If joining a gym or fitness club seems like a surefire strategy for accomplishing your fitness goals, know that there are plenty of ways to score gym membership deals and save money. However, you also need to watch out for pricey pitfalls. Read on for our complete list of tips on how to get healthy while keeping your wallet fat and happy.
And whether you join a gym or a fitness club, be sure to follow your local laws, as well as the policies set in place by the business.
Look for Gym Membership Deals
Gyms often run tempting promotions to entice those looking to get fit to sign up for a membership in January. While some fitness centers run specials throughout the year, January is the best time to look for discounted rates, waived sign-up fees, and bonus perks.
Even if you don't find any special promotions (which would be surprising), you can check for other ways to snag a lower price. For example, some health insurance companies offer a financial reimbursement for select fitness programs. Be aware that this may only be a partial reimbursement, though. Even so, that's money back in your pocket, just for visiting a qualifying gym the required number of times per month.
Are you a new graduate? Perhaps the fitness center at your local college has a special alumni rate. How about a member of the military? Some gyms offer military discounts. Additionally, be sure to check local hospitals — some have fitness centers and sell affordable gym memberships to the public.
Beware of Gyms With Free Food
One of the more popular promotions you'll see — perhaps counterintuitively — is the option of getting free food. It's not unheard of for gyms to host a free pizza night or bagel buffet. And sure, some people like to carbo-load, but that's usually before a marathon or another tough endurance test. If it's just a Tuesday night, eating that delivery pizza is only going to set your fitness goals back. Doing so could mean extending your gym membership yet another month — and paying the dues for it.
Instead, consider joining a gym without these food freebies. Chances are, these "perks" are built into the cost of your membership anyway, so you'll likely find a lower rate without them. Not to mention, you can bring your own healthy snacks for before and after your workout (and if you want low-priced snacks, check out our guide on how to eat healthy on a budget). That way, you can help your wallet and your waistline.
Check Out Multiple Gyms
Pick out a few different fitness centers in your area and check them out. New customers can often take advantage of free trials lasting up to seven days.
If that's not enough time to judge whether a gym is worth joining, you can also look at a low-cost gym. Chains such as Planet Fitness offer monthly rates as low as $10, and Blink Fitness (from Equinox) has rates as low as $10 at some clubs.
Gym Membership Prices by Brand
If you're curious about what different gym chains charge, check out this sampling of gym prices. Note that prices typically vary by location.
|Gym Chain||Gym Membership Cost|
|Anytime Fitness||$36.50 per month on average|
|Blink Fitness||From $10 per month|
|Crunch Fitness||From $9.95 per month|
|LA Fitness||From $19.99 per month|
|Planet Fitness||From $10 per month|
Beware of Complicated Contracts
Gym contracts are often packed with fine print, and can even be as long as the paperwork needed to buy a car or house. If you don't read the contract carefully, you could face nasty surprises later on. And even if you're absolutely sure you'll be going to the gym four times a week, we still don't recommend signing up with one that requires at least a yearlong contract.
Instead, consider paying for each visit, or on a month-to-month basis. You might not get the best rate, but it's better than seeing a large chunk of your cash disappear because of an auto-renewal.
Snag Gym Deals at the End of the Month
While January can bring a plethora of promotions, if you wait until the end of the month, you could score an even better deal. Gyms and health clubs often require their associates to meet sales quotas on memberships. By waiting until the end of the month to sign up, you increase the odds of extra perks being thrown in as they try to meet their goals.
Speaking of extras, be sure to keep track of them. If they're complimentary, that's great. But if you're always renting shoes or buying bottles of water, those little purchases can add up quickly. Reusable water bottles are an easy and affordable item to invest in, and they're useful outside the gym, as well.
Beware of Cancellation Headaches
It's important to note that signing up for a lengthy gym membership could also mean signing away your right to cancel. Some contracts may require you to pay an early termination fee, much like you would with a cell phone plan. In other cases, you might not be able to cancel at all, which can lead to serious financial consequences. For instance, if you move away from the area or your gym is purchased by another company, you could end up paying for a service you're unable to use.
Keep in mind that if you're able to cancel, gyms will still likely make it difficult to do so. Many force you to meet in person, and they almost always offer you something to entice you to stay. Whether it's a lower rate or more perks, they'll try to do what they can to make you sign up for at least another month. And even if you don't have to meet in person, you'll still typically be forced to speak with someone on the phone or via a live chat client. In other words, don't expect canceling your membership to be as easy as clicking a button or following a link on the website.
Ask for the Gym Discounts You Want
Once you've shopped around, you should have the research necessary to negotiate a better rate at your chosen club. Don't be afraid to act a little disinterested — play hard to get! Skip the sign-up on your first visit, and when you're ready to talk business, don't be afraid to ask for a cheaper monthly rate, a waived fee, or even a shorter contract period.
Beware of Shiny New Features
Watch out for gyms promising huge perks that aren't available yet. Your sales rep could urge you to sign up because new features are planned for the near future. However, unless you see evidence of actual construction or they can give you an exact date, you could be taking a big risk. If the improvements are canceled or delayed, that yearlong contract you bought into for the promise of an Olympic-sized pool could end up being an expensive waste.
Know Your Limits
While many Americans join the gym in January, 50% of members may not even go. It's important when you're signing up to be realistic about your goals. Sure, a yearlong contract is probably cheaper each month than a month-to-month setup, but how will you feel if you have a month where you barely go? Feelings of guilt and wasting money will likely compound the stress of not making it to the gym, and only make things worse.
If you don't want to pay month to month, consider paying per class or visit. Alternatively, try a program like ClassPass. Depending on your location and the plan you choose, you could pay anywhere from $29 to $79 per month, and have enough credits to book as few as three to four classes, or as many as 14. Even better, using a service like ClassPass means you aren't tied to one particular studio or gym, so if you find one you like better, you're not stuck.
Beware of Promises of Multi-Club Access
Watch out for clubs and gyms trying to sell you on multi-club access. In theory, it means you can visit a variety of locations in the same network. And if you travel a lot, this could seem like an excellent option. However, if you aren't careful, you could end up paying a premium for this feature. Basic memberships might not offer access to all locations, so when signing up, double-check that you know what you're paying for. Don't be afraid to ask questions and have terms stated explicitly. And definitely read the fine print.
Seek Out Gym Specials via Social Media
Follow your chosen gyms and studios on social media to keep an eye out for specials. Often, you can find serious discounts and introductory packages at better rates for new sign-ups. Additionally, check out sites like Groupon or LivingSocial to take advantage of deals around the new year. Both sites tend to offer savings on fitness classes and gyms, without forcing you to make a commitment for the long term.
Readers, will you be joining a gym in 2021? What are your best tips for getting cheap gym memberships? Let us know in the comments below.