How to Stay Fit on a Budget – and Why Equinox is Adding Years to Your Cubicle Life

Who wouldn’t want to belong to an Equinox? It’s only the world’s most lavish gym. Complete with perfectly chilled eucalyptus face towels, and various amenities including steam rooms, saunas, and more, it’s the type of place that you would expect to find your favorite celebrity’s favorite celebrity. And you just might! But what you will definitely find are some of the most beautiful, fit, and successful people in the world, so goes the myth. Want to grow three or four inches, go to Equinox. Want a perfectly clear complexion, you guessed it, Equinox FTW! It’s almost as if all your problems can be solved there – how great would that be? Though I don’t have a membership there, if I’m being completely honest, it has to be one of my favorite gyms too. The equipment is always top-of-the-line and clean, very clean. Many locations have snack bars or full-service restaurants where you can hang out before or after your workout, and there is something amazing about the atmosphere – it’s almost like they’re pumping motivation and ambition through the cooling vents. But, as you can imagine, these amenities aren’t cheap, and they come with a hefty price tag. $200-$300 to sign up, then another $160-$250 per month (depending on location and package), you could easily dig yourself a $5,000 hole annually, between the fees, food, spas, and other add-on items that they offer. So as always, the question is “is it actually worth it?”

Benefits

I’ve touched on the majority of the benefits above: towels, motivated people around you, spas, etc., but  Equinox is also known for having some of the most knowledgeable, and overall best trainers out there. And it isn’t only Equinox. Many other fitness studios are now following suit, charging expensive rates, but offering the best in trainers, amenities, and service. Take Tone House for instance (another of my favorite group fitness studios), which prides itself on its intense workouts that allow you to train like a professional athlete. They offer a variety of pricing options ranging from a single class pass which costs $40 to an “MVP” 50 class pass at $2,000. They also offer complementary recovery sessions ranging from a single session at $20 to 20 sessions at $330. If you haven’t quite emptied out your wallet just yet, sign up for a $100 advanced recovery session, and a 5-day meal plan for $125. If you took advantage of all this place has to offer, I’m sure it would work out to be more expensive than Equinox! That said, I do think the benefits commiserate with the price (or in the ballpark…maybe). I’ve actually tried both of these places, and some others via trial period offers and guest passes from friends and the amenities they offer far exceed what you will receive at your standard gym. Tone House even boasts NormaTec recovery equipment, hot tubs, and ice baths – similar to what you’d find at an NFL facility. Also, in their defense, many of these studios are in the swankiest parts of town which means they are paying an arm and a leg for rent. With tiny studio rooms that only hold a few people due to the lack of available space in many major cities, they almost have to pass these costs onto consumers if they want to continue to operate – though I’m sure their margins are pretty good. The benefit to you – more attention from trainers and the ability to connect with other participants.

Negatives

Price, price, price! Despite offering all of the value in the world, most of us simply cannot afford memberships to these places. Chances are, the majority of those that go to these places can’t afford them either. They either just don’t know it yet, or they know it, and just plan to work a lot longer than they may otherwise need to. The other thing to consider is that despite our attempts, we typically don’t get the utility from these places that we think we will. Most of us are happy if we can get to the gym three times a week for 60 minutes or so. Looking at it through that lens, it’s really hard to justify the high prices that these places charge. The “a la carte” options may be better, but they often still works out to about $50 per visit.

When it Makes Sense  

Despite the high price, occasionally it does make sense to fork over some extra cash to work out in these glam locations. Chief among them is if this is the only way that you will work out. Having all the money in the world is only good if you’re around to enjoy the things that you can do with it. Traveling with friends, providing for your family, being able to take advantage of more social activities and meet new people – these are some of the great things financial independence can provide, but we can only take advantage of them if we’re here and our health allows. So, if these places give you the motivation to get your heart rate up a few times a week, and you can’t find that motivation elsewhere, it’s probably worthwhile to keep going.

For many, these places also become a huge part of their lifestyle. They meet up with friends for classes a few times a week, it’s where they spend a lot of their downtime – in other words, they take advantage of all that these clubs offer. They can also be a great way to meet new, like-minded people upon moving to a new city, after graduation, or for a new job as well. All of these are examples of cases where it may be worthwhile to eat the additional costs.

Alternatives 

As is often the case, I think it’s best to find some middle ground where possible. First, having a gym that you can visit consistently is very important and there are many choices that offer varying degrees of luxury. Most will be better than the closet-turned-gym in your high school, but will also be far from a luxury gym. Some viable options are:

Blink Fitness: ($15-$20/mo.) – This chain is actually owned by Equinox. The start-up fees are low, and may even be waived during this time of year. Over the years, I have visited various locations, and they all have one thing in common – cleanliness. These have to be the cleanest of the discount fitness centers that I have used, and if something isn’t up to your standards, let the front desk know and they’ll take care of it.

New York Sports Club: ($44-$99/mo.) – A little pricier than Blink Fitness, this chain typically offers classes that members can enjoy, so if group exercise is more your speed, than this option may be more for you. Class options usually include cycling, yoga, Zumba, and cardio kickboxing. Start-up fees range from about $45  to about $125 depending on location and whether you opt for the month to month option, or commit for the full year.

YMCA: ($34 to $94/mo.) – The price range is about the same as you’d find with a New York Sports Club but you’ll often get a little more, as these locations typically have basketball courts, swimming pools, and other activity areas. They also offer many of the same classes you’d find at NYSC. You need to be willing to deal with children in the building (but outside most training areas) as the “Y” is geared toward serving entire families. Start-up fees are typically around $80. The Y also typically has a steam room and sauna, but the cleanliness can be hit-or-miss.

There are many others that offer good deals (Planet Fitness & Crunch, both come to mind) but none will offer the total Equinox experience. To make up for this, use the luxury gyms as a reward. Opt for “a la carte” options and reward yourself with a trip to David Barton’s Gym, Title Boxing Club, or another of your favorite gyms any time you make it to your regular gym 7 – 8 times in a two week period. Also look into options like Class Pass that allow you to visit many of your cities best gyms for one fee.  Consider purchasing entry passes opportunistically. Buying around New Year’s is great because every gym is offering a deal of some sort. Finally, don’t forget to make friends when you visit! Take advantage of guest passes whenever you can, but don’t forget to buy these friends a drink or two the next time you venture into the city.

Just How Many Years Can Equinox Add to Your Working Career?

If you subscribe to the logic of Sam at financialsamauri.com (which I urge you to do!) that says every year that you save 50% of your after-tax salary, you will accumulate one year of retirement savings, then your membership could be keeping you chained to your desk for up to an additional 7 years.

My guidance would be if you find yourself making more than $150,000 after taxes AND after saving for retirement, go for it. However, if you find yourself at or below that amount, I’d recommend becoming a member of a less expensive club and saving more. Equinox and similar chains are aspirational luxuries, and we should look at them as such. Use them as motivation to get that next raise, or start that business that you’ve always dreamed about. With patience and hard work, eventually, you too can find yourself running alongside The Rock, on an Equinox treadmill near you.

How many extra years would you be willing to put in to join one of the exclusive clubs mentioned above? At what income would you feel comfortable signing up? Let us know in the comments below!