Mindfully Spent is about managing finances, time, and more in pursuit of meaning. It chronicles my journey to use money and moments for things I truly love.

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The fitness challenge that will save us over $800 this year.

The fitness challenge that will save us over $800 this year.

This February, I challenged myself to fight back against the weeks of holiday eating and the darkness of winter by focusing on fitness. My "Fit February" goals were simple: Visit the gym twice a week, find one additional opportunity to be active each week, and track my calories (without any pressure to change eating habits). How is it going so far? Mostly horrible.

It's three weeks into the month, and I have gone to the gym exactly twice. I’ve tracked my calories about the same number of times. The successes I have gained were by pursuing exercise as part of my daily routine. In the last three weeks, I’ve shoveled snow, danced like crazy, cleaned house at a sweat-breaking pace, taken the dog on long walks, explored an abandoned mental hospital, gone rollerskating, used a standing desk more at work, gardened until my muscles ached, and squeezed some squats into my daily routine. This activity is not enough to maintain the level of strength and fitness I’d prefer to have when hiking season strikes up in earnest, but they are what I have to show for “Fit February” at the moment. 

As the kind of person who is more likely to question failure than agonize over it, I started reflecting on the month and what I can learn from it. I love hiking and the feeling of a having a strong core. I also like how little clothes shopping I have to do when I remain a consistent size. These were the reasons that I chose to focus on fitness in February. But, somehow, these “Whys” weren’t helping me get to the gym (and that gym membership was costing big bucks!). After a little introspection, I found some five ongoing thoughts that were taking their toll on my motivation:

1. It’s dark and cold and wet, and we should be hibernating.

Deep inside my guts, I do not want to do a lot of working out right now. My energy level can be low in the dark months of winter, and I have had a strong urge to read or reflect more instead. I’ve been curling up with good books, reading articles that helped me understand other sides of the current state of US politics, and starting a bullet journal. I’m on my third book of the year, and I’ve been hungry for more reading. Deep down, I also believe that days will get brighter and warmer, and I’ll be lured outside to actively enjoy it. Already, the buds and birdsong I’ve encountered while dog walking hint that spring is on its way.

2. My size is roughly the same.

Despite my worst fears about holiday eating and winter sloth, my size is the same. No additional shopping required (yet). This pretty much decimates my size being a source of motivation. Do I wish I was a bit more fit? Sure. Is the wish strong enough to be a motivator? Not at the moment. 

3. What about the dog?

After a long day away at work, whipping up a home-cooked dinner with my love, and wrangling with the kiddo a bit over chores and homework, it can feel amazing to go to the gym. I often enjoy running off a few miles worth of tension before snuggling down for some popcorn and family talks about the day. There is only one problem with this scenario: If my husband and I head to the gym, who plays with and walks the dog? We put our gym membership on hold when we brought home the pooch last summer, and enjoyed long walks with him until the weather turned especially bitter. Since restarting the gym membership late last year, there has been a definite sense of guilt about leaving him behind while we get exercise.

4. Patterns of the Past.

I have a fairly recognizable pattern when it comes to fitness: First, I feel the itch to try a new class or sport; then I love the dickens out of the sport or class and get in great shape; and then circumstances change or a beloved instructor leaves and I’m forced to move on. Kickboxing, Zumba, Roller Derby, and running a half marathon have all led to me finding enjoyably high levels of fitness. More consistently, hiking, dancing, and sometimes bike rides have helped me stay in aerobic shape while adding deep pleasure to my life. To be honest, a standard gym routine has only worked for me in limited spurts. Our gym does offer an incredible TRX class three times per week that I could gush about endlessly. Can I make it on time to that class with my work schedule? No.  

5. Why don’t I establish an at-home workout routine instead?

Over this last month, this thought has nagged at me more than others. We have taken many steps in the last six months to reduce our expenses, yet we’ve been forking out close to $90 per month for a gym membership. We could drive further and go to a cheaper gym ($40/month for two of us), but the lower-cost gym offers no classes and no alluring hot tub. The other option is to work out at home.

When I was in roller derby, much of our training was based on aerobic and strength building exercises that required little (if any) equipment. Before we were married, my husband stayed in shape by taking long walks and doing a few basic exercises at home. One-by-one my friends have begun a variety of home work out routines (regular running, lifting weights, paying a small subscription fee for guided at-home work outs). I'm starting to think those friends are doing it right.

We have a pretty small home (about 790 square feet), but I’ll betcha' I could still find room to do Yoga with Adriene for free. A Google search for “at-home workouts” gives me 10,500,000 resources to help us start saving almost $90 per month (...but I doubt I'll find any of them more convincing than this set of exercises using toilet paper rolls).

So... We're quitting the gym.

It would be easy to write off “Fit February” as a failure, but the lessons learned have been incredibly valuable. In fact, those lessons will add up to $885 of saved gym membership fees over the remaining months of the year. And the next time I have to shovel snow or dig up a flower bed, I'm going to think of it as a free training routine. 

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