If you've ever considered joining a gym, you know it's not aseasy as stepping onto a treadmill. Be careless signing up and you'llbe locked into a pricey contract that can't be broken for at least ayear, at a time when consumers are scrutinizing every monthly bill.
But there is good news. If you're resourceful and stubborn, youcan wiggle out of some of the fees and requirements, and sometimeseven negotiate an arrangement that's more favorable to you than thegym. This is particularly true now, as gyms struggle to hold ontomembers responding to the bad economy.
'Contracts were pretty standard not too long ago,' says LarryCronin, owner of Fitness First, an independent gym in Arlington thathas never required people to sign contracts. 'But consumers now aresavvier and they're saying, `why should I sign a contract? If Idecide to, I should have every right to leave.''
If you were to cold-call the chains - including Gold's Gym andBoston Sports Club, for example - it might sound as if nothing haschanged. All membership managers I called on a recent afternoonreferenced sign-up fees. All mentioned contracts. But even then,there was room for negotiation. The Boston Sports Club in Walthamcharges $105 a month to people who sign a one-year deal. That goesdown $10 if you sign a two-year deal.
But, of course, why should you sign any deal at all?
Anna Wong was simply unwilling to get stuck in a $59-a-monthcontract with Boston Sports Club's Wellington Circle gym. Shelearned that members can transfer their contracts, so Wong searchedCraigslist. There, she found a pregnant woman willing to pay the $39transfer fee if Wong would take the contract off her hands. Noproblem. As a bonus, the contract had only seven months remaining,after which it turned into a month-to-month deal. And the monthlyfee, locked in when the pregnant woman signed, was only $49.
'I'm surprised more people don't think of this before they join agym,' said Wong. 'The transfer process took all of 5 minutes and twosignatures.'
There are other things you should think about.
If you're not quite sure you're ready to commit to curls and sit-ups, you can pay per workout, but it's usually expensive. BostonSports Club is $25 a visit, but this month, the gym is holding'Friendly Fridays,' in which that fee is waived for that day. Gold'spasses are $15 a day. And then there are guest passes. Membershipmanagers hand them out to prospective gym-goers to entice them.Members can score the passes for friends and family.
That's how I became a Gold's Gym member.
I've never particularly liked gyms. All the grunting andflirting. I prefer to run, outside and alone. But a couple of yearsago, I broke my ankle after slipping on the ice during a jog. Mywife, noticing her cast-restrained husband slowly going insane,acquired a few guest passes from friends and forced me to limp intothe local Gold's.
A few visits later, the lady at the front desk stopped me andtold me the gym reserved the right to stop letting me in on the freepass but that it would love to sign me up. Then she told me aboutthe contract and sign-up fee. She said neither was negotiable. Nothanks, I told her, and waddled out.
I simply came in a few days later with yet another guest pass anddealt with another Gold's employee. Crutches in hand, I pleaded mycase again. He was a better listener and suggested I join as a'friends and family' member. No sign up fee or contract. In the end,it worked out for both sides. Two years later, I'm still a $40-a-month member.
Whatever you're looking for, you should be willing to shoparound. Because there's a big difference between The Sports Club/LAwith monthly fees that run as much as $280 and an independentexercise spot such as Fitness First.
Cronin has been in business for 27 years and has never had a sign-up fee or contract. Members pay $59 for each of the first threemonths and then, if they agree to an automatic draft, membership is$39.
Maybe he doesn't have the same perks as Sports Club/LA, but yoursweat will stink just the same in both and isn't that what a gym isfor?
Today's story is part of a monthlong series. Every day, you willsee the Spending Smart logo on the front page directing you to thatday's story. Also, at www.boston .com/spendingsmart, you will findmore stories, tips, videos, a place for readers to share their ownideas to save, and details on a contest in search of the most frugalNew Englander.
Geoff Edgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.