Is a home gym or a gym membership more cost-effective?

 Detail of woman lifting weights.
Detail of woman lifting weights.

As the weather turns to winter, your workouts may have to move indoors, which poses the question: Should you sign up for a gym membership, or should you invest in your own home gym equipment? The truth is, it depends. Upfront, a home gym setup will obviously cost you more, but if you regularly use your equipment over years then the cost could average out over time. A gym membership will usually win out over the short term, but you'll have to keep paying that membership fee as long as you continue to go.

Beyond these considerations, there are also other factors to take into account when weighing which workout option is better for your budget. Plus, while price is definitely a factor, the gym that's most cost-effective at the end of the day is the one you'll actually use.

When does a home gym setup make more sense?

A home gym can be a great option if you have the space, you're willing to commit to using the equipment for years to come, and you can shell out the high initial cost. Equipment can be pricey, depending on what you buy, and that's not necessarily the only thing you'll pay for in setting up your home gym. As Angi pointed out, "on top of the equipment, you’ll need to pay for any renovations to the space (like choosing a home gym flooring material), and "if something breaks and it's outside of warranty, you’re either looking at expensive repairs or completely replacing the item."

The major plus of a home gym setup is its convenience and the fact that you'll have the place entirely to yourself — though for some, this could cut down on motivation to show up. And on the financial side of things, there's the potential to save over time. According to Angi, "while there are larger upfront costs to building a home gym, this may equal out or even save you money in the long run when you take into account membership fees."

And while at-home gym equipment can run into the thousands of dollars, remember that you don't always need the fanciest piece of equipment to get your home gym off the ground. As Today advised, "if you’re just getting back into fitness, start with a budget-friendly option first to make exercise a habit and ensure you can stick with it before shelling out more cash." So, for instance, you might just get a set of dumbbells to start if you're interested in strength training rather than a fancy machine.

When does a gym membership make more sense?

On the other hand, a gym membership may be a better bet if you want to take advantage of a wide range of equipment, amenities, and class offerings, you enjoy the social aspect, and you're better prepared to commit to a regular monthly fee over time rather than a major upfront investment. Just as there can be a wide variance in how much you shell out for home gym equipment, there's a broad range of prices you'll pay for gym membership. Per Money Crashers, "a high-end fitness club like Equinox costs several hundred dollars per month," whereas "budget-friendly gyms like LA Fitness or Planet Fitness start at $10 monthly."

Beyond a monthly membership fee, you may have to pay sign-up or initiation fees, annual fees, class fees, and cancellation fees. Depending on the gym, you may have to remain a member for at least a year, as "gyms traditionally have a yearly contract that you have to commit to," according to CNET.

What are other ways to stay active without breaking the bank?

Of course, building a home gym and signing up for a gym membership aren't your only options for staying fit. And some of the alternatives can be a lot less expensive — or even totally free:

1. Download free or low-cost fitness apps
2. Get outside to walk, run, or bike
3. Join an amateur sports league
4. Try bodyweight workouts
5. Stream exercise videos
6. Look for free or donation-based fitness classes
7. Take advantage of local sports courts
8. Consider a community center