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Financial Motivation to Get in Shape

This article was written by in Health. 15 comments.


I started the year out right. I didn’t join a gym for my exercise, but I signed up for a “class” using RunKeeper, a mobile application that tracks my progress as I run, walk, or get any physical exercise, and posts my results publicly. It ties into my philosophy well, using the same tricks I used to help improve my finances.

Unfortunately, the icy weather and a tricky travel schedule have assisted my downfall. Although I’ve lost between five and ten pounds since the beginning of the year, I haven’t made any progress with my physical exercise within the past week. It may be time to purchase a treadmill.

It might be more effective to introduce a new motivation strategy based on behavioral economics, as a couple of Harvard graduates (is that important?) are doing with a program they’re calling “Gym-Pact.”

The Gym-Pact team has become a partner with several gyms in the Boston area. The team will pay gym membership fees, and those who sign up for the program have the opportunity to work out in the gyms four times each week for free. Gym-Pact recovers the membership through penalties. There is a $25 penalty for any week with an incomplete schedule and a $75 penalty for dropping the program for any reason other than injury or illness.

Following this concept, I would need to penalize myself every week I don’t complete my planned running activities. But what would be the right penalty? Taking money away — transferring it into another account, for example — won’t be effective because I still would have that money. Donating money to a charity for each week I miss isn’t a penalty because charitable giving is good.

The key is to find a financial penalty that is immediate enough and will hurt enough so that it motivates me to complete the exercises as planned.

How do you use your finances to motivate you?

The Boston Globe

Published or updated February 7, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Money Beagle

I guess I’ve never thought about tying fitness to monetary penalties. I’d have to really be dedicated to my fitness program, though, because I know that I’m a casual workout type person as it stands.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,435 (Platinum)

It’s a bit of a risk to take, and might even have the effect of weeding out those people who aren’t serious about getting the workout as planned.

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avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

My health and finances are very much connected at this time. I eat out at fast food restaurants waaayyy too much and it has crippled me financially as well as keeping me far from healthy. I can say that recently I have cut down my eating out slowly but surely and have already seen the financial improvement as well as feeling better physically.

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avatar retirebyforty

The gym pact concept is really interesting! I would definitely sign up if it’s available. I am pretty good at keeping the gym schedule so I would be saving money with this scheme.
I build gym into my schedule everyday at lunch break. It’s much easier to go once it become a routine.

I think donating money to charity is a good way to go for you. It’s still giving money away so you’ll feel it in your wallet. Maybe have a bigger penalty like $100/week of violation. That will keep you going to the gym. :)

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,435 (Platinum)

At that level, I would certainly feel it in my cash flow.

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avatar Amber, Blonde and Balanced

The Gym-Pact system is a really interesting concept! Although, it seems to carry a bit of a negative correlation with fitness. Sometimes, I think it’s more helpful to think of exercise in a positive manner to maintain a consistent regime. As far as how I use financial motivation to keep going to the gym? About 6 months ago, I broke down and cancelled my $10/month membership at a really crappy community center and splurged on a $60/month amazing fitness club. It is hands down the best decision I ever made (when it comes to fitness anyway :) ). I LOVE my new gym. I’m always excited to go because there are so many fun things to do, the people there are really passionate about health, and, of course, because I want to get my $60 worth. I spent YEARS going to crappy gyms and/or working at gyms so I wouldn’t have to pay much to work out, but at this point, I’m really happy I splurged on a nice club.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,435 (Platinum)

You’re right — according to behavioral psychologists, positive reinforcement is a better motivator than negative reinforcement and punishment. This is a form of punishment which doesn’t have long-term effects; once the financial arrangement is gone, the chance of improvement in the behavior decreases… It can be much more powerful to focus on intrinsic benefits (better health, more money in the long term) than extrinsic rewards. I suppose the rewards help bridge the gap between the action and the longer-term rewards, but if they’re not connected better, the connection is still weak.

I’m glad you found a club that you like. Once I’m in better shape, I’ll be more willing to work out in public.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

this is a very good point. it is hard enough for many to just start, and then to start in a negative environment can only make the situation worse. i am actually in a similar situation, as i am looking to join a gym with a friend at a gym that is close to both of us, but perhaps a step down from another gym we are looking at. it is something that i will have to discuss with my friend. thank you for the insight!

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avatar krantcents

Along time ago,(32 yrs) I lost weight (35 lbs.) and became slim, fit and in great shape. My weight has not varied more than a few pounds. The financial incentive is I now fit into clothes I haven’t seen for an even longer time. My financial Incentive is I don’t want to buy a new wardrobe! The added incentive is I like nice things, so my clothes are expensive, although I do not have a lot of them. Therefore gaining weight would be an expensive change. This can be an incentive for some, but I like the way I look and feel.

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avatar Ridwan ♦295 (Nickel)

This is an interesting concept. I don’t think the monetary part is necessary for the motivation, though–I think the quantification of exercise and diet is enough. As soon as I started keeping precise track of my calorie intake and the calories I burn exercising, I’ve found it so much easier to lose weight.

I use this data-driven approach for my finances, too. I’ve kept track of every penny I’ve spent for a few years, and it’s given me some really useful insight into my spending habits. Just having the numbers changes everything, whether you’re talking about weight loss or money.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

this is an interesting take, one that may provide some incentive, but i do not think it would be for me. no matter how i would penalize myself, i “need” the motivation to from me, or i would fail. i am finally at a point where i have that motivation. (after a severely broken hand and a nasty flu bug)

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avatar rewards ♦31 (Newbie)

Make exercise just one more aspect of a daily routine. As a bonus, it helps time efficiency (since hours can’t float as much).

More than a financial penalty, I’d recommend having a “workout buddy”. That’s how Team-in-Training motivates so many people to show up (i.e. peer pressure).

Perhaps something else would be to pay a neighborhood high school kid who logs your workouts (and who you’ll pay extra cash to if you don’t show up at the agreed upon time).

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avatar Brian

“Donating money to a charity for each week I miss isn’t a penalty because charitable giving is good.”
How about giving it to a political campaign you dislike?

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avatar eric ♦1,549 (Half-Dollar)

I’m right with you Flexo. I was a lot more gung ho about fitness last month. Now my daily schedule just seems to swallow me whole.

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avatar James

If running for fitness is your goal, you can’t do much better than joining a running group and running outside in the cold. If you dress properly (in light layers) you can easily be comfortable at temps as low as 10 degrees. When you set out you feel like you’ll never warm up, but by the time you get back, you’ll have your jacket unzipped most of the way and be thinking about taking off your gloves.

I’ve found running on the treadmill to be dreadfully boring and very demotivating, while running outside is way more interesting. I started running last year about this time, and without really planning to, finished a marathon in October. I started running in a gym on the treadmill, but by the time I was running 3 miles had transitioned to running out in the snow. Good luck!

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