Ask an Expert: Tips for Fitness on a Budget

Dear Kirk: I’m trying to get the most bang for my buck with a new fitness membership for 2014. What are my best options for getting the best gym access without getting ripped off?

Kirk Says: Let me be the first to congratulate you on your decision to pursue a healthy lifestyle in 2014! I am so glad that you are asking this question, and it could not come at a more appropriate time, with the New Year right around the corner. I am a firm believer that the benefits of pursuing an active, healthy lifestyle far outweigh (no pun intended) any costs that are associated with the investment in that lifestyle.

In fact, any costs associated with your fitness goals tend to contribute to overall wellness, at the same time offsetting other health-related expenses throughout the year. This is why so many employers and health insurance companies are willing to subsidize these costs.

Healthy workers missed 450 million fewer days of work each year than their less healthy colleagues, according to a recent Gallup poll. This translates into more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually.

So let’s explore our options to improve our value proposition of the fitness options available to us where we live.

Option 1: Free!

Unfortunately, there is an assumption that free often indicates that the good or service has little value. This is not the case when it comes to fitness. Many of our community parks and recreation facilities have no additional cost to us. There, we can take advantage of walking, running or hiking trails. I’ve even been able to take advantage of basketball, tennis and soccer facilities through my community parks and recreation departments.

Beyond organized sports and public facilities, consider working out at home, with as little as a yoga mat and a set of resistance bands. Websites like SpryLiving.com are a great resource for home workout tips.

Option 2: Self-Serve

An offering that has become popular over the last few years are the 24 hour fitness alternatives (like 24 Hour Fitness) where you pay a monthly fee with no long term contracts. Some of these options have plans starting as low as $10-$15 per month. These facilities typically offer a variety of weight machines, free weights and cardio equipment.

And because they typically have key-card access and are available 24 hours per day, you gain the flexibility to start your New Year’s resolution at 3 am on New Year’s Day as you are returning home from the New Year’s Party, if you’re so inclined. Some value added amenities that are typically missing with this alternative are pools, spas, child care and organized exercise classes like spinning, yoga or kick boxing.

Option 3: Fitness Clubs

Fitness clubs will typically be your most costly option, but they provide the most variety to help you meet your fitness goals. Family memberships can run up to $100 or more per month. And as you mentioned in your question, these facilities are the ones that typically offer income-based membership fees.

My experience has been that a family with gross income of $50,000 or more per year does not qualify for the subsidy. However, for every $5,000 below this level, there is a $2-$5 discount on the family membership. I recommend contacting your local YMCA for more information on their income-based membership offerings.

Also, if you take the Costco approach to buying your fitness by buying in bulk; these memberships tend to offer the biggest bang for your buck. Things like pool access, fitness classes, instructional training, and child care are often included in your monthly membership price.

I wish you the best that 2014 has to offer with your healthy lifestyle endeavors. I really believe that you will not go wrong with any of the choices here. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find even more money in your pocket at the end of the year by making the choice to commit to your fitness goals.

Kirk Gwaltney is a Chartered Financial Consultant and a Chartered Life Underwriter in Brentwood, Tenn. Learn more about him at kirkgwaltney.com.

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