“Help my husband quit his gym membership!!”

[That would be my fellow reader’s husband, not my own. No one’s supposed to know about him, shh!]

Here’s the email I just got asking for some advice… sounds like every other guy I know ;)

My money situation with my husband is kind of tight. Right now, we have two car payments and a mortgage, plus have to repay my student loans soon. We also have an infant daughter.

He’s been working on losing weight, which I’m very proud of him for doing, but it’s driving me crazy in some ways. He pays $149 a month to attend a martial arts studio and $32 a month for a gym membership.

The problem? He never actually goes to the gym! He hasn’t been to it since at least last March, and we have the same discussion every month – I urge him to close the account, and he says, “I’m going to go!” Yet if he works out anywhere other than the studio (which he attends at least 2-3 days a week), it’s at the gym at his job (which is free for employees).

How do I convince him to close the membership? $32 isn’t a lot, but over the course of a year, it adds up and could go towards other expenses, like the car payments. Please help!

– Fitness Widow (not real name – obvs)

Well, dear Fitness Widow, I don’t think he’s going to change his mind on that gym membership anytime soon, I’m afraid. Us men can be stubborn like that. What you need to do, in my humble opinion, is figure out a way to make it *his decision*about it instead of yours. And that can be done a number of ways:

1. Set up a “do whatever you want with this money” fund for him

(And for you, if you don’t already have one in place. If you do, it’s time to tweak the numbers!)

You both sit down one night with a beer or glass of wine (very important), and figure out the total amount of discretionary income you guys have every month. Include all the *extra* stuff you’re already doing too when coming up with this number – like his martial arts class, gym membership, as well as anything YOU’RE doing already for yourself too. This should be fairly easy as it’s just a lot of adding up if you don’t already know these numbers.

Then, you both decide how you want to split it up (this is important – both of you need to agree 100% as it’ll be locked in for a while going forward!), and you create two new “do whatever” budgets to follow. Or, better yet, you literally create two new bank accounts to divert these funds into every month. And when it’s gone, it’s gone! You have to wait until the beginning of next month to get it filled back up again. This will:

  1. Leave ALL the decisions up to your husband because he can now, well, do whatever the hell he wants! Even if that means keeping the gym membership for another 8 pointless months… (though I bet you $10 bucks he cancels it within 30 days ;))
  2. Offload the stress and hassle to BOTH parties. It’ll be a-okay with you because all of this has already been budgeted in and accounted for, and it’ll be perfectly fine with him since he’ll be able to spend carefree without anyone harping on him! You no longer become a nag, yay!

It’s a win-win situation in my book.

2. Come up with more “fun” alternatives to this $32/mo

I don’t like this idea as much because it still doesn’t help your car goal there, BUT, it would at least make you feel better knowing the funds are being put to a more substantial use. Which is not hard to do in this case ;)

The thing about your husband is that he probably DOES know it’s a waste, but there’s something more to him wanting to keep it than just plain exercise – which he’s clearly getting elsewhere. Maybe it’s the “idea” of the gym he likes, or it makes him feel more responsible or something, or it’s simply a nice getaway for him shall he need one one day? Even if it’s all in his mind?

[Look at me – I’m such a psychologist!]

If any of that’s the case, it’s just a matter of substituting this gym “satisfaction” with a different type of satisfaction. Perhaps:

  • A night out with the boys once a month for him?
  • A date night for the two of you once a month?
  • Upping the eating out/entertainment budget ea. month?
  • Just giving him $32 to do whatever he wants as long as it’s *not* the gym? (Haha…)
  • Splitting up the $32 to go half to him for “fun stuff” and half to you? Which you then throw against the car debt if it makes you feel better than increasing your lifestyle?

