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My New Gym Membership: Good Idea or Foolish Move?

This article was written by in Health. 32 comments.


After years of failed self-improvement in a number of aspects of life that most people tend to consider important, like organization, time management, and self-motivation, I’ve come to accept some of my flaws while taking advantage of my strengths. I haven’t completely given up on the strive to improve facets about myself that could lead to being a better all-around person, whatever that happens to mean at the time. I just realize that it isn’t in my nature to excel at certain things.

I’ve been trying to motivate myself to get in shape for several years. After college, my stomach assumed a rounder form, and I’ve never found the right combination of motivation and activities to fix this. Over the years, I’ve resigned myself to the idea that I would succeed much better if I had a partner interested in the same goal, sharing the journey towards a healthier lifestyle. But then again, perhaps that’s just an excuse.

At the beginning of the year, I got in the habit of using RunKeeper on my phone to track my outdoor runs, but several weeks of snowstorms prevented this three-times-weekly activity from becoming a long-term habit. When the weather improved, I considered myself too busy with business to take the time to get back outside for a workout.

And then I saw photographs of myself at the Financial Blogger Conference. I decided — again — I needed to do something about my waistline, and this time I was determined to find help. Although it’s not cheap, I decided to join the gym nearest to me. Before doing so, I took a tour. It’s exceptionally clean, and it doesn’t seem to ever be too busy. The equipment is nice; it’s nicer than the equipment I would have purchased for myself was I was considering taking up space in my apartment for an exercise area.

Check out these fees, though.

  • Enrollment fee: $69 (but they gave me a “discount” at $49)
  • Monthly fee: $19 (first and last months’ payments due immediately)
  • Processing fee: $25
  • Club enhancement fee: $29 (paid once a year)
  • Early cancellation fee: $150 (or balance of the year’s monthly fees, whichever is less)

Although there is an early cancellation fee, it sounded like this fee could easily be waived at the manager’s discretion, particularly if the cancellation is due to moving away from the area.

The typical rationalization for moving forward with the membership despite these fees is that the knowledge of the monthly charges to my credit card account would motivate me for using the service I’m paying for. It’s the same rationalization that parents use for not paying for their kids’ education — the children will be more responsible if they have “ownership” of their education by working to pay for it without assistance.

I also signed up for a free session with a personal trainer. I’ll use the free session to determine if there’s something I can learn from someone else leading me through a plan that would help me reach my goals.

For the most part, gym memberships are traps. People spend a lot of money to join and maintain a membership but often don’t take advantage of the benefits. Did I make a mistake by joining a gym? If you’re a member of a gym, how do you make the expense worthwhile?

Published or updated October 12, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Maggie

It’s really easy to determine if joining a gym is a waste of money. DO YOU GO? Regularly?

I’ve been a part of the trap before, paid every month and never went… so dumb. Then about a year ago I realized my budget (or lack thereof) was wildly out of control. I had no idea what I was making or spending. So I decided what was truly important and cut ruthlessly on the rest.

I realized my health (surprise) is important to me. So, I recently found another gym, paid in advance for some training sessions (expensivish, but worth it to have someone tailor a routine to your body and motivate you), and am on the track to fabulosity once again. I now pay $19/mo. (plus extra if I want a training session) and it is SO WORTH IT. I go 5+ times/ week, work with a trainer 1-2 of those days, and feel awesome. (Did I mention they have a jacuzzi? That I can use 24/7? Oh yeah.)

Make it part of a routine. Take classes. Use what they offer. Regularly ask for discounts/specials.
A gym membership is AWESOME and WORTH IT…. but only if you ACTUALLY GO.

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avatar Money Beagle

I don’t mind the monthly charge so long as you use it, but all the fees that they stick you with to sign up are stupid and I wish they would cool it with that.

