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angela self

If you use your gym membership regularly you deserve a pat on the back. But if you've been a cardholder for months and still need a map to get from the free weights to the elliptical, the only thing your pass is helping you shrink is your savings account.

It may be time to exercise cheaper options.

One idea is to forego the gym and form a fitness group with friends. Plan regular workouts to which each member must bring a new exercise for the others to try. The Internet, especially YouTube, is a great source of free muscle-making moves. Or combine reps and steps from fitness DVDs (free to sign out of the library) to create a custom routine.

If you'd rather sweat solo, consider a cyber-trainer. Mypypeline.com offers free fitness features such as personalized workout plans, a beginners' running guide and motivation in the form of daily e-mail reminders that help you stay on track.

The site also lets you access hundreds of workout videos for just $3 a pop - a steal compared with personal trainers who will run you anywhere from $75 to $100 an hour.

And remember: Mother Nature doesn't charge a drop-in fee. Getting out of the gym and into the great outdoors may help you reach your fitness goals - and save your wallet from a wasteful workout.

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group ( smartcookies.com). Read her weekly column on managing debt and saving money at the new globeinvestor.com.