And I’m sure you could think of a billion other ideas as well. You can have a lot of fun on $32!! And again, I know it’s not the best alternative because it’s still not being applied to any *needs* like you prefer, but hell – it’s still a lot better than it just flying out the window! And I guarantee you’d be able to tweak/divert it a lot easier later if need be without “making a scene ” ;)

Those are my two ideas anyways – coming from a guy. Who’s very emotional, haha… The only other thing I could think of is to just flat out get naked or pull the sex card, but that’s reserved for more serious issues, of course ;) Gotta keep that one in your back pocket for when it’s REALLY needed!

What would you guys suggest? What would you do if this was going on in YOUR household? Drop your ideas in the comments below and let’s get poor Fitness Widow’s $32.00 on track!

[Star Wars Lego Gym by W_Minshull]

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  1. Mr Financial Debauchery January 21, 2014 at 6:03 AM

    Is there anything those Lego Starwars mini-figures can’t do?

    As adults (or grown-up kids – whatever label you feel comfortable with) sometimes you’ve just got to man up and cut something loose if you’re not really going to use it. Having a gym membership is nice and all, but a total waste if you’re not going to apply yourself with it.

    As a way to encourage the husband to go to the gym and use that membership, couldn’t she go along with him?

    1. Fitness Widow January 21, 2014 at 9:04 AM

      Hey, good suggestion! However, with our schedules being what they are, it’s not always possible for me to do that. His plan is supposedly to get up at 4 a.m. to hit the gym, but I don’t have time to do that since we have an infant that I have to get ready to go to the sitters every morning. After work doesn’t work for my schedule either since I get off at five and have to pick up the baby if he has appointments that run over or has to attend martial arts early. Then there’s the dilemma of working out after work with a baby. It’s easier for us if he were to go on his own since our work schedules are so different. Otherwise I would try to go, too!

  2. Kalen Bruce January 21, 2014 at 7:12 AM

    Those are great suggestions. Have a “do whatever you want fund” is really a lot of fun. It’s nice to be able to buy things you want and not feel guilty or like you are spending the family’s money on less important things. I think your advice was great for her. Perhaps she can convince him to use the money on something that is more fun like you said.

  3. Matt Becker January 21, 2014 at 7:28 AM

    I like the idea of each spouse having some amount of blow money. The reality is that there are always going to be things the other spouse spends money on that we at least somewhat disapprove of, but if we’re always trying to regulate each other it will just cause fights and bitterness. Best to just give each person a bounded amount of room to do whatever they want.

    1. J. Money January 21, 2014 at 1:28 PM

      Preach, brotha!

  4. Brian@ Debt Discipline January 21, 2014 at 8:05 AM

    I like the idea of the sit down to review the budget. This might help the husband realize how tight the budget is and how the $32 is going to waste and be be used some where else.

  5. Heather Stephens January 21, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    Having struggled with my weight in the past, I can relate to how her husband feels. We make promises to ourselves over and over again, “after the new year, I’m going to use it,” or “when I finish the project at work, I’ll have more time for the gym.” It’s hard to let go of something that gives you hope, even if it’s a false sense of hope. I felt secure knowing that the gym was there when I was ready. We’ve had the membership for 3 years and, until this past summer, I skipped out on it way more than I went. It is kind of like being afraid to cut up a credit card I’d finally paid off because we might need it for emergencies, when in reality we have an emergency fund that will do just fine. :)

    You’re totally right though, J$ that it has to be his idea. I would have been over-sensitive in the past if my husband had encouraged me to drop the membership. I probably would have taken it wrong and thrown it back at him, that he didn’t support me in my weight loss goals because I was too afraid to take a honest look at myself as the problem.

    1. J. Money January 21, 2014 at 1:30 PM

      I love it that you’re always so honest when you come on here – thanks so much, friend :)

  6. Dave @ The New York Budget January 21, 2014 at 8:29 AM

    I completely get that sentiment. However, it is a bit odd to me that he has a free gym that he can go to and that doesn’t fulfill that need.

