What Gyms Don’t Want You to Know About Their New Year Deals

Keep that New Year's resolution without making a costly mistake.

It’s the most common New Year’s resolution by far: the vow to get in better shape and start a fitness routine. That’s why gyms and fitness clubs love the month of January when they traditionally see a spike in new memberships. That’s good news for them—but not necessarily for you as a budget-conscious consumer. Sure, fitness centers often run tempting promotions at the start of the year, but these deals often aren’t quite as incredible as they initially seem. This is one of those situations where you should heed the old adage “buyer beware” and instead learn a few tricks to shop smart and save some money in the new year.

Resolutions are easy to make—but hard to keep

After the overindulgences of the holiday season, fitness seems like a really good idea. That, along the whole “new year, new you” mantra, means that a lot of people enthusiastically sign up for gym memberships once they put the champagne down and get back to business. In fact, more than 12 percent of all new gym members join in January, according to research conducted by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). But the interest tends to wear off quickly, and the majority of those start-of-the-year members quit within five months.

Don’t rush into a gym commitment

Gyms are popular in the United States. More than 1 in 5 Americans belong to at least one gym or health club, according to the IHRSA. If you don’t already belong to a gym, you may be tempted by all of the New Year’s promotions you’re seeing right now… but don’t sign on the dotted line too quickly. Even a good deal will end up being a waste of money if you don’t use it enough to make it worthwhile. Think about what you want most out of a gym, and be realistic about what kind of fitness routine would be the best fit for you. Look for gyms or fitness centers that offer programs that appeal to you, and with an atmosphere where you will feel comfortable. Once you’ve done your research and identified gyms you might like, then check out what deals they can offer. And if at all possible, do at least an intro class or a “guest visit” before making any type of formal commitment. Here’s the secret to actually keeping your New Year’s resolutions—including this one!

Timing is everything

January is, in fact, the time when you will likely see the best deals, with promotions that often include things like discounted rates, waived sign-up fees, and other perks and bonuses. But, according to DealNews, this is a case where patience can pay off. The deals usually get even sweeter as the month goes on, as membership reps and sales directors try to meet ambitious January quotas. By holding off until later in the month—or even until early February—you can often score the very best deals, terms, and even additional perks.

Bypass the goodie giveaways

It seems counterintuitive, but many gyms try to lure people in with snack buffets, pizza parties, and the like. But experts caution that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. “Consider joining a gym that does not offer free food like pizza as a perk,” says Michael Bonebright, a consumer analyst with DealNews. “Chances are, these ‘perks’ are built into the cost of your membership, so you could probably find a lower rate without them. You can always bring your own healthy snacks.” Eat smart with these healthy snacks you can grab on-the-go.

Find (and perhaps combine) other discounts

Gyms may be giving the hard sell for start-of-year sales right now, but that’s not your only way to save money—and perhaps not even your best way. You may be entitled to a special rate through your employer or a professional organization, and there may also be ways to get part of the cost subsidized.

“January is one of the best times all year to sign up for a new gym membership because many gyms offer incentives to new members at this time,” says Bonebright. “However, you can still save on your new gym membership even if you miss out on a special promotion. For example, some health-insurance companies offer reimbursement for select fitness programs. This may only be a partial reimbursement, but that’s money back in your pocket just for visiting a qualifying gym a few times a month!”

Ideally, you can maximize your savings by combining two or more tactics—perhaps jumping on a special promotion while also getting your employer or insurance company to chip in toward the bill. Just make sure everything lines up before you commit to a specific gym.

Don’t overcommit yourself—or your wallet

Getting locked into a long contract can end up costing you in a big way. Particularly if a gym routine is a new thing for you, it’s important to give yourself a trial period while you see if you’ll stick with it long enough to make it worth the expense. “Gym contracts are notorious for being full of sketchy nonsense,” Bonebright says. “Instead of signing a year-long contract, go to a gym that lets you pay per visit or class. That way, you can be sure you’re only paying for what you’ll use.” If you don’t like the standard contract they initially offer you, try to negotiate and see if they’re willing to be flexible on some of the terms. Need some guidance on how to do that? These 5 simple (but genius) tips will help you negotiate like a pro.

Study the contract

Gym contracts are notoriously hard to get out of and can often be filled with fine print that can include extra charges, cancellation fees, and other expensive pitfalls. Be sure to read the contract carefully before you sign anything. The FTC offers some tips about what to look out for:

  • Make sure everything the sales staff promised is actually spelled out. If it’s not in writing, it might be tough to get the gym to honor those terms later.
  • Look for cancellation clauses. Some gyms will charge a hefty fee to let you out of the contract, while others make it almost impossible to cancel at all.
  • Know exactly what you will be paying. Look for any additional fees or extra charges, and break down an annual fee into weekly or monthly terms to better plan your budget. Also, watch for mention of rates that jump after the initial introductory period.

Be a savvy—and social—shopper

Rather than jumping on the first deal you see, take the time to do some comparison shopping. There are likely several good gyms in your area, so check out each one to see which is offering the best deal and has the features that are the best for you. DealNews also recommends checking social media and deal sites/services like Groupon or LivingSocial to learn about insider offers. Start with the gym’s social media pages, where they may share “insider deals” just for their followers that aren’t widely advertised (and that they may not even tell you about if you just walk in). The deal/discount sites, meanwhile, sometimes offer a specially packaged deal that may allow you to do a trial period or take a certain number of classes without signing a long contract. Next, check out these 50 ways to get a great deal on anything.

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Bobbi Dempsey
Bobbi Dempsey is a freelance writer, editor and content specialist whose credits include NY Times, Forbes, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping and many others. She has written both consumer-facing and B2B content for numerous companies in the technology, healthcare, education, and personal finance industries.