5 Budget-Friendly Alternatives to Building a Pool

Expensive Pool with Fire Bowl

You don’t have to be a millionaire to own a swimming pool, but it sure helps.

Between the initial installation bill and the ongoing costs of maintenance, an inground pool demands the sort of financial commitment that many people are simply unwilling to make. If you’re a middle class homeowner, it’s likely you can afford a swimming pool of some sort. But is it the pool you want? And are you willing to sacrifice other things to get it?

If the answer to these questions is “no,” it might be time to turn your attention to alternatives. Many of the benefits that attract people to inground pools are attainable in other ways – other, much cheaper ways. Here are five options to explore, from the obvious to the more radical:

1. Try an above ground pool

If you’ve been sitting on the fence about buying a pool, you might want to “test the waters” with an above ground option. They offer much the same experience at a fraction of the cost. Best of all, they can be taken down and resold. That allows you to upgrade to an inground pool down the road or, if you decide pool ownership isn’t for you, simply cut your losses.

Of course, many homeowners make above ground swimming pools a permanent fixture in their backyards. Above ground pools are generally not as pretty as inground pools and certainly not as prestigious (if that matters to you). However, the options on the market keep getting better, and the right landscaping and/or a fancy wraparound deck can make a huge difference.

2. Install a swim spa

If exercise is your main goal, you can get all the benefits – and then some – from a swim spa. You’ve probably seen these “treadmills for swimmers” advertised on television. Using jets, they create a current that allows you to swim in place or do other water-based exercises.

Mind you, top-of-the-line swim spas can cost $10,000 or more – especially if you opt for inground installation. However, on average, they’re still much cheaper to buy and maintain than a swimming pool. Plus, they’re easy to fit on a deck, patio, or even indoors.

3. Spruce up your backyard

A swimming pool creates luxurious ambiance in your backyard, especially if it comes with a fantastic patio, beautiful plants, and eye-catching water features. Of course, you can have all three of those things without a pool as well. You might lose the option to take a dip, but you still get to lounge in the sun and entertain guests in your new and improved backyard.

Needless to say, leaving the pool out of the equation saves a ton of money in installation costs. But there’s another, less obvious benefit. While you might still spend a lot of money jazzing up your property, you stand a better chance of getting your investment back when you sell your house.

Detail from a Japanese garden
It’s not the same as a pool, but the right landscaping can transform a drab backyard.

4. Get a fitness club membership

On the surface, this might seem silly. How is going to the gym anything like enjoying your own backyard swimming hole?

Well, for one thing, many fitness clubs have indoor pools that you can use year-round. They may also include mini-waterparks complete with diving boards, slides, lazy river, and other features that are difficult and expensive to incorporate into a residential pool. Plus, there are other amenities onsite, such as exercise equipment, food and drink, indoor playgrounds, and so on. And guess what? None of these activities require you to skim leaves first.

The cost of a fitness club membership varies greatly, but a typical price for a family membership at a nice facility with a pool is $150 per month. That’s probably less than you would spend to maintain your own pool – never mind installation.

5. Go on more vacations

The term “stay-cation” has popped up in recent years as people look for vacation options closer to home. Naturally, you can’t get much closer than your backyard, and you can’t get much more “vacation-y” than a swimming pool. Still, if you’re looking for fun and relaxation, running the numbers might convince you to spend your money on traditional getaways rather than a new pool.

There’s lots of flexibility with this option. The cheapest alternative is to go to your local public pool, which probably costs a couple bucks per visit. Trips to a nearby waterpark are a little more expensive. Then there are weekend getaways at a resort. Finally, there are full-fledged vacations to a sunny location with a beach.

For the price of an inground swimming pool, you can keep you and your family busy with some combination of the above activities. To give some perspective, the average cost of a summer vacation in 2012 was $1,180 – peanuts in comparison to the cost of getting your own pool.

Little girl holding beach ball and giving thumbs up
Compared to the cost of a pool, going on vacation is positively cheap.

Still Want a Pool?

These options all have their advantages, but for many people there is no substitute for owning your own inground swimming pool. The good news is, you can often make it work even with a limited budget – as long as you’re willing to compromise. Just be sure you’re not sacrificing quality or giving up the things that make a pool attractive to you in the first place.