    But I love suggestion number one – it is important, though to set it up for both of you at the same time, so that he doesn’t feel like this is some sort of trick to alter his spending habits or an “allowance” because he is bad with money. Us guys have crazy egos that have to be accounted for!

    So set up yours at the same time and spend some of the discussion talking about where you want to get your finances under control as well!

    1. Fitness Widow January 21, 2014 at 9:07 AM

      Thanks for your input, Dave! He seems to like the work gym just fine (and I like that it’s free), so I feel the same way at times – it’s a bit odd to pay for something you don’t us, but I keep letting him have the membership since he “might” use it. Hopefully taking time to sit down and figure out our spending will help.

  7. a terrible husband... January 21, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    I’ve been there. From a husband’s perspective, he probably feels pretty terrible and maybe a little shame that he doesn’t go, whether or not it’s the free one or the paid-for one. He probably “wants” to go in theory at least and thinks he “needs” to go and that having it available is a baby step in the right direction.

    There’s a pretty good book called Instant Influence, which helps you encourage others (and yourself) to take steps in the right direction to achieve a goal. It suggests things like asking questions and breaking things down to why questions directed at him and baby steps. It is designed to take away the “telling him what he should do” or rationalizing with YOUR reasons why he might want to cancel it and replace it with why he might want to do it and what little steps he could take to cancel it. For example, if you ask him why he might want to cancel it he might say “to spend more time at the other gym” (which obviously is not a factor because he spends NO time at this one). Or he might say “because I can take that $32 and buy new equipment/gloves/uniform/etc. for the other thing.” Whatever. Now he has a reason that is his.

    All that to say that he’s not going to cancel until he has HIS reason to cancel. It’s not right or ideal in a marriage, but it’s marriage. And it’s reality. Find his reason. And don’t suggest it to him.

    You might even back door it by finding things that he wants to do and then asking him how he thinks you could come up with the money – take the budget out and DON’T even hint at the gym.

    He’ll get there once he has his reason.

    My two cents. Keep the change.

  8. Tim January 21, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    For $15 he can make his own TRX bands which will allow him to do a TON of strength training exercises at home. http://www.instructables.com/id/Homemade-Suspension-Device-for-1256/ (I just made these – they’re incredibly easy to make, ridiculously cheap, and VERY effective). Then look up different exercise videos on YouTube for free. Brand-name TRX bands START at $200 and you can make these for $15.

    Add a pull up bar for $20 and maybe a kettle bell for $30-50, and for a one-time expense of about $80 he can do just about all the strength training exercises he did at the gym (when he went) from the comfort of his home.

    Bam – money saved, husband still ripped :)

    1. J. Money January 21, 2014 at 1:34 PM

      Yes, as long as he then *USES* them! That seems to be the biggest problem here… perhaps having the right equipment at home would get him motivated and going though?

  9. Done by Forty January 21, 2014 at 9:52 AM

    Tough one. I think the rub is having a goal that he wants more than a $32 gym membership (like maybe being debt free)? I like trying to replace our wants, than to try to deny them. He obviously wants to go to the gym (even if he doesn’t actually go) so saying “cancel the membership” has a low chance of success. But he probably wants one of those debts gone even more than those extra pounds…

  10. Becky @ RunFunDone January 21, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    It’s tough to change your spouse’s mind!!!

    My husband and I agreed when we got our gym membership that we would quit the gym if we started going less that 2x per week. Hubs goes about 1x/week, where I typically go 3x, so I guess that it evens out???

    I wonder if she could propose to her husband something similar: He can keep the membership if he averages 2 gym visits per week for a month. That way he has a chance to “save” his membership by using it, but if it becomes obviously unnecessary, they get rid of it.

  11. Debt BLAG January 21, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Oh gosh. Sounds like you two should set aside some time — as in, put it on the calendar — to sit down and have a frank, honest discussion about each of your financial goals. Listen — and I mean REALLY listen — to her goals, her motivations. Make plans for many more conversations. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to say yours as well, but listening is the first and most important part.

