Is a gym membership a good financial decision for you?

In the last two weeks I’ve eaten my weight in shortbread cookies and Quality Street – and I’m sporting a charming muffin top to boot. It happens to the best of us and it’s probably why so many fitness centres are pushing gym memberships to the overstuffed survivors of the holiday season.

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In the last two weeks I’ve eaten my weight in shortbread cookies and Quality Street – and I’m sporting a charming muffin top to boot. It happens to the best of us and it’s probably why so many fitness centres are pushing gym memberships to the overstuffed survivors of the holiday season. 

Signing up is tempting, but there are lots of people out there who say gym memberships might not be that good a deal – this US study from 2003 actually showed people tended to use their memberships less than five times a month, meaning the fees and costs don’t add up to much value. 

Granted, that’s an older study – but there have been some warnings about the pitfalls of gym memberships in the press here in Canada. Stories like these of people trying to cancel memberships but still being charged the monthly fee for example. Going to the gym is a great New Year’s resolution – don’t get me wrong. But I think you need to be really careful to make sure you get a good deal and that you sign up with a facility you really like and are going to use. 

Some gym memberships can look very reasonable at first – they offer a pretty cheap fee, say, $45 a month. But they might also make you sign up for at least a year to get that price – and some can charge an annual fee on top of that. What happens if you move? Or you don’t like the facilities after using them for a few months? Will the costs make sense if you have to take a bus for 40 minutes to get there? What if you lose your job and can no longer afford it?  

I’m also wary of services that make it extra hard to find out how much they cost. Before writing this, I called around to a couple of big name gym chains to confirm pricing – what put me off is that neither would give me the costs over the phone. In fact, both were kind of cagey and acted suspicious when I asked. Of course they did a pretty hard sell to get me to come in person for a tour – one gym said flat out it was not their policy not to give any prices over the phone at all (should I try WikiLeaks instead??). 

Of course, I think it’s a noble goal to get fit in the new year (and if the gym is your thing – go for it, with a caveat emptor attitude firmly in place). For my part, I think I’ll stick to trying to drink more water and getting out to the odd yoga class.