Beating your personal best. Becoming healthier and happier. Beginning to look and feel good. These are the promises many gyms make in exchange for a membership fee. But whether or not you need a gym to achieve these goals is often up for debate, especially when you’re keeping budget in mind. The constant pull between fitness and finances has many people asking: Are gym memberships worth the money?
“I think a gym membership is a great option if you plan to use it,” says Shannon McLay, founder and CEO of financial planning firm The Financial Gym. “Not only because it will keep you healthy, but the healthier you are, the less you will have to pay in medical expenses down the road due to poor health conditions.”
Still—that’s if you plan to make use of your gym membership. If you don’t hit the gym consistently, the membership cost could become a drag on your wallet, possibly for months or years on end. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider before buying a gym membership:
1. Is the gym within your budget?
The first thing to consider before buying a gym membership is how much you can afford to spend on the gym. The best way to know if you should start, cancel or keep a gym membership is to consult your budget: Do you have enough disposable income to cover the cost?
From there, consider how often you’ll go and break down how much each visit will cost, McLay says. “Typically, I tell clients that their gym visits should be less than $20 per visit,” she says. “Otherwise, they should just invest in one-off classes or some other fitness activity.” More than this amount, she explains, and you could be paying higher than the national average for fitness classes and missing cost-effective alternatives.
It’s true that gyms come in all shapes and sizes, so compare the different offerings in your area to determine which is in line with your budget needs.
2. Are you truly committed to a fitness lifestyle?
Sure, working out regularly and improving yourself always sound like good resolutions.
“In all honesty, there’s nothing that will make you go to the gym if you’re not committed to making a change for yourself,” says personal trainer Jaclyn Phillips.
Before adding a gym membership to your budget, make sure the timing is right so you can reap the rewards of your fitness investment. If you’re committed to an extra crazy work schedule or prioritizing travel for the foreseeable future, for example, a new gym membership might go to waste. However, if you are committed to your fitness goals or a new extracurricular, a line item in your budget for the gym could motivate you to go and make your money’s worth.
“Typically, I tell clients that their gym visits should be less than $20 per visit. Otherwise, they should just invest in one-off classes or some other fitness activity.”
3. Do you have enough time and energy to use the gym regularly?
It’s no secret: Working out takes time and energy. One of the things to consider before buying a gym membership is whether or not you can carve out time in your schedule to use the facility regularly.
You should be “ready to commit to going to the gym at least three days per week,” McLay says, explaining that at least 12 visits per month will often average less than spending on individual classes. “If you can’t commit to actually going to the gym, it’s definitely not worthwhile.”
If your packed schedule means the answer to ‘are gym memberships worth the money?’ is ‘no’ for the time being, you can pursue one-off classes as your calendar permits. If you end up finding more free time or working out becomes more of a priority, you can then re-evaluate if a gym membership fits into your budget.
4. Does the gym offer useful or motivating amenities?
In addition to being a place to focus on fitness, gyms can also be an outlet for fun, activity and relaxation. Some gyms may even offer services or amenities that make it more likely you’ll stick with your new workout routine and can help you decide whether to cancel or keep a gym membership.
“Joining a gym that has a variety of amenities so you can mix up your workout (like a relaxing sauna or hot tub) can help,” says Phillips, when listing the kinds of things to consider before buying a gym membership. “It’s also helpful to find some kind of facility that has a class or type of exercise that you actually enjoy, such as a boxing class or yoga.”
McLay agrees. “If you like to attend classes, then make sure the gym has a robust class schedule with multiple options,” she says. “If you like working out on a treadmill, then make sure the gym has multiple and that you’re assured they will be available when you are in attendance.”
5. Does the gym require a lengthy contract?
Gyms know that people don’t always stick with their membership in the long run. That’s why many facilities require you to sign a contract, sometimes for up to a year, before you can get started. Yet when you first sign the contract, it may be difficult to know whether you’ll really like the gym. That’s why both McLay and Phillips say to avoid a contract that asks you to commit to a term you’re not comfortable with, even if that means finding a different gym.
If you think you’ve found the perfect gym but the contract’s term has you concerned, ask about using guest passes or a no-fee trial to test out the facility to make sure it’s a strong fit.
Deciding whether to cancel or keep a gym membership if you’re not using it gets a little bit trickier when you’ve signed a lengthy contract.
“I had a client who wanted to cancel a gym membership and she would have had to buy out the remainder of the contract term to exit the contract early,” McLay says. This is fairly common for gyms that require membership agreements, Phillips adds.
“Also, be wary of facilities that try to upsell you on extras like towels and other items you can easily bring from home,” Phillips says. When you’re going through the list of things to consider before buying a membership, McLay cautions against gyms that have a lot of upfront startup costs, such as an initiation fee or an additional annual fee.
“In all honesty, there’s nothing that will make you go to the gym if you’re not committed to making a change for yourself.”
6. Can you get the workout you need elsewhere?
Finally, when asking yourself ‘are gym memberships worth the money?’ consider whether you really need an exercise facility in the first place. It’s possible that you don’t, especially if you don’t know whether you’re truly committed yet or if you have enough time to actually use it.
“A lot of my clients are moms and busy women who only have time to do at-home workouts,” Phillips says. “You really only need a couple pieces of equipment (like dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands) that you can get at Walmart for fairly cheap.” You can also choose no-cost activities such as running, biking or hiking if you’re looking for ways to get fit on a budget.
McLay has some suggestions for finding no- or low-cost DIY workouts as well.
“I advise clients to look into free apps on their phone or YouTube videos of workout options,” she says. “You can also look into buying individual class passes to try out a number of workout routines or follow health and wellness influencers on Instagram and Facebook to get free workout plans and suggestions.”
To cancel or keep a gym membership
There are many things to consider before buying a gym membership or deciding whether to cancel or keep a gym membership you’ve held for some time.
If you’re ready to commit to a healthy lifestyle and find room in your budget, signing up for a gym membership may bring great value. It can even save you money in the long run despite the short-term sting of an additional monthly bill. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce healthcare costs, especially for conditions like cardiovascular disease and obesity.
But, the experts agree, if you’re not yet committed to using a gym regularly, it might be better to pass on that membership for now. Better to wait until you’re truly ready.