Most of us don’t realize that when we’re casually sitting in a room with a friendly gym associate, we’re actually in the middle of a negotiation. After all, health clubs and gyms are businesses, and in business, you can negotiate anything—well, at least you can try.
According to one site, the average monthly cost of a gym membership in 2014 was $41—a significant financial commitment that adds up to nearly $500 per year. What's more, only 44 percent of gym members attend their gym more than 100 times a year—meaning there's significant waste from underutilization. So while investing in your health is usually a good idea, wouldn’t it also be nice to avoid overpaying?
Many gym chains are willing to negotiate the price of your monthly membership or what you have access to, though boutique studios and gyms tend to be even more flexible. Your success largely depends on your local branch and myriad other things that we’re about to discuss.
So, don't just waltz into a gym unprepared. Here are 12 tips to help you when you’re in the negotiating hot seat.
1. Do your homework.
It’s like going to a car dealership: The more you know, the better off you’ll be. Gym associates are trained salesmen and will have a pitch ready for everything, so arming yourself with info and knowledge of their sales tactics can place you in a better position.
"They’ll ask questions about your needs and goals, then use those answers against you when it comes time to close the deal," says Kristin Wong, a personal finance writer based in Los Angeles. One sneaky question you may hear: Can you commit to exercising during the week? Say yes, and they’ll remind you of this later when you're unsure about a pricey membership, Wong says.
2. Make sure you have the time to negotiate.
Acting like you have all the time in the world—even if you are actually in a hurry—increases your likelihood of success, says J.D. Roth, a personal finance expert who writes for Money Boss. “Patience pays. The more time you have to make a decision, the less pressure you'll feel to make one now,” Roth says.
3. Shop at the end of the month and in the middle of a weekday.
Membership salesmen often have a monthly membership quota to hit. For this reason, try shopping for your gym membership close to the end of the month, preferably when there are no other customers waiting around. With these combined factors, you have greater leverage for two reasons: The sales rep may be hurting to fill his quota, and if no one, or very few, people are waiting, he has more time to dance with you.
4. Stay on top of discounts and promotions.
If you're patient and savvy enough, there's always an awesome deal to be had. Sign up for several gym email newsletters to stay on top of promotions. Check aggregation sites like Yelp, FourSquare, and Groupon to see if there are special referral rates or discounted packages. Even third-parties like Costco occasionally offer deals on full memberships. Just make sure you read the fine print: Many deals ask you to commit to a subsequent contract or may raise your rate when the promotional period has ended.
5. Ask for a trial period.
If you’re not ready to sign on the dotted line, most gyms offer a free trial period. Just be careful about signing anything as a prerequisite, since that mini-contract can sometimes automatically turn into a full-fledged membership when the trial ends.
During your trial period, try to look beyond the dazzling smoothie bar and locker room jacuzzi. Actually use the time to see if the gym will fit your needs. Ask yourself: How busy is the gym during the times you intend to use it? Is the location convenient to your daily schedule? And get a feel for your fellow gym-goers—are they a crowd you can work out with?
6. Create the competition.
Roth suggests acting reluctant to accept any deal and instead ask, “Is this your best price?” This creates a sense of competition, and as soon as this scary C-word enters the mix, you are likely to get a better deal, or at least, a “complimentary” bump in your membership access (hello, sauna!). You can also mention you're checking out other gyms, or have already received free passes elsewhere.
7. Get your friends to sign up with you.
Gyms typically offer multiple tiers of membership: senior, student, military, corporate, family, and more. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Typically, the more people who can enroll with you at the same time, the more negotiating power you have as well.
8. Inquire about discounts for upfront payment.
“Many places will offer a discount if you pay in full upfront,” Wong says. Think: 12 months for the price of 11 if you pay at one time.
Roth also says you should ask questions, such as “Can I have six months for the price of five?” Or “Can I be upgraded to the next level of membership?” Gym memberships are notorious for hitching on other fees: initiation fees, enrollment fees, facility fees, locker fees, and so on. These arbitrary fees can’t always be waived, but they could likely be haggled, especially if you are plenty insistent or agree to their preferred method of payment.
9. There are always freebies.
If they won’t budge on the price, see if you might be able to finagle free months or free personal-training sessions. Just make sure the personal-training session will be productive for you, as these complimentary lessons can be upsells in disguise. (And spoiler alert: The personal trainer is likely going to sell you hard on them, so be on the lookout for that.)
10. Be prepared to walk away.
Let’s face it, negotiations can be scary. It’s easy to stand down after some initial resistance and smooth one-liners (after all, they’re trained sales people). All in all, negotiation is often about tipping the power in your favor, and according to Roth, “The ultimate power is willingness to walk away from a deal.”
Walk away (like, really walk away) if they don’t give you the best deal. Most of the time, salespeople with monthly quotas don’t let people peace out so easily.
11. Make sure you know what you’re getting into.
If you’ve managed to get the sales rep to give you a sweet deal, get it in writing. The contract and written word are a solid defense against things like a fuzzy memory or a change of ownership. Have any discounts, promotional pricing, or freebies included in your contract, just in case.
Speaking of contracts: Know the exact duration of yours and the terms of cancellation. Gym contracts are not easily broken, so even if you move to a new city or you're not using the gym, you’re legally bound to continue paying.
12. Check with your employer or insurance provider for added incentives.
Many companies offer fitness-related perks—like a corporate discount rate or reimbursement. Check with your human resources department for details. Along the same line, many health insurance providers have a vested interest in keeping you healthy. Take time to read the fine print, and don't be afraid to call and ask about specifics.
For first-timers, negotiating can be intimidating. The key is to stay strong and remember: There are plenty of other gym-shaped fish in the sea.