Even under the best of circumstances, with ample restraint, the holidays can be cruel to your waistline.
In November and December, the Problem Solver dined on succulent hams, a deep-fried turkey, several glasses of super-thick eggnog, and a seemingly bottomless decorative tin of decadent fudge.
You too may have started the New Year resolved to shed a couple of those holiday pounds.
But before you shell out your hard-earned cash to join a gym, you should know that the Problem Solver’s mailbox is jammed with letters from readers upset about gym membership deals that eventually went bad.
Before you get swept up in the first-of-the-year self improvement frenzy, take a step back and do a little research.
If you’re considering joining a gym, identify all of the gyms in your area and conduct a quick online search to see what others say about each facility. You’d be surprised how much information is available. The last thing you want to do is join a gym that existing members hate.
Before joining any gym, visit the facility. Try to go at the time of day you plan to use the gym. That way you can see how crowded the gym is, and whether there is enough equipment to meet the demand. Take a look at the clientele. Some gyms are packed with grunting weightlifters, while others attract middle-aged moms.
Once you find a gym that you feel comfortable with, crunch the numbers. Gyms are notorious for offering cheap deals to get you in the door, but signing up for a membership can leave you responsible for much more expensive monthly dues that can stretch for years. Make sure you’re fully committed to paying the dues in the months or years to come. There’s nothing more frustrating than paying for something you no longer use.
Trust me. I paid more monthly fees for more than two years to a gym I no longer attended. Total money lost? More than $900.
Although it can be mind-numbingly boring, read every word of the membership contract before you sign it, especially the fine print. How long does the contract last? Does it renew automatically? What happens if you move? Is there a way to break the contract?
If you have questions that aren’t answered by the contract, ask a gym employee. Whatever the employee’s answer, get it in writing. The Problem Solver receives countless complaints every year from consumers who say they were verbally promised something by a store employee, only to have that promise broken later. Without written proof, you’re often out of luck.
“If it’s not in the contract and it’s not in writing, it’s not going to happen,” said Tom Joyce, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau. “It’s key to get everything in writing.”
Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney with findlaw.com, said some gyms will include a cancellation clause for injuries. Again, it is important to read every word of your contract.
“They tend to require a doctor’s note of some sort,” Rahlfs said. “It varies pretty widely between gyms.”
If you do join a gym, ask if the company has other locations or agreements with gyms in other areas. This is particularly important if you plan to move before the contract is up. In some cases, gyms will allow you to cancel your contract if you move outside a predetermined distance from the nearest gym. Pay special attention to those rules – some gyms will expect you to continue the contract even if move 20 or 30 miles away.
If you join a gym but decide it’s a bad fit, look to see if either the contract or your state has a “cooling off” period.
“This is one place where you really have to know your rights,” Rahlfs said. “Your state might provide a 30-day cooling-off period and your gym might not mention it in the contract.”