Updated May 8, 2019

Gym Membership or Home Gym

Should You Go to the Gym or Create Your Own?
Read more about 10 Ways to Waste Money

You've resolved to get healthier this year by shedding a few pounds or building muscle. And you've resolved to adopt better spending habits. Is it possible to do both when to improve your fitness, you feel compelled to invest in either a gym membership or a bunch of workout equipment for a home gym?

It's a tough topic to generalize as everyone is different, as is the cost of gym memberships across the country. The cost difference between a yearlong gym membership in bustling cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami and smaller, less metropolitan can be huge - as much as thousands of dollars.

But you don't have to break the bank to cut back your bulge. We provide both scenarios below to let you debate the pros and cons of each. We also provide money-saving ideas for pulling either one off.

Gym Memberships

Why you'll be more likely to stick to your resolution if you join a gym: When you lay out cash, you should, theoretically, feel compelled to get your money's worth. You may also meet new people and get into the spirit of overall fitness.

Why you won't: The gym isn't convenient, it's not part of your routine, or you feel easily intimidated by those who are in better shape than you (not a good reason not to go but we understand the feeling).

Why it could cost you even more than you think: You may end up with gym envy and feel a need to get the latest shoes, gadgets, and clothing to keep up with your fellow gym rats.

Be warned: Many gym memberships will require that you provide your credit card for recurring monthly charges. Be sure you understand how to end those charges if you stop going to the gym and whether there are any penalties involved if you end your membership before a contract ends. Try to avoid strict contracts whenever possible as you don't know how your circumstances and enthusiasm for exercise may change over time.

Go to many gyms in your area to find out the best deals and which one you'll most likely return to. What's your priority - trendy fitness classes, state-of-the-art equipment, a pool, childcare, or a certain vibe you get when you walk in to the place? You want a location you can see yourself returning to over and over again. Also consider these tips to spend the least amount of money:

  • Do the math. Gyms are notorious for confusing you with their membership plans. Never sign up on the spot - even if the owner tries to pressure you into doing so. Go home and figure out which plan makes sense for you. Some will give you a deep discount if you pay a huge deposit up front. Figure out how many days you're likely to go and divide the monthly fee by that amount.

  • Research for deals: Check deal sites like Groupon, Amazon Local, and Living Social for a price break. Ask whether the gym you have in mind has a day when it gives significant discounts to new members, or consider whether it makes sense to wait until the warmer months, when such deals tend to take place.

  • Check your employer's wellness plan: Many employers will reimburse workers who regularly go to the gym, and some health insurance policies will reimburse you for a certain amount of a gym membership per year. Since it may take months before you are eligible for that reimbursement, consider putting your initiation charge on a 0% interest credit card. That way, you can ease the pain of that first year of membership, which tends to be the heftiest.

  • Give the gym a dry run: Reputable gyms will let you try them out for a week or so. Take advantage of this, to truly see whether you like it and will want to return again and again.

Home Gym

Why you'll be more likely to stick to your resolution if you create your own gym: You'll take pride in what you've created and you don't have to leave the house to get a good workout.

Why you won't: Depending on how much space you have to dedicate to a gym, it's easy to get distracted. Can you set up a tiny fitness studio in the basement or will you have to work out with a fitness video in your living room when your kids could walk by any time and make demands of you?

Why it could cost you more than you think: If you are not average height, you may find that equipment sold at mainstream retailers will not work for you and you may need to go to a specialty (pricier) store.

Be warned: Don't get yourself into debt by quickly buying up a bunch of dumbbells and expensive exercise machines that will end up becoming clothing racks. Start your purchases off slowly and gauge your interest in sticking to the exercise habit.

Since you'll be (hopefully) using your equipment a lot, shop around for quality as well as possible deals. Many people have come before you, trying to set up their own gym spaces, and have failed, so look at Craigslist and the Salvation Army or Goodwill for workable equipment. Many discount department stores sell loads of accessories these days at great prices. For the basics, you need a jump rope ($10), resistance bands ($25), medicine balls ($40), and free weights and dumbbells ($25-150 depending on how many you buy).

A mid-level treadmill, elliptical, and tread climber all average approximately $1,000. Lower-level options like a recumbent bicycle or an indoor bicycle trainer could leave you with the budget to expand the comfort of your home gym with a stereo, an exercise bench, floor mats, and a portable heater/cooler system. Also consider these tips for saving money on your home gym:

  • Get your own personal trainer. If you don't have the money to invest in a trainer who charges by the hour, put one in your house. Exercise DVDs can be purchased for $10 or even less, and you could also find some free ones on YouTube.

  • Check your employer's wellness plan: Health insurance plans tend to reimburse only for gym memberships - not for fitness classes or personal trainers. But some exercise-related equipment, like orthopedic sneakers, may qualify under your employer's flexible spending plans. Check the fine print to see if any of your purchases would qualify.

  • Keep your receipts: Register your products for their warranties. If you've done your homework, they should last for a long time.

  • Feeling lonely in your basement?: Invite a friend over. Or look to your local recreation department for cheap exercise classes. Variety in what you do may help you keep the healthy habit going longer (possibly forever).

Saving money and losing weight don't have to be opposing concepts, as long as you are truly dedicated to making your fitness plan work. If you are committed to getting fit and know what it will cost to keep you committed - whether it's a weekly Zumba class, a biweekly body-pumping session, or just a daily jog around the block - it may be worth spending some money. Only you can answer that.

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