When pollsters interrupt people’s dinners to ask about their New Year’s resolutions, very often the top three responses are “get in shape,” “lose weight” and “save money.” Find a deal on a gym membership, and you can do all three. Here’s how.
Time it right
The end of the year is a great time to join a gym at a discount, as people spend more time lifting a glass than lifting weights. Another timing tip, according to Consumer Reports, is to sign up late in the month — any month — when health club sales teams are trying to meet their monthly quotas.
Look for daily deals
Never, ever join a gym without quickly searching daily-deal sites such as Groupon and Living Social. Gym memberships and other exercise classes are one of their most common offers. There were 534 exercise deals on Groupon when I checked.
Ask work about your workout
Many employers have negotiated discounts with nearby gyms. If yours hasn’t, why not band together with co-workers and do it yourself?
Negotiate a custom deal
Speaking of negotiating, it pays to play hard ball. Make sure the gym you want to join knows that you’re talking to other gyms, too, and ask for a price match. Then, see if it will waive the initiation fee. Planning to use just one location in a chain? Request a discount for that. Don’t need included services like child care? Ditto. If you can’t get the gym to give you a lower price for less stuff, try to get more stuff for the quoted price, such as free personal training or massages.
Pay as you go
Better yet, don’t join at all. Sometimes it makes more economic sense to get an exercise “class card” or pay daily rates as you go, especially if you’re unsure how committed you are. Paying daily or month to month may cost more, but it will save you money if you decide to bail out. I’m not a fan of long-term “future services contracts” that you can get out of only if you can document that you moved away or got injured.
Head to the hospital
You know that failing to exercise can land you in the hospital, but did you know that you can exercise at the hospital? That’s right, many hospitals have fully equipped fitness facilities that welcome the public. Best of all, most do not require ironclad long-term contracts. For example, Sibley Memorial Hospital in Northwest Washington offers memberships for $80 a month. And Providence Hospital in Northeast runs all sorts of fitness series, from aqua aerobics to Zumba, for about $8.50 a class.
Go to college
Colleges and universities are another often-overlooked resource. Most now have elaborate exercise facilities to attract students, and many offer memberships to the community. In the D.C. area, one example is Trinity Washington University, which charges Brookland neighbors $520 a year to join its Trinity Center gym. Compare that with the roughly $600 to $1,200 a year some of the big D.C. gym chains charge, according to Consumers’ Checkbook.
Exercise your health insurance
Insurance companies have caught on that keeping people healthy saves them money, so many now include some sort of gym benefit as part of their plans. For example, Aetna says it offers discounted rates at more than 10,000 gyms. And United Healthcare will reimburse you $20 each month that you visit one of its participating fitness centers at least 12 times. Additionally, if you are exercising to overcome an illness or injury, gyms such as Medical Fitness Pros in Texas will work with you to submit claims to your insurance company.
Try apps that pay for wellness
Mobile apps such as Pact and Wellcoin will actually pay you to exercise. Pact rewards you with cash — paid by other members who didn’t meet their goals. When you use Wellcoin, you earn points you can use to buy products on the site, including gym classes. The payments aren’t huge, but there’s an intangible motivational value that some consider priceless.
Ask for fitness financial aid
Not sure you can afford a commercial gym? The YMCA offers financial assistance and says it never turns away members who can’t pay. There are 2,700 YMCAs in the United States and 15 in the D.C. area.