Where I Save (and Splurge) on Fitness

Oh, boy. Our latest question of the week has come at a really interesting time for me. You see, I’m preparing to move to a new city, so I’ve been reevaluating my current fitness spending/saving habits to determine what will make the most sense when it comes time to start over. Should I find a fancy gym with everything I need? Look at a la carte offerings? Commit right away or play the field? AHHHHHH!

Also, I think it’s only fair for me to note that, because of my work here, I receive samples to review — often, things that I would otherwise be spending my own money to buy. So! For the purposes of this piece, I’m including things that I do and things I would shell out dinero for if I didn’t already receive them. Cool? Cool.

save and splurge


Healthy food: Although I drink a lot of smoothies, I rarely pay the $5 or $6 (or more when you start adding in the “upgrades”) at a chain to have one made — I almost always make them myself, and I figure the cost is closer to $2 to $3 each when I do it that way. I try to save my financial foodie splurges for times when I’m less concerned about calories and nutrition and more interested in an interesting and super delicious experience, you know? (Or when it’s something I’m crap at making myself, like Thai or Indian food.)

Oh, and also, I’m the world’s worst coupon cutter, but I do try to pay attention to where certain products I frequently buy (chia seeds, coconut water, almond milk, etc.) are the least expensive and save a few dollars by shopping around … when it’s convenient. (I’m … not great at this.)

Gym fees: Okay, fine, my monthly gym membership isn’t the cheapest in town, but that’s the only monthly gym fee I pay. It’s a gorgeous facility with a pool, indoor group cycling, yoga, hip hop and a wide variety of other classes, not to mention all the strength and cardio equipment I need for any workout. I hardly ever attend pay-by-the-session classes (with a few exceptions).

However! This is one of the places I’m looking for input from you guys. When I move, there will be tons of really cool pay-by-the-session classes available, and I’m wondering whether I should look at going that route and focus on doing my strength and cardio at home and outside.

Personal training/coaching: Now, it’s not that I never use personal trainers or coaches, because I definitely do. However, I try to be smart about when I employ them so as to get the most bang for my buck. I make sure to have a triathlon coach enlisted for a few months prior to a big race, but not necessarily during the off season when I’m more likely to blow off a bike ride to go on a hike with a friend.

And I’ve gotten some great (GREAT) stuff out of working with personal trainers, but, I look at it as a way to achieve a goal. If I know I need some help getting my workouts back on track, or I want to gain more confidence in the weight room, I look to a pro, but then, I’m generally able to take what I’ve learned from them and apply it on my own.

Bike: I love my road bike. I really do. It’s awfully nice with some swanky components, but it was also probably at least a decade old when I bought it from a friend. I take care of it and spend money here and there on new tires and pedals and tune-ups, but unlike the majority of triathletes I know, I have basically zero bike envy. I’m not interested in a tri-specific bike. I don’t want aerobars. I don’t think that carbon wheels or a lighter frame will impact my pace all that much — I’d rather just, you know, work harder and get better. And happily, that’s pretty much free!

Clubs: A few years ago, I was all for signing up for whatever club I was eligible for — track clubs, cycling clubs, triathlon clubs, you name it. They all offered discounts! And group activities! And a community! However, as I began to develop a stronger running and triathlon community of my own, I found myself less and less involved with the clubs requiring annual fees.

Now, I take a close look at what I get for the cost of my membership before signing up (or renewing). Is membership required in order to participate in races (like it is with USAT)? Are the group activities things I enjoy? Am I likely to attend meetings? Are there big discounts on things I actually buy? For me, in a lot of cases the answer was nope.

Of course, I realize that, when I move and am seeking a new community, clubs like this are probably one of the first places I’ll turn. So, yeah. Talk to me in a few months.


Gear: I’m picky about what I wear, and I’m happy to shell out a little extra money if it means I’m comfortable (and feel confident), so when it comes to shoes, sports bras, tops and bottoms, price is definitely not the first consideration. I still remember one time, a few years ago, I had four different athletic shoes in the process of being reviewed … and I still paid full price for a pair I knew for a fact I could run some distance in.

That being said, I don’t shop for gear all that often, and when I find something I like, I watch for it to go on sale and then buy multiples (which is why I have three of these in black right now). I also don’t focus on having the very latest and greatest right away — if I have my eye on a fancy new watch or something, often I’ll hold off and watch for one of two things: the price to drop or someone to sell it on Craigslist after realizing that, for example, a fancy new watch does not a triathlete make.

