Spending

4 mistakes not to make when getting a gym membership

Tips for buying a gym membership.
Twenty/20

If you're looking to join a gym, grabbing a membership during the summer could be your best bet. Since so few people join gyms in the summer, many gyms offer discounts to lure consumers. Plus, you'll have more workout space, since gyms are emptier during the summer: June and July each make up only 3% of overall attendance. Memberships sold in January make up 10.8% of the total for the year, in line with many New Year's resolutions.

Before you sign a contract, though, read these four "don'ts" to make sure you get the best deal available:

1. Don't sign up for auto-pay

Americans spend a collective $1.8 billion on unused gym memberships, according to Finder.com. So fitness trainer Nicole Hulley, who has worked at Equinox for eight years, recommends paying manually for the first few months. This will help you evaluate the benefits of the membership. "Stop and think: How many times have I used it? Does this warrant the price I'm paying?" says Hulley.

Gold's Gym, Planet Fitness, 24-hour Fitness, and Blink Fitness, among others, allow you to choose to pay month-to-month rather than invest in a longer commitment plan.

After a few months, you can look back and decide to stop paying for a membership or switch to a cheaper one elsewhere. "If you're not planning on taking all those group fitness classes or swimming in the pool, those things are really what drives up the membership price," she says. "You could easily go to a small, local gym for $45 a month, as opposed to all the fluff other gyms offer, which you end up paying for whether you use it or not."

2. Don't sign up without asking about fees and 'freezing'

Gyms often offer discounted rates for the first few months of a contract that extends for a full year or longer. But consumer saving expert Andrea Woroch says they may not mention the cancellation fee, which charges you for early termination. Don't sign a contract that charges you for leaving.

You should also confirm that you can freeze your account whenever necessary. That means if you sign a one-year contract in July but sprain your ankle in August and can't exercise for a while, you are allowed to take a break from payment while you aren't using the space.

"When you look at a contract for the gym, it will be under the cancellation terms and conditions," says Claire Rosenzweig of the Better Business Bureau.

3. Don't take the first offered price

"You have the upper hand, because gyms need your business," says Woroch. "So when you're signing up, find out what type of deals you can get." This may include more money off, but you can also ask for things like additional guest passes or a personal training session.

For the month of July, you can get a membership at Blink Fitness for $1 (annual sign-up fees are usually $50, depending on what city you are in), and they waive the month's rate. Equinox, at around $200 monthly, is offering pro-rated pricing for the rest of July and a heavily discounted sign-up fee. And, now through September 1, kids age 15-18 can work out for free at Planet Fitness.

4. Don't forget to look at your insurance and employment benefits

Some health insurance companies offer discounts on gym memberships. United Healthcare offers up to $240 a year for working out at contracted fitness centers 12 times a month. Cigna's Healthy Habits Incentive program will reimburse you up to $400 a year for participating in certain fitness programs. Some companies offer health benefit packages, which often include gym memberships. Microsoft will reimburse you up to $800 a year for "wellness-related expenses."

One more thing: Don't forget to consider perks like on-site child care, fun group classes, personal training, a pool, or a sauna, if that's important to you. Your gym can become a second home if you fill it with enough temptations (and your down payment will be a lot less pricey).

Next time you consider taking advantage of a gym membership summer deal, remember to honestly evaluate your own fitness needs and read the fine print.

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