How Much I Budget For Exercise After Finally Learning To Invest In My Health

Exercise had always been an essential ingredient in my childhood. Thanks to an excellent after-school sports program and growing up in a neighborhood where street hockey was the norm (Canada, eh?), being active was never something I had to think about. Embracing this way of socializing through movement led me to join various high school and summer sports teams, and eventually, my entire identity revolved around being an athlete.

However, like most good fitness fairy tales, my active and healthy lifestyle took a sharp downturn when I entered University. Following in the footsteps of my fellow freshmen, I began to eat more and move less. All of a sudden, I had no morning practices or motivational coaches to get me moving and, as predicted, I begrudgingly welcomed the freshman 15.

In order to get my fitness routine back on track, I bought a membership to my University gym. Luckily, the cost was fairly reasonable ($40 per month), but similar to other TFD experiences, I quickly found that going to the gym was not the best way for me to remain active. Even though I had extensive training knowledge, a good playlist on hand, and an occasional workout buddy, going to the gym felt like a chore — a task on my to-do list I would typically feel guilty about ignoring. Eager to get back into a more regular fitness regime, I embarked on a quest to find my perfect physical activities.

This eight-year fitness exploration led me to try a variety of different exercises — from free and individual living room YouTube pilates, to an expensive and high-commitment volleyball team, to a cheap and sociable dodgeball tournament. I’ve tried activities with just about every combination of cost, commitment level, and social engagement. Here is a rough cost breakdown of just some of the various fitness activities I’ve tried:

  • University intramural teams: $25 for 3 months
  • One-time military bootcamp: $60
  • Hot yoga classes: $20 per class
  • Workplace tennis tournament: $5
  • Recreational soccer team: $200 for 4 months
  • One-time obstacle race (Tough Mudder): $125
  • Dance classes: $12 per class
  • Competitive volleyball team: $300 for 6 months

Although this years-long experiment has exposed me to many unique ways to exercise (inner tube water polo was much harder than I thought it would be), I’m happy to have finally discovered the fitness formula that works best for me — social, scheduled, and paid.

The elements of a good fitness routine being scheduled and social is not news to anyone — however, I often feel that I have to justify why I choose to pay for exercise. After all, why should I be paying $17 for a Beyoncé inspired dance when I can technically learn her music videos for free online? There are numerous ways to exercise without spending anything, but over time, I’ve come to embrace that an important aspect of being financially savvy is being honest with yourself about where you enjoy spending money. Where I spend on fitness, someone else may budget for eating out, painting supplies, or theatre tickets. The beauty of having control over your finances is that you can decide which aspects of your life are important enough to pay for.

The other important factor in deciding to dedicate part of my budget towards fitness is understanding what kind of exercise I will actually commit to. For the past few years, every second summer I decide that I will take up running as a great way to get in shape and spend time outdoors — and each time, I end up miserably lacing up my shoes for something I just don’t enjoy. Like many before me, I start out enthusiastically (This year I’ll become I runner, I just know it!) with planned routes and a schedule log. Slowly but surely, that dedication fades away, until the idea of running another 8 km is just a speck in my rearview mirror.

Similar to many other things in life, you just can’t be forced to like something that you have no interest in, regardless of its financial, social, or health benefit. On the flip side, when I find an exercise that I’ve genuinely enjoyed, be it a soccer team or pilates class, I am much more likely to push through the numerous excuses one can use to skip exercise (hungry, sweatpants, Netflix etc.) and commit to it. In reality, the costs associated with these activities is secondary to the fun I have when I’m doing them, and that’s a huge factor in keeping me dedicated to the routine.

Overall, being honest about what motivates me to stay with a physical activity has been incredibly important in helping to maintain my active lifestyle. I can easily find an excuse to not go for a run, or to fast forward through an online stretching tutorial, but I know that I will show up to the dance studio every Tuesday because it is something I genuinely enjoy. So what regular exercise am I committing to right now, and how much does it cost me? Let’s take a look!

