A cheap gym membership probably costs around £20 a month. It'll be a no frills sort of place - A 20kg plate is still a 20kg plate regardless of its brand or composition - that smells of sweat and iron, and is likely to be overcrowded during the peak hours of the day.
An expensive gym probably isn't any better in terms of the crowdedness and the only exception is that the equipment may look a bit shinier or more branded. Maybe the darker lighting and the branding of the equipment makes people feel like they're part of some elite group, but they'll easily be paying double or even around £100 a month just to feel a bit more pretentious.
Assuming you end up working out (on and off) across a span of 20 years - this could be starting from the age of 20 and going until you're 40, or starting at 27 and going until you're 47 - you'll spend between £4,800 to £24,000 based on the above monthly rates.
And that's assuming those rates don't increase over time!
If you keep working out for longer (not unreasonable if you've been going for all those years) then you'll be spending even more. I don't know about you but £24,000 sounds like quite a lot to spend, especially since I could easily use that amount to cover a year's worth of living costs.
For those of us interested in financial independence, we probably want a membership that's far more affordable and will not rise with inflation. Guaranteed.
But before we get into the money question let's ask ourselves what is actually required to have a healthy body.
In my opinion if you're able to get your heart rate up, do a bunch of compound exercises that work various muscles in your body, develop good balance, posture and flexibility then you'll be healthy.
You may not win any weight-lifting competitions or become Ms. Olympia but you'll certainly be healthier than many people out there who aren't working out at all.
You could do this without any cost or equipment besides clothing and footwear that is suitable for exercise. And these you can get cheaply.
All you need to do is a bunch of exercises that can be performed almost anywhere: stretches, yoga, jumping jacks, jogging on the spot, burpees, press-ups, sit-ups, leg raises, flutter kicks, body squats, pistol squats, lunges, running, even walking, and more.
If you're moving about and doing a bunch of activity that engages various parts of your body you'll be able to get a decent workout without needing any of the equipment that you'll find in a gym.
The total cost to you over the 20 or more years of working out will be near zero. It's not quite zero because you'll buy exercise clothes, running shoes, maybe a yoga mat and things like that but it's close enough.
Now let's say you gave yourself a budget of £5 a month to work with. What could you do with that?
£5 a month for 20 years comes to £1,200, which isn't a bad amount of money to get some equipment that stays with you for many years provided you take good care of them.
The most expensive of these equipment pieces is probably a decent squat rack. One of those that has four pillars and bars across the top so that you can do all sorts of workouts within it. This could easily cost about £500, leaving us with £700 to work with.
You'll need a barbell as this will allow you to do the major compound exercises within the squat rack. Since some of the exercises will have the barbell above your body you're going to want to get one that's a decent quality, last thing you want is that thing breaking or bending while you're in a vulnerable position. A quick browse on the internet suggests this will cost about £100.
£600 left to work with.
With a squat rack and a barbell you'll need a set of plates to load up on the weight. You don't need to get all crazy but you'll also want a decent amount of weight for some of the movements where you can eventually go a bit heavier, such as the deadlift. I was able to find a set of plates (2x 25kg, 2x 20kg, 2x 10kg and 2x 5kg) for £300 which would take you all the way up to a weight of 140kg including the barbell itself.
You could argue that you may eventually need more but let's be honest, if you're able to deadlift or squat 140kg you're probably in a good place when it comes to strength and health overall.
There's £300 remaining in the budget and we could realistically stop here if we wanted to. With the squat rack, barbell and plates we could do many exercises that you'd do at the gym.
Back squats, front squats, deadlifts, overhead press, clean and press are the major movements that will give you a full body workout but you'll easily find more ideas out there on the internet. Plus you can still do all of the exercises that were mentioned earlier that required hardly any equipment.
If you've noticed the bench press is missing from the exercise list it's because we can easily accommodate by doing weighted push-ups and making the standard push-up harder with various different set ups.
But for some people building an impressive chest is extremely important (can't say I disagree) so let's see what we can do.
Besides the flat bench we're also going to want to do some incline bench press movements just to work on the upper parts of the chest. So we'll need a bench that can be adjusted between the flat position and the incline position, which will cost around £170.
That leaves us with £130, but we still need something that helps us work the lower chest. Decline bench press isn't as good as dips so the best thing is to get a dip attachment for the squat rack, which costs about £65.
And the last £65 you can spend on various accessories to help support your body during the heavier exercises, like a weightlifting belt and some knee or elbow support wraps. No point saving all that money on a gym membership just to end up injuring yourself!
And that brings us to a total of £1,200 which equates to about £5 a month over 20 years. If you work out longer, then the monthly cost is simply going to trend downwards over time.
Added benefits are zero waiting times for equipment since there'll be nobody else hogging the bench or the squat rack, and zero travel time assuming you've got all of this set up at home or in your garage.
So there you have it - a gym membership that costs less than £5 a month and will never rise with inflation. In fact, the longer you work out the cheaper it gets.
Don't tell me this doesn't align with the principles of the financial independence movement!