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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 spending 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. How would I manage to stay sane without barre? 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 took a break from boutique fitness, relying only on my regular gym membership and my family YMCA membership (which I couldn’t cut, because my kids take swim lessons there).
Could I trade boutique classes for no-frills sessions and maintain my level of fitness?
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.
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 her blog. I asked one of the beefy dudes in the gym's boxing room to turn me into Rhonda Rousey. He taught me how to nail a perfect upper-cut.
I missed the novelty and personalization of my premium classes, but liked seeing fewer automatic deductions from my bank account. Knowing I was saving money kept me motivated.
Saving Cash — but Struggling
After the first week, my boutique class craving came roaring back. My husband rolled his eyes as I rattled off my complaints. 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.
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. I redirected the $300 I saved toward household expenses. I also stretched my comfort zone and got used to working out in less luxe circumstances. And I didn’t gain an ounce of weight (hooray!).
But is cutting out small indulgences always smart? I asked 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 affects your well-being and day-to-day functioning. Drake advised that instead of cutting out all boutique fitness, 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.”
I kept my premium gym membership on hold for two more months. When I resume the premium membership, I'll just take a 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 save 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 and enjoy some "me" time.