    Numbers-wise, $32 a month can certainly add up. That’s $384 a year in cash alone. If you put just that $32 a month into a mutual fund for 30 years, you could have $30-50k extra at the end… maybe more if you use it to pay off high interest debt.

  12. Joe January 21, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    I like the idea of presenting an alternative. It sounds like the $32 is just wasted every month. How about using that money to consult a nutritionist instead? Or find a way to eat healthier. Maybe pay for meal plans instead of the gym membership. Anything will be better than just sending $32 to the gym every month.

  13. @freepursue January 21, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    Ditch the membership!!! You might as well be taking $32 and burning it every month. You wouldn’t do that, would you?

    He has two other outlets he is actually using for his physical activity, so you are not removing the potential for him to continue to make the good progress he is making.

    I agree with Debt BLAG. $32/mth is HUGE. It’s almost $400 per year or just under $6,000 over 10 years if you invest the money instead of spending it. It might be even more if you put it against high interest loans. That would take a chunk out of your debt obligations.

    Another item to ponder…2 cars?!

    1. Fitness Widow January 21, 2014 at 11:12 PM

      The two cars is a great point and, for our circumstances, isn’t something we can completely eliminate since we both must commute to work and have very different schedules. We got the newest car in March of last year and it has the higher payment but no interest. The new (to us) car I got in July replaced a 13 year old heap of junk with no A/C and is a huge help now that we have an infant because now that we have her, we’re going to need a car that has air conditioning in the humid Midwest summers. That car has a reasonable interest rate but a lower payment, so hopefully I can pay it off pretty fast compared to the first car. Perhaps eliminating the membership will help. :)

      Thanks for your comment!

  14. Wunderwriter January 21, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    I had this issue with my husband for two years. He stopped going to the gym for some reason or another, and never started up again. He consistently told me he would start next week, after vacation, when he finished this or that project at work, whatever. It became a real sticking point between us, because I was trying to cut expenses every way I could and I felt he wasn’t doing the same.

    What eventually caused the membership issue to come to a head was when the annual renewal hit, and in addition to the dues they put through another $59 charge. I had asked him for several months before the annual membership charge came through to take care of canceling or start going (neither of which he did). I added up the monthly fees ($39 at the time), and the annual renewal fee ($59) to actually display for him, in black and white, what the cost of not going to the gym actually worked out to be. I had already called the gym, found out what had to happen to cancel (obtain forms from them in person, pay for two additional months with cash, check, cashiers check or money order, and return everything to them in person). He did all that (finally, after another month), when he realized what it was costing, but the gym then continued to take the funds from our checking account! After another round of visits and emails, we finally ended the membership.

    Lesson learned, we now judiciously avoid any memberships whenever possible. I’m even considering switching cellular telephone carriers in order to avoid another contract.

    I hope this helps!

    1. J. Money January 21, 2014 at 1:37 PM

      Now we want to know what your grand total spent was!! :)

  15. superduper January 21, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    I love the Lego stormtroopers pumping iron!! Great graphic!

  16. Charlie @ Our Journey To Zero Debt January 21, 2014 at 1:03 PM

    I like the idea of sitting down and writing each and every activity you pay money for as discretionary money. Then he can see the real picture of how many things he’s actually paying for vs. what he’s actually using.

    Heck, while you’re at it, in the next column, write down all your expenses as well (2 cars) so that he can see all the money you owe. That might make him rethink the gym and use that extra cash to pay off debt.

    1. Fitness Widow January 21, 2014 at 11:15 PM

      Great idea. :) I have a pretty solid plan right now to pay off a smaller student loan, then whittle down the smaller car payment to nothing before tackling the last car payment. I am the one that primarily handles the budget, but we’re slowly working on having the both of us see what has to be paid versus our discretionary spending. Having solid numbers on paper will definitely help in the end!

