Canceling My Gym Membership Changed My Life (and Budget)

Canceling Your Gym Membership

You know those girls who frequent the gym in cute spandex outfits, striding on the elliptical machine while reading Self magazine and sipping Diet Coke? What a ridiculous sight. I’d never be caught dead doing that, except when I did exactly that every day for eight years. (Self magazine had the new secret to obtaining honed abs, and Diet Coke is delicious, okay?)

Yes, I will admit it. I was a gym junkie. Every day, I would drive on over to our local airplane hangar-sized gym, beep in with my VIP membership card, nod at the desk employee whose tank top was as tiny as his muscles were huge, and hop on one of the 500 elliptical machines available. They even had a cardio cinema room that played movies on a huge projector while people worked out. It only took one trip into that stinky sweatbox before I realized I didn’t really feel like playing the “how many people didn’t wear deodorant today?” game while working out.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the gym for the consistency it provided in my morning. It was nice to know I could take a break and work out some stress while in a comfortably air-conditioned room, drinking a delicious beverage. And I don’t mean to gang up on gyms, because they’re a worthwhile solution for a lot of people who may live in extreme climates or big cities where it isn’t safe to workout outdoors. But when I cut my own gym membership card in half and said farewell, my life changed in the best way.

Gyms can be pretty expensive. Granted, there are some reasonably priced alternatives, but if you need childcare or a personal trainer, the costs can add up quickly. You also have to compete with crowds of people during the busy times — forget about snagging your favorite machine when the guy in the uncomfortably short shorts claims it first. And the time it takes to drive to and from the gym can be a sacrifice in its own right.

When TJ and I got married, we were DINKs (dual-income, no kids), so I was able to splurge on a gym membership without much of a fight. We lived in a very expensive area of California and spent roughly $50 each month on a tiny gym a mile away from us. It had huge mirrors on every wall, so I was treated to a lovely vision of myself red-faced and sweating for an hour next to the dozens of other people crammed next to me. It was such a habit for me to go to a gym, I didn’t even realize how unhappy I was until I signed up for my first race, the San Francisco Half Marathon.

My gym was so busy, there were strict time limits on each of the cardio machines, which meant I needed to complete my longer training runs outside. I still remember taking my first few steps on the path around the lake near our apartment. The sights, the sounds, the people! All I can say is running out in the fresh air transformed me. I had music in my ears, the wind on my face, my gross reflection not staring back at me. It was heaven! I came home euphoric.

The race itself was so much fun. San Francisco is a beautiful city, and the course took us through Golden Gate Park, Postcard Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, all the classic sights you’d expect to see while in the Bay Area. I knew after that race I never wanted to go back to the gym if I could help it. I couldn’t believe I had paid so much money to be so miserable! And the best part about running outside? Mother Nature doesn’t charge a penny.

Since then, I haven’t looked back. While I do occasionally hit up our community center to join in on a hardcore group workout session, I love my daily runs and consider them my therapy. The sunsets and sunrises, reflections of the mountains on the lake, birds singing, stars twinkling — none of that can be appreciated while stuck in a gym next to a guy who ate Indian food the night before. I even run with my kids in a jogging stroller a couple days each week, and they love to stop and feed the ducks or play at the playground near the end of my route. And TJ certainly doesn’t complain about the extra cash in our bank account each month. All in all, it’s a win for everyone.

Maybe if I were more focused on weight-lifting instead of cardio, I’d be singing a different tune. But hey, if Rocky can train against the Russian by throwing boulders into a wheelbarrow and bench-pressing logs, I can too, right?

Do you think gyms are worth it, or are the outdoors the way to go?

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  • Reply Leah September 9, 2016 at 9:05 am

    Gyms are the worst. The workout equipment is too advanced for me sometimes- like where do my hands go? Do I even use my hands on this one?

    My husband used to go to the gym a ton, but slowly stopped going, but we still paid the $25 every month. I asked him to cancel it for months, but he kept using the whole “but it’ll be less expensive to keep it instead of paying the enrollment fees again in case I want to go back” excuse.

    He finally caved, but then the next month, they charged us $10 as a “membership on hold” fee. I called them and explained we wanted to CANCEL- not “hold”- the membership. I was assured it would be taken care of.

    But guess what happened the next month? Another $10 was charged to our credit card. Of course I called them and asked to speak to the highest-up person to make sure this was actually handled for next month AND to get a refund. It just felt like they were jerking me around and trying to squeeze every cent out of us that they could.

    My husband ended up just buying second-hand equipment off Craigslist anyway that has already paid for itself by avoiding gym payments.

    So, to answer your question, gyms are NOT worth it.

    Except CrossFit.

