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Economical spending for fitness equipment beyond New Year's resolutions

When purchasing exercise gear, should you buy or rent?
When purchasing exercise gear, should you buy or rent?(Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

This entry was originally published by the Chicago Personal Finance Examiner.

Every year there's a massive group of people who resolve to eat better, exercise more and lose weight. Hundreds of dollars are spent on exercise equipment, fitness DVDs and iTunes downloads to put them in the healthy spirit. And by Valentine's Day, chocolates are devoured, the DVDs sit under a pile of receipts for that equipment and weight scales announce weight gain.

Most of us could use a little weight. According to CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) are obese. In Illinois, the obesity rate is 28.1 percent who were obese in 2012, which is around the same estimate (28.2 percent) of obesity in 2010. The fitness is worth it, but is the money wasted worth it in the end?

At least if the weight loss and fitness goals go down the drain, money doesn't have to follow suit. Check out this gallery (above) for tips to save money while trying to keep those New Year's resolutions.

Follow Shamontiel on Pinterest for all her latest Chicago nutrition and fitness entries, or subscribe to her Chicago Diet and Exercise channel at the top of this page. Also, follow her @BlackHealthNews.

Don't ignore your favorite treats, just make them healthier
Don't ignore your favorite treats, just make them healthier (Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Don't ignore your favorite treats, just make them healthier

It may make sense to buy granola bars in bulk and throw out all of your favorite foods, but once you start checking the protein levels versus the carbohydrate levels on "diet" foods, you may find that some are just as fatty as your old menu. Invest your money in healthier versions of the same foods. For example, this meal from Loving Hut in Chicago may look like it's a fatty meal. How can a chocolate shake and dumplings be healthy, right? Wrong.

The shake is made of banana and soy ice cream. The dumplings include textured vegetable protein (TVP), tofu, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini and onion. You don't have to go vegan to eat healthier foods, but it does help if you're willing to start budgeting for more vegetables and fruits and less fatty foods. Some healthier foods may seem more expensive at grocery stores, but your doctor's bill will be a lot larger if you keep eating fried, fatty foods at the same rate.

Ditch the class, rent the DVDs
Ditch the class, rent the DVDs (Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Ditch the class, rent the DVDs

If you've ever paid for an exercise class but the fitness instructor annoyed you or you weren't comfortable bending over and squatting in class, purchasing and renting your own DVDs for home use cost much less than paying for a group of classes. If you're not sure if you want to pay for an entire session of an exercise class, pay for one session and then make the decision. If you're unfamiliar with the style of the exercise, test it at home first.

Know your strength
Know your strength (Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Know your strength

Weight training helps people burn fat, increase muscle mass and lose weight. But purchasing weights that are too light or too heavy will do you no good in the long run. Consider purchasing a variety of sizes so when you're too strong for one, you can always do weight training with a heavier size. And revert back to lighter weights during aerobics workouts. Free weights alone may be the reason to join a gym. There's always a weight room, and you'll have the option to choose whatever weights you want at whatever time without buying all of the sizes.

Seriously consider how often you plan to participate in weight lifting versus how often you'll visit a gym to use their weights. Free weights can range from double digits to triple digits. If you're already spending triple digits for an annual membership, do you really want to spend the extra funds on weights you'll never use when you're not at the gym?

Exercise mat vs yoga mat: What does your home look like?
Exercise mat vs yoga mat: What does your home look like? (Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Exercise mat vs yoga mat: What does your home look like?

You don't necessarily need to buy a yoga mat, a pilates mat and an "exercise" mat. But you do need to decide what types of exercises you'll regularly be doing before you purchase the mat. Ebay.com confirms that martial arts mats have 2 inches of thick foam. Yoga mats are usually 1/4 to 1 inch thick. Exercise mats are usually 1 inch to 3 inches thick.

Yoga mats (commonly called "sticky mats") may literally stick to you when they're wet but are easy to clean. Some yoga manufacturers recommend using yoga mats on smooth floors while exercise mat manufacturers give a thumbs up on carpet.

Whichever mat you decide on depends on the type of floor you'll be exercising on and the type of exercise you regularly plan to do. However, as long as you don't have serious back issues, using a universal mat will work just fine. Just replace when necessary.

Take advantage of library exercise DVD rentals
Take advantage of library exercise DVD rentals (Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Take advantage of library exercise DVD rentals

In Jennifer Merritt and Roe D'Angelo's book "13 Things Rich People Won't Tell You," one of their pieces of advice in the "Become a Budget Master" chapter suggests using your local library for free entertainment, such as books, magazines, CDs and DVDs. Keyword here is DVDs. Libraries often have a fitness section on their DVD shelves. Instead of purchasing a bunch of DVDs from unfamiliar fitness instructors, use your library card and rent a bunch of DVDs. This way you'll be able to tell whether you like the instructor and/or the types of workouts, and since they're free anyway (technically library funds come out of your tax dollars) you can branch out and try new exercise DVDs you may have not considered purchasing.

Weigh the cons of renting instead of buying
Weigh the cons of renting instead of buying (Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Weigh the cons of renting instead of buying

Movie studios rent fitness equipment all the type. Same goes for TV commercial use. Weigh the pros and cons of renting expensive fitness equipment versus buying fitness equipment. For smaller items, such as an exercise ball, free weights, step blocks, yoga mats and a workout bench, it doesn't make any sense to rent items that can be easily stored and used over time. But for larger items, such as treadmills, ski machines and stationary bikes, exercise rentals may be on your side. Sites such as GymSource.com, RentaGym.com, PersonalTrainerNetwork.com and FitnessExperts.com can make exercise equipment easily attainable without being stuck with it later. And if you own a business, UsedGymEquipment.com can take it one step further by buying your used exercise equipment.

The upside is you won't be stuck with equipment you don't want after a certain time. This is especially convenient for out-of-state college students who don't want to lug exercise equipment home, vacation home renters or people who just aren't sure if they really want huge, expensive exercise equipment without being absolutely sure they'll use it.

The downside is exercise rental companies don't usually give you that money back. So if you decide to buy the exercise equipment later, you've just blown away some of the money you could've used on a down payment or to pay for the equipment in full.

Fitness equipment: Purchase for exercise, not just the brand
Fitness equipment: Purchase for exercise, not just the brand (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Fitness equipment: Purchase for exercise, not just the brand

Fitness equipment is supposed to be comfortable, fit in all the right places and at least be mildly flattering if you're wearing them in public. But you don't have to go to the most expensive equipment store in order to work out. Lululemon sells yoga pants and is a brand fitness buffs trust. Plus the sheer yoga pants issue has been resolved. Victoria's Secret sells incredibly supportive sports bras, too.

However, Kohl's sells quality well-known athletic apparel and for a fraction of the previous store's prices. (If you sign up for their coupon e-blasts, you'll end up paying 15- to 30- percent less on everything almost all of the time. The point of exercise equipment is to work out in, not to show off the label of the gear. Consider discount stores, but check the fabric labels to make sure they're worth it.

Beware of purchasing exercise equipment in gyms, too. If you get a better deal for equipment after you join, check the online stores versus in physical stores to see if the prices differ.