The Heavy Price of Losing Weight

Shedding pounds can be expensive, but the costs don’t have to be as bloated as you might think.

People working out at the gym
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Every January, the nation is clobbered by TV, print, and online advertisements touting a number of products and services that will make this the year that extra weight finally comes off.

If the ads mention the cost of using their products or services, it's naturally downplayed. That doesn't necessarily mean spending money should be a deterrent from shedding pounds and improving one's health, but it's nice to know if your bank account can handle the weight-loss strategy you're about to embark on. If you realize midway through your new fitness regime that you didn't budget adequately, you may find yourself abandoning your newly adopted lifestyle and embracing your old friends, Taco and Bell.

According to data by Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm that specializes in tracking niche industries, Americans spend north of $60 billion annually to try to lose pounds, on everything from paying for gym memberships and joining weight-loss programs to drinking diet soda. If you're planning on applying new strategies to lose weight, consider these tips before emptying your pockets:

[Read: How to Improve Your Finances at Any Age.]

If you join a gym: As gym regulars know, every January an onslaught of new members storm the entrance and swarm the machines. "You do get the New Year's resolution crowd," says Patrick Strait, communications manager for Snap Fitness, a worldwide chain of 24-hour gym and fitness centers. "It probably starts about the last week of December. Everyone's motivated and excited about the idea of getting into better shape."

So much so that last January, Snap Fitness added 100,000 members to its nationwide membership roster—nearly double how many they would add in August.

By August, at fitness centers throughout the country, the new gym members are nowhere to be seen. Consequently, exercise caution before joining a gym, especially if you're signing up for a year's membership and fitness training is a new concept to your body. While a Snap Fitness single membership is $35 a month, the average monthly cost for a gym membership is $55, according to StatisticBrain.com, which specializes in collecting data on business, consumer, sports, financials, and world news.

Other stats from StatisticBrain.com worth noting: The average amount of money that goes to waste at the gym is $39 a month, and 67 percent of people with gym memberships never use them.

Of course, you may buck the odds, and nobody should be immediately discouraged from joining a gym. However, opting for a pay-as-you-go fitness plan or a monthly membership—instead of locking yourself into a year-long membership—is a safer option, financially speaking. You can always sign up for a longer, presumably cheaper membership later, after you've determined whether you're going to stick to your new fitness lifestyle. After all, according to a new survey from Bodybuilding.com, two-thirds of adults in the United States have made a New Year's resolution to become fit, but 73 percent of those two-thirds gave it up before achieving their goal.

If you can't afford a gym: While sit-ups and pushups may sound like a drag, Jennifer Seyler, a registered dietician, personal trainer, and president of the Chicago Food and Nutrition Network, says "There are a variety of at-home exercises you can perform that leverage your own body weight, including situps, push-ups, walking lunges, squats, and triceps dips."

Beyond that, many cable services offer free, on-demand workout videos, as do various websites, like YouTube.

If you join a weight-loss program: If you opt for Weight Watchers, what you spend will depend on whether you're attending in-person meetings ($42.95 a month) or joining the organization online ($18.95 a month). Nutrisystem has tiered a different pricing system depending on your gender, making it difficult to say exactly what you'll pay, but costs typically range between $270 and $300 a month. (The men pay a little more.) While that may sound pricey, the payment includes about 60 percent of what you'll be eating every month, which is why men pay more (they get more food), so at least the cost should be offset by a drop in your grocery bill.