Until recently, I used to pay upwards of $30 per session to spin, plank, downward dog, and sometimes scream with a room full of strangers—five or six times a week.
I wasn’t always so into fitness. But seven years ago, as I was recovering from a rough breakup, a co-worker invited me to a fancy spin class in New York City called SoulCycle. After weeks of feeling dead inside, the combination of music, heart-racing pedaling, and the instructor’s infectious energy made me feel something I’d never experienced before while exercising: laugh-out-loud joy. I was hooked.
As I started going to group workouts regularly, I began to recognize—and deal with—feelings I had ignored my entire life. The intensity helped me tap into anger I didn’t even know I had, while the music brought to the surface sadness I’d buried. It felt incredibly therapeutic.
As of this writing, I have taken 693 SoulCycle classes, which at a (slightly discounted, since I buy 10-packs) rate of $34 each, adds up to $23,562. And that’s just cardio: The other days of the week, I used to shell out for hot yoga or a high-intensity interval training class, or try something new with my basic-level ClassPass membership. Altogether, the price for all this catharsis came to about $700 per month.
Exercise helped me manage my emotions and made me feel steady when everything else in my life was chaotic. But these days, I’ve transitioned to a less stress-y job. And I recently got married, which has spurred me to focus more on my finances.
I talked to financial planner Mari Adam, CFP, the owner of Adam Financial Associates in Boca Raton, Florida, who told me that there’s nothing wrong with spending money on stuff I love—as long as I set priorities and limits. (Read why one writer will never quit her pricey fitness habit.)
I was already was doing the things she tells clients (having an emergency fund, saving 15 percent of my gross income, keeping debt-free), so I wasn’t actually being financially irresponsible. But since getting married, my priorities have shifted. I knew it was time to cut back and save some of that for other things: money for a baby, a bigger apartment, and donations to charities I care about.
Breaking the habit
I asked John Ford, a certified personal trainer and owner of JKF Fitness & Health in New York, for help with my boutique fitness addiction. He warned against me trying to quit cold turkey. Instead, he suggested that I think more critically about my classes (“Why are you doing this in the first place?”) and results (“Do you see strength improvements?”). He suggested I reverse-engineer my schedule to ensure I’m getting the 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week that the American College of Sports Medicine recommends—the equivalent of three 50-minute classes.
How I did it
For one month, I cut way back. Using a tried-and-true negotiation tactic, I threatened to cancel my $15 per month ClassPass membership. As an incentive to stay, the company comped me one month’s fee and gave me the equivalent of $60 worth of credit to spend. I used that to try out different studios in the city, like (gasp!) other spin classes. In the past, I was too intimidated to step foot into a boot camp, but since it was “free,” I signed up—and crushed it. What else was I holding myself back from?
Instead of going to my favorite instructors, I took classes from teachers who were in training for free or for a fraction of the usual cost. Granted, newbies aren’t always as polished and their classes were sometimes less challenging. And, these free or discounted workouts are usually offered at less convenient times, like at lunchtime or in the early afternoon. I had to adjust my expectations and alter my schedule to accommodate these gratis classes. (Thinking, “But it’s free!” helped.) And because I follow a lot of workout studios on Facebook and Instagram, their events constantly pop up in my newsfeed. Anytime I saw a free workout (usually to promote a new location or class offering), I signed up for it.
I also started working out at home. I’m obsessed with The Class’s yoga-meets-HIIT hybrid workout and already follow my favorite instructors on Instagram. They often post short workouts and corresponding playlists; I strung a few together into a routine that only required a yoga mat and some floor space. I even led my husband through an at-home version of the workout that left us gasping and drenched—in the best way.
Via YouTube, I sampled a variety of yoga teachers and styles. I took Ford’s advice and turned off my AC to mimic a hot yoga class. On high-stress days, I put on a restorative yoga video from the Yoga With Adriene channel. And every time the world felt like too much, I turned to Laughing Lotus NYC’s feed for an uplifting, soulful flow. No, it wasn’t the same as being in an airy, well-lit room of 60 people plus a charismatic instructor, all moving with you. When I was working out by myself in my living room, I never felt moved to the point of crying or screaming. Sometimes I’d bump into furniture. And I allowed myself way more breaks when no one was watching.
Before I started my experiment, I worried that I would get bored with less pricey classes and at-home workouts But I didn’t, and by the end of the month, I had spent $293 instead of my usual $700—a savings of $407.
Let’s be real: DIY-ing it didn’t feel as posh as my usual 5- or 6-days-a-week boutique fitness habit. Some of the workouts weren’t even that hard, which is frustrating for someone who craves intensity. And that was the point. By changing up the type of workouts I did—and not relying on the same three classes over and over again—I felt constantly challenged and stronger overall. When I returned to my favorite classes, I was able to go harder and last longer. My mood remained fairly even-keeled, too.
When you give up anything—alcohol, takeout, cabs, shopping—it makes you more mindful once you start again. Sure, I still go starry-eyed at the fancy amenities, the chic spaces, and the inspiration a great instructor can infuse into your entire day. But what I was really there for was the feeling of accomplishment and release. And I could find that anywhere: dancing in a hotel room, doing burpees with my husband at home, or running outside.
My month-long experiment is over, but I haven’t gone back to my old ways. Once or twice a week, I still take a full-price class and I soak up every second of it. But I don’t feel guilty about it anymore. One of my favorite teachers always says that the best part about building strength is that after the workout is over, you get to keep it. The extra cash in my bank account is just a bonus.