What your gym membership really costs

It's a new year and people are starting to think about their New Year's resolutions. Not surprisingly, this is the time of the year when people start signing up for gyms and fitness programs. Australia’s budgeting expert Tammy Barton encourages people to get fit and feel great, but warns people not to compromise their financial fitness for a gym contract.

Ms Barton is the founder of the Adelaide-based personal finance service MyBudget. As part of her mission to relieve financial stress, Ms Barton says that gym memberships are a great investment as long as people understand the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them. If money is tight, there are also ways to keep fit without spending a penny.

“Personally, I think that sports and gym memberships are a great investment in health, but they can also be expensive and become a financial liability,” says Ms Barton. “If you do decide to join a gym, make sure you read the contract properly before signing. Gym memberships often involve a 12-month commitment and you’ll need to pay whether you’re using the gym or not.”

Her first piece of advice is to make sure the services offered are ones you really want to use for the foreseeable future. “Work out how often you’re going to go to the gym. You can then put a price on each visit and that puts the expense into perspective”, advises Ms Barton.

If you have concerns about your level of commitment or ability to get to the gym regularly, her advice is to try and get into a routine at home first and avoid a lock-in contract.

When choosing a gym, Ms Barton advises people to ask about any signing fees, contract duration and break charges should you wish to cancel. “Can you suspend your membership for periods of time? Would a suspension period extend the contract duration? Can you cancel if you move house and no longer live in the area? Can you cancel if you are unable to exercise because of injury or illness?” Gym contracts can be hard to cancel if any of these situations arise. So much so, that there’s a colloquial term for gym clients that continue paying for their membership without using the service: sleepers.

Ms Barton also encourages customers to negotiate on price. “The gym industry is incredibly competitive and a lot of gyms will do whatever they can to get your business. Ask about waiving the joining fee or request a discount for you and a friend.”

There are plenty of ways to keep fit that cost next to nothing:

1. Mobile apps

These can be a great way to work up to a gym membership in the comfort of your home and on your own schedule.

2. Local meet-up groups

If you find it hard getting motivated to exercise on your own, you might like to check out the website meetup.com. Type your city into the search box to find fitness groups that meet in your area. Many of them are free or low cost. Alternatively, create your own fitness group with friends, neighbours or work colleagues.

3. Deal sites

If you prefer group classes, it's a good idea to check deal-a-day sites for discounted fitness deals.

Despite her warnings, Barton encourages people to invest in their fitness. "Physical fitness and financial fitness are both key factors in being happy, healthy and stress-free. It's about making sure that fitness is a positive part of your week, not a source of worry or guilt," Ms Barton says.

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