6 ways to cut gym membership costs
Your employer, health insurance company or landlord may help with the cost.
Keeping a New Year’s resolution to get in shape is no easy feat. The first hurdle: finding a gym membership that’s fiscally fit.
Half of consumers who don’t belong to a gym say the costs are the primary deterrent, according to a 2009 survey from market researcher Mintel. Factoring in initiation fees, the median annual cost for a new gym member is $775, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, a trade group. (Ongoing members pay slightly less than $43 per month for an average $511 annually.)
But many new members can cut their costs by as much as 50%. Here’s how:
Try no-commitment passes. Most gyms let nonmembers visit on a trial basis for a week or two. Use passes to try out all the fitness centers nearby, says Mackey McNeill, a certified public accountant and a spokeswoman for the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. You’ll get several months of free workouts and a sense of how each club works with your schedule and fitness needs before committing to a membership.
Negotiate with promotions. Many clubs offer their best deals in January, which gives gym-goers some leverage now, says John Rowley, the director of fitness at the American Institute of Healthcare & Fitness. Even at big chains, prices are often negotiable. Ask about all the promotional and regular pricing options when you visit. Once you’ve collected price information for clubs nearby, approach your first choice to see if they’ll meet a competitor’s price, Rowley says.
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Plan to visit multiple locations of the same chain? Talk to managers at each. Many clubs are franchises, so prices and available discounts can vary.
Check in with HR. Gym discounts and reimbursements are a fairly common employee perk, so check in with your company’s benefits department. Employees at the University of Kentucky save 65% on the service fee at Curves gym when they sign a $39-per-month one-year contract, paying $69 instead of $199. Energy services company E.ON reimburses employees and their spouses for 50% of the cost to attend an approved fitness facility or class, up to $25 per month. (Read more on taking advantage of employer wellness programs.)
Talk to your landlord. Landlords looking to retain tenants are increasingly willing to negotiate -- and the availability of fitness facilities on the property can often help you save, says Peggy Abkemeier, the president of rental marketplace Rent.com. Property managers may be willing to throw in free membership to the building’s gym, or even arrange discounts to a nearby club. (For more on negotiating a lower rent, click here.)
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Review your insurance coverage. Insurance companies typically offer some fitness club discounts as well. Oxford Health Plans participants get up to 30% off monthly dues at Bally's Total Fitness, Gold's Gyms and Curves, among other fitness locations. Aetna offers plan participants deals through discounter GlobalFit.com, which negotiates special rates. At Bally’s Total Fitness, you’d pay roughly $29 per month for a local membership instead of $55 -- a 47% savings.
Pay month to month. New Year’s resolutions often fall by the wayside. The IHRSA reports that 42% of club members visited fewer than 50 times during the course of an annual membership. “Gyms really push annual memberships because they look cheaper,” says McNeill. “But I would be very reluctant to sign up for a long-term package and potentially waste that money.” Start off with a month-to-month plan, and switch over to a contract for one year or longer if you’re confident that your fitness regime will stick. The flexibility to cancel a month-to-month plan also comes in handy if the cost of a gym membership turns out to be too high for your budget, she says.
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