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Home » Health, Save Money, Summer of Saving

Piece Together an Affordable Home Gym & Get Rid of Your Gym Membership

Last updated by on 17 Comments

I’ve never paid for a gym membership in my life and I don’t plan on it.

Price is part of this, but even if it were free, I still don’t think I would have any interest.

My philosophy behind this is:

a. the more of a chore it is for me to go elsewhere (the gym) to exercise, the less likely I am to do it

b. I have no desire to use a bunch of complicated, unnatural equipment, covered in the sweat and germs of strangers

c. I’m already married, so the biggest benefit from a gym membership (meeting attractive, fit partners) is a non-starter

d. I have no desire to get totally “ripped” (mostly ripped would be suitable), therefore, most of my workout needs are met pretty easily in places other than the gym

e. I save money (the average cost of a gym membership is $55, while it’s estimated $39 of that goes to waste from under-use)

f. I just don’t have the time: figure 15 minutes to drive there, 15 to park, 10 to change – that’s 40 minutes each way, and doesn’t even factor in waiting to use a machine

Instead, I opt for a combination of the following:

  • I bike to work and back home (about 20 miles per week)
  • I average about another 25 miles per week of recreational biking from spring through fall
  • I spend anywhere from 6-10 hours a week walking (often jogging) my dog – adopting a high energy dog is about the best thing you could ever do for your health, I’ve found
  • I work out about half an hour, 3 times per week, using the 7 minute workout, that I highlighted plus some additional strength training

The first three are fun and cover most of my cardio needs, at almost no cost.

The last is the most challenging to get motivated for, but is needed to maintain and grow full body strength. And it’s the reason most people opt for a pricey gym membership.

If you absolutely love your gym, the price of membership, and how much use you get out of it, great. If you don’t, read on…

Getting Rid of a Gym Membership

As we discussed with health care costs, justifying the price of something related to our health is fairly easy to do. Especially when it is something as wholesome as getting more exercise. For most people, however, I don’t think that is going to come in the form of a gym membership.

If I had a gym membership, for the reasons I’ve highlighted earlier, it would go to complete waste. Instead, I’ve created a tiny home gym because it allows me to work out more and improve my health. It also saves me a ton of money, even with a bit of up-front investment.

A little investment in home workout equipment can go a long ways in getting you excited about ditching that pricey gym membership and getting an awesome workout at home.

Who needs a $55 monthly gym membership when you can get an awesome (albeit different) workout at home for the equivalent cost of a few months of gym membership dues – and then no more cost until you die or break the products you’ve bought?

Get ready for a rare occurrence on 20somethingfinance – me giving you some permission to spend (if you first get rid of your gym membership).

Creating a Home Gym to Replace your Gym Membership

What kind of characteristics are important for piecing together a home gym?

For starters, you need to be able to challenge yourself, yet have fun doing it, or you just won’t stick with it.

The items I’ll recommend, when paired with body weight exercises (i.e. the 7-minute workout), will present more than enough challenge for 99% of the population. And if you are under-challenged, you can simply do more reps or add more weight via one of the products I will highlight.

I also think it’s important that any purchases aren’t gimmicky. Part of that is finding products that are not refined to targeting just one body part. The more versatile, the better. Portability (so you can move it from one dwelling to the next or take with you on an extended trip), simplicity (goes hand in hand with durability), and of course – affordability – are also very important.

If you can buy this stuff used, great (I’ll suggest where to get them based on my experience in looking for these things on Craigslist, and when coming up empty, where you can find them at the best price). Products like these go quickly on the used market, so it may take some time. $300 (if you get all of these things new), although a huge savings over a membership, is still a lot of money. So choose the items that best suit you and your interests. Buy them one at a time and make sure you actually use them!

Chin/Pull-up Bar: $67 (Amazon)

I’m all for using a children’s jungle gym for pull-ups, but if you don’t have one of those around you, this will do the trick. There’s nothing that gives you quite the upper body workout of chin and pull-ups. And for anyone who has done them the day of or after ab exercises, you know how much of an ab workout they provide as well. The particular model here has three different pullup exercises. It can be fashioned to ceiling joists (under a walkout deck or in the basement, most likely). If you don’t have joists, look for the wall mounted version. I don’t trust the door frame versions.

pull up bar

Weighted Vest: $40 for 20 lbs., $60 for 40 lbs. (EBay or Craigslist)

The weight you choose may vary based on gender and how fit you are, but a good rule of thumb for those in good shape is 20-40 lbs. for females and 40-60 lbs. for males (if you get a vest that allows you to add/subtract weight, even better). Wearing a weighted vest makes every exercise discussed here, running, biking, or any other workout instantly more challenging. That’s what makes it the most versatile addition to any home gym. Plus, these things are bombproof. I found them cheaper on EBay than on Amazon, so you may want to look at both places or locally, since the shipping can be pricey.

