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Get Fit for Less Dough

Trim Your Waist, Not Your Wallet
  -- By Leanne Beattie, Health & Fitness Writer
Congratulations! You’ve decided that this is the perfect time to finally get in shape. Have you priced out exercise equipment or gym memberships yet? If not, brace yourself for a bit of sticker shock! Getting in shape can take a significant chunk of change. But don’t throw in the towel just yet—there are plenty of ways to cut your fitness expenses and still get the resources you need at a price you can afford.

Save at the Gym
Going to the gym is a popular way to get in shape. Depending on what time of the year you join, you can get a really good deal on membership rates. Health club enrollment typically spikes in January, as thousands of well-meaning people decide to make good on their New Year’s resolutions. This isn’t the time to get a deal, however, since clubs don’t need to offer discounts to attract new members.

But everything changes in the spring and summer when the number of new members begins to dry up. May to September is the ideal time to haggle with your local gym over fees. You have even more bargaining power if you can get a lower price from another gym on the other side of town—many gyms will match the price of their competitor in order to get the sale.

Most clubs tack on some sort of registration fee when a new member signs up, but this extra cost can often be waived. Tell the sales representative that you need to think about it for a while and be honest about your pricing concerns. If you don’t seem too eager to join and it looks like you’re going to forget about the whole idea, the rep may reduce—or even eliminate—the fee completely. And ask about other payment options, like paying-in-full. If you can afford to pay for a yearly membership in one payment, most gyms will greatly discount that cost and eliminate registration fees to boot. Don’t forget to ask for student or family discounts to bring the cost down even further.

If you already have a gym membership, take a closer look at the fine print—are you paying for extras you don’t need, like towel service, saunas or a swimming pool? Unless you’re actually using these amenities, you’re throwing away your money every month. Renegotiate your contract and cut out the frills—threaten to cancel your membership completely if your gym balks at the change. Chances are your dues will drop because the gym won’t want to lose the ongoing revenue your membership provides, even if it is a bit lower than before.

Pay for your gym membership by credit card if you can. Many credit cards offer cash back or travel loyalty programs—if you pay for your fees with such a card, you could earn back a percentage in air miles or discounts, which cuts the cost of your membership even more.

Don’t forget to look into your health insurance coverage. Many insurance providers offer reimbursement for gym fees, as long as you can show proof of your membership with a contract and all of your payment receipts. The amount you receive back from your insurance provider will depend upon your particular policy, but any amount of cash back is money in your pocket.

If the gym still is too expensive, consider using your local community recreation center or YMCA. If you’re not looking for a full-service fitness facility, these venues will likely be all that you need. Their rates are often lower than other gyms, and sometimes their fees are on a sliding scale (based on your income and/or what you can actually afford to pay). The YMCA is also known for never turning away a person who is unable to pay.

For a checklist of things to look for before you join a club, read 8 Things to Consider When Choosing a Gym.

Pinch Pennies with Personal Training
Booking a few sessions with a personal trainer is a great way to get your exercise program off to a good start. But at $30 to $65 per hour (or more), regular sessions with a trainer can put a big dent in your pocketbook. If you’re really strained for cash, pay for just one initial meeting with a trainer. He or she will be able to set up an exercise program that will help you meet your goals and ensure that your form and technique aren’t putting you at risk for injuries.

Many personal trainers will let you buddy up with a friend, allowing the two of you to take part in the session for one fee. Split the cost with your friend and you’ll save 50% right off the bat. Also look into group training rates, as many trainers offer packages for groups that range from two to eight people. Typically, the more people you have on board, the less each person pays per session. To find out if a personal trainer is for you, take our quiz.

Gently Used is Good as New
Have you ever gone to a friend’s home and found a treadmill stuck in the corner gathering dust? Now think of how many other people are doing the same thing. Because people buy treadmills, bikes and elliptical trainers with the best of intentions but then don’t use them, you can find really good deals on lightly-used equipment. You'll find everything from small equipment (stability balls, yoga mats, resistance bands, and dumbbells) to large pieces (like cardio equipment and strength training benches, barbells, and machines) and fitness videos.

The issue here is shipping—large items are typically very heavy, meaning online auctions might not be the best way to buy. Check out the classified ads in your local newspaper or local online bulletin board to find deals (including garage sales) within driving distance. If you have a pickup truck, or know someone with one you can borrow, you can save hundreds on shipping charges. Amazon.com sells both new and used videos and fitness equipment (small and large). Don't forget about ebay.com (check for local pick-up on big ticket items) and craigslist.org, which connects you with local people who are trying to sell their stuff. Also check out your local Play It Again Sports store, which sells both new and gently-used fitness and sports equipment. 

Shop Online and Save
If you’re not sure what equipment is right for you, use a search engine to find a reputable exercise equipment review site.  These sites typically go through all the pros and cons of the major brands. You can then either search for a certain type of used equipment or buy new without a high-pressure sales representative pushing you to buy the most expensive piece of equipment in the store. 

If you know what you want, buying online can save you up to 45% off retail prices. Online retailers can offer these dramatically lower prices because they don’t have the overhead (rent, sales commissions, electrical fees, etc.) that brick and mortar stores do.

Be sure to check the length of the manufacturer’s warranty—the longer the better. The length of the warranty is a reflection on the quality of the equipment and the commitment of the seller or manufacturer to stand behind their products. Because no piece of equipment can last forever, make sure your online store offers repair services and a flexible return policy.


See? Getting fit doesn’t have to mean going broke if you take the time to find the best deal before you open your wallet. With a little research and a little flexibility, you can find the equipment and services you need without breaking the bank.