Gym memberships are a great way to stay healthy, but they can be expensive. Looking to save on your membership? Keep reading.

At gyms across America, it’s hard to get a treadmill in January. That’s good news for gym owners; within the next month throngs of new gym-goers will pony up initiation fees, sign year-long membership contracts and—in general—pay too much.

But not you. If you’ve resolved to join a gym in 2010, you don’t have to go broke to get fit.

Most gyms do offer incentive plans right around the New Year, but don’t stop there. Try these tips to negotiate your way to an even deeper gym discount:

1. Employer Discounts

Many gyms partner with local companies; is your employer one of them? Large employers often work with nearby gyms to offer discounted memberships to employees. Local and federal government agencies may also be on the list.

If you find that your employer doesn’t already have a discount program set up at your gym of choice, don’t give up. Try working with gym management or your employer’s human resources department to get the ball rolling.

Albeit less common, some employers offer a gym benefit and will pay a small amount (maybe $20) towards gym dues. It never hurts to ask.

2. Income Discounts

Given the dismal economy, income-sensitive gym membership discounts have become popular over the past year. The YMCA started this discount, but other gyms are jumping on the bandwagon. If you have low wages, high medical bills, or are unemployed, be sure to ask around to see if any local gyms offer discounted rates. To claim the discount, be prepared to show your most recent paystub or proof of unemployment benefits.

3. Health Insurance

If you have health insurance, you may already qualify for a gym discount through your health plan. Contributing to your gym membership saves your health insurance companies money; the healthier you are, the less the insurer spends on you.

Some plans will cover the entire cost of your gym membership up to an annual maximum. Check your insurance company’s website or call the member services number on the back of your insurance card to see what kind of discounts they offer and how to claim them.

4. Community Centers and Other Hidden Gems

These days, community centers are more than just meeting spots for the local Boy Scouts Troop. In fact, more community centers are boasting state-of-the-art exercise equipment and trendy group exercise classes.
If you are a resident of a city or county that has a community center, you’ll probably get a discounted rate. I paid between $30 and $40 per month at fancy health clubs for a couple years before I discovered my local community center, where I now pay $12 a month to work out on the same equipment I used at the gyms.

Don’t have a community center in your area? Visit your local government Web site and send an e-mail to suggest building one in your community.

If you don’t have a community center, or a gym membership doesn’t fit into your budget, that doesn’t mean you can’t build a consistent workout regimen. Scout out your office building, apartment complex, or local high school for places you can work out. (High school tracks are open to the public and provide ample space for plenty of workouts without any equipment at all).

5. Warehouse Clubs

Check out your local Sam’s Club or Costco to see if they offer any discounted membership plans. Nationwide gyms like 24-Hour Fitness or Bally Total Fitness are sometimes sold in packages at warehouse clubs. Remember to read the fine print: often you’ll have to sign up for one or two years to receive the discount. On the bright side, maybe such a commitment will help you make those resolutions a lifelong habit.

6. And…Don’t Forget to Negotiate

Whether you walk into a new gym with or without a discount in hand, don’t forget good old negotiation. The more expensive the gym you want to join, the more likely you can probably get a better rate just by talking. Some fancier gyms (typically those in cities or boasting amenities like pools and tennis courts) have “membership consultants” that earn commission. They want to see you join the gym just like a car salesman wants to see you in a new car, and usually, they’ll cut the price to make it happen.

What about you? Have you scored an incredible deal on a gym membership? How did you do it?

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About the author

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Amber Gilstrap is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money.