weighted vest

Yoga Mat: $19 (Amazon)

I use a yoga mat for ab crunches, stretches, and planks to prevent myself from getting bruised from my concrete floor. A good yoga mat can last you a decade or longer. Some form of padded mat is essential to any home gym setup.

yoga mat

High Density Foam Roller: $20 (Amazon)

Not necessarily a workout product (although it can be used as one). I use a full-round, 36-inch version. It’s a life savor for rehabbing sore or tight muscles. I’ve highlighted how this product saved me hundreds of dollars in chiropractor/massage therapy. You can cut these, if you go crazy with a machete, but other than that, these things are virtually unbreakable.

foam roller

Dumbell: $20 (Craigslist or Garage Sale)

Dumbells go quickly on Craigslist, but if you’re patient, you can usually find a good one for $20 on Craigslist or at a garage sale. And 1-2 good ones are all it takes.

dumbellAb Core Wheels: $39 (Amazon)

Ab crunches tend to work out the middle and upper abs. Planking tends to work out the lower and middle abs. But it’s also nice to have something to work out lower, middle, and upper all-together in one motion. That’s where an ab wheel comes in handy. And this particular type of ab wheel can be used for upper body workouts as well. It gives you more range of motion than the standard 1-wheel units.

ab wheels

Dip Stand: $95 (Amazon)

This clever device allows you to do tricep dips, bodyweight rows (kind of like a horizontal pullup), chest dips, and more. The thing I like about it, other than it’s versatility, is how portable and compact it is for what it allows you to do. No need for one of those giant stations that are a pain to move when you relocate.

dip standGym Membership & Home Gym Discussion:

  • How much are your monthly gym membership dues? Do you feel you are getting enough value from the dues?
  • Have you previously gotten rid of a gym membership in favor of your own home gym?
  • What items would you add to a home gym that I have not listed here?

About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


17 Comments »
  • Pam says:

    I would add a squat stand/rack, a barbell, and bumper plates. Squats, deadlifts, and presses will make you very strong. A decent barbell is a little pricey, but will last forever if you take care of it.

    • Greg says:

      I just started looking into getting some of these for my home as well. I’ve been doing CrossFit at a local CF gym for about 4 months, but at $100/month it’s pretty pricey. For now I’m just watching Craigslist to try and pick up pieces when they’re cheap, but I’ll probably eventually get a full blown pull-up rig for the garage at a cost of around $1000, but that’ll pay for itself in a year.

      So far I’ve gotten a Rogue barbell, a pair of 35lb bumper plates, pair of 2.5 & 5lb plates, & collars for about $120 off of original retail, and they’re all in perfect condition. Deals are out there, but with the exploding popularity of CrossFit-style workouts, bumper plates are difficult to find on Craigslist.

      • TC says:

        If you want a cheap alternative to bumper plates go to a junk yard and pickup 2 spare tires (the trunk mounted variety) still on the rims. You may have to cut out the hole in the middle of the rim a little, but it is certainly a cheaper alternative to bumper plates.

  • WB says:

    Luckily, I recently started a new job at a well known telecom corporation who provides free access to an oncampus gym. On top of that, if I participate in yearly “fitness checkups” that are basically a series of physical tests such as pushups, curls, jumping jacks, etc my company throws a significant amount of cash into my HSA. To make physical fitness even more important, there are various activities and classes offered through the company that also earn cash to my HSA. So in a nut shell, I get paid to go to the gym and be healthy…what more of motivation do you need than free money?? I know I may be gloating, but to my surprise there are many of my fellow employees that DO NOT take advantage of this!

    Before my new job, I would frequent a local gym ($25 per month). However, it was out of the way so I would slack. The best way to stay active is, like G.E. mentioned, is finding something that challenges you but you enjoy doing. Find a sport or a class that’s actually “fun” to go to and/or with a friend. Having someone else there helps to keep you accountable.

    I also recommend purchasing some resistance bands (20bucks on ebay, maybe less) and the “Mens Health Big Book of Excercises” (5-8bucks on Amazon). This book has tons of different exercises and routines, it’s definitely worth it. Or you can always visit their website to find free tutorials, meal plans, and workouts too.

  • Carla says:

    The 7-minute workout is so much harder than I thought it was going to be. But this guy made song for it and posted it on YouTube so you don’t have to break the flow to check what’s next. And it’s ridiculous enough to keep you entertained the whole way through.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LezARmLDu6U

  • Frank Pipitone says:

    No home gym is complete without a proper barbell and weights.

  • Tyler Herman says:

    Your dog probably costs as much as the gym membership in the long run.

