3 Sneaky Ways Companies Make Money off Your Failure

3 Sneaky Ways Companies Make Money off Your Failure
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It's 2016, and if you have a problem, you can bet there's a service that'll claim to fix you up--for a nominal fee, of course. Want to get in shape? Join a cheap gym! Need to lose weight? Sign up for a weight loss service! Single and hating it? That's what dating sites are for!But while there might be an app for everything in our modern age, you should be careful about which paid services you spend your money on. Why? Because a lot of companies that claim to help actually profit from their customers' failure. Here are three examples of paid services to be wary of when you need help achieving a goal.

1. Online Dating Services

happy couple

With just a little over a month left until Valentine's Day, you might be considering upping your online dating game, but before you start shelling out for a paid subscription to a dating service, consider the facts. Many online dating services claim to have crazy high success rates, but as this Washington Post article points out, we have little way of knowing what those success rates are based on. Does success mean marriage? Does it mean a first date? A second date? Monogamy? Sex? It's not always clear.

Paid sites and apps tend to report a higher success rate, but the fact of the matter is if you DO find success (whatever that means to you) on one of those sites, you're likely to stop paying your monthly fee. If everyone using a paid dating service got hitched right away, no one would be making any money, and as the online dating industry is booming, it's safe to say that's not happening.

A 2013 study commissioned by eHarmony found that about 35 percent of recently married couples met online--45 percent through a dating site, and 55 percent through social networks, chat rooms, message boards and other online platforms. Those figures alone should give you pause, because if the majority of married couples in this study who met online DIDN'T meet on a dating site, then why should you shell our your hard-earned cash for one?

Sure, I can name a few couples in my life who met on paid sites like eHarmony or Match.com, but I actually know significantly more people in committed relationships who met on free dating sites like OkCupid, Plenty of Fish and, yes, even so-called "hookup" apps like Tinder and Grindr.

If you're on the lookout for love, the internet can be a valuable resource; just make sure you don't waste your money on something you can get for free.

2. Cheap Gyms

gym

We've mentioned this before, but gyms like Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness, which offer memberships for insanely low monthly fees, actually build their business models around the fact that most of their members never show up to work out. In fact, these gyms actively seek out people who are unlikely to ever use their services, often hosting head-scratching pizza and bagel nights to promote their brand and recruit new members who will rarely (if ever) step foot in the gym.

Why does this work? Well according to the Planet Money report which broke the story, low-cost gyms don't actually have enough equipment to serve all their members. Planet Fitness gyms average about 6,500 members a piece, but each gym is only built to serve around 300 people at a time. If everyone with a membership showed up at once, only four percent of them would even be able to squeeze though the door.

In order to get people who don't normally work out to sign a year-long contract, low-cost gyms use some pretty shady psychological tactics, like putting the daunting weight rooms and heavy-duty workout machines in the back of the building, and designing their lobbies to look like fancy hotels, spas and resorts. Once you've drank the Kool-Aid and become a member, you're likely to be overtly discouraged from regular workouts with certifiably-insane ploys like "The Lunk Alarm" at Planet Fitness. According to reports from Planet Fitness members past and present, this is triggered whenever it seems like someone is working out too hard--whether through grunting, dropping weights, or just looking like a bodybuilder. A loud alarm, audible throughout the gym, goes off and a Planet Fitness employee is dispensed to stop the "lunkhead" from intimidating other gym-goers with their fitness #skillz. Like, seriously, Google this for yourself. This gym is basically discriminating against people who actually work out, all in the name of money keeping the regular people who sign up from actually using their memberships.

Of course, if you're the kind of person who can strictly self-regulate, then you're beating the system by letting the lazies of the world subsidize your gym membership. But let's be real, you're probably not one of those people. Don't become a member at a gym where you won't be motivated to work out. Paying a monthly fee--even if it's just $10--for something you don't use is nothing more than a waste of money. If you want to join a gym that will actually hold you accountable, try your local CrossFit.

3. Weight-Loss Companies

weight loss

According to the U.S. Weight Loss Market 2014 Status Report, Americans spend over $60 billion every year on weight-loss products, and yet obesity levels in this country continue to skyrocket. This can't be blamed entirely on the weight-loss industry, but as with online dating sites, if these weight loss products were the magic solution, there wouldn't be a surplus of people buying them again and again.

And by the way, many of the most popular and well-known weight loss services in the U.S. are owned by corporations with a stake in selling the very foods that make us fat.

Seriously, weight-loss shake brand SlimFast is owned by Unilever, which also owns brands like Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Hellmann's Mayonnaise, Klondike Bars and Fudgsicles. Weight Watchers is owned by ketchup giant Heinz, which also owns Bagel Bites, TGI Fridays and Ore-Ida Potatoes. Jenny Craig was owned by Nestle (which owns more than 8,000 world-famous food and beverage brands) until 2013 when it was bought by private equity firm MidOcean Partners, which also invests in American fast-food chain Sbarro and British cookie-maker United Biscuits.

See a pattern here? Whether you're buying junk food or weight-loss products, the money all goes to the same place.

This isn't to say that these programs are totally useless, because I know plenty of people who've lost weight using one of these services. But most people who buy weight-loss products end up gaining back the weight they lose--and then some. The secret to lasting weight loss isn't a hidden ingredient in one of those pre-packaged NutriSystem meals--it's making a permanent lifestyle shift: eating healthy, whole foods and moving your body. Weight-loss products can help, but if you find yourself in a vicious cycle of losing and re-gaining weight while you're using them, it's time to stop wasting your money, and start being smart about what you're doing to your body.

If you want to achieve your New Years resolutions in a safe, permanent way without breaking the bank, try out free fitness and calorie tracker smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal, Lose It! and Fooducate. These programs can help you make informed decisions about food while staying on top of your daily exercise goals, and they're all totally free.

Cover photo via Flickr/Trading Academy.