My gym contract expires around this time every year. As a subtle reminder, the gym will automatically start charging me higher rates. This irks the crap out of me, but like a jackass standing under a windmill, I keep getting smacked upside the head. The other day, I felt the familiar whack! as I checked my credit card statement – once again I was hit with higher dues.

Picture of windmill.

To halt further damage, I went down to renew my contract. They offered a new option to buy into to a cheaper membership that excludes zumba classes and tanning. To save some cash – and spare the community from an orange Crazy Kicks prancing around in yoga pants – I chose the restricted membership.

They filled out the form and let me know that I would have to pay an annual gym upkeep fee of $50. Having just paid my upkeep fee that week, I asked them to waive the charge. The gym employee told me that If I had signed a new contract a week before, I could have avoided paying the fee twice. At this point they could not refund the fee I already paid. Whap!…Goddammit, again? Rubbing the back of my head, I reviewed the rest of the terms and signed a new contract.

I know it’s dumb to sit around stewing over $50, but I hate the contracts they use to chisel a few extra bucks out of me.

I felt like quitting the gym, but I do like working out there. Having plenty of equipment helps me mix things up and stay motivated. The large space is especially nice when there is bad or cold weather. And seeing other people working out helps keep me from being a sissy. It’s also the only place I go to outside of the CK compound some days, now that I’m not going into the office anymore.

I wasn’t going to quit the gym, and with my new membership I would eventually end up saving money. I wasn’t going to change their policies and it wasn’t worth arguing with the people who work there. Instead, I decided to channel my frustration to make up for the fee another way. Then I remembered seeing something in our portfolio that I had been lazy about fixing.

I popped open my laptop, went through our investments, and there it was hiding in my IRA. Over a decade ago, when I started the account, I had invested in some mutual funds. Through the years, I had converted most of my mutual funds over to index funds for tax purposes. But since the IRA is a tax advantaged account, I never got around to optimizing those investments. While the mutual funds were not hurting my taxes, they were charging me fees ranging from .75% to 1.15% every year. Adding to insult, these funds were not performing nearly as well as my index funds.

Picture of bull.You can pay for manure, but don’t pay for bullshit.

In our IRA accounts, we had over $26,000 still sitting in various mutual funds. I calculated they were costing us more than $250 a year in fees. That’s over $20 a month we were paying for poor performance. I thought the gym fees were aggravating, but my head was starting to hurt thinking about how much we were paying some bankers to make crappy investments.

While I had to be careful about moving funds in after tax accounts, I could buy and sell funds in the IRAs without worrying about realizing capital gains from the transaction. So I sold all the mutual funds and replaced them with an ETF equivalent to the Total Stock Market Index Fund. Now, for only .03% or $8 a year in fees, I have an even better performing fund. This one optimization was going to save us $250 a year, more than what I was paying for my gym membership.

It was easy to get pissed off about stupid gym fees, but while they were an easy target, there were worse offenders. No matter how optimized I think we are, there are always more opportunities to save when I look deeper – a utility we can call up for a better rate, investments that can be optimized for taxes, or funds we have laying around charging us fees. I could have spent an afternoon arguing with some poor gym employee, but finding a way to put cash back in my pocket was more rewarding and satisfying. Now I think I’ll go pump some iron with my subsidized gym membership.