Enjoy Wellness

5.1 million Americans Waste $1.8 Billion on Unused Gym Memberships. Here’s How To Avoid Becoming Part of That Statistic

Kathryn Tuggle  |  January 18, 2019

Sign up for the the gym this year? Here's how to stick with it—for the sake of your wallet and your waistline.

When Morag Barrett first went for a swim at her new gym, she had no idea those refreshing laps through the water would end up costing her $1,200.

Although she kept promising herself she would make a workout part of her daily routine, six months elapsed before she made it back to the gym another time, and those automatic membership charges never stopped coming. “I kept thinking, ‘I’ll definitely go next month when things get quieter,’ but things kept coming up. I was traveling for work, my friends wanted to go out, I needed to binge watch ‘Man in the High Castle’—or I just didn’t want to go.”

Thankfully, Barrett, CEO at SkyeTeam, an international leadership and executive development firm, was able to get things back on track after a few months and now enjoys being a regular at her gym, but her story is not an unusual one. Turns out, 5.1 million Americans waste $1.8 billion on unused gym memberships every year, according to research from Finder.com.

With exercising more weighing in as the No. 1 New Year’s resolution for Americans in 2019, many of us may be heading through fitness complex doors as we speak, but can we keep it up for the long haul? If we don’t stick with our goal, we could be facing a substantial cost to our waistlines—and our wallets.

Making It Work

Once Barrett put pen to paper and realized the error of her ways, she was able to make a few adjustments that helped her get to the gym more often and spend less. First, she decided to join a cheaper gym so that her off days wouldn’t sting quite as much. Second, she added what she calls an “accountability partner.” Not someone who goes to the gym with her, rather a friend whose job it is to check in on her every week and see how her fitness routine is going—and of course Barrett returns the favor. “Simply knowing she is going to call me means I am getting to the gym, and that is certainly miles better than not going.”

She changed her self-imposed pressure to get to the gym every day and set a goal to go most days.

Perhaps most importantly, she changed her self-imposed pressure to get to the gym every day and set a goal to go most days, which seemed more doable for her. And this philosophy—doing what feels good to you, what works with your schedule—is how the fitness industry is evolving today, explains Austin Cohen, founder and CEO of FlexIt, an app that enables users to access gyms nationwide and only pay for the amount of time that they are in the facility.

Today’s consumers are accustomed to instantly streaming whatever TV show or movie they’re in the mood for, or getting their favorite cuisine delivered with a single click, so it should come as no surprise that apps like ClassPass, Popin and FlexIt are now allowing you to choose your preferred method of calorie-burning at the touch of a button. “Pay per use is not a new concept, but it is more at the forefront of people’s minds than ever before,” Cohen says. “A-la-carte options enable users to access what they want, when they want and these smart consumers want to control their experience. If a user wants to subscribe, she’ll feel better about subscribing after trying before she buys. Trying gyms and classes before getting a membership not only allows consumers to save but allows them to experience different types of gyms and workouts so they can see what they enjoy.”

Working Out From Home

Virtual workouts, done from the comfort and convenience of your home, allow you to still get your workout in without the extra time spent driving to the studio and finding a parking spot.

Of course on-demand classes in the real world are just one option—today, more of us are turning to online classes for saving both time and money. Online options are generally much cheaper than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. For example, YogaGlo, an online platform streaming of thousands of yoga classes, charges just $18 per month for unlimited use. (I’m sure I am not alone when I say I would kill to find an monthly rate like that anywhere in New York City!) But it’s not just the price that’s luring health-conscious folks online. Jillian Bridgette Cohen, CEO & co-founder of Virtual Health Partners, an online wellness platform that offers nutritionist appointments, live fitness classes and more, says that one of the biggest roadblocks in getting to the gym can be just thatactually getting there.

“To make a 6 a.m. workout class, you might have to set your alarm for 5:15 to get out of bed, get dressed, pack your gym bag and drive to the studio,” she says. “When a one-hour workout class really adds an extra hour and forty-five minutes to your day, skipping the gym can become even more tempting.” Virtual workouts, done from the comfort and convenience of your home, allow you to still get your workout in without the extra time spent driving to the studio and finding a parking spot.

Shopping Around

If you’re still shopping for the right workout option for you, this is a great time of year to do it. In January and February, many gyms offer special introductory rates that you might not see the rest of the year, says Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at TrueTrae.com. If you’re not sure if you want to commit for the full year, ask if the gym offers month-to-month rates. “You will pay a bit more per month, but you’ll have more control over what you’re paying for,” Bodge says.

If you’re more of a class person, check out studios in your area that offer your preferred workouts and ask about a free introductory class, or even a free week. Many studios offer free trials, so you can check things out before you make a financial commitment. When you’re ready to pull the trigger, consider buying a package of classes. “Classes purchased in bulk will typically be less than what you would pay for individual classes,” Bodge says.

There is such a thing as free. There’s running. There’s stair-climbing. There’s walking or biking to work.

Lastly, there is such a thing as free. There’s running. There’s stair-climbing. There’s walking or biking to work. There’s YouTube, which has thousands of free fitness videos available. “Simply search for the style of workout you prefer using a genre, like Yoga or HIIT, or a description, like ‘30-minute’ or “low-impact.” Once you find some videos that you like, you can subscribe to the channel and receive notifications when new episodes are released,” she says.  

You may need to purchase a few things—like a fitness mat, weights, kettlebells, bands, a bench, etc., but the cost will be minimal when you compare it to what you might spend for the year at a gym.

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