    • Reply Ashley September 9, 2016 at 5:08 pm

      Noooo! Not the neverending fees! I hated that too. SO much! It’s totally a scam at some of those big gyms. But I agree that CrossFit gyms seem to be an exception a growing number of people are becoming passionate about. Whatever gets you moving and sweating! 🙂

  • Reply Tyler September 9, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Oh man, I’m a big hypocrite with this one. I completely agree with you and am a big, big believer in not needing a gym to workout and be fit, and I hate paying monthly for almost anything. That being said we currently have TWO gym memberships. My wife goes to one close to our house. I resisted at first because I didn’t think she would use it, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how consistently she goes. Hers is $45/mo; childcare is included at no extra charge, and the kids love going. I have a membership at a gym across the street from my work ($27/mo) where I and other co-workers go play bball (definitely my preferred form of exercise) 2-3 times a week in the middle of the day (don’t worry, there are showers at work). Both have machines and weights, but mine doesn’t have childcare, and if we only had hers then I couldn’t play ball. I hate paying for both, but for the time being we’re working with some unique circumstances, and both are reasonably priced, so we keep paying.

    • Reply Ashley September 9, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      Those memberships actually sound like a great deal! To have childcare included in the monthly costs and not at a per-use basis would work powerfully to sway me if we had one nearby. My husband also loves basketball and any other form of organized sport, as it’s his preferred method of exercise, and occasionally pays for a golf outing or a gym visit to play with his friends (that makes him sound like he’s four…). If it fits in your budget, it’s not a problem, I say! 🙂

  • Reply ESI Money September 9, 2016 at 10:45 am

    I do both — gym and outdoors.

    Weights and cardio each three times a week plus swimming and basketball at the gym.

    Walking, hiking, etc. outside (I don’t run or bike — used too but too hard on the body at my age). Also do the Incline (Google it) from time to time — GREAT workout.

    • Reply Cassandra September 26, 2016 at 11:45 pm

      Haha! And the incline isn’t hard on your body?! *wave* hello fellow Coloradan!

  • Reply Amber September 9, 2016 at 10:48 am

    “Except Crossfit” YUP. I pay a hefty fee each month but I love my CrossFit gym. My coaches are amazing and I love olympic lifting. I’ve learned so many new exercises and improved my technique so much. I enjoy measurable progress, so I really like being able to see my lifts get heavier or certain timed workouts improve. And I love the community, I have 20-30 friends that I wouldn’t have ever met.

    I certainly don’t miss big generic gyms. And I really enjoyed running outside when I was training for a half marathon a few years ago. But now that I’ve drank the koolaid, so to speak, I’m not sure I can go back 😉

    • Reply Ashley September 9, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      I’ve heard many wonderful things about CrossFit! And I am jealous of the physiques of its loyal followers. If it’s a passion of yours and you can afford it, I am all for maintaining physical health and doing what you love. That’s a long-term investment I’m certainly interested in maintaining! I may need to visit one of these gyms and write a whole new post redeeming myself. 🙂

  • Reply San September 9, 2016 at 11:20 am

    I used to run exclusively on the treadmill, until three years ago, I wanted to run outside… and it definitely did change me, too. I ran the SF half marathon this year and I definitely know what you’re talking about 🙂

    However, I still haven’t ditched my gym membership and the reason being that a) I love to have access to free classes (yoga, spinning, pilates…because that can get so expensive at an actual yoga studio) and b) during the winter months, I love having access to the treadmill, because I don’t want to run by myself in the dark (morning or evening hours). I have thought about getting rid off the membership multiple times, but haven’t been able to do it.

    • Reply Ashley September 9, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      Yay for being a fellow San Francisco Halfer! Can we just talk about how amazing their finish line is? Free massages, free smoothies, free buffet, free car (practically). Worth the distance for sure. I hear you about not wanting to run in the early morning when it’s dark and snowy. I trained for the Salt Lake Marathon this year cursing the snow and hail as I ran every morning on the icy pavement. There’s a reason I’m writing this post in the summer! There are plenty of reasons to despise running outside in the winter months. 🙂

      • Reply San September 21, 2016 at 1:59 pm

        The SF Half Marathon was amazing… the finish line, yes! And it was just so well organized! How was the Salt Lake Marathon!?

        • Reply Ashley September 26, 2016 at 2:39 am

          Salt Lake was awesome! The course was really beautiful and fun, but the finish line was pitts-ville. All they had was a Kodiak cake and some kind of bottled smoothie thing that tasted like socks! Boo… SF for the win.

