Getting healthy always ranks at the top of New Year’s resolutions, whether it’s going on a diet, quitting bad habits (or at least trying to), advancing your education, and of course, joining a gym. If you’re thinking about joining a gym, do it! But make sure to read the fine print and be aware of all the fees involved.
There are usually multiple costs associated with a gym membership apart from the monthly fee. There’s often an enrollment (or initiation) fee, an annual maintenance (or annual facility) fee, and sometimes a processing fee. Usually the enrollment or processing fees are waived or marked way down to make you feel like you’re getting a deal (“Sign up today for only $1!”). The annual maintenance/facility fee is where you can get plunked, since that happens at the beginning of the year or another set time period (example: three months after a membership starts). There’s also possible cancellation fees or penalties if you cancel before a set time period.
Gyms are notoriously known for locking members into contracts and then charging them if they cancel. Make sure you understand the contract because there are liable to be some hidden fees. It’s good to be aware so in the event you do need to switch or cancel, you can avoid any unknown charges.
One of my colleagues found this out the hard way when he tried to cancel. A few weeks ago after an evening workout, he arrived back to his locker to find the lock had been broken and all his cash was missing from his jacket pocket. After filing a police report and letting the gym know he was no longer comfortable going there, the gym told him he would need to pay $80 to cancel his membership because he didn’t give 45-days notice and there was an annual maintenance fee due at the beginning of the year.
Let’s just say the gym didn’t handle the situation as well as they could have but the point is that you need to be aware of these kinds of charges because if you don’t pay what’s due, or cancel your credit card and dispute the charges, the gym can continue to charge monthly fees and even put it into collections.
Don’t let this dissuade you from joining a gym! Whether you’re looking to start the year off healthy or need extra motivation to get in shape, it’s one of the best purchases you can make. (And if you need any extra motivation and you’re someone who has FOMO, according to Finder.com over 80 million people have gym memberships.)
To help you on a financially prudent fitness journey here are some tips to help you make the most of your membership, manage possible issues if they arise, and not feel too badly if you cancel.
- Read the contract. Gym contracts aren’t that complicated and often spell out the charges clearly letting you know what happens if you cancel. Most gyms allow you to cancel within a few days of signing up and get a full refund, but that’s not the norm. Usually people sign up, go a few times, then keep it out of guilt until they realize it’s time to admit it’s probably a waste of money. Put the cut-off date for any possible fees on your calendar with a reminder set a few weeks in advance to evaluate whether or not it’s worth the cost.
- What are your outs? There are often three standard ways to get out of a gym contract: If you move a certain distance away from the gym (and provide proof of new residence), medical reasons (you’ll need a note from a doctor), and death (never pleasant to think about but your family or executor would have to provide the required proof for reimbursement). You may also get a refund if the gym closes, but that can get tricky if they’re going through bankruptcy or if another location is considered close enough by their standards (example: within 15 miles).
- Always ask about fees. Don’t be shy to get all the details in writing. Would an annual membership be more financially prudent, and have better deals (no enrollment or annual fee, discounted monthly rate, free training session package worth hundreds) than month-to-month? Are you willing to commit for an entire year or is that being too ambitious? What happens if you cancel after three months, six months, or a year. How are fees structured? Are there penalties for canceling early? If you’re not getting straight answers, check out other places. Every gym rolls out the welcome wagon to get you to sign up, but that mood can turn very chilly when you try and cancel.
- Have property or renter’s insurance. What does insurance have to do with joining a gym? If your locker is robbed or any of your property goes missing you can file a claim and those items might be covered. A colleague’s neighbor had all his stuff stolen from his locker years ago — his bag, coat, wallet, everything — and got a reimbursement from his insurance. You’ll need to file a police report, which you should do as promptly as possible, and provide it to your insurance company.
- Skip the extras. If the gym charges extra for towels and you’re on a budget, bring your own. Same goes for single-use water bottles, protein drinks, snacks, workout accessories, and anything else that’s much cheaper to buy at the store. Personal training sessions are the only extra worth considering — look into getting a package deal if the price is right.
- And…get a strong lock: My colleague thought he had one, but it was defeated by the thief who literally bent it open (along with part of the locker). The one he uses now at his new gym would require heavy duty bolt cutters.
My last bit of advice isn’t about money, but it’s about getting the most value from your membership: Make the gym part of your routine. You don’t have to become a fitness fanatic to take advantage of a gym membership. Bring your iPad or your phone, connect to the free WiFi, and walk on a treadmill or do the bike for an hour while binging a show you’d normally be watching at home on the couch (I watched the entire first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on an elliptical). Or take a class, lift some weights, and you might even get up the courage to do a training session — see if they offer a free one to new members and take advantage of that. Treat each time you swipe your card as a win that you showed up to do something positive for yourself in the smartest and most financially responsible way possible.