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Negotiating A Gym Membership Contract


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Has anyone else gone through the perils of joining a fitness center? Joining a gym can be an incredibly agonizing experience. I am speaking from experience. I went to a join a local fitness center and the entire process was a hassle. The salesman did not want to tell me the price of a gym membership without first locking me into an expensive long term contract. I was assured that if I left I would never be able to get this price again. It was a “special” for today only and would expire after I left. After spending three hours negotiating my gym contract, I left with a reasonable deal. The most important thing that I learned that day is to be prepared.

Here are 6 things that I learned from my horrific experience joining a fitness center:

1. Call first.

One of the first things that I learned is that it’s better to negotiate your contract over the phone. This way you are less likely to fall prey to the high pressure sales tactics of salespeople. Negotiate over the phone and have them email you the contract specifications. This gives you time to think it over and shop the offer around. If you wait to do this at the fitness center, salespeople will take you back to one of those glass receptacles and throw their best sales pitch at you. You may end up agreeing to a contract that you will regret for years to come.

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2. Never take the first offer.

The first offer that you are quoted is always the worst offer. Salespeople try to use your initial excitement about getting in shape to get you to agree to any price. Remember that although everyone may be working out in the same fitness club, everyone is paying a different amount. If you take the first offer then you are getting the worst price. My fitness center asked for $55 per month initially and a $199 membership fee. After hours of haggling, my membership price became under $17 per month.

3. Get it in writing.

I learned that any oral promises from salespeople at fitness centers cannot be trusted. Be sure to read through the contract and make sure that the price is the same one that you were quoted. Hidden fees and upfront charges can be found in the small print of the contract. Some memberships even automatically renew themselves unless you call and cancel. Never sign a contract until taking time to think about it.

4. Get them to waive the membership fee.

Never agree to a membership fee. No matter what they say or how hard they try to convince you, never sign a contract with a membership fee. You should not have to pay money just to sign a long term contract. They are asking you to pay money for the privilege of paying them more money. That’s ridiculous.

5. Never sign for over a year.

You may be very excited about getting in shape now but what about in 2012 and 2013. Gyms will try to lock you into 3 or 4 year contracts because they know you may change your mind later. Plus it’s a guaranteed income stream for the gym. Never sign for more than 1 year. You don’t know how you will feel about your current gym in the future.

6. Pay your membership in full.

Find out exactly what discounts are available for paying your entire gym membership up front. You can get the largest discount possible on your membership by paying in full. For example, a fitness center may charge you $19.99/month for a 12 month membership. This is an outlay of $240. You can often get this same membership for $160 or less by paying the full 12 months. Paying your membership monthly will cost you a lot more money over a year.

Ultimately, going to the gym and getting in shape is a wonderful thing and awesome for your health. Hopefully these tips help make the membership process a little more bearable for you in in your journey to getting shape. Do you have any negotiating tips or stories?

(Photo credit: ahip)


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Mark Riddix is the founder and president of an independent investment advisory firm that provides personalized investing and asset management consulting. Mark has written financial columns for Baltimore and Washington, D.C. area newspapers and is the author of the book, "Your Financial Playbook."