Up until recently, my son and I took TKD at our YMCA. Our program there was affiliated with a local studio which was essentially a belt mill.
I was taking TKD strictly as a lifelong fitness thing. I do a lot of cardio-kickboxing, and I thought it would be fun to increase my skill levels through the class, as well as be a neat thing to do together with my son.
In our program, you started at no-belt. Assuming you had instructor’s approval, you could belt test at the studio with their students every two months for the lower belt levels. Belt tests cost $60 a pop. So, we went from no belt, to white belt, to yellow belt, to green belt, to orange belt, to low blue, to high blue, to brown to purple in 16 months. You had a minimum 4 month wait to get to red belt, and another 4 month wait to get to deputy black. After deputy black, there was a minimum 6 month wait to be eligible to test for first degree black belt. The cost for testing also went up when there was a longer time between tests. I think it was $120 for red belt; it might have been over $200 for my deputy black. (You were also supposed to buy a new dobok, at a minimum cost of $75 to show off your sporty new deputy black belt, too.) I think the black belt test was around $350.
This studio had some very, very young children. The first black belt test I witnessed was a middle-aged woman (roughly my age) who was absolutely not ready to test. She screwed up on her forms and ho-sun-suls, and was just not ready to test. After seeing her being given the belt, I knew that earning a black belt from this studio was just a joke.
My son and I ended up dropping out shortly after getting our deputy black belts last fall, when the Y went from offering the class on a pay-by-the-class basis to a fixed fee per month, whether you could make it to class or not. Since this was all just a life-time fitness sort of thing for me, I didn’t want the stress of feeling that I HAD to go to class, or else I was going to be ripped off. (My chronic achilles tendinitis condition hit crisis mode at about that time, too, and the orthopod told me to never, ever, exercise barefoot again, anyway.)
My take on it: Don’t buy yourself a cheap belt. It’s not worth it. Stick around and earn one that makes you proud of your achievement.