Turning Financial Mistakes Into Priceless Lessons | The Gym Membership Example

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We can look at our financial mistakes in one of two ways:

  1. “I am a complete idiot, and I just wasted some of our valuable money.”
  2. “I am human. Now I evaluate what happened in order to turn that mistake into a valuable life lesson.”

We Paid $40 for a Gym Membership, but We Learned a More Valuable Lesson

Yes, I’m intentionally writing about gym memberships the Monday after Thanksgiving.  Perhaps there are others of you who are thinking about going out and joining a gym.

I have been asked if I think a gym membership is a good use of money, and my answer is always the same – if you use the membership, then it’s a good use of money.  The problem is that a high percentage of people sign up for a membership and keep it long after they’ve stopped using it.

I have never paid for a gym membership until November 2012.  My wife and I each had to spend $5 to get signed up and an additional $30 to join a gym.  After shopping around for gym memberships, we specifically joined a gym that had a low membership joining fee and no long term commitment.

Lesson #1: Start off something new as cheaply as possible.  Despite all our best intentions, new ideas don’t always pan out as planned.  Thus, we should start a new project on the frugal end and work our way up to more expensive.

The problem: we hardly ever used the gym.  I think we each went about 3-4 times.  The problem was that neither of us was interested in driving 20-25 minutes roundtrip to exercise.  Previously, we’d each been taking 30 minutes to exercise, and now we were taking that long to commute before we even got started exercising.

The result was that, despite our best intentions, we only ended up going to the gym a few times in the month of November.  However, the $40 we invested was actually very valuable because we learned a lot about ourselves and our exercise preferences.

Lesson #2: Never make a long term commitment when starting something new.  At the YMCA, if we prepaid for a year we could have saved two months worth of membership.  That would only make sense if we had been consistently using it for at least 30-60 days priorly.  I’m glad we didn’t spend several hundred dollars to find out that we don’t really like going to the gym.

Lesson #3: There are things you cannot know/learn until you start something new.  Many times when we’re trying to decide what to do, we consider all the pros and cons.  At some point, you just need to choose a pathway forward and find out if it is the best way to go.  I discovered that I like exercising in the privacy of my own home.  I felt weird trying to lift weights beside guys whose arms were twice the size of my legs.

Lesson #4: Don’t knock pay per use options.  Before getting the gym membership, I figured out that it would be such a better value than the local pool.  The local pool charges $2.50 per visit.  Now I realize  the pay per visit option would have been more valuable than spending money for an entire month’s membership.

Lesson #5: When something’s not working, stop.  Far too many people have gym memberships that they are not using.  If, for whatever reason, something doesn’t work for you, don’t continue to pay your money to sustain a failed idea.  I don’t think that we’re bad people or lazy people, but the gym just isn’t for us.  There’s no need to feel guilty or even to feel like a failure.  If something isn’t working, stop.

Take Time to Reflect on Every Failed Financial Event

If you’ve done something that cost you money, you still have a chance to turn that event into a profitable life lesson.

Truth is that we are all going to do something between bad, silly, or dumb with our money. All of us. Our job is to identify the important lessons from our mistakes so that we can be sure not to make the same mistakes a second or third time.

In fact, if we do a good job with our post error assessment, we may even learn lessons more valuable than the actual financial loss.

Don’t forget to debrief when you’ve done something dumb with money.

Have you ever made a financial mistake where the lessons learned were far more valuable than the cost of the failure?


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