You should use your blog as a way to hold yourself accountable. Post a regular update on your cost per workout based on the number of times you went the previous month.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,535 (Platinum)

That’s a great idea. I don’t want Consumerism Commentary to be a fit-blog, tracking my weight and such (though I could use the motivation), but tracking the value of each workout makes it relevant.

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avatar qixx ♦1,895 (Half-Dollar)

Make the number of gym visits as a one line statement in your monthly balance sheet.

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avatar Jessica W

Try Sparkpeople.com to post your progress and workouts. They’ve got some good frugal boards.

I belong to my local Y. It’s $99 a month, but all classes and childcare are free, and there’s open pool hours every day. We’re up there regularly. We swim, use the climbing wall, the exercise equipment, and both the kids and I take dance classes there. It’s a blast, and well worth it IMO.

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avatar Nicholas

There was a fantastic article from Men’s Journal last December, which states that the best workout one can get is by using the old school weights. Being that doing this is a hard task, going for this sort of workout is great when you can walk through specific routines with a knowledgable personal trainer for the first go-around. Of course, you gain a little weight at first, but in the long run it will make for lasting change. I believe in this, and I think you might benefit from it as well, especially if your enthusiasm for cardio-exercises have plateau’d.

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avatar Thomas

I usually go to the gym about 2-3 times a week, though this varies from 0-5 depending on how busy/motivated I am. I personally find treadmill/elliptical/weights to be incredibly boring. What motivates me to go to the gym is the fun activities that I enjoy doing that benefit from physical fitness, skiing, hiking, and rock climbing. In addition to the regular gym I usually go to the small climbing gym at work once a week, and have a pay per visit punch card for the larger climbing gym. My wife and I usually go to the larger gym once a week on weekends if we don’t have plans to hike/climb outside/ or ski.

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avatar Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager

What gym did you join that it costs that much? What are the perks? I have a free “gym” at my apartment and then pay less than $60/month to climb at the local bouldering gym. Which is definitely worth it since I love it, I get a great workout in, and I get to hang out with some awesome people at the same time.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,535 (Platinum)

Hi Jenna,

It’s the same monthly fee as or less than any other gym within 10 miles, and it’s the closest. Even my apartment complex’s gym is farther away (and costs more but also includes an outdoor pool (which I would use only three months out of the year at most) and offers much less equipment and amenities).

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avatar Ryan

Weight/Fat loss is 80% diet. If that’s not in check, you’re just spinning your wheels.

Once that’s figured out, you can focus on a fatloss oriented workout program. Look up Chad Waterbury 10×3 for fat loss. That would be a good program.

And don’t join a gym just to use the treadmill. The treadmill does not mimic normal walking/running, ie you aren’t exerting any force to the treadmill, it’s moving itself. Whereas you are exerting a force onto the ground to move forward.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,535 (Platinum)

Thanks, Ryan. I’ll keep that in mind.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

I feel weight loss is a matter of slowly changing your eating habits. Then couple that with a bit of physical labor and perhaps moderate at home exercise and you have a winning combination. All for a good price!

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

My gym sells a punch card with ten punches. It costs $50. So each visit is five bucks. I only exercise indoors when the weather is REALLY bad, so one card would last me all winter. The place is open 24/7—even on Christmas. I think that this is a sweet deal. The membership you got is only going to be worth it if you go regularly. I guess time will tell.

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avatar Dan

80% diet +1

marksdailyapple.com is a fantastic resource for nutrition (no personal affiliation, just personal results… I am dead sexay)

I think investing in your health is one of the greatest investments you can make. Kudos to you. What good is being wise with your money if you aren’t going to be healthy enough to enjoy it in your golden years?

I’m sure you’ve heard of crossfit… again, no personal affiliation, just personal results. Those 2 websites have radically transformed my health (not to mention my sexahness), and all for free. Best of luck to you.

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avatar Kristia {Family Balance Sheet}

My husband and I have been members of the YMCA for years. For us it is worth the expense, because we use it regularly and babysitting is built into the cost of membership. Our y also has a water park for kids that we use quite regularly.