  • Reply Megyn September 9, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    I think it really just depends on how you use the gym. Yeah, if you’re just going there to run, then it’s for sure a stupid investment. However, for those who use the weights or use it for classes or child care, it’s totally worth it. At our YMCA, our family membership is $68/month. That includes a 4 hours of childcare on a Friday night where you don’t have to be at the gym. Otherwise, you get 2 hours a day. I know many that drop off the kids and do their work in the lounge area. In addition, kids can use the pool. When you include all of the perks, you can definitely get your money’s worth and more.

    • Reply Ashley September 9, 2016 at 5:22 pm

      Wow, $68 for a family pass? That sounds awesome. Childcare could totally sway me. I’ve heard great things about the YMCA, and it’s such a bummer I don’t live closer to one, just for the sake of taking my kids to the pool or having an hour to workout while my kids aren’t screaming. But yes, since I was only doing cardio, it just wasn’t the right fit for me. I’ve never loved weight-lifting, even though I really should get into it! But I definitely see how gyms like this can be a great fit for the whole family. 🙂

  • Reply Feisty Harriet September 9, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    For a long time I love love LOVED running outside; I lived downtown Salt Lake and would run in the mountains and canyons during the summer (cooler temps, always a breeze) and in the neighborhoods and downtown otherwise with wide sidewalks and lots of shade trees. It was glorious. No gym membership needed, several races trained for and under my belt.

    Aaaaaaaand, then I moved to Phoenix, i.e. the Valley of the Surface of the Sun. It is over 100 degrees for about 7 months of the year, it doesn’t cool down at night (no elevation), and when it’s 95 by 5:00 am and still 100 at 11 pm? Yeah. No running outside. No how, no way, nope, nope, nope. I would happily go on a run in single-digit temperatures in SLC, but I can hardly be convinced to walk to my mailbox when it’s 117 outside.

    There is a gym about a quarter mile from my house, and I go four or five times a week (there is also free child care there, I think my membership is $39 a month). It’s been a new thing for me, the inside exercising, the treadmill, the elliptical, but because my alternative is absolutely NOT HAPPENING, I’ve made peace with my situation and learned to appreciate and enjoy it for what it’s worth: gloriously air conditioned.


  • Reply Ardith September 9, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    I’m in the no-gym camp. I love how efficient it is to exercise at home or outside. No travel time, no excuses. And the fresh air multiplies the endorphins, right?

    I used to enjoy spin class, but now I get my social-fitness fix online — blogs, forums, programs… so much is available!

    Someday I would like to find a swim club that fits the budget, but for now, my happy place is outside, on the trails.

    • Reply Ashley September 12, 2016 at 8:58 pm

      Outside for the win! Especially trail running. So fun, and so peaceful and cathartic. I love it! I wish I lived closer to the mountains so I could hop outside and hit the trials. Maybe when I train for my first ultramarathon! (or not…)

  • Reply Ashley September 10, 2016 at 1:45 am

    The Valley of the Surface of the Sun! Too funny. I can totally see how that would make running outdoors far more unpleasant and downright dangerous! Sounds like you’ve definitely found the best solution for you, and $39/mo is a great deal when it includes childcare. Extreme climates throw a wrench in things. And I couldn’t even imagine taking my kids in a jogging stroller when it’s that hot! Lots of nope. You’re a brave soul to live in the desert like that. 🙂

    Speaking of running in hot temperatures, have you heard of the Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley? I believe it’s 135 miles in 120 degree weather. I guess those crazies are the kind of people who train outside in the heat! As for me, no thanks…

  • Reply Cassie Schelldorf September 11, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    I love to run outside – but I’m recovering from an injury so I actually have to use a gym for the elliptical and pool. I thin a mix of both is good! I also like the different classes they offer, helps me change it up.

    • Reply Ashley September 12, 2016 at 10:58 pm

      I can definitely see a need for a gym in the case of an injury! I don’t know how else to get a good workout in, except maybe with a bike ride but I’ve heard some bikes cost more than cars, so that may be for only the most hardcore folks. It’s nice when a gym lets you do a month-to-month plan for this very reason!

  • Reply Money Beagle September 13, 2016 at 11:36 am

    My wife and I both go to Planet Fitness. It costs us $20 per month combined (plus something like $29 per year as a fee). All said for around $12 per month, it’s a great deal for us and we do go a lot. I prefer running on the treadmill and I like doing so indoors vs. outdoors so I go there all year around. My wife much prefers the outdoors to run so she will actually typically not go at all between June – August, but it’s still worth keeping the membership versus quitting and then paying the sign up fee. For less than $300 per year, it is well worth it for us.