  17. Martin January 21, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    I would disown anyone from my family that had a membership and wasn’t using it.

    Could you at least work on the fee? I attend an MMA gym and it’s all-inclusive for $70 a month. They probably hate me because I attend all of the classes.

  18. renae January 21, 2014 at 1:13 PM

    I am the one who keeps track of the money, and it is a relief to my husband that he doesn’t have to think about it. I tend to want to always save/pay down the mortgage more, and he is the one who leans toward spending more. He doesn’t want to go over the details of our budget. But when we get our annual raises, I tell him the increase in our take home pay, and we discuss how to allocate it in our budget, which is always a compromise. He usually want to increase our fun money, and I usually want to save more. :)

    Then when he brings up something that he wants to spend money on, over and above his fun money, and it doesn’t fit in the budget, I say something like, “Okay, how should we change our budget to fit it in?” More often than not, we don’t change the budget and don’t spend the money.

    I say all that because it kind of goes along with what other people are saying. If your husband has an idea of where your money is going, when something else comes along that he wants to spend money on, he may find a better use for the monthly gym membership fee.

    1. J. Money January 21, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      “Okay, how should we change our budget to fit it in?” – Brilliant! Anytime it becomes “work” the odds of it actually happening goes down quicker than the thought of it coming up :) So smart to use to your advantage! (Though how cool would it be if he came up with something awesome so you could have both?!)

    2. Fitness Widow January 21, 2014 at 11:17 PM

      Are you my husband’s secret other wife? ;) Just kidding! Sounds like you have it all figured out as far as communication goes. Hopefully if I can sit down with him and talk about it more we can be more in sync like you and your spouse. Thanks for your comment!

  19. Broke Millennial January 21, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    I like the “your fund” idea. I know a co-worker and her husband utilize this strategy and it seems to work well for them. She’s a saver and he’s a spender, so it keeps her from freaking out and lets him feel like she’s not a nag. Plus, occasionally they’re cute and one sacrifices his or her fund for the either to make a splurge purchase or to plan a special date.

    1. Fitness Widow January 21, 2014 at 11:23 PM

      Aw, I like that they use their funds for one another sometimes. What a sweet idea! :) I think something like that would work for us since I definitely am a saver. I rarely spend on myself, but having a bit of fun money might help alleviate stress when it comes time to look at what he has for discretionary spending versus me. Thanks for your comment!

  20. Shannon @ Financially Blonde January 21, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    Marriage is all about compromise and even though he is not really getting his money’s “worth” with this gym, you need to bargain and give him something else that he wants for him giving up the gym so he doesn’t feel resentful over the fact that you “forced” him to give up the gym. I would ask him what he would want from you (or the family budget) in exchange for the cancellation of the gym membership and make that deal. Maybe it’s a “free” night out with the guys or “quality time” with you or an Amazon Prime membership or something. Good luck!

  21. The Phroogal Jason January 21, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    There was a point in my life I had a gym membership myself to 24 hour fitness for $24.99 a month and for a period of 6 months I never went. I kept telling myself one day I’ll go. It was more comforting for me to know I had some intention of getting fit although all I was doing was throwing money at the idea of fitness.

    I’m since reformed.

  22. Aimee January 21, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    First, it’s so fantastic that your husband is taking charge of his health!! It takes a lot to do that.

    What is the day pass rate at this $32 gym? Maybe he would be ok with cancelling and getting 1 or 2 day passes a month as needed and you’ll still save money (mostly because he probably won’t get any day passes!). You can always start the membership back up if he begins going often enough.

    Is there one of those $10/month gyms nearby like Planet Fitness or Workout World? Maybe a switch would be a good compromise.

