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True Luxury: Why We Joined a Gym


One family's tradeoffs on the road to fitness.

Joining a gym should be a no-brainer. My husband and I already work out on a regular basis. We also home school, so joining a gym could very easily be part of a modest education budget.

But the problem for our frugal family is that we already have a home gym. It looks like this:

Note the elaborate cardio center (jump ropes) in the green box. The hot tub/swimming pool is our tub, so I'll spare you that image. Yoga classes are conveniently held whenever we throw in the DVD purchased from Gaiam (GAIA). (As an added bonus, I can gawk at Rodney Yee for as long as I want when I give up on the workout.)

When we want to vary our cardio routines, we jog or run suicides in the backyard. We've never maxed out our free weights, and those alone provide endless exercises.

But I've so lusted after joining a gym. All the gleaming exercise machines and -- other
things: The tracks and gyms when the weather is bad. Year-round access to lap and program pools and hot tubs to feed my inner water puppy.

(By the way, if you haven't figured this out, I enjoy exercise. I also had an insight a few months ago that for me to stay happy and sane without the help of the pharmaceutical industry, I have to exercise. Go figure.)

Still, we've resisted the temptation to join a gym for several years, partially because of distance issues that no longer exist and mostly because we had all the equipment we needed.

What triggered our current set of thoughts toward getting a gym membership was the
consideration of another non-frugal purchase: a Nintendo Wii. Trapped inside this past winter, we found ourselves going bowling more than our budget really allowed. I realized the Wii might be cheaper than bowling semi-frequently.

Then I investigated. I figured it would have cost about $500 to get the Wii we wanted set up. And then I realized that the same $500 would purchase a gym membership for the entire winter where my children could engage in real sports activities, including swimming, rather than the virtual ones.

Our children aren't yet swimmers and that bothers us. We've calculated that we've spent the equivalent of one year's worth of a gym membership on formal lessons that simply haven't taken. We think where formal lessons have failed, repeated exposure and immersion might do the trick.

So I wrote the check (ouch!) and we joined. In making this decision, we've clearly
categorized the gym as a want, not a need. Gyms require money, time, and a somewhat
wasteful use of private transportation. If we were in credit-card debt, without adequate savings, had lost an income, or were extremely short on time, the gym membership would go.

Our on-hand equipment (total cost under $300) would easily supply all our exercise needs.
And we've chosen not to do several things, including purchasing the Wii (sorry, son), paring back on some travel, and some of the other kids' activities.

We don't have cable TV and that will continue as the status quo to ensure we have the free time and cash flow to go to the gym.

But the True Luxury that frugality produces isn't about complete austerity. This is something we want as a family.

We've got savings, already established exercise routines, and time. We've paid cash in advance to maximize our per-month gym dollar. We have a clear mission and exit strategy: Get the kids swimming by the end of the membership and re-evaluate from there.

I'll let you know by next year if this turned out to be a truly wise purchase.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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