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10 Ways to Save Money at the Gym

Get Insider Tips from a Gym Expert!
  -- By Jason Anderson, Certified Personal Trainer
Joining a gym is not a decision you should take lightly—especially since it affects your wallet. Fitness centers come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, offering everything from basic workout equipment to upgrades like massages, tanning, and even laundry service! But most of us are pinching our pennies and stretching our dollars these days, so you may think that a gym membership is unaffordable. Don't throw in the (sweaty) towel just yet! I have some money-saving ideas that will help your cut your membership costs. As a trainer and wellness coordinator, I spent several years working in public and private fitness centers, so I know all the secrets! Here are 10 insider tips to getting a good deal while keeping a little more money in your pocket!

Shop during the Slow Season
When looking to purchase a membership, consider the time of year. Thanks to New Year's resolutions, gift certificates, and renewed resolve, the first few months of the year are the busiest—and best—times to be a membership director. Similarly, the colder months are also busier than warmer months because people can't exercise outside. Because they're selling so many memberships, gyms don't need your money and they're less likely to cut you a deal. But the opposite is also true: Membership slides during the summer and toward the end of the year, so that is the best time to make your move. Look for specials and discounts at this time, and don't be afraid to ask for a better deal.

Join at the End of the Month
Gyms and fitness centers typically have membership goals for each month. They want to gain new members and retain the ones they have. At the first of the month, these sales goals don't seem as daunting to employees as they do in the last week of the month. So go at the end of the month, when most gyms are willing to make a deal with you so they can hit their goals!

Check Out the Competition
In most cities, there is more than one game in town, so shop around to find out what each gym has to offer. Once you have narrowed the list down to the places you like, go to each gym and speak to the individual responsible for memberships. Explain what you want and what you've seen at the other gyms you visited. (Make sure you are looking at comparable facilities when you do this.) If there is a difference in price, ask if they would meet or beat the monthly fees of their competitors. If they cannot beat the monthly fee, find out what they are willing to offer you instead. Don’t do this over the phone. When you meet in person, it will be more difficult for them to watch you walk out if you can’t strike a deal.

Strip Off the Extras
Many facilities offer a one-price-for-all structure. For example, your monthly fee includes the use of the gym, locker rooms, childcare and group fitness classes. If you don't have children, you won’t have any use for the childcare. If group fitness classes are not your cup of tea, you don't want to pay for something you aren't going to use, right? Explain this when talking about the membership fee with a staff person and see if you can strike a better deal.

Avoid the Contract Agreement
Many gyms require you to sign a contract (often called “an agreement”) that may lock you into a long-term membership that lasts several months, one year, or longer. When you sign a contract, you are, in essence, agreeing to pay the monthly fee whether or not you're happy or using the gym at all. My first advice is to avoid the contract if possible. Once you sign a contract, it can be very difficult to cancel if you don’t like or use the facility, if you're unable to pay your fees, or even if you move farther away. If your gym does require a contract, make sure you understand what you are agreeing to before you sign it. Also, opt for signing a shorter-term agreement even if it costs a few dollars more. You may save money in the end by not being stuck paying for a gym you don't use. If you can't agree to their contract terms, ask to write in your own exit strategy. As with all things, make sure to get it in writing, get it signed by both parties, and keep a copy for yourself.

Get Out of Your Gym Contract
So maybe you didn't read my advice above until it was too late! Luckily, there are some stipulations that will typically allow you to exit most membership contracts. One option is moving outside your gym's contract-stipulated radius to the club (and its affiliates), which usually requires proof of an address change. Another would be a health/medical reason that prohibits you from using the facility, which usually requires a note from a physician. These are not absolutes, however, as many clubs come up with their own stipulations. What you should never do is cancel the credit card or bank account from which your monthly dues are deducted—that can lead to even higher collection fees later on.

Be Honest about Your Budget
Let’s say that you have found "the one!" This is the gym for you—it has everything you need, where you need it. The only problem is that the fees are just beyond your budget. Sit down with a staff person and explain your situation. Tell them what you can afford. You might be surprised to find out that they may help. The YMCA is great about this! They have financial assistance at many locations and never turn away a member who can't afford to pay.

Work With Your Employer
Employers today are facing increasing healthcare costs and often want to improve employee health to reduce those costs. Check with your employer to see if they would consider subsidizing a portion of your gym membership fees. If you have a health savings account, find out if you can use that money to cover all or a portion of your gym membership as well. If your employer cannot or will not cover any of these costs, go straight to your co-workers. Find out how many are interesting in joining a local fitness center. Then go to that facility explaining that you could bring a few of your co-workers with you they may be willing to negotiate a lower monthly rate, such as a 10%-20% discount for everyone, depending on the number of people you bring in.

Don't Fall for "Good Deals" on Extras
When you're on a budget, it seems like a no-brainer to say no to extra costs like personal training, apparel, supplements, laundry, and tanning (which isn't good for you anyway). But salespeople at gyms will do anything to make you think these extras aren't just necessary but are also a good value. If you are not careful, it is easy to drop a lot of money each month with a few dollars here and a few dollars there. Skip the super protein smoothie or energy bar after your workout and go for a high quality meal at home. Double-check your gym bag for your water bottle to forgo buying $2 bottles of water at each visit. And before you sign a contract for personal training sessions, ask yourself, do I really need a personal trainer? Chances are, you don't.

Traveling? Put Your Membership on Hold
One thing I love about some gyms is that they will let you put your membership "on hold" for a short period. If you know that next month you will be out of town a lot and unable to go to the gym, ask if you can put it on hold for that month. Just remember to do this ahead of time, if possible. Don’t walk in after not using the gym for three months and ask for a refund or extension. Gyms are businesses too and a lack of motivation on your part does not necessitate a refund on their part.

Even though I have seen many of the above tips work firsthand, there are no magical spells that will make all of these suggestions work in your favor. Most importantly, honesty is the best policy when dealing with people—and that includes gym employees, managers and salespeople. If you can't afford the fees in the first place (or if you encounter financial hardship after signing on the dotted line), explain your situation. You may be surprised to find that many people are willing to try to help in some way. In the end, remember that you don't need a gym to get fit, but they do need your business, so find a compromise or deal that works for both of you!