After finding myself in a routine rut, I began looking for something new and ended up joining Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) after a recommendation from my sister. I love it —it’s fun, challenging, and — most importantly for me — keeps me motivated and accountable.
Joining as a “founding member” at a new studio, I received a lower monthly rate at $179 (vs. $199) a month for an unlimited number of sessions. Similar to ClassPass and other class-based options, you can purchase different membership levels or class packages depending on the number of times you intend to visit each month.
Monthly Cost = $524 / Total Approximate cost = $6,288 (12 months).
Other Considerations: Walks, Runs, and Miscellaneous Events
We also participated in numerous walks and 5/10Ks, several half-marathons, and a single full-marathon over the course of these years. I don’t have a detailed recollection of each race (the gym costs were fixed, so they’re relatively easier to remember), but some of the races range from as little as $20 a person to a couple hundred dollars. In some cases, we were paying for these races and competitions in addition to the fixed gym costs.
Wrapping It Up
10-Year Summary of Gym Costs
|Total Cost||$16,294 - $20,918|
|Summer 07' - Spring 08'||$0||$0||12 months|
|Summer 08' - Winter 08'||$100||$600 - $800||6 - 8 months|
|Spring 09' - Spring 11'||$160||$3,520 - $3,840||22 - 24 months|
|Summer 11' - Spring 13'||$160|
|$960 - $1,280|
$3,360 – $3,780
|6 - 8 months
16 - 8 months
|Summer 13' - Spring 15'||$70||$1,540||22 months|
|Summer '15 - Fall 16'||$110|
|$1,100 - $1,320|
|10 - 12 months
|Winter 17' - Summer 17'||$524||$6,288||12 months|
Looking Back and Ahead
Overall, consider investing in yourself — just do it carefully. What you put in — both in terms of time and money — is not always what you get out. Over the long-term, I do continue to believe that slow and steady will get you dividend heavy — in more ways than one.
Readers, how much have you paid for gyms or other fitness/wellness activities? Do you have any suggestions to consider for effectively spending your time and money? How do you try to find balance between cost and value?