How to Save on a Gym Membership

Working out…some of us love it, some of us hate it, but almost all of us need to do it in order to stay fit despite our increasingly sedentary lives. Not only does it affect our weight and our health, but those in turn can affect our self-image, confidence, and possibilities for success in our lives.

When I was a teenager, I spent almost every day biking, playing baseball, and generally running around and playing a variety of sports. But as the responsibilities of adulthood began, I soon left all that behind, spent too much time at a desk, not enough time exercising, and my weight started to creep up and up. Unfortunately, it wasn't until my health suffered that I decided to make an effort to include exercise as a part of my routine.

Last year, after being hospitalized for congestive heart failure, I knew I had to make changes to my diet and activity. First I started with walking outside, walking further each time, and then when the weather turned chilly, I joined a gym. I like going to the gym and having dedicated time and space for my workout with a variety of equipment available to me. But I didn't spend a fortune to do it and you don't have to either.

How to Save on a Gym Membership

Determine what you need

First, think about what you need out of a gym. Will you take classes? Do you want a swimming pool and a sauna? Will you use free weights, or just do cardio and machines? Do you need showers on the premises? There are very basic gyms and there are clubs with lots of luxuries, and you don't want to pay higher membership fees for things you won't really use.

Check incentives

Before you start comparing gyms, you'll also want to find out if your employer or your health insurer offers any discounts or incentives for fitness centers. Typically these discounts apply only at participating gyms so check in advance.

Do a trial run

Once you've narrowed down your needs, find out what gyms near your home or place of work meet your qualifications. Keep in mind that if the location isn't convenient, you're less likely to use it. Find a few local choices and try them out. Most clubs will offer a day pass for free to potential new members, but even if there's a small charge, it's worth it to find out if you like the atmosphere.

Shop around

Trying out a few gyms also gives you a chance to shop around on prices. Be sure to find out all the potential costs. There may be extra fees for classes, child care, locker use, yearly maintenance, and just for signing up. Some clubs may try to pressure you saying the rate is only good for that day, and then you'll need to decide if you want to patronize a business that uses those kind of tactics.

Sign up at the right time

Of course what time of year you're looking may affect prices quite a bit. Gyms are most popular at the beginning of the year (think New Year's resolutions), so they don't need to offer their best deals then. But in the summer, when many people prefer to exercise outside, and toward the end of the year, when people have forgotten about showing off their body in a swimsuit, you can get the best rates and offers. I got a great deal on my month-to-month gym membership…I signed up right before Thanksgiving when most people are thinking of gobbling turkey, not working out. And if you're inclined to negotiate, you'll have a better chance at the end of the month when sales people are trying to make their numbers.

Contract or month-to-month?

You'll also want to find out if the gym requires a contract or if they offer month-to-month memberships. They may offer both at different costs, and especially if you're new to working out at a gym, a month-to-month membership can be invaluable. If they require a contract, it's important to know how long it lasts and under what conditions you can cancel (for example, if you move out of the area, or if you develop a medical condition that prevents you from working out).

Seek out promotions

Finally, consider any additional promotions. You might find a deal in local advertising, or on a social discount site like Groupon. And the gym may offer discounts for additional family members, referrals, and the like.

Read the fine print

When you've made a decision on which gym is right for you, be sure to read the contract. Front and back. You need to know what's required to cancel your gym membership (usually must be in writing and sent via certified mail) as that's where consumers have the most trouble with gyms. Similarly, clubs like to deduct your monthly fees from checking or saving accounts, but you're better off using the protections of a credit card.

Avoid the upsell

So, you've signed the contract, have a membership card in hand, and you're ready to work out. But that's not quite the end. Fitness clubs, like any other business, will try to sell you add-ons. In this case, it may be personal training, unlimited classes, or consumables like bottled water, energy bars, and smoothies. Just like the other “amenities”, don't buy packages of personal training or classes unless you're sure you'll use them. And bring your own bottled water and energy bars from home.

Know when to cut your losses

Finally, if you find that you're not using the gym that often, it's time to cancel your membership. A deal's not a deal if you're not getting anything out of it. So follow those cancellation procedures and start working out at home: use the great outdoors to go for a run, stay inside with routines and workout videos on the internet, or invest in some equipment of your own.


I really enjoy my gym. It has the basics I need, it's close to my home, it's filled with friendly people, and it's well maintained. My month-to-month membership is inexpensive and I go to work out regularly. Know what you need and be smart when you shop for it, and you too can make a small investment in your health that pays big dividends.

Do you belong to a gym? Or do you workout at home? Which do you prefer?

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