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How Much Should You Pay for a Gym Membership?

You know all the reasons you should exercise, from improving your health to helping you deal with stress. But lots of things can stand between you and a fitness routine: work, family commitments, and a desire to binge-watch the new season of your favorite TV show. 

If you want to get motivated to work out more, you could join a gym. But before you pay the initiation fee and sign up for a monthly membership, figure out how much a gym will cost you and whether you’re actually going to use it.  

How Much Should You Pay for a Gym Membership?

The price of a health club or fitness center varies widely. So do the amenities available from the gym. Consider the type of exercise you prefer and your budget when choosing one. 

A local gym with a swimming pool or group fitness classes will charge more than a budget chain like Planet Fitness, which has fewer bells and whistles. But you’ll use a gym that has programs you like, so it’s worth the higher price tag.

Average Gym Membership Costs

Monthly fees vary widely based on the type of gym you choose. A high-end fitness club like Equinox costs several hundred dollars per month. But budget-friendly gyms like LA Fitness or Planet Fitness start at $10 monthly. 

Whether you choose a locally owned or chain fitness center also affects the price. Smaller individual gyms usually cost more per month than chains. They have higher overhead expenses and don’t have the negotiating power of the larger companies.

But along with the higher price tag comes the knowledge you’re supporting a local business. And many smaller gyms give more personalized attention.

Many gyms also have a range of membership levels. Higher membership levels mean you get more amenities, such as free access to a sauna or steam room, a personal trainer, or exercise classes. If you know you’ll use those features, they can be worth the higher monthly price.

But there’s more to joining a gym than a monthly membership fee. Many fitness centers also tack on a host of other charges, such as:

  • Sign-up or initiation fees
  • Annual fees
  • Class fees
  • Cancellation fees

Those initiation or cancellation fees can be sneaky. For example, some gyms claim your last two months of membership fees count as the cancellation fee. Others charge an annual fee but might not be upfront about it.

Before you sign up for any fitness facilities, read the contract closely. Keep an eye out for hidden fees and ask about any that seem unusual.

You can also get a deal if you sign up during the right time of year. For example, around New Year’s, many gyms waive the initiation fee, which can save you $50 or $100. Some might waive the annual fee for your first year.

If you join a gym with tiered membership levels, start at the lowest tier first. Most gyms let you upgrade if you decide you want more perks. But it’s not worth spending more until you’re sure how often you’ll use the gym.

Is a Gym Membership Worth It for You?

But the cost of the membership isn’t the only factor. You have to ask yourself how much you’ll use the gym. Whether it’s $10 or $100 per month, paying for something you don’t use is a waste of money.

Joining a gym and never going is so common it’s a cliche. Every Jan. 1, people flock to gyms across the country. By February, they’re gone, never to return. But the gyms are still raking in the dough. According to research from Finder, 7.4% of gym members go to the gym less than once per month. Just 20% of members visit their gym weekly.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Can I afford the Membership Fee? The most crucial question is whether the cost of a gym membership works with your budget. If you can’t swing it right now, it’s not worth it.
  • Is the Gym Convenient for Me? A gym situated between your home and employer is ideal, as you can stop by on the way to or from work. If the gym’s in the opposite direction or is otherwise hard to get to, skip it.
  • Do I Like Going to the Gym? I’m an active person, but the thought of joining a gym makes my skin crawl. If that’s you too, you’re better off signing up for other activities, like swimming, cycling, or joining a kickball league.
  • Can I Do My Workout Anywhere Else? Before the pandemic, I loved yoga classes. During lockdown, I discovered plenty of free yoga videos on YouTube, and I’ll never go back. You don’t need a gym to do most workouts. You can run or cycle for free in a park, play sports with friends, or follow a workout routine on YouTube.
  • Do I Have Room in My Life for the Gym? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants you to get at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly. But when you’ve got a full-time job, kids, and other obligations, that can be tough. If adding a gym to your already full plate will break the dish, save your money.
  • Does the Gym Offer Amenities I’ll Use? A $10 per month gym membership seems like a bargain, but not if you don’t want to lift free weights or use the elliptical. Consider what you’re getting from the gym before you sign up.
  • Am I Signing My Soul Away to the Gym? How hard will it be to cancel your membership? If you have to make a dozen phone calls and pay a hefty fee, you’re better off skipping the gym or choosing another option. 

