How a Gym Membership Helps Me Get More Freelance Work Done

Six-month-old twins George and August Fraenkel are cared for at the Kid Zone at the Jim & Heather Gills YMCA in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 6, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

As a freelancer, I have a fair amount of flexibility in my schedule, but I also need someone to watch my children a few hours a day, at least a few times a week, beyond school hours — without breaking the bank.

When we moved to a new town here on the West Coast, I asked my neighbors for the names of reliable babysitters, but I quickly learned they were in high demand — and their rates gave me serious sticker shock. I wasn’t sure what I’d do for affordable childcare until an acquaintance mentioned her gym.

Yes, her gym.

She explained that she leaves her two young kids in the gym’s childcare program while she works out. Afterward, she goes to the café, grabs coffee or a bite to eat, and then reads for a bit. When she’s finished, she picks up her kids and heads out.

I was floored — and I realized it might be the part-time childcare solution that I needed.

How I Found Affordable, Part-Time Childcare at the Gym

Part time childcare
Angela Demarco plays with children in her care in the Kid Zone at the Jim & Heather Gills YMCA while their parents exercise. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

I had seen advertisements from this gym before, but none that specifically mentioned that you didn’t actually have to be working out to take advantage of the childcare program.

I was skeptical, but both a tour and the membership paperwork at my local ClubSport confirmed that membership includes childcare for each child under 12 years old for 2.5 hours a day, so long as the member (me) remains on the premises.

Score! In fact, I learned that many members at ClubSport work and relax in the café, with its tables, free WiFi, and ample electrical outlets. My tour guide mentioned that using the gym’s childcare to work without working out is quite common. Apparently this is not a well-kept secret!

I also asked asked about “high traffic” times in the cafe, so I’d know when the space might be busier or noisier. That way, I can time my visits for quieter times, which are more conducive to work.

At the end of the tour, I was offered a free trial and you had better believe we took advantage. Be sure to ask if your gym offers something similar for new members.

Gym Membership vs. Part-Time Childcare Costs

Part time childcare
Lisa Diebel, 34, works out while her two children play in the Kid Zone at the Jim & Heather Gills YMCA. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

At first, I wasn’t sure the costs would balance out, but here’s how they work for our family. (Fees vary at different gyms and locations, but hopefully this will give you a ballpark idea in case you’d like to try it yourself.)

We paid a one-time enrollment fee of $100 at our gym, which was heavily discounted during a promotion. Enrollment fees can be steep, so you’ll want to watch for similar savings opportunities.

My ClubSport family membership for two adults and three kids costs $335, or roughly $84 a week.

While this is a higher rate than some gyms, compared to the 2015 national averages of $214 per week for after-school babysitting or $196 per week for one child to attend a childcare center, it looked pretty good — especially with my flexible schedule.

And that didn’t take into account the added bonus of actually getting to use the gym. My membership gives me access to all the fitness areas and an outdoor pool. Additionally, each child is entitled to take three recreational classes per semester,  including gymnastics, basketball, soccer, yoga and T-ball.

The $164 I was paying for my daughter’s gymnastics class alone was roughly the equivalent of half a month of gym fees.

Gym fees and features vary, so be sure to shop around for a gym near you. For example, the YMCA in St Petersburg, Florida, offers use of a gymnasium, fitness floor, rock wall, indoor pool, hot tub and dry sauna for the monthly family membership price of $78 per month. The YMCA is always affordable; financial assistance is available at your local YMCA for those who qualify.

How Part-Time Childcare at the Gym Helps Me Work

Part time childcare
Mary Fraenkel picks up her 6-month-old twin boys from the Kid Zone at the Jim & Heather Gills YMCA after her workout. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

While the gym may seem like an odd place to go for childcare, as a freelancer, it’s been incredibly beneficial to my work ethic.

Time, after all, is money, and the more hours you can dedicate to core productivity, the more money you can make.

For me, the cost of the gym membership is offset by knowing that its childcare gives me time to concentrate fully on work. I can take on new projects and writing assignments without having to rely on working in the wee hours of the morning — or parking kids in front of the TV — to get things done.

I generally use the gym’s childcare three days a week from Monday to Friday, for about two hours at a time. On the weekends, we’ll drop the kids off for about 1.5 hours so I can go to a class while my spouse works in the café.

I don’t have to worry about the babysitter calling in sick or hope that the kids don’t interrupt while I’m working. As anyone who works from home with children present can attest, the peril is real.

Part-time childcare at the gym might not be a solution for everyone. But as a freelancer and parent, I’ve found it’s an affordable solution that helps me get more done — and get healthier to boot.

Jessica Graham is a freelance writer. She’s written for Upworthy, Very Well and