Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Death of 1,000 cuts - Gym Memberships

What amazes me about money and how people spend it - including myself - is how we allow small amounts to leak out over time, which cumulatively end up as huge holes in our budget.  One of my earliest postings, Life in the Rowboat, posited that personal finances (or indeed corporate ones) were like living in a leaky rowboat.  You can row, you can bail, your can plug the holes.   All three are helpful, but no single one is going to make you successful.

You can bail the rowboat as fast as possible, but if there are too many leaks, it will sink.   You can patch all the leaks, but unless you bail, it will still be full of water - and you won't be getting anywhere.   You can row to your destination, but if you have a lot of leaks and don't bail out the bilge, you will sink before you get there.

You need all three to succeed.  But plugging those leaks in important.  Better yet, it is a lot easier to just not drill holes in the bottom of your boat.

And you do this, every time you say, "Hey, it's only $10 a month on a credit card!  Why not?" and sign up for another subscription service.   Keep those to a minimum, and when you stop using them, unsubscribe.

Gym memberships are a case in point.  Every January, the gyms of the world put up ads about "New Year Resolutions!" and sell gym memberships.   Many of these ads are very subtle - they may appear as postings on social media from an ordinary Joe.  "I've made a New Year Resolution to go to the gym!" they crow - and conveniently mention the name of the gym.   Or they post pictures of their new muscles and crow how going to the gym changed their life - within only a few months!   Reddit is full of this sort of crap - the whole website is nothing more than product-placement advertisements and shilling of the worst sort.

Working out and getting exercise are good things to do.   And if you have the time to do it - and the inclination - then good for you.   Being healthy, however, does not require that you go to a gym, only that you exercise regularly.   And there are many forms of exercise out there that do not require machines and apparatuses and special workouts.   Of course, the shills for gyms will say otherwise, that your body will fall apart, unless you use their special equipment.   No wonder people in the olden days died so young!  They didn't have a Nautilus machine!

The sad truth is, many people sign up for gym memberships and never use them.  People sign up for Onstar and never use it.  People sign up for various online services, cable channels, phone services, and other subscription services and never use them.   They forget about them, or forget to cancel during the "free trial period" and then pay the monthly bill for months and months, promising themselves to cancel next month, but they get stuck on musical hold and forget about it.  It's only $10 a month, right?

When we cleaned out Mark's stepmother's house two years ago, we were horrified to see she was still paying for AOL service.   She paid every month - $19.95 - because she thought she needed it to get on the Internet, and didn't want to change her e-mail address.   $240 a year for something that you could settle in a half-hour.   And being retired, it is not like she had a lot else to do.

Many folks - including myself at one time - never check their credit card charges and balance except once a month when the Statement comes out.  And then they just make a payment (often the minimum payment) and glance at the charges.  They don't stop to figure that between all the subscription services they are running up hundreds of dollars a month - and wonder why their credit card never gets paid off!

This is not to say a gym membership is always a bad idea.   But if you buy one thinking that the cost will guilt you into going, think again.   And if you buy one and never go after the first few times, then cancel the contract, rather than draw it out for months or years of small charges.

But let's face it - the numbers don't lie.   6500 members and room for 300 at a time.   Even assuming people stagger their attendance, at least half, if not far more, of those who are signing up are never going to the gym.