Joining a health club can be a major enabler to maintaining a healthier lifestyle. It can also be a huge waste of money if you don't use it enough or if you overspend. Do you live in a major metro area? You probably have many choices in health clubs or fitness centers -- everything ranging from a deluxe, full service club which could cost of a family $200 a month, to a no-frills community center which may be as little as $100 per year.
How do you make sure you get value from your health club membership? Here are a few ideas:
Use it. The best way to know your getting your money's worth is to use the club. Say Jane and Tammy both spend $100 a month on the same club. Jane uses the club 15 times a month, while Tammy only manages to exercise there 4 times per month. Jane's cost-per-use is $7.50, while Tammy's is a whopping $25. Tammy would be better off paying by the visit, which is often anywhere from $5 - $15 for most clubs.
Look for affiliations. Some of the most economical fitness clubs out there are not the big LA or Lifetime Fitness chains, but rather places that you are able to go to because of where you or a family member works, lives, or goes to school. The advent of full-service community centers, complete with fitness facilities, gives some families the ability to workout for $100 per year or less, if they are residents of the community. For students and professors, most universities and colleges have full service gyms which rival the nicest private ones in the area. Some high schools have invested in training centers for their athletes which are open to the public on a pay-per-use basis. In rare cases, hospitals offer full-service fitness centers to their patients and members of the community for a low fee.
Check for employer or insurance discounts. In many cases, your employer has a prenegotiated rate with larger area health clubs which could give you a substantial discount. This is especially true of very large companies. If you are unable to access a corporate rate, check to see if your HR department will reimburse you for any gym dues as a "work/life expense" policy. Many insurance companies are also realizing that if their customers use health clubs, they will be sick less often. In particular, Blue Cross in many states offers incentives for people to join and use a health club.
Check out the discount chains. A trend in the past five years has been the surge of small, no-frills fitness chains such as Snap Fitness, Anytime Fitness, 24/7, and Fitness 19. By not offering a swimming pool, locker rooms, basketball or racketball courts, or showers, they can operate with amazingly low prices. Dues at such clubs are often $20 per month or less with little or no initiation fee. They are typically clean, have newer equipment, and are hardly ever crowded.
Don't forget about childcare. While some of the more upscale chains may cost more, they also have full-service childcare. For many families, the peace of mind of knowing children are in a quality facility being taken care of by trained staff is priceless. Additionally, many families find that the ability to drop the kids in childcare provides both parents and children a welcome break from each other, helping everyone recharge mentally as well as get a good physical workout.
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