How much should you spend on health and fitness?  The answer to this question depends on you, your financial resources and how important spending in this category is for your happiness. For me, doing healthy activities is a priority and this goes a long way helping me achieve balance and happiness in my life.

As a working mom, I am constantly pulled between the desire to work hard and also be there for my kids when they are not in school. This leaves me with five hours a day for work and working out. Not only is time an issue, so is money! While I love to run outside, I find myself craving a sense of community and camaraderie. I have found this in Soul Cycle, which is not an inexpensive habit. Last year I spent an average of $333 per month on Soul Cycle (~ 12 classes per month). I get some free rides every now and then and usually gift cards from my dear husband, so I probably go closer to 15 times per month. I also take kickboxing on Sundays for $12 per class.

It has taken me several years to get comfortable with my “sweat budget” and to feel grateful that I have one. Below are steps to help you set your annual sweat budget and give yourself permission to enjoy it.

  1. Determine the importance of fitness in your life. Spending on exercise and sports varies tremendously. For some, it is not part of their daily lives; however, for most of my clients, and a high percentage of Bay Area residents, being active is a priority. Do you consider fitness a …
    • Priority— You structure your work week and social activities around your workout schedule, or even incorporate fitness and social get-togethers.
    • Important— You need to work out several times a week and it is an integral part of your routine.
    • Nice to Have— You feel better when you get physical activity a couple of times per week. Sometimes you can go weeks without it.
    • Not Your Thing—You would rather walk to Starbucks and get a latte in the morning. (You can probably stop reading this article now if this describes you).
  2. Map out your ideal fitness scenario. Be specific. Talk is cheap when it comes to setting goals and sticking with them, especially financial goals. How many times per week? What times work best for your schedule? How much would you want to spend on your sweat?
  3. Purge un-used gym memberships. At one point or another, most of us have been guilty of the automatic monthly gym membership that never gets used. The birth of a child, a new job, or boredom can derail the best intentions. If you have a gym membership that you have not used in over a month, ditch it! Those registration fees you paid are a sunk cost, and each month you don’t go to the gym will make you feel worse and worse. Be wary of unlimited classes for one month too. The likelihood of you getting your money’s worth is slim. On a side note, it is helpful to purge your unused fitness equipment as well. If sporting goods are collecting dust, or you haven’t worn specific gear in a year, find it a good home on Nextdoor or Craigslist. You’ll feel lighter once it is out of the house or garage.
  4. Make your plan and calculate the cost. Now that you have purged, how much does your ideal plan cost you? Can you afford it? Do you need childcare? This last question may narrow down your scope of options. What kind of gear do you need? How much does it cost? According to Mint.com, people in San Francisco spend $66-127 per month on gyms. This is comparable to L.A. and New York, but I highly doubt this includes any type of childcare. If you want a family membership at the Bay Club with Pool access, you are looking at around $500 per month when you add in all the extras.
  5. Get into action. Before committing to a large monthly membership fee anywhere, ask for a trial membership to make sure you will really use it. For classes, consider à la carte. Services like ClassPass, which offer $13 per class, enable you to try various classes with no real commitment.

I have been looking at family expenses in the Bay Area for close to a decade. This gives me a lot of data to help families benchmark (if they want to) versus other families in this area. In general, families in Marin tend to spend ~$300-400 per month on fitness. Typically, there is an additional $1,000-1,500 spent on sporting goods as well (bikes, shoes, boots, skiis, etc…).  It doesn’t matter what other people spend. Do what is right for you today.