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Expenses = Income???


One of my academic mentors, upon receiving tenure (and an associated raise) made the comment, “Expenses rise to meet income.”

This has certainly been something I’ve seen in my own life. Every time you make a little more, your expenses experience an equal boost, right? All the sudden you “need” new stuff. A new position might mean you need a new wardrobe. Or longer hours at work might mean you need to hire yard people since you no longer have time, or you start taking your car for paid car washes instead of doing it yourself, etc etc etc. If you get a really big bump in salary then maybe you decide to move to a newer house in a nicer area of town, or you treat yourself to a new car. All of this stuff comes with recurring payments attached. Am I right?

So with our recent bump in income I’ve been trying really hard to still see ourselves the same way….not to think about our larger income and to continue living the same way, funneling the extra money toward debt.

But I have succumbed and taken on a new monthly expense.

I joined a gym.

Hear me out….

I haven’t had a (paid) gym membership in YEARS. As a graduate student I had free access to the gym on campus, and since running is my primary exercise passion, I have always been able to do that outside for free (only costs associated are shoes and appropriate exercise clothes…maybe a song here and there from itunes). But things have been very challenging lately.

First, I no longer have access to a gym for free (remember I graduated in August 2013). Second, the girls will only sit in a jogging stroller for about 30 minutes, max. And finally (the final straw), it has reached near-death-heat here in Tucson. I’m talking over 100* every day with heat advisory warnings just about every third or fourth day. It is literally not even safe to be outside.

At first I tried to counteract this by jogging extremely early in the morning. I tried waking up at 5am to go run (so the girls are still sleeping and my husband is home, plus its only about 75* instead of 105*). It hasn’t worked well. I have a tough time waking up that early on my own, and my daughters are light sleepers (plus our house isn’t huge), so they have woken up when my alarm goes off. Then it’s a total disaster because my husband is trying to get ready for work (he usually leaves between 6 and 6:30am), so I have to go for a really short run so I can get home in time to allow my husband time to get ready. At that point, it doesn’t even feel “worth it.” I have tried other forms of exercise (like DVDs or free videos on youtube), but I get bored. Videos are not for me.

In the past, my health and fitness had always been a big priority for me. I would consider myself an “athlete,” as I have competed in a handful of races (triathlons, half-marathons, and other various running races), and enjoy physical activities and competitions. When I found out I was pregnant with twins (20 weeks into pregnancy) I was deemed “high risk” and had to stop many physical activities. Once the girls were born, my fitness was the LAST thing on my mind. I had twin infants to care for, virtually by myself (husband helped a TON, but he worked during the day and we have no family nearby for support), in addition to working (at the time I was teaching in-person college courses) and finishing my dissertation.

Here we are, almost 2 years later (the girls will be 2 at the end of this month! Eeek!) and I finally have a chance to refocus a bit on my health. Things do NOT look pretty. My weight is still WAY higher than my pre-pregnancy weight and I just don’t feel good. It’s so weird because I still “see” myself as an athlete…..but I am totally unhealthy right now (that’s not just me exaggerating…that’s according to BMI). I need to make exercise more of a priority in my life. I tried other free options and they really didn’t work. So I turned to a gym.

On the bright side, the gym is fantastic. It’s only about a mile from our house and has everything we could ever want: a pool, exercise classes, tons of equipment, volleyball, racquetball, basketball, etc etc etc. There were cheaper options nearby, but no one else offered childcare. Childcare is an absolute necessity if I’m going to be able to actually use the gym. So this was the only real option in our area.

I also feel that its pretty reasonably priced. I had to pay $100 as an initiation fee, and they make you pay first and last month up front, but there’s no contract so we can quit at anytime. They also worked a deal where they gave me a family plan (so Chris can go, too) for the same price as the “individual” plan. The cost is $50/month. To get childcare I had to pay an extra $10 per child, but it’s for unlimited use of childcare. I think this is a pretty good deal. When the girls were 6 months they went to daycare at the Jewish Community Center (we aren’t Jewish, but it is a FABULOUS facility and EXCELLENT childcare providers! Very $$$$$, but very high quality!). The JCC requires that you join the facility when you use their childcare, so I’m comparing these prices to that experience. The community center fees (which includes gym access) cost $80/month for the family, and gym childcare was an additional $6/hour.