I agree with Dan, your health in #1 investment. If you use the membership, then it is a keeper. If you find that your not using it, then quit.

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avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

Flexo,
it’s only a mistake if you don’t go to the gym and exercise. If you go 4-5 days a week then it’s worth it. It’s all about how dedicated you are to physical fitness and being healthy.

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avatar Krantcents

Over the years, I joined a few clubs, but I have a home gym now. I like it a lot better. I don’t have to go somewhere to work out. No excuses!

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avatar Jeff

From a financial perspective, why did you choose a month-to-month contract plan vice a “1 year up front” plan? It’s highly possible that paying for one year up front would save you 10-15% of the monthly dues alone. In addition, paying in full up front is a great negotiation tactic to getting some of these fees removed (esp. since almost all gyms are sales/commission based pay in some respect). At worst, it’s the same as your month to month price. Your current ‘sunk cost’ for month to month is 50% of what 1 year sunk cost would be (You paid $145 already, and i bet a year would be at most $240+fees). Since you’re locked in to paying at least $295 (because of the ETF), I think you left money on the table by not attempting to negotiate using the leverage you had.

From a fitness perspective, since you’re self employed you can utilize the gym at off-hours and not have to wait in the post-work times, which is great motivation. Second, use the equipment and classes you couldn’t on your own. I suggest free weights (my fiance would suggest Zumba or Spinning) as they provide a great metabolic boost, easy incremental challenges, and a plethora of strength and long-term health benefits. Just don’t do curls in the squat rack.

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avatar UltimateSmartMoney

In you’re case it might be worth it but in my case it is not. My monthly fee is $70 and I rarely use it. This is a big problem for me. I need to start exercising but why is it so difficult?

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avatar MD

You made a great decision. I make my expense worth it by taking advantage of every class that my gym has. I personally don’t mind training on my own because this allows me to blast music.

However, since it’s an MMA gym I go to as many kickboxing, wrestling, and kettle ball classes as my body allows me to. I actually pay $70/month for my membership. That’s like a sin for a pf blogger. The good news is that I go to like at least 2 kickboxing classes a week that are trained by real fighters with UFC backgrounds.

I promise you that you won’t regret joining. If you can manage to tighten up your diet a little (which you will once you start training hard) you’ll be looking and feeling damn amazing.

Good luck! Maybe we could arrange a friendly challenge or contest of sorts for FinCon12?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,535 (Platinum)

I’d be up for a friendly challenge.

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avatar MD

I don’t go by the scale, so how about bodyweight exercises? How many pushups will you do in a row by this time next year? or what size pants do you want to wear next year?

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avatar James

You know….I’ve thought alot about joining a gym, but I can’t just bring myself to spend money on something that I can do for free……or in the worst case, go buy a cheap DVD and do it in my house for very little cost…and no recurring cost.

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avatar Jared

For me, it is important to know that my gym membership is there, even if I don’t use it as much as I’d like. So, I would like to get there 3 times a week, but usually it only winds up being once. If I canceled my membership, because I thought I wasn’t fully utilizing it, then I wouldn’t get there even that one time. Also, for a lot of people, it comes down to expense. Some memberships are very expensive, while others are as little as $10 a month (Planet fitness). I opt for the cheaper gym, which still has nearly as many amenities, albeit no basketball court or racquetball.

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avatar John

People tend to think that paying the monthly membership will some how make them go to the gym, but if that were actually true, gyms would be out of business, because they couldn’t possibly be big enough running on $20 per member. They count on you stopping coming after two months. That’s why they have sign up and cancellation fees.

My solution is a bit different. First, I live in central Texas, so that outdoor sports are viable nearly year round, if you can take the heat. Second, I bought a recumbent bike which sits in front of a Play Station and TV. I only allow myself to play video games while riding it, so there is some savings all around there.