How to Save on the Cost of a Gym Membership

Cut the cost of the gym membership by shopping around before you sign a contract. Also, look far and wide for discounts, as most gyms offer them frequently. 

You might also find that skipping the gym entirely is what works for you. Whatever route you take, there are ways to make getting in shape work with your budget.

1. Take Advantage of Specials

Although many gyms charge a membership fee or initiation fee, many also happily waive the fee at certain times. The beginning of the year is an ideal time to sign up for a membership. That’s when many fitness clubs offer discounted monthly rates and waive the membership or annual fee. 

Some clubs also run specials at the end of the month.

Groupon and LivingSocial usually have deals from fitness centers, such as half off an annual membership or two months for the price of one. 

2. Consider Your Commitment Level

If you’re signing up for a gym as part of your New Year’s resolution, buying the one- or two-year package can seem appealing. You pay less per month when you commit to 12 or 24 upfront.

But if you give up on the gym in February, you’ve just paid for 11 or 23 months you’re not going to use. 

Although the per-month price can be higher, going the month-to-month route can be the budget-friendly pick. Once you realize the gym isn’t for you, you can bail without stressing about sunk costs.

If you’re a true commitment-phobe, you can pay per visit. The pay-per-visit route is beneficial if you’re interested in classes or personal training rather than using the gym equipment on your own.

Think about how frequently you plan to go to the gym. Then, compare the average cost of the drop-in rate to the monthly fee to see which saves you more.

3. Join With a Friend

Check the guest pass policy at the gym before you sign up. Some gyms let certain members bring a guest each time they visit. That means you can sign up for the gym, find a friend who also wants to work out, and split the cost of membership.

When you join with a friend, you benefit from having a workout buddy. You can hold each other accountable.

Alternatively, you can sign up for a family plan for two or more members and split the costs with friends or relatives. Just read the fine print first. You might have to live with your gym buddies or be related to them to be eligible.

4. Talk to Your Insurance Company

Your insurance company wants you to live your best, healthiest life so it can pay less toward your medical care. Many health insurance policies offer gym membership discounts or give bonuses to members who sign up for a gym. 

Double-check with your insurance provider to see what perks it offers.

5. Get a Work Discount

Your employer also wants you to live a healthy life so you can continue to be a productive and engaged employee. Some companies have wellness programs as part of their benefits package. It may include free on-site fitness classes or reimburse employees who sign up for a gym. 

To get the work discount, you probably have to go to the gym a certain number of times per month, which is a win-win for you. Your employer helps hold you accountable for using your gym membership.

6. Try Before You Buy

A quick tour only tells you so much about a gym. To get a sense of what it’s like to work out there, you need to give it a try. 

Ask for a free trial before you commit to a fitness center. Try the exercise equipment, take a Pilates class, and use the locker room. If you hate it, try another gym. If you love it, sign up.

7. Skip the Gym Entirely

You don’t need a gym membership to meet your fitness goals. If you have the motivation to exercise, you’ll do it whether you’re shelling out for an exercise club or not. 

There are many ways to exercise without the gym.

  • Go for a walk, run, or cycle around your neighborhood or in a nearby park.
  • Visit a nature trail and go for a hike.
  • Buy a yoga mat and dumbbells and set up a home gym.
  • Jump rope.
  • Download free fitness apps.
  • Try an equipment-free workout at home.
  • Sign up for dance classes.
  • Join an amateur sports league.
  • Play with your children or pets.

Final Word

If it motivates you to exercise and the overall cost doesn’t bust your budget, a gym membership is worth it. But you don’t need a gym to get in shape, especially if you enjoy non-gym forms of physical activity a lot more.

But if a gym works for you and you can afford it, it’s not a waste of money at all. Just remember that the cheapest gym might not be the most cost-effective. Pick a facility with the amenities you need, such as child care, cardio machines, and classes. It’s better to pay more for something you use than to pay less and skip it because it’s inconvenient.

Amy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia, PA. Her interest in personal finance and budgeting began when she was earning an MFA in theater, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country (Brooklyn, NY) on a student's budget. You can read more of her work on her website, Amy E. Freeman.

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