In all, our current gym will cost $70/month ($50 base + $20 for unlimited childcare). I think that’s reasonable considering everything that’s included. Keep in mind that our first month is substantially more expensive since we pay first and last month in addition to the initiation fee. So my first payment was actually $240 ($100 initiation, plus $140 for the first and last months’ payments). I am allowed to drop the childcare, too (if, for example, I decide to work out on days they’re in daycare. Right now I want to avoid that because those are my only days to really focus on work, but it’s a possibility for the future).

To be totally honest with myself and you, I fully believe I would NOT have considered joining the gym if it weren’t for our extra income. Chris was pushing hard around January to join a gym and I totally put my foot down. I did not want to spend the money and did not think we could afford it. But I’ve really started focusing more on my health and my (lack of) fitness has become alarming. I think this is a worthwhile investment in my long-term health.

So there you have it. I’m sure people have opinions both ways (for and against spending money on gyms), but everyone is different, every situation is unique, and I think that this is the best option right now for my family. It still hurts a little to spend this extra money, but I do think its money well spent.


Do you spend money on a gym membership? What are free/cheap ways that you stay in shape?


  • Reply Tania |

    You know, though running is also my favorite exercise, I know I need to do other things, like weights, and the variety of equipment in a gym just makes it so appealing. Not to mention the whole “getting up and going somewhere” increases the chances you will stay there for the whole allotted time. At least for me. I do plan (PLAN!) to join a gym once I move at the end of this month, though not 100% sure yet. I have been using videos to stay in shape, but like you, it’s hard to do it when you live on a 2nd floor without disturbing others, and it makes me self conscious to do it in the evenings. I wouldn’t even think twice about it, as long as you have the budget to pay for it.

  • Reply Financial Fan |

    I’m older, so the whole gym thing is not something I saw too much with my generation. I had four kids in 6 years, and money was so tight that it wasn’t an option. However, I kept in shape with four kids. I was a big runner in my day too, so I either did it early in the AM or in the evening. Hubby had to cover while I did this. (This was in Texas.)

    Then we moved to a cold, midwest climate. In the winters, I couldn’t run outside much, but we did invest in a pretty good stationary bike, and that got me through the winters. Biking I could do anytime with kids about. Now, that I am older, I stick with walking in good weather and the same stationary bike in the winters.

    That said, I think everyone has to figure out where they want to save money and how they will get out of debt. I have never considered a gym. It would just kill me to pay that fee every month!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Yes, the monthly payment kills me, too. It feels different if it were a 1-time fee, but a monthly recurring expense is exactly what I’ve been trying to avoid in the past.

  • Reply JoAnn Ehlert |

    I have a question about your budget, I do not see daycare under your regular budget, do you have other options, if so great because usually child care is a killer when the kids are small.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Nope, no help. And, yes, this is our most expensive bill behind our rent. In our budget we have a line for “baby expenses.” This primarily applies to childcare (which costs $600/month). Occasionally other baby-related things get put into that column (like doctor copays or prescription costs, or diapers and clothing).

  • Reply TPol |

    This is an awfully long post to justify a new expense which is only USD 70/month but, I get it. You probably thought that, some of the readers here may/will get judgemental and criticize you for this. As I read your post that was what I was thinking.

    I think this is a totally acceptable expense in your case especially given that you can afford it. You are doing a good job slashing debt and I am sure, if God forbid your income situation changes for the worse, you will be able to get rid of it fast. Enjoy your new gym!

    • Reply Ashley |

      I think that’s exactly what I was afraid of. After all, what we can “afford” is up for debate. In terms of our monthly income, it seems like $70 wouldn’t be a huge dent…..but in light of our outrageous debts, I’m sure others would argue that it is NOT something we can afford.

  • Reply KK |

    I’ve always believed that a gym membership today means a healthier you tomorrow and that means less money spent of health care (hopefully at least! since you’re healthy) and thus it’s a great investment in your future. 😉 A good little PF point of view!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Good way to look at it! Especially with the exorbitant costs of health care (even with insurance!)

  • Reply Kili |

    Ashley, I think it’s a totally justified expense. I am not much of a gym person myself, I see more results going to the pool and swimming 15k a month, so that’s what I pay for. But if the gym (with a pool, yay) works for you, perfect. I definitly think it’s essential to build strength and stamina. And sounds like you found a great gym with the variety and childcare. Have fun & enjoy being an athlete again.