    I have a feeling that he is probably associating quitting or failure with cancelling this membership, even though he goes to the other 2 gyms. Forcing him to cancel without it being something he truly agrees with could be a hit to his pride and have a negative effect on the progress he’s making. Of course you know this, but his health and confidence are worth at least $32/month, if not $33 ;)

    1. Fitness Widow January 21, 2014 at 11:21 PM

      Hey Aimee – we used to be at a $10/month gym, but it was super crowded. The $32/month gym is near his work and has more space, but like my letter said, he always says he will attend but hasn’t in quite some time. In fact, I think we didn’t know our baby’s sex the last time we went, and we found that out in May 2013!

      I’m not sure if they have day passes but that might be something worth checking. And it would certainly be more reasonable than my (perceived) nagging on the issue. :) Thanks for the encouragement! He’s made good progress and seems happier being part of a martial arts community. And THAT is definitely worth its weight in membership fees. :)

  23. Karen @ Money Saving Enthusiast January 21, 2014 at 8:27 PM

    Okay. . .I officially want a Star Wars Lego gym set now. haha I like the idea of offering positive alternatives. It could be tempting to say “Hey, do you know I could get a nice manicure with that money your wasting?” JK I think it’s all about how you say it to the person. Good luck to your reader. : )

  24. Chris @ Flipping a Dollar January 21, 2014 at 9:04 PM

    $384 a year right there with a lot of loans. Even the Karate seems to be a little over the top. I’m sure this is tough because you don’t want him to resent you for making him stop or you to feel guilty for the same reason.

    He has a free gym though. On top of that, he doesn’t have to drive to get there. So by only using the work gym (and still keeping the karate), he’s saving the $32 a month on top of the gas money it takes to get there.

    Seems like a no brainer on paper but the emotions always seem to get in the way!

    1. Fitness Widow January 21, 2014 at 11:29 PM

      Darn emotions! That’s exactly what’s at play here. :)

      It’s actually a martial arts called hapkido, and while it’s more costly than the gym, he attends up to 4 times a week. At that rate, the cost is very doable, but some of the value he gets from it – such as feeling like part of a community, the weight loss, and the emotional ego boost from learning new skills – is harder to put a dollar amount on. I’m hoping some of the suggestions here – both from J$ and comments – will help us get through this little bump in the road. Thanks for your input!

  25. Rezdent January 21, 2014 at 9:13 PM

    Oh man I am so busted. This letter could have been written by my husband.
    I keep the membership because I sometimes go a lot. Other times I might not go all month. As long as I’ve got the membership then I have the option to go.
    If I drop the membership then the option and the opportunity is gone – so what I am really paying is just to keep the *option* open.
    This is considered my ‘fun’ money and I cut back on other things to make it work.

  26. Slinky January 24, 2014 at 5:59 PM

    It sounds like you have one top priority goal and he has a different one. You’re two different people, that’s going to happen from time to time and that’s how I’d approach it. “You want this, and I want that. How can we do both?” Let him answer and go from there, making sure that both goals are acknowledged as equally important and admirable. Neither of you should have to sacrifice your goal for the other, unless you willingly choose to.

    Yes, there is money being wasted, but he evidently feels like it’s “helping” him reach his goal or he wouldn’t be so adamant about not cancelling. That it’s not actually helping is a conclusion he’ll have to come to on his own. You can’t change people or make them learn or realize something no matter how obvious it is to you and how much you want to. Accept that and let it go. Concentrate on figuring out how to fairly allocate your funds to achieve both goals.

    Personally, I think the “fair” solution is to weight both of your goals with an equal monetary amount. If he gets $181 on fitness, you get $181 towards debt repayment (on top of minimum payments or however much you both agree should go towards prepayment). If there isn’t enough funds available, either you both get less (and the gym membership dies, Don’t rub it in!) or you both agree to make cuts elsewhere. But that’s my own opinion of fair. Whatever works for you two is awesome.

    1. J. Money January 25, 2014 at 7:34 AM

      That’s a fair idea :)

    2. Andrew March 7, 2014 at 3:14 PM

      I’d say let it go, it’s his money too.