Experiences: If there’s an incredible race to be done with friends, consider my flight and hotel booked, like, five minutes ago. In fact, I think I hesitated far less over signing up for this race on the other side of the country than I did when it came time to pay $20 to sign up for a local race this past fall. And rightfully so — I had an amazing time and wouldn’t have traded it for the world, even if it did mean I needed to save up money by cutting down on other expenses leading up to the trip.

Swimming: I said I don’t do any pay-by-the-session classes, and I guess that was sort of a lie, because that’s exactly what I do for my Masters swim class. I don’t make it every week, but it’s really important to me to have a swimming expert watching me in the water somewhat regularly. I mean, my stroke is a 180-degree change from what it was five years ago when I started taking actual lessons, and I don’t want to stop progressing. Plus, having someone who knows what to look for can really help prevent injury, and since I plan to continue swimming well into old age, that’s key.

Gosh, I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things, but this already feels like a novel, and really, I just want to hear from you. Where do you save vs. splurge? Is there anything I listed that really raised your eyebrows? —Kristen


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  1. Running shoes – I have just stopped looking at the price tag. If I find a model that works, it works. I do, however, try and find an inexpensive place to buy them. For example, I recently bought my…fourth? pair of Wave Rider 17s from Amazon, because they were maybe $30 cheaper than going to Road Runner Sports.

    Gear for long runs – I have a few pairs of running shorts/pants, tops and jogbras that I know work and won’t chafe. They were not cheap, but they have also lasted quite some time.

    Gear for short runs or other workouts – Target C9 baby. Cheap but does the job!

  2. I definitely buy all my gear on clearance. I get name brand stuff from Amazon, Sierra Trading Post, etc that is marked down 50% or more. Especially when you’re exercising often, you need a lot of clothes, and I couldn’t afford to pay full price for all of them. I still struggle with putting off big purchases like new running shoes because they seem like so much money. Also with regards to race fees, how do people do so many races when entry fees in my area are 80+?

  3. Em-

    A lot of people join their local running club because it gives discounts for races or there’s a plan in the area for runners who plan on running a lot of races that will give them a discount as well. Early Bird fees and sites like Groupon/Social Living can also be helpful depending on what area you live.

  4. if you’re moving to a warm weather city you’ll most likely want to run, bike, etc. outside so you may be able to save on gym fees and a lot of cities now have free run clubs that can easily be found on Instagram. Not a fan of spending a lot on gear with the exception of shoes – Shoes are the one area where being cheap is not worth it. You can find so many good, inexpensive gear options at Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Target has definitely stepped up their game. Also a big fan of outlet stores so if they’re in the area check them out.

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  6. I spend money on sneakers; I save money on attire – always look for the sales.
    I love to workout; and I love to run but I hate racing – so I don’t pay to run.

  7. Things I spend on
    – my power cage. It’s foldable so it’s space saving and there’s a pull down / row pulley system and built it plate rack to hang my weight plates on.
    – my exercise bench. I had a cheap eBay one once n they take so much time to adjust. A good bench saves me the hassle and cut my workout time.
    – running shoes. I am flat footed so I need good shoes badly.
    – gear. I don’t buy often but when I do, I always try to buy lululemon on discount.

    Things I save on
    – gym. I use my home gym I don’t have a membership
    – my treadmill. I found a good deal on a treadmill that was a display item
    – weight plates and dumbbells. I go to a warehouse that sells gym equipment for much less. They’re unbranded but I don’t really care. Weight is weight!
    – protein powder. I don’t need anything fancy I just get the cheapest one that has 30g of protein per serve.
    – fresh produce. I grow quite a few of veggies and herbs myself. I buy minimally n locally from smaller groceries and budget supermarkets like Costco or Aldi.
    – food. I make my own dressing, sauces, dips, salsa, snacks. I eat at home 95% of the time. I cook almost every day.
    – classes. Instead of paying for yoga lessons I just pop in a dvd. I’m not really a beginner I’ve been practicing with a yoga teacher for 2 years before I got my own gym so it works fine for me.

  8. I stopped my gym membership, to start saving for a power cage for my garage setup. Even the Rouge branded cages aren’t that expensive.

    I do a lot of bjj which provides a group dynamic.

    The shoes, oh god how much do I spend on a decent pair of running shoes. My last pair were $150 NB. But you have to pay for quality.