    • Reply Ashley September 26, 2016 at 2:37 am

      Planet Fitness is definitely the most legit, scam-free gym out their in my opinion. No contracts, low monthly fee, non-pretentious people. Love it, and I can definitely see the benefits. I’m lucky enough to live where I can exercise outdoors most of the year, but I could certainly see getting a membership during the icky months. 🙂

  • Reply Amber Masters September 14, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    I would definitely agree that if you have a cardio only regime, gyms are the worst. There is really no reason to train indoors. I find that I run faster and work harder outdoors plus it’s free. A gym membership is for sure a luxury but I definitely think you can only take fitness to a certain level without weights. We pay about $10 a month so for me, it’s for sure worth it to have a place I can go when it’s crazy hot, cold, or wet outside.

    • Reply Ashley September 26, 2016 at 2:41 am

      You’re totally right about the weights. I feel nagging guilt about it all the time! I know I should… but at the same time, I can’t motivate myself to do it because I just frankly don’t like it as much as I like running. I just need to find a way to like lifting weights. Maybe if there was a donut attached to a kettlebell, I could find the inspiration I needed…

  • Reply Ashli @ The Million Dollar Mama September 15, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I always go back and forth about whether I should have a gym membership or not. I love exercising outdoors, but with a young baby, if it’s too hot or too cold, then I avoid being outside. In instances like that I think I should just get a gym membership. At the same time, there are so many workout DVD’s that I could do, so I wouldn’t need the gym membership… The point is, I need to actually start doing them >.<

    • Reply Ashley September 26, 2016 at 2:45 am

      I think whatever is motivating is what will consistently be done! For some, it’s a gym, for others, it’s the great outdoors. When my boys were babies, I would wrap them up snug and go out in the jogging stroller anyway. But that was just me! I would wrap them up in twenty different layers when it was cold (not below freezing) or go early in the morning if I knew it was going to be a hotter day. DVDs are a good option too if that motivates you! But I think the jogging stroller became more about preserving my sanity than a workout. 🙂 Plus it was a way to kill an hour with the kids! I wasn’t about to give that up.

  • Reply Melanie September 19, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    So I go to LA Fitness in a suburb about 30 mins outside of Boston less than a mile from my home. It’s $29.99 a month. I try to do a triathlon each summer so I tend to spend my summer months running and biking outside and swimming in the pool at the gym. BUT maybe you’ve heard Massachusetts gets some winter weather…. Haha. So while my gym is semi useful in good weather, it’s quite useful half of the year. I like having the option to do a group class (included) or changing up my workout and focusing more on weights etc. and I love having the pool to swim laps. So for about $360/year, I feel it’s worth it for me. 🙂

    • Reply Ashley September 26, 2016 at 2:47 am

      Oh, a triathlon every year? You’re superwoman! Dang. I can definitely see needing a pool to train, kind of a non-negotiable thing. 🙂 And I have heard horror stories about New England winters. Totally sounds like a worthwhile plan. One day, I might do a triathlon. Maybe an Ironman, but I’m in about as big a rush to do that as I am to do the Death Valley Ultramarathon. 🙂

  • Reply Rachel September 20, 2016 at 8:00 am

    Swimming is my thing, I live in Scotland and am not a millionaire (therefore own my own pool – the dream!) so a gym membership is a must. However my partner prefers the bike machines and free weights therefore he just uses them in the spare bedroom while watching geeky boxsets! It really depends on what you want. I know if I had to pay ‘per swim’ it would cost me more monthly if I went more than twice a week. I go 3-5 times per week so well worth the money.

    • Reply Ashley September 26, 2016 at 2:51 am

      Swimming is such a great workout, and I have heard it does wonders for your spine and joints, something running kind of can’t boast. Definitely sounds worthwhile! Whatever keeps you active, I say. 🙂 And hey, if boxsets are geeky, I guess I am too! But that just adds to my many other geeky tendencies, like creating my own patronus on Pottermore the moment it became available. (I got mongrel dog… what the…)

  • Reply Todd Weitzman September 23, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    I feel like having a gym membership is kind of a two way street. You can force yourself to pay a monthly fee, be motivated to pay the fee and workout during that time…or not have a gym membership and utilize your surroundings, nature as a gym environment. You could also use your smartphone to do stuff like tracking runs. I dunno, thats just me.

    • Reply Ashley September 26, 2016 at 2:54 am

      True, seeing that money get deducted every month can be a motivator to go so you don’t feel like your money’s going down the toilet. But for me, the outdoors is just so much more pleasant, I’d rather do that for the sheer pleasure it brings me. If I could find a decent gym with a free daycare, though, that could be enough to push me over the edge! It’s just about finding what’s right for your situation I think. 🙂 Thanks for your input!

  • Reply Brandon December 15, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    I’ve never understood who would pay for gym memberships when you can just go outside. There are so many incredible apps these days to help you out as well! I think the larger motivation is having people of similar mindset to your own around you. Like other commenters have said – they met so many new people they wouldn’t have otherwise met. Now to get off this couch and do something… 🙂

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