Starting to Exercise? Should Your Family Spend Money to Work Out?

Exercising outdoors is healthier than working ...

Exercising outdoors is healthier than working out indoors. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Random JP fact of the week, my feet are prone to tendonitis. So when I went to the local sports footwear store, I talked to the owner for at least 30 minutes. My feet issues have long held me up from being a regular runner, because too much running leads to lots of foot pain.

Of course, when I shared my foot problem, the owner became very excited. She knew she had all the perfect products for me. She had shoes for $160 and $30 shoe inserts that she was sure would fix my problem.Finally, a solution to my running issues.

While her sales pitch was flawless, I’m a dollar sign kind of guy. $190 is more than I probably spend on footwear in two or three years. If the equipment were to fix my problem and I start running 20 miles a week, I’ll be going through shoes about every three months. I’d love to run, but for $800 per year?

On the other hand, being fit has real monetary savings. Especially when you consider the cost savings in health care for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, when your family is on a strict budget, the cost of exercise seems overwhelming. It means families are often caught between two difficult choices: living healthier versus spending a lot more money.

While I’d love to just say, go frugal, you don’t need to spend money to be active, it’s really not that simple. There are many good reasons to spend money working out, even if you are on a shoestring single mom budget.

Spending Money Makes Being Healthy Worth Something

Last year I decided to get rid of a 16-year-old dryer. My original plan was to put the thing on the side of the road with a free sign. One week later, I had no takers. So instead, I put a $40 price tag on the front and sold it the next day. What happened?

When I put a free sign out, it gave the impression that the dryer was worthless, when really I just wanted to get rid of the thing. However, the $40 price tag came with the power of consumer expectation. At $40 the dryer was a steal, but by paying for it, buyers had the expectation that the dryer would work reasonably well.

It’s not all that different with spending money to be healthy. By investing money, you force yourself to take the activity seriously.

There are also safety concerns that require money to abate. Good shoes for me will prevent injury. Also, good equipment can make the experience more fun. The gym at my corporate office features a recumbent bike with a screen and avatar so that it looks like you are playing a video game as you bike.

Craigslist is Infested with Exercise Equipment

While I do believe spending a bit of money will help you commit to a healthy lifestyle, you also can’t ignore the fact that used exercise equipment is in great supply. It’s no fluke either. Lots of people make well-intentioned purchases, but never commit to using what they purchased or lose interest fast.

I’ve also known many people who would make purchases almost as a way to avoid exercise. As if they were saying, “see how healthy I am, I have equipment! Now my guilt is relieved since I’ve spent money for a good cause, I therefore have no need to actually work out.”

You see, there is a fine line between good intention and sincere effort. It’s up to us to find that line. Here are some ways that I’ve tested my own exercise ambitions. They’ve worked well so far, but they do require a lot of honesty on your part.

The Utility Test

Confession: I have a degree in economics. It means that I spend my time thinking about life in impractical ways. While life rarely works out to two lines intersecting, some economics principles are useful. For the utility test, we’ll put the concept of utility to work.

Utility is all about your happiness. You can use it to monetize your happiness for a particular product or compare allocations of two products to find the best combination of things given your budget constraint. All this jargon really means is: think of something more important to you than exercising. Then think about how much money you budget and spend on the something. Now, compare to your spending on working out.

If economic principles hold true, you will get less enjoyment if you spend more on working out than the more preferable activity. Yes, that sounds silly and probably isn’t practical for many situations. However, it does encourage you to prioritize and realize how important your new exercise regimen is to you.

The Time Test

Ok, on to more practical tests. The first of which is pretty easy. Make a schedule of your daily routine. Then add in the time you need for your workout routine. Now, be honest with yourself; how easily does it fit in to your day?

If I had to guess, time commitment is probably the number one killer of any exercise plans. The last time I was very good about working out I was single. I had nothing better to do with all my free time. One family of four later and adding a 30 minute workout is probably about a fifth of my remaining free time.

How precious is your free time? Can you spare it for working out? If you have doubts, you may want to try low cost exercises until you have created a habit.

The Experience Test

How have you done with the activity in the past?

There are many activities that I’ve tried over the years and some of them have been more successful than others. For example, I’ve successfully adopted walking, time on an elliptical machine, weightlifting and racquetball. I’ve had moderate success with a running schedule, but ultimately have never fallen in love with running. Aerobics have always fallen flat. The same goes for videos. Chin ups, pull ups, pushups and any other ups or exercises like ups have all failed to inspire in the past.

It makes sense then that a membership to a racquetball club might be a good investment, whereas a mat, chin up bar and palates videos would probably be a waste of money.

The Space Test

Besides time, I’d say having space for your activity is probably the next big obstacle for working out. If you are fighting for real estate, need to do a lot of work to make room or set up, your new fitness routine is probably never going to make it past fad. The moments spend stuffing your equipment in the closet is probably the last time you are going to see it.

Out of sight, out of mind.

I didn’t write up these tests to discourage you for starting good habits. On the contrary, I’m hoping that they might help you find activities that are best suited for you and your lifestyle. However, it is important to your financial health, that you avoid wasting money on memberships, equipment and products that you won’t get use from. Intentions are nice, but don’t spend any significant amount of money on them. Invest in sincere effort.

For me, it means running shoes are out, but racquetball membership? Definitely something to look into.

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  1. says

    Most health clubs count on you not showing up and if everyone did they wouldn’t be able to accomodate everyone! I like your advice about finding something you enjoy like hiking or riding a bike and turn that into an exercise routine, along with diet of course!

    • John says

      It’s definitely worked for me. I just got back from a weekly bike ride with my kids. They love it, so it keeps me honest every week.

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