I can’t spend an entire weekend playing a new game, since I would be totally exhausted, which means I don’t get tired of games so quickly and buy more. Also, I don’t waste as much time either playing video games, or driving to a gym to use their bike, or waiting in line to use their bike. Besides that, a recumbent bike can be bought for about the price of a years gym membership, but mine has lasted me 3 years so far.

So, Flexo, once you realize you really aren’t going to the gym regularly anymore, cancel your membership and try out my way!

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avatar Jim

I’m lucky to have been relatively thin so weight loss isn’t really the issue. But the ‘runner’s high’ or whatever you want to call it is where the money is for me when it comes to exercise. The kicker, is getting out the door to do so on a regular schedule. For some, that may be a gym membership, and for others that may mean just lacing g up a pair of sneakers.

The small amount you pay for a gym membership fee compared to other entertainment choices seem paltry to me. I think you made a great choice.

Now the hard part is actually in the ‘going to’ the gym. :)

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avatar Janine

I started my lifestyle change involving diet and exercise in April. Beginning with no exercisng on my own I started with walking and moving up to jogging/running (I can now do a 5K!). I have lost 30 pounds. A month ago I realized I could not continue to do this on my own the way I wanted to progress. A personal training session and the need to stregthen became necessary to me. I joined a fitness center two blocks from me that is open 24 hours a day. I am going 5-6 days a week and find the weights are worth the money. I did not plan initially on joining a gym but know now I have made the right decision. I still walk/jog with my dog each day and do the occasional video at home but with the gym I am doing so much more.
Good luck and stay dedicated!

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avatar Marcus

I think you summed up the problem well: “but several weeks of snowstorms prevented this three-times-weekly activity from becoming a long-term habit.”

There are always reasons not to exercise. There are just as many at the gym: the commute, the cost, the lines for the machines, etc.

It WAS a miserable winter, but yet I had my most mileage running through it ever. Why? Because I had a specific goal race in March I had to be ready for. Working towards a goal makes a difference, especially if the goal is a scary one, like more than a 5k.

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avatar Sarah ♦42 (Newbie)

You mention that you’re hoping the monthly fees will motivate you to actually use the service. I’ve done something similar, but without a gym.

I picked a milestone goal weight I wanted to reach (in my case, about 20% of the total weight I want to lose). Every month that I haven’t reached that goal, I’m putting 20% of the money I have budgeted as my personal spending money into a savings account, and I’m not letting myself touch that money until I’ve reached my goal. The monthly hit on my spending money helps remind me of my goal, and once I reach the goal I get the money back. It’s been working for me so far, though I haven’t quite reached my goal yet.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

That does seem like a lot of money, especially in light of the fact that in a couple of months, gyms usually have specials tailor made for the “New Year’s Resoultions” – so maybe you could have saved some significant money there. But like the first commenter said, it’s worth it if you actually GO. You can’t put a price tag on health.

I’ve been a member of several gyms, some good and some bad. I finally realized that I enjoy working out in the great outdoors so I do my cycling and running outside instead of in and enjoy it while saving money. But that’s just me. Good luck on your fitness goals!

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

Since you are doing fine financially I think you did the right thing. It is all what motivates you. I thought that habving money taken out my checking account would motivate me at one time but found out otherwise and wasted a lot of money. I am finding out that I get motivated trying to get healthier and going at it slow. Having fun and doing challenging tasks is much more motivating than $30.00 taken out of my check book each month. Much I will say that I did pay $35.00 to use the swimming pool at our local fitness center. It was something I wanted to do and it was fun. I lost 27 pounds this summer.

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avatar Randy

Okay, a gym for $20 a month plus sign up fees is not expensive. Come to NYC, where it’s pretty hard to find a gym for under $75 a month.

The best help for weight loss, in my experience, is to have someone do it with you. Your girlfriend/spouse/significant other is the obvious place to start, but if not, try a friend or gym buddy. Someone to keep you honest helps. Heck, Twitter or Facebook can help you there.

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