  • Reply Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore |

    I am a gym member and I decided that was one thing I was NOT going to give up to get out of debt. I enjoy my gym time, it helps me unwind and de-stress after work, plus it makes me feel good about myself. For me, it’s worth it and I’d say as long as you can afford it and you use it regularly, it’s fine to have a gym membership.

  • Reply Scooze |

    So you’re basically rationalizing a gym membership, and you seem to want our approval. Maybe you’re even rationalizing it to yourself. Since you’re doing well on your debt repayment and you have a plan of action, you are getting that approval. If you weren’t doing so well, you probably would get more negative comments. But what if we didn’t approve?

    Is it possible that you aren’t quite sure if you did the right thing? And that is why you feel the need to justify the purchase? Just make sure you feel good about it, because at the end of the day, your opinion is really what matters. (Personally, I think it seems reasonable given your debt success).

    • Reply Ashley |

      I think I have a tough time, given that its a recurring monthly expense. I said this to another commenter, too, but this is EXACTLY what I’ve been trying hard to reduce and eliminate from our lives (lots of monthly fees). It would feel different if it were a 1-time fee, but the ongoing nature of a recurring expense is tough. That being said, I do think its a worthwhile investment. When I’ve paid for gyms in the past (years and years ago), I have always made them part of my regular routine and really enjoyed them. I hope I can fall into a similar pattern here. And if, worst case scenario, it doesn’t get used regularly or I feel like it no longer makes sense with our budget, I can always cancel it (no contract). So that makes me feel a little better, too.

  • Reply Gail |

    Love my gym membership and would be one of the last things I would cut. $70 to get a membership AND childcare? That’s a crazy good deal. I pay $75 a month for just my membership.

    However… 🙂 … a lot of gyms will negotiate the initiation fee. They will use it as a bargaining chip to get you to sign up.


    • Reply Ashley |

      Oh, the initiation fee began at $199 and I negotiated it down to $100. When I told my hubs about it he swore they would’ve waived it all together If I’d pressed harder. Sucks, but I’ll never know.

  • Reply Mel |

    Another item to consider in the pro column for the gym membership, that I don’t think has been explicitly mentioned…stress relief! You are a BUSY woman with an intense life! Twin two year old girls, I’m exhausted at the thought. Being able to do something for yourself, to improve your health, with the girls well taken care-of, a daily (or however often) mental break from the stress of your life, getting some endorphins going… Definitely sounds worth $70/month to me. Especially considering how you’ve been rocking the debt reduction!

  • Reply DC - Kate |

    That’s $70/month for your sanity. We pay $98 for a family membership at a Y, and it’s a non-negotiable expense. Just one thing to note – look at your health insurance plan and see if they offer a discount at this particular gym, now that you’ve joined. Almost all of the big insurers have partnered up with gym networks to offer deals. Also, Costco, and some of the other membership stores have them too.

  • Reply Hannah |

    My thinking on health has changed and I now think that its important to spend more on health.This includes health insurance, dental work, quality whole food, and yes, exercise.
    Considering you are in debt payback for the long haul, I think the membership makes sense if you use it consistently, and only because its not a contract.

  • Reply Christi |

    My seven year old joined a swim team this summer. After the first couple of practices, I decided that I could swim laps while he was practicing instead of just sitting and waiting. Before this, I did not ever have any extra time to exercise. This is essentially ‘free’ since we were paying for his swim team anyway ($150 for the summer) and doesn’t take any additional time either. I am loving it!

    • Reply Ashley |

      That’s fabulous! Back in the day (high school), I used to be an avid swimmer. I still dabble here and there (mostly as part of training for triathlons of the past), but I should really pick it back up. Its such a great full-body workout, low-impact, and a great way to beat the heat of summer!

  • Reply V |

    I think it’s a great idea! It’s not worth it to give up physical health for financial health; you need both! If the nature of the monthly payment is bothering you from a mental perspective there are ways to get around that.

    Option 1: Create a separate savings account that you will slowly put 6-12 months of money in for the cost of the gym and “reimburse” yourself from it. Because you aren’t locked in, it’s not a monthly payment that you can’t easily get rid of should you need to.

    Option 2: My brother always told me, you CAN negotiate with gyms. Get out of initiation fees and if you seem to be using the gym a lot over the next 6 months, speak to them about pre-paying 6 months or so at a discount. This way it isn’t mentally bothering you as a monthly expense, and you are saving money! Make sure you are consistently using the gym before this though and there aren’t an things scheduled to interrupt your routine (a gym killer).

So, what do you think ?