Finances & Money

I tried to cancel our gym memberships…

I really want to simplify our lives. We pay for services we simply don’t need or don’t use, and each one is one more thing I need to track each month, and worry whether it was paid or not. Also, service prices are only increasing every year, so if we’re not using it, then why keep it?

The day after I tried to cancel Vonage (and got 2 months free service instead), I called Bally Fitness to attempt to cancel both my and Stacie’s gym memberships. I’ve been a member since 2002, and Stacie joined shortly afterward. We each paid about $50/mth for 3 full years, and then once our contract was fulfilled, we automatically shifted to a MUCH cheaper price plan.

My price went from $50/mth down to about $8/mth and Stacie’s went down to about $12/mth. It was all a promotional deal, and both plans were subject to a maximum 10% yearly increase. Now we’re paying about $30 combined.

The problem? We never go to the gym. It’s just too inconvenient and we would rather do other things to exercise, especially in the summer. We go on walks, we swim in our pool, we sit and watch TV (wait, that’s not exercise). Also, I bought Stacie an elliptical trainer for her birthday recently from Craigslist (I would never buy one new; there’s just too many good, barely used ones for sale).

Lastly, my new employer has a pretty nice gym facility in my building and it’s free for employees to use anytime. They also have a locker room and showers, so I can exercise before work and wash up.

Canceling a Gym Membership is Never Easy

Whether it’s your local mom-and-pop gym or a national chain like Bally Fitness, all gyms know that once they get you as a member, you’ll probably never come back after the first month. They’ll lock you into a full year (or 3 years like Ballys) and they’re assured of getting that income, or at least a hefty fee for canceling early.

You’ll pay month after month thinking “I’ll go tomorrow” or “I’m paying for it so I should use it”, but never get around to using it. Then you feel guilty and think about canceling, but then you think “I would lose out on all that money I’ve spent so far…I’ll go tomorrow”. It becomes an endless cycle, just like it became for us. However, we had the other argument of “we pay so little, why cancel?”.

But with our little budding home gym and my own workout center at the office, I finally made the decision that it was time to cancel both our Bally memberships.

For those of you who have tried to cancel while you’re still under contract, you know it takes an act of God to get out of the contract. You need to move 2000 miles away from any gym, sporting goods stores or another human being, and then pay a penalty for canceling early (usually your first born child, or at least $50).

Luckily for us, we’ve been out of contract for years. But that doesn’t mean they won’t make it difficult for you to cancel. First, with Ballys, good luck getting through to the cancellation department. I tried for 2 days, and every time I called, it told me “the wait is longer than 30 minutes, try back at another time” and hung up on me!

When I finally talked to a human, they brought out the ultimate weapon: temptation. Just like Vonage, they tempted me to keep my membership by offering free months. In this case, they offered 3 months free for both of us. While I know our habits won’t change, I still took the bait and accepted. It’s nearly $100 in savings, but that doesn’t really matter if in 3 months I still need to worry about the bill getting paid.

But for those of you just paying for the gym every month without actually using it, consider dropping your membership and just going outside for walks or looking for cheap, used exercise equipment on Craigslist, eBay or yard sales. For $50 a month ($600 a year), you could build an amazing home gym that you’ll never use, rather than paying a company to not use their equipment!

Photo by Mimar Sinan

About the author

Clever Dude


  • Right after we were married, my wife and I joined a gym. I went exactly once, and my wife went a few times. After the year expired, we started adding to my old weight set, and now have a decent amount of exercise equipment in our basement. I like the convenience of just walking downstairs when I feel like exercising.

  • I have to say that I’m disappointed. You took the bait that you knew full well was just that,.. bait. Not only that, you’ve added yet another argument not to cancel: “Well, we’re getting three months free, why cancel?” You had enough reason to cancel when you called them, why would you think that three months are going to change things? And of course, they’re just hoping that you’ll forget or change your mind after the three months are up.

    Seriously CD,.. I respect your opinion and advice, but I honestly yelled “Idiot” at my computer when I read this post.

    As for myself,.. I’m trying to get out of DirecTV, which is more difficult and evil than gym memberships. Never again will I use DirecTV.

  • @Rob, hmm, wouldn’t consider myself an idiot because idiots don’t think. I knew exactly what the consequences were for taking the deal, and accepted that I’m on the hook in 3 months for calling back and canceling again.

    However, one piece of information I withheld from you all was that my wife was a reluctant participant in cancellation plan. I took the deal hoping to appease her and get her comfortable with not having the gym as a backup plan anymore, so in 3 months she’s ok with canceling.

    As for DirectTV, I don’t know why people fall for it over and over again. I would never want an ugly dish on my home and wiring stapled to my siding like so many of my neighbors have. Perhaps if I had kids, I would want those channel options and would be looking for the best deal, but I never hear people raving about the awesomeness of satellite TV, especially on cloudy days and bad weather.

