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Skip the Gym, Save the Bucks

Written by Ed Avis - 3 Comments

Skip the Gym, Save the Bucks

Our younger son has been going to a gym in town with some friends. He gets in using a guest pass from one of the others. We are a little embarrassed that he’s the only one without his own membership, so I looked into the cost of joining… Unbelievable!

Not only is the monthly fee rather high, but just signing up includes paying the first and last month’s fee, a membership initiation fee, and some other random fee. And I looked on Yelp and found a long list of complaints from members who tried to quit and still found unexpected auto deductions from their checking accounts months later.

Needless to say, we didn’t sign our son up. He still goes on his friends’ guest passes once in a while, but he gets most of his exercise from a long list of other opportunities.

Here are seven ways to get exercise without joining the club.

1. Community centers

Some communities have ultra-low cost gyms designed for residents. Our other son lives in Boston, and he joined a gym near his home for $30 per year! I visited the place when he moved there, and it has all the basics – an indoor track, a few weight machines, some basketball courts, and a handful of other amenities.

Nothing fancy, no member’s lounge, no suave trainers, but… At $30 a year, who’s complaining? My son goes several times a week to run on the track and play pick-up basketball, and gets all the exercise he needs.

2. The YMCA

The Y is not exactly cheap, but it’s much less expensive than a snazzy fitness club. The Y near us has a $165 joining fee for a family, and then costs $76 per month. That’s less than half the fee at the gym. And the facilities at the Y are solid.

There is lots of modern exercise and weight training equipment, a good pool, indoor track, two gyms, and a whole bunch of classes. I’m sure the quality of Ys varies across the country, but I’m guessing each offers some solid exercise opportunities.

3. Churches

This probably isn’t a reason to join a church, but I’ve noticed that some churches have rather nice gym facilities. The Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, for example, includes cardio equipment, a weight room, and two gyms. On a more modest scale, several friends of mine play in a church basketball league in town that provides plenty of exercise and competition.

4. Colleges and universities

I grew up near the campus of Penn State University, and there was no end of workout opportunities for community members. I now live near several smaller colleges outside Chicago, and while there seem fewer organized activities than at the big state school, my sons have used the college sports facilities – including the pool and gym – many times over the years.

I’m not sure what the official rules are, but I don’t remember them paying any fees to participate. Naturally, if you live near your alma mater, you probably have the privilege of using those facilities.

5. High schools

On many cold winter evenings I’ve used the gym at our local high school for a run. I’m not sure if this was officially permitted, but no one ever stopped me! And the outdoor track at our high school is always full of community members out for a jog.

6. Park district facilities

Most communities have a park district that offers classes and facilities for the community. Where I live, the park district publishes two large catalogs each year, packed with exercise classes, sports leagues, swimming lessons, camps, and scores of other exercise opportunities.

Most of these opportunities carry a nominal fee but it’s usually far less than commercial alternatives. Our park district also operates two pools, an ice rink, and a half dozen sports fields and fieldhouses. I’m sure I could find a solid exercise opportunity every night of the week if I wanted to.

7. Walking, running, riding your bike

The most convenient and least expensive exercise opportunity is probably right outside your door. Don’t knock it – it’s always available, free, fun, and provides plenty of fresh air!

So, now you can see why I wasn’t too upset when we decided we weren’t going to buy my son a gym membership. With all these opportunities around him, he is never going to be hurting for exercise opportunities.

Published on February 7th, 2013
Modified on March 2nd, 2013 - 3 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is a writer and editor in Oak Park, Illinois. He specializes in personal finance, parenting, and small business topics. He is married and has two sons.

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3 Responses to “Skip the Gym, Save the Bucks”

  1. 1
    KimH Says:

    I cant believe that Y costs that much.. its ridiculous.

    Bally’s near me costs $27 a month if you say you will only go to this one club.. they also have a pool. If this was the club you were speaking of where people had a problem getting them to cancel the membership, things have changed over the years. They now have a month by month membership & you dont have to sign a 2 year contract. Also, there is a proper procedure to cancel your membership and if you follow it, there is no problem. I just did this in November and I had no problems. I just called the HQ (difficult as the phone system is, just push any number to talk to a human) and ask how to stop your membership. Easy peesy.

    Another option you didnt mention is that many hotel chains that have pools and gyms have local memberships so you can use their facilities. I used to belong to one of these, but Bally’s was cheaper with the new system in place.

  2. 2
    Peter Says:

    Just wanted to endorse the idea that exercise is important and could be part of sound financial planning as it is proven to reduce medical expenses at least in the short run. It probably adds to ones longevity, which might mean that lifetime medical expenses go up.

    My company (Chrysler) has a great gym facility. Best thing about it is that it is right at the workplace… you don’t need to drive another segment to get to the gym. Losing a good excuse to skip the workout I have pretty good attendance.

    For $20 a month, you get a well equipped gym, (sorry, no swimming pool), a small locker to store your things between visits, a tall locker to use while you’re there, showers, towels, body shampoo, and laundry that washes your sweaty clothes and places them clean and dry in your small locker. That’s pretty nice.

  3. 3
    Kylie Ofiu Says:

    I love exercise and have pretty much never used a gym unless it was free. There are so many ways to exercise for free, things you can do at home, parks you can use and even buying some of the equipment is cheaper than a years membership.

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