January 19, 2014

Consumer Reports: Saving money at the gym

From Consumer Reports

---- — Joining a gym is an investment in your health, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to trim the cost, says Consumer Reports Money Adviser. Our annual New Year’s resolve to get in shape means that clubs sign up more members around January than at any other time of the year, and they’re all competing for your business.

But there’s no reason to rush. “You can often get the biggest discount if you sign up late in the month, because health clubs have monthly sales quotas,” says Andrea Metcalf, a certified trainer and health coach in Chicago. Consumer Reports Money Adviser suggests that you take the time to research your options and ways to save:

• Do a trial run. Call health clubs near your home and office to ask for a no-commitment trial. Visit at the times you’ll be most likely to work out. Ask members what they like and don’t like about the facility, and get a copy of the fee schedule.

• Keep an eye on social media. While you’re deciding where to join, look for additional deals on gym websites, Facebook and Twitter, as well as offers on saving sites like Groupon, Living Social and Gilt City. If a gym has a mailing list, sign up.

• Negotiate your best deal. When you decide on a club to join, speak with a manager, who is more likely to have the clout to negotiate. Ask what the cost would be if you paid for a year (or more) in full instead of paying month by month. Also see if you can get some things you would usually be willing to pay for — such as a wellness assessment or a personal training session — free. If the membership includes things you won’t use, like child care, classes or a pool, ask for a reduced rate that doesn’t include them.

• Be flexible. For instance, see if a club offers different levels of membership or discounts if you agree to go at non-peak hours or on non-peak days. These special rates often aren’t advertised.

• Go with a group. Consumer Reports Money Adviser notes that many fitness facilities will lower their monthly rates for large groups. One of the easiest ways to take advantage of this benefit is through your employer.

You can also gather a group of friends and ask a gym manager if he or she would be willing to cut a deal if you join together. You also might get deals on additional services, like small group personal training sessions.

• Read the contract. One of the most expensive charges you might encounter is a club’s cancellation fee. Although you might not be able to get it removed, you should be aware of the stipulations so you don’t get stuck paying a penalty for a membership you can no longer use.

You might have to let the club know you want to cancel two months in advance, for example, or send it a notarized letter to end the contract.