  • Do you intend on cancelling once the free period is over? It’s gotta be tough to get three months free without thinking “maybe I’ll actually start going now.”

    We have a gym in our building and we never go…sad but true

    • Yeah, I plan on canceling, and I might cancel before the 3 months is up. I did put a reminder on my calendar (6 days prior) to cancel each membership so I know when to call.

  • You might want to investigate whether there is a way to send your cancellation notice by certified mail (to prove they got it).

    I made the mistake of just taking the written notice and the keycard by the gym and leaving it with the manager, who assured me it was all taken care of. They continued to electronically draft my checking account even though I no longer had access to the gym. I did not catch it for a really long time, partly because I wasn’t as good about reconciling my bank statements as I should have been, the draft was identified by a number not a vendor name and also because some months they wouldn’t take any out, then the following month, they might draft it twice. When I discovered it, they denied receiving my previous written notification and I had no way to prove I had submitted it. I wound up having to send a certified letter to the gym and also to my bank to stop the bank drafts.

    I later discovered I could use the track at a high school five minutes from my house and really feel bad about all the money I wasted at the gym!

  • As for DirectTV, I don’t know why people fall for it over and over again. I would never want an ugly dish on my home and wiring stapled to my siding like so many of my neighbors have. Perhaps if I had kids, I would want those channel options and would be looking for the best deal, but I never hear people raving about the awesomeness of satellite TV, especially on cloudy days and bad weather.

    I have Dish and have no troubles with weather causing problems. Furthermore, the dish is on the back of my house, so it’s not visible from the street AND looks no worse than the gas and electric meters mounted nearby.

    It is also very nice from a channel selection standpoint for both my kids and us – I personally like Discovery, TLC, History, etc. better than the network stuff.

    Someday, having satellite will give the next owner their choice because the house is currently set up for either Dish or Comcast.

  • Hey CD,
    thanks for the post. I think it is a global phenomenon when it comes to canceling subscriptions or memberships. I usually try to write the cancellation letter the same day I signed for the subscription, print it to pdf and put it in the “send it or loose money folder” and set a reminder on my calender to print, sign and send it. I also try to use some direct language as: “effective immediately”, “please transfer overpaid fees on my account” “send me a confirmation via E-Mail” and “cancel the subscription according to §x.x of your membership regulation”. Additionally, in cases where I have to hand in important (at least to me) documents, I have a “received” template where I only have to copy-paste the company information. The template states “Hereby I approve that I have received the cancellation letter.” Get the name of that person to whom you hand it and have it signed. I believe that the mere fact that they signed something, makes them feel more responsible. Actually, I never had to use these but it feels me more secure.
    Looking forward to your future posts. Greetings from Europe.

  • It’s so funny. Sometimes if you want a promotion you just need go straight to the cancellation department. People there are trained to keep customers with wonderful baits. I tried it sometimes with my home phone service when I need to reduce my bills a bit. It works most of the time. You just have to sound really distress about the high bill (but it’s actually distress but you have to let the Reps know that, otherwise why the heck do you want to cancel, right?

  • CD, Since you are not under contract, can’t you just quit paying them, and let them figure out you are canceling? They cannot legally demand payment, right?

  • My husband and I joined a gym when we moved here to New Orleans that charged a somewhat hefty initiation fee. Our reasons for joining were solid: I loved the yoga teachers and they have plenty of classes, Jordan enjoyed the Saturday am basketball games, and running on a treadmill in the AC beat running in the hot July sun.

    But our lives have changed over the last year. I found a great local yoga studio. Jordan really likes playing in some free, pick up games he has found around town. Now we have a dog – and I prefer doing my run with him.

    So we’re dealing with the same dilemma you wrote about and have to think through the initiation fee we sunk into the club. If Rob thinks you’re an idiot – then I am a total bonehead. My one piece of advice for other potential boneheads? Don’t sink a piece of cash into a health club until you’re sure you’ve found a routine you’ll follow for a while.

  • yeah, it really depends if you use the facilities. I was concerned about my wife wanting to spend $134/mo for the gym, but she uses it 6 days a week. Her work pays for half, there is no contract, she goes to the workout classes which most other gyms charge to participate in, and because of the price point, the gym and classes aren’t over crowded.

  • Ok,.. at this point I feel as if I need to qualify my previous post. I don’t really think that you’re an idiot. Perhaps that came out wrong on the initial post. That was just my initial reaction to reading it for the first time. Do I think your decision was foolish? Yes, but you have your reasons. I didn’t mean for that to come across so harsh,.. more like the ribbing friends give each other after one of them does something silly. My apologies.

    Anyways,.. I look forward to seeing a post in three months letting us know how it turned out and how many times you went in those three months. 😉

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