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I've heard time and time again that the best way to save money on fitness is to invest in DVDs and free weights and build a low-budget gym at home. But the problem with working out at home is that I have chores and snacks to distract me! I decided I had to join a gym to stay in shape. But I don't like to pay full price for anything, especially for a monthly expense. Over the past several years, I've belonged to two different gyms, and I have developed a list of tactics to save on my monthly membership fees. The general idea is the same as saving money at grocery stores, drugstores, and when shopping online; stack offers and promotions for deeper discounts!

1. Shop around. It's important to decide what you want out of a gym. To do that, you have to know what's out there! Find gyms in your area through Google or Yelp, and read the reviews. See what other people liked or didn't like about each to help narrow down your search. It's not worth spending any money if your gym is not a good fit for you. A swimming pool and a wide range of classes are important to me, whereas treadmills and kids programs are not as high on my priority list.

2. Try it before you buy it. Most gyms will let you try out their facilities for free or for just a few dollars. Once you have picked two or three gyms, call and see if you can stop by for a free trial workout. You'll have a chance to try a class or inspect the machinery and locker rooms and see if they're up to your standards. Many gyms still offer this perk even if they don't advertise it on their website.

3. Look for those deals. Daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, review sites like Yelp, and even location-based smart phone services like Foursquare frequently offer discounts on gyms. Thanks to Groupon, I was able to work out three months at one gym for 50% off, which ended up saving me $150 off the full price. Once my Groupon expired, the membership team worked hard to keep me by offering me some incredible incentives and deals.

3. Negotiate your rates and fees. When I first starting shopping around for a gym, I was surprised to find that none posted their membership rates online. But as I became savvy to the money-saving game, I realized there was a reason for this; gym prices are nearly always negotiable.

For example, many gyms charge a pricey fee to join on top of their monthly membership rate. But there are periods throughout the year when gyms waive that fee to boost membership. If you are looking to join during a time when they still are charging the fee, tell them you'll come back in a few months to get the better price. Chances are, they'll waive the fee on the spot to make a "special" exception for you. The gym membership advisors I've talked to work on commission, and they don't want to risk you walking away. I've had the membership fee waived at both gyms I’ve belonged to, which has saved me $250 total.

4. Ask about unadvertised discounts. When filling out my paperwork to join my gym, I mentioned I was a freelance writer. The membership advisor mentioned they offered a discount for freelancers, musicians, and artists, as long as they could prove their line of work. I brought in my portfolio and poof! They knocked $10 a month of my rate, saving me $120 a year. This is not a discount they advertise, and I only found out by accident. If I switch gyms, I will definitely ask if they offer this perk.

5. See if your employer will cover part of the cost. Check with your human resources department to see what gym-related perks they might offer to employees. If your gym is close to work, your employer might have negotiated a group rate. Or, your employer might reimburse part of your gym fees since it's less expensive to insure a healthy employee. One employer paid for half my monthly fee, and when I switched jobs, my new employer reimbursed me $250 a year towards my gym membership cost.

6. Get a friend to join. People look to friends for honest advice and recommendations, so many gyms offer rewards for referrals. You are a better salesperson for the gym than the salespeople at the gym! Both gyms where I've been a member have given me between a $50-$75 credit for referring a friend to join, which I applied towards my monthly fee. As an added bonus, friends are great motivators when you want to skip a workout! It's harder to ditch the gym when you know a friend is planning on seeing you there.

7. Once you're a member, look for more promotions. Gyms know you could easily cancel your membership and go to a different gym with a better rate, so they'll offer more opportunities to save money. My current gym has several locations, and on Thursdays I can work out at any locations for free. I'm also participating in a 30 day workout challenge sponsored by my gym. If I work out 30 days over the holidays, I'm entered to win a free month's membership, $50 credit for any service, and 5 free guest passes.

8. Use it or lose it. One great motivator for me to get my butt to the gym is that I know I am spending money on it. That's why it's so important to shop around in the beginning. I'd rather pay a bit more for a gym that offers the amenities I will really use rather than pay less for a gym I never feel like going to. If one particular gym isn't working for you, don't waste your money and find one that does.

This has been a guest post by Betsy from Chicago, IL
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