Gyms typically offer memberships that run either month-to-month or for a year or more. Members who opt for the monthly contract can expect to pay more over 12 months than someone who signed up for a one-year contract.
Monthly contracts cost more because the member pays for the ability to walk away at the end of each month. That's great, unless you end up on a month-to-month contract for several years, something that happens to many people.
A 2005 report by Stefano Dellavigna, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley economics department, found that people who elected to join a gym on a month-to-month contract were 18 percent more likely to remain members for more than a year than customers who had committed to a one-year contract.
"We find that consumers choose a contract that appears suboptimal given their attendance frequency," Dellavigna wrote. "In addition, low-attendance consumers delay canceling this contract despite small transaction costs."
Annual contracts can be fairly difficult to get out of, so avoid signing on until you're sure about the gym and your commitment to getting fit. And when you do go, go often so you get what you're paying for.
"You want to go at least three times a week to get your dollars' worth and to benefit," says Denise Austin, fitness expert and author of "Side Effect: Skinny."
5. TRY THE BUDDY SYSTEM
It can be tough to get going on your own. Personal trainers can help motivate and instruct clients how to get the most out of their workouts. They can also end up costing quite a bit.
The IHRSA estimates that, on average, a personal training session runs from $38 to $82, on the low end, with many upscale trainers charging as much as $150.
One way to cut the cost is to find a trainer who will take on two people at once for less than the combined cost of two individual lessons. This way, you and your fitness buddy can split the cost.
Another option is to find a trainer that will train you for a half-hour, rather than a full hour.
6. BUY MORE BEANS
A big part of the fitness equation is eating healthy. Unfortunately, fast-food items and cheap packaged foods are often less expensive than loading up on fruits, vegetables and lean cuts of meats, fish and poultry. The costs are multiplied if you've decided to buy organically grown food or free-range meat.
Still, one money-saving option is to substitute some of the red meat you buy with whole grains and beans and legumes, which are less expensive sources of protein.
7. LOOK FOR EMPLOYER OR HEALTH PLAN DISCOUNTS
Your health insurance company or employer may offer a discount to certain gyms or offer nutrition assistance free of charge. Government employees and union members, among others, may also qualify for so-called wellness discounts.
8. TAKE THE NO-GYM APPROACH
The best way to save money on exercise? Don't spend any, if at all. Grab a friend and go for a hike. Walk or bike to work instead of drive.
Austin recommends a set of $10 dumbbells, a mat and an exercise DVD. Or just go outside and move around.
"Being active is the key," Austin says. "That's how you lose weight."