Giving up 1 luxury has saved me $1,440 in 18 months 

For a while, I shelled out $80 a month for a fancy New York City gym that had it all: rows of top-of-the-line equipment, a sauna, steam room and every fitness class imaginable. It even offered a saltwater pool.

It took a long time, about 18 months, but I came to realize that I wasn't getting my money's worth. When I went to the gym, I found myself only using one machine: the treadmill. I didn't once pick up the shiny weights, nor did I set foot in the sleek spin studio. I still don't know the difference between a sauna and a steam room.

I could have downgraded to a cheaper, less luxurious gym and stuck to my treadmill routine, but I decided to eliminate the cost all together. It's been 18 months since I gave it up and I've already saved $1,440. And it hasn't come at the expense of my health.

I've found that, while a gym can provide extra incentive to work out, I don't necessarily need one to stay in shape. Here are my favorite free and equally healthy alternatives.

I cut ties with my gym and have found free, equally healthy alternatives
Eric Hu
I cut ties with my gym and have found free, equally healthy alternatives

1. I take advantage of the great outdoors. My main form of exercise is running outside: I do it five to six days a week, rain or shine. I find that switching up my route and even the time of day I go out for my jogs helps curb the monotony.

If running isn't for you, try biking, hiking or walking around your neighborhood or city.

2. I use public parks, fields and tennis courts. Besides running, I like to work up a sweat on the public tennis courts on New York City's Hudson River or use a track to do sprint intervals. These workouts take a little extra planning and motivation, but they're totally free.

Take an afternoon to explore your area and see what's available to the public. You may find basketball courts, a soccer field, an outdoor gym or a rock climbing wall.

3. I turn my commute into a workout. I used to live just a mile from my office and would walk to and from work. These days, my commute is farther, about 3.5 miles each way, so I'll take the train in the morning but either walk, jog or bike home. Not only do I get an extra cardio workout in, but it saves me $2.75, the cost of a subway trip, each time. That's a savings of about $14 per work week or $63 a month.

If you live within a few miles of your office, consider an active commute. Just make sure you bring a change of clothes, especially on hot days.

4. I take advantage of free exercise classes. Living in a big city like New York can be pricey, but it also comes with a number of free activities, including exercise classes. Many studios will offer a free trial for first-timers, or, if a new gym is opening, it often offers big discounts or promotions during its first week. While this strategy is by no means a consistent or sustainable way to stay in shape, it's a nice change of pace every once in a while.

While you're searching for free classes or promotions in your area, look into the benefits offered by your company. I recently found out that my company offers free yoga classes in our office building. You, too, may be surprised with what you find.

At the end of the day, how you choose to exercise and stay healthy is highly personal. For many people, especially those who take advantage of the classes and amenities, a gym membership is a worthwhile investment. Trading in the gym for outdoor alternatives works for me, though, and it happens to save me quite a bit of money.

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