Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.
Gym membership is a big expense and in this day and age, we all need to be cutting back where we can.
If you’re finding that you don’t work out as often as you intend to and you’re paying over the odds for your membership, now’s the time to do something about it.
Here are our 12 top tips to finding cheaper fitness fees.
The least-pricey gym memberships are usually the kind that you find in your local council leisure centre.
They’re cheaper because they’re partly funded by a local authority or run on a not-for-profit basis. Although not all have the latest equipment and machines, some leisure centres are in the same league as private health clubs.
In most leisure centres, you have the option of either taking out a monthly subscription or the opportunity to pay as you go, costing only a few pounds per session.
If you’re unsure whether or not the gym is your cup of tea, try paying for the first few visits and if you decide to carry on then take up the monthly membership.
People on benefits and pensioners can sometimes receive great discounts and some councils offer cards which give you money off leisure activities in your city.
Contact your local council for more information, or give your local leisure centre a ring for their membership prices.
Some local community centres offer discounts to individuals on universal credit, allowing them to access equipment and classes for a discounted price. For example, Sheffield City council offers discounted leisure activities for those on Job Seeker’s Allowance, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and more. It is worth contacting your local council to see if there is a similar scheme in place where you live.
Before you commit yourself to a 12-month gym membership it’s a good idea to check out the facilities and see if it’s really something that you want or need.
DW Fitness First, for example, offer a free trial of up to three days. Many other gyms offer something similar so ask first if they have that before even thinking of signing on the dotted line. In fact, if a gym doesn’t offer a trial then you should be suspicious. Why wouldn’t they be proud of what they have and allow you even just an afternoon to try out the facilities?
If a free trial isn’t advertised, ask for one. It’s important that the atmosphere and facilities of the gym suits you. It’s also a good way of getting a free day in a gym!
The vast majority of centres offer a cheaper gym membership on the condition that you only go for sessions during off-peak times – usually before 4pm or 5pm on weekdays and after this time at weekends.
Bear in mind that the times vary from club to club, even those from the same chain – so it’s best to contact your local club for more info. Here are two clubs that have off-peak memberships:
DW Fitness First offer off-peak membership at some branches – contact your local centre to find out. They also let you get a discount each a month by choosing their off-peak option (it varies through different centres).
David Lloyd offers a range of off-peak memberships to suit your needs. Contact your local club for details.
Many people get unwittingly stuck with unfair gym memberships, check out our guide to avoiding these; “Don’t become trapped by unfair gym contracts“.
It’s one of those ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ type ideas: pay-as-you-go gyms.
Like a pay-as-you-go phone, you only pay for what you use. So there are NO expensive monthly fees to get locked into, and NO joining or induction charges.
Plus, you’re not limited to only one gym – payasUgym.com lets you use thousands of fitness centres across the UK (so you can use one close to work during the week and one near home at weekends). You can get day passes or monthly passes that you can use all over the place.
Want to get fit for less? Register for free here.
Gyms are often open to negotiating the prices of contracts – but they’re more likely to cut you a deal at times when they aren’t selling so many memberships.
So basically not January!
That’s an absolute peak month when people take out a gym membership because they need to work off the Christmas excesses and stick with their New Year’s resolutions. Better to wait until end of February when people have lost interest and the managers need to meet their targets.
Likewise it can pay to shop around during the summer or towards the end of the year, when it’s cold, dark and depressing and far fewer people are thinking about joining gyms.
You know how you can get a huge discount on a new car if you play dealers off each other? It’s the same with gym memberships…some times.
So shop around and make a shortlist of your favourite three or four local gyms. Get a membership quote from each one and play them off against each other.
For example, you can say you’re tempted to sign up but you’ve been offered a cheaper deal or better extras elsewhere. Or that you really like their gym, but it will cost you more to travel to it than your nearest fitness centre – but you would consider joining if they waived the joining fee or offered some guest passes.
Gyms are usually open to haggling if you make them think you’re very close to signing up with them.
Do you know people at work who might also be interested in joining a gym?
If there’s a group of you, it’s worth talking to the gym to see if you can secure a 10-20% discount on fees in return for a group of you all signing up. It’s the power of bulk buying, which we explain in this article that shows you how to get discounts on all sorts of goods and services by buying in bulk.
Speak to the individual responsible for memberships at the gym, especially (as mentioned in the point above) when fitness centres are desperate to meet their membership goals.
If you work for a large company, you might be entitled to a free or discounted gym membership. Lots of big businesses offer this to their employees as an incentive to work well and stick with them. Powergen, for example, is just one company that offers this as a perk for its staff.
If you’re not sure if your employer offers these benefits then ask your line manager or HR department. If not, then why not try asking the director of the company to set up a scheme? There’s no harm in asking!
If you have health or life insurance, it is worth checking if you’re entitled to any discounts at local gyms. For example, Vitality insurance offers up to 50% off with Virgin Active if you take out a health insurance policy with them. Similarly, Bupa offer 1/3 off monthly gym memberships at Hussle gyms.
If you’re a student, or you work in a university, you can get fantastic deals at your uni’s gym. Not only this but lots of universities open up their services to the general public.
For example, UCLU in central London has a sports centre that is open to non-students as well as students, with very reasonable prices including a day pass. Also the University of Edinburgh’s sports facilities are available to the general public although their fees are a little higher.
Just look up the website of your local university or college, hunt down your nearest uni on the Schools Web Directory, to see if they have a sports centre that is open to the public. The cost is usually much lower than that of a normal gym and they’re likely to have reasonably good quality equipment.
There are a few ‘virtual gym’ sites on the net, most of which charge a monthly or annual fee to belong and access their gym classes online which you do in the comfort of your own sitting room.
But you can do that even cheaper by putting ‘virtual gym’ into Youtube and following some of the classes on there. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as you don’t get new and updated real-time classes like you might do with the paid-for versions, but at least there’s no problem with your fee if you get bored of the idea after a few weeks!
If you know someone who has a gym membership which they don’t use (maybe an unwanted gift or a well-intentioned impulse buy) – then get them to take a look at the conditions of transferring their membership.
The fees for transferring are often less than those of actually being a member so you could cut your costs if the monthly fee isn’t too bad. This doesn’t apply to all gyms though so make sure you check with whichever gym your friend or family member belongs to.
Another little wheeze is to be a ‘spouse’ or ‘significant other’ of someone you know who belongs to a gym that gives discounts for couples. You don’t have to go to the gym together, just join as a couple and you get the discount.
If you’re really serious about cutting down on your gym costs then there’s a simple solution – don’t join one.
There are plenty of ways you can work out, lose weight and keep your heart steadily pumping without going to a gym.
You can buy your own equipment from somewhere like Fitness Options, or (even cheaper) on eBay, cutting out membership fees. Of course you can exercise without equipment too. Lots of people do very nicely with walking, running, cycling, swimming or playing team sports.
Even getting a dog will help your fitness. In fact, becoming a dog-walker will be even better. Take a look at our article about how to do that.
Take a look at our article on fun ways to exercise that won’t cost you the earth.