  • Recreational sports team: $90/3 months = $7.50/week
  • Dance class: $15/class = $30/week
  • Biking as transportation = free
  • Total: $37.50/week, ~$150/month

While my monthly total for exercise is more than double some gym memberships, I feel confident in my purchases. Sure, my fitness routine may cost more than others, but knowing that I will show up to three enjoyable, social, and sweaty exercise sessions per week is more than enough to justify the cost. So take a lesson from my fitness adventure and discover a physical activity (or two!) that gets you excited to join, and most importantly — if you can — don’t be afraid to pay for it.

Maggie Clark is a 26-year-old Canadian currently situated in Copenhagen, Denmark. A nutritionist by trade, Maggie has spent the past four years working abroad in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Eager to return to her roots in preventative health, Maggie is embarking on a one-way journey back to her native Toronto to discover a career that can fulfill her energetic and creative needs. Most important of all, she has a wonderful golden retriever named Cali who is likely the most beautiful dog in the world, just saying.

Image via Unsplash

  • Rebecca Ann

    I love this! When I’m feeling stretched, my gym membership is always the first thing to go, but then I feel like a lazy bum and I eat more to “comfort” myself, and it’s always a big mess that leaves me feeling (and looking) like crap, because I’ve gained weight due to missing my favourite classes. Thank goodness for a program through my insurance, though! I pay them one flat fee (only $25/month), and I can join any gym who has partnered with the program! That has made it super convenient for me to have memberships that are a. close to work, b. close to home, and c. offers the classes I love!
    I totally agree that when something is important to you, it is okay to spend money on it. I personally prefer working out in a gym, because I know I am not a runner, and I’m not into organized sports. But I do feel great after a good lifting session, and trying different classes each week keeps things new and fun! Honestly, that is probably the best $25 I spend every month =)

  • Anon

    Yup. I look at these purchases as outsourcing my control. My most recent plan, which has been working ok, is to sign up for a 10-13 mile race every few months. The social pressure is too much to skip it because so many friends do it (and I paid for it!) and it’s far enough that I have to do at least some half-hearted training to make it through the race. Even if I don’t exactly cover myself in glory with my time, I figure my fitness level must be baseline pretty good if I can run 10 miles at a go.

  • Summer

    This is great. The key takeaway here is really the importance of being honest with ourselves about what motivates us enough to spend. The whole, “I’m signing up for a gym membership because knowing that I’m paying for it will force me to go!” trope only works until the novelty of spending that money has worn off. Once it’s no longer surprising to see that charge to our accounts, it’s no longer a motivating factor. My gym is only €22/mo. It’s not a fancy place and it’s a 25-minute walk each way, but it’s such a great value because it’s there when I want it, and if there’s a week or two I can’t make it, I don’t feel like I’m sucker-punching myself in the wallet. I’ve never been a fitness class or personal trainer person, so there’s really no point in me spending more on a nicer gym. I also have a Fitbit One that I wear religiously (I’ve had it for 2.5 years and can count on one hand the number of days I haven’t worn it, and that’s only because it died while traveling and I’d forgotten the charger) and getting at least 10k steps a day—gym or no gym—has long since been my norm. I think no matter what avenues we choose for exercise, there will always be days that getting off our asses feels like a chore, but finding what is realistic for us to stick with both financially and in terms of motivation goes a long way toward making it happen on a consistent basis.

  • Ella

    I really enjoy this article! I pay $75 (CAD) a month for a group class that I really enjoy and go to 2-3 times a week. It’s owned by a local woman who does a great job of cultivating community. I always have fun and I love the relaxed accountability (no fees for skipping if life happens). It’s also made me more open to other forms of exercise. I’ve been running this summer, which is something I often started and failed at in the past, and I’m taking swimming classes ($80 for 1 class/wk for 10 wks).

    It feels GOOD to spend this money.

    P.S. I did dodgeball intramurals in university. The once a week dodgeball was a good workout but unsurprisingly I never used the gym membership I had to buy to sign up for intramurals. Cross-training for my dodgeball career was not a priority.