On a typical Tuesday night, the only thing I want to do after a grueling day taking care of two toddlers is burn, lift and tone during my biweekly $28 Pure Barre class.
Instead, on a Tuesday night last April, I found myself unhappily sitting in the no-frills Spin room at my regular gym near my Connecticut home, pumping my legs to Pitbull.
My problem wasn’t only the Spin class. It’s that I can’t stand anything that isn’t premium or boutique when it comes to exercise. So I left the class while everyone else was still peddling.
A High-End Fitness Habit
I got hooked on boutique classes a few years ago, after I gave birth to my first child. They're pricey, sure, but these classes are smaller and more personalized; the instructors are young and fit. After a session, I feel sexy and, I admit it, a little superior.
Being a super-fit mom is my thing, and I've racked up the memberships to prove it. In addition to my $28 barre class, I belong to my gym’s premium CrossFit-style group training program ($85 a month), the local YMCA ($82 per month for a family plan) and YogaGlo ($18 per month for unlimited online classes).
I also take at least three other classes at boutique studios every month (my newest is Coremotion, a Pilates-inspired class that costs $33 per session). Add it up, and I’m spending at least $300 on top of my regular $20-per-month gym membership.
A few months ago, my workout outlay came into greater focus when my freelance income took a dive. My husband and I realized we had to scale back on indulgences. With two children in preschool, plus a mortgage, food, gas and other essentials, my expensive workouts had to go.
Yet the idea of ditching them terrified me. The classes were splurges, yes, but they paid off big by making me feel strong and sexy. How would I manage to stay sane without barre classes? Would I get the same glorious feeling after a weight-lifting session without a trainer? Would I gain weight? Would I be resentful?
Finance experts advise cutting out small extras like a weekly restaurant meal or regular mani-pedi. You won't miss them, they maintain, yet you'll save a sizable chunk of cash. By doing without my luxe fitness regimen, I'd save hundreds of dollars a month, which would help make up for my lost income.
Instead of committing permanently, I decided to do a test run. For four weeks, I put my boutique fitness habit on ice, relying only on my regular gym membership and my family YMCA membership (which I couldn’t cut, because my kids take swim lessons at the facility) to stay fit.
Could I trade the time spent in my boutique classes for no-frills sessions and maintain my level of fitness? Always up for a challenge, I was about to find out.
Quitting Cold Turkey
For the first week, my plan was to create my own “circuit” of weights- and resistance-style workouts at my gym—such as box jumps, squats, pushups—and then take one free class at that gym or the YMCA every week.
I was off to a good start, until I went for a strength-training class at my gym. The class was filled with less fit women my mom's age, which made me uncomfortable. But I got in the groove once I upped my resistance with heavier weights. I lifted and squatted until I felt blissfully exhausted.
In addition to becoming more open-minded about the fitness level of the people I took classes with, I became resourceful about getting one-on-one attention. I convinced a personal trainer friend to give me free Skype sessions in exchange for editing help with her blog. I ventured into my gym’s boxing room and asked one of the beefy dudes to turn me into Rhonda Rousey. He taught me how to nail a perfect upper-cut punch.
True, I missed the novelty and personalization of my premium classes. Yet I did like seeing fewer automatic deductions from my bank account. More than anything else, knowing I was saving money kept me motivated.
Saving Cash—but Struggling
After the initial week, my boutique class craving came roaring back. My husband rolled his eyes as I rattled off my complaints. I told him I couldn’t sleep well because I only felt “80%” of the burn I was used to and that it was unfair I couldn’t join the other Lululemon-clad mommies at SoulCycle.
He had no sympathy, of course.
Still, as arrogant as it might sound, I really did feel like I was too advanced for these general fitness classes. At the start of the next Spin class at my gym (the same one I had quit mid-session last time), I informed the instructor, “I get bored easily, so I’m going to leave early. Please don’t take it personally.” She just smiled and patted me on the back.
I revised my opinion when I returned to the class a few nights later. I planned to leave early after 40 minutes. But I actually got so into it, I did the full session and left the gym with a wonderful aching burn in my legs. That night, I slept like a baby.
Still, it bugged me that my arms didn't feel as toned as they did when I was taking more intense classes and I felt depressed when listening to friends tell me about the fun they had in a studio class. If it wasn't too cold out, I’d run outside. But when the weather was overcast and freezing, I couldn’t pop into a boutique class to perk up my mood.
To find out why I was having an increasingly difficult time adjusting, I reached out to Ben Michaelis, a psychologist and author of “Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy.”
Michaelis chalked up my feelings to a concept known as “hedonic adaptation,” the tendency of humans to adapt to their circumstances, no matter how good or bad they are. In other words, I had become used to my premium fitness lifestyle, so cutting it made me feel deprived—and resentful.
“We get used to things at a certain level, and as human beings sensitive to loss, the idea that you have to give up something you achieved can feel like you’re going backwards in life,” Michaelis explained. “It can lead to some negative feelings.”
It wasn’t just the psychological adjustment I was dealing with. Boutique classes are designed to be super intense, and high-intensity workouts flood the brain with energy- and mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Without that regular neurotransmitter blast, Michaelis said, my system was in a kind of withdrawal.
Striking a Balance
Finally a month later, my fitness fast was over. The good news is, I was able to redirect the $300 I saved toward household expenses. I also stretched my comfort zone and got over my resistance to working out in less luxe circumstances. And I didn’t gain an ounce of weight (hooray!).
On the other hand, I’m not sure that totally depriving myself of something I truly enjoyed was worth the savings. Was the idea of cutting out small indulgences always such a savvy financial move? I posed the question to Colin Drake, a certified financial consultant in Sausalito, California.
His take: Ditching the little things can be a smart way to save money . . . unless it makes a real dent in your well-being and day-to-day functioning. Drake advised that instead of cutting out all my boutique fitness splurges, I should strike a balance and prioritize them, keeping only the ones that I truly get the most out of.
“The amount you were spending added up to thousands of dollars a year, which is significant,” Drake says. “Your job is to answer the question, ‘How can I still get what I’m looking for—fitness, sanity, community and fun—with half the spending?' There’s no doubt you can if you get a bit creative.”
Ultimately, I opted to keep my premium gym membership on hold for two more months. When I resume the premium membership, I'll skip all but the occasional boutique class or two. This way I only spend $20 for the regular gym every month and $82 for my monthly YMCA membership. In total, I'll hang onto an extra $150 to $200 a month.
I ended the experiment feeling strong and resourceful. Tapering down my premium classes was a necessity, and I made it work—while still taking some classes and hanging on to memberships that made financial sense. I get to help my family budget—while enjoying the "me" time I love.