  • Steve says:

    To each his own, and I think as long as you work out regularly – good for you, regardless of how! However, if you just have minimal weight equipment, eventually you won’t get any stronger. Sure, you can keep on adding reps, but this will just take more and more time. I also think some, though not all, people are more inclined to exercise hard if they’re at a gym with people watching them though it’s a catch-22 that they have to actually go to the gym.

    I much prefer working out in the gym and doing weight-bearing exercises with heavy free-weights, and my gym membership is only $15/month. I go to a fairly minimalist gym that has all the essentials and little fancy bells and whistles like tanning, massages, etc. I admit it’s still more expensive, over time, than a home gym like this. Still, I truly think it’s more effective if optimal fitness at an affordable price is the end goal, instead of getting the cheapest workout possible.

  • Jake @ Common Cents Wealth says:

    My wife and I love our gym membership, but I can admit that we could do most of the stuff at home if we just invested a little bit of up front money. I like the gym because I’m more motivated there. When I’m there, I’m working out. If I try to work out at home, I’ll end up not wanting to do it or watching TV while I’m working out which ends up in a lower quality workout. That being said, if we were tight for money, the gym is one of the first things I’d get rid of.

  • Sam says:

    I got the 24 hr fitness membership at costco, which comes out to about 17/month for paying for 2 years in advance. I’ll still build out a home gym in my garage if/when we can get rid of our second car, but for now that’s a pretty good deal. I need to hit weights pretty hard just to look normal, otherwise I revert to my natural body shape of several sticks poking out of a giant ass.

  • Vanessa says:

    I’d suggest replacing the ab roller on that list with an exercise ball. You can find decent quality anti-burst exercise balls for < $25. A ball seem more versatile to me than an ab roller, especially when it comes to ab and back exercises. Make sure you get one appropriate for your height – the balls typically come in 3 sizes.

    Bonus points: It can double as your desk chair!

  • I have a (super nice) gym membership included with my student fees, yet I still choose to work out outside/at home most of the time. Like you said, getting in and out of the gym and changing and showering when necessary takes quite a bit of time. I only go to the gym when I want to use equipment I can’t replicate at home, and while the gym is available to me for free I probably won’t invest in more at-home equipment (particularly since we will be moving post-graduation). However, I know many people enjoy the motivating environment at a gym, so I think it’s reasonable to pay for one if that’s the only way you will get yourself to work out.

  • Kim says:

    My gym membership is $90/year at the local community center in our neighborhood, which is the monthly cost at some of the premier gyms in town. It’s no-frills and doesn’t have the classes, but I didn’t attend the group fitness classes anyway so it’s more than enough for us. If it only had childcare… but it’s nextdoor to the elementary school and playground so down the road it will be more family-friendly to go there than stay at home.

    I think when I retire, I would like to spend a good amount of time at the gym during the day to meet new friends, so a fancy gym membership with a pool, sauna, classes, etc. would be part of my entertainment.

  • jim says:

    I am lmao! Son has almost the same setup you do. He tried getting me in shape a few months ago – oh hell! After the seemingly innocuous lunges we did, I could take the stairs up to my office the next morning, but I almost died trying to take them down – ha!

    So, I’m laying off his “training” and going back to my old school days where people worked hard enough around their houses and yards that they didn’t need to work out – in a gym or otherwise.

    But I will send this on to my son. He’ll get a kick out of it. Thanks.

  • Dustin says:

    chinup bar? yoga mat? weighted vest? ab/core wheels? dip stand?

    I know this is a personal finance blog…but yikes. Buy a barbell, 315lb weight set (typically what comes in a set) and a bench/squat multi-rack. Squat, Bench and Deadlift. Forget all other other crap if all you plan to do is workout 3x/wk for 30 min.

    I pay $10 month gym membership at Experience Fitness. Worth its weight in gold.

  • Garrett says:

    I pay for a gym membership. My company has a deal with the gym that’s next door for $25 per month, if you only go during working hours. I only go to the gym during lunch so it’s a good deal for me.

    I like the lunch time classes because the environment encourages me to push the intensity and, since many of my co-workers go to the same gym, we’re able to use peer pressure to make sure that we all go regularly.

    When the weather is nice, I often just go running or biking and just use the gym for the shower facilities.

    I’ve tried home-based workouts in the past but there are too many other distractions at home for me so I always find an excuse to skip.

    If the gym wasn’t right next door or if I couldn’t workout at lunch, I’d probably skip the gym and push myself to workout at home.

    When I can’t or don’t want to attend a class, I do my own workout.

    I can get a thorough workout using only a kettlebell, a pull-up bar and a jump rope. Kettlebells turn up occasionally on Craigslist but even if you buy new you can get one for under $100.

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