Avoiding Budget Breakers

Kelli Grant, Sr. Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com, has some small changes you can make in your budget that can add up to a ton of savings. Even the smallest savings can make a big difference.

First, take a look at your gym membership. Are you really going enough to get your money's worth? Even if your trips to the gym are an important party of your weekly routine, there is a chance you could still save some money. "Check with your employer. Many will reimberse you for a portion of your annual fitness costs," says Grant. Sometimes, your insurance company will participate in discount groups as well. Visit sites like www.GlobalFit.com to see if you qualify. "A Bally's member could save about fifteen dollars a month just by signing up for the membership," says Grant.

Once you start saving, take a look at your bank's overdraft protection program. Are you signed up? If not, you could be getting hit with some hefty overdraft fees - up to $35.00 in some cases. Grant says most banks have some tricks up their sleeves which can cause you to overdraft your account unknowingly. "They'll put through a debit purchase knowing that it's going to put you in the red, or worse, they'll reorder all of your daily transactions so the big purchases go through first and the deposits go through last," says Grant. By signing up for overdraft protection, which usually costs as little as five or ten dollars a year, your bank will automatically transfer money from your savings account to your checking account if a purchase will cause you to overdraft.

In these tough times, you can also save some money on auto insurance. "Most people have changed their driving habits... You're commuting in a different way, not commuting at all or just making fewer leisure trips," says Grant. Call your auto insurance company and explain your change in habits to them. "Many will discount your rate by five to fifteen percent," says Grant.

However, even though you're be driving less, you'll probably still want some music to make the journey a little easier. Many people now download mp3's online from programs like iTunes. But what seems like a small luxury can really add up in the long run. "Most of the online music purveyors now offer DRM Free formats, which basically means you can listen to the music on any mp3 player," says Grant. "Shopping around can save you big money." If you visit www.Amazon.com or Walmart's music store at http://mp3.walmart.com/store/home, for example, Grant says you can save about a dollar per album and roughly 25 cents per song.

Finally, consider your drinking habits - water drinking habits, that is. Your best bet is to ditch bottled water altogether. "This is going to be the one splurge that we really recommend that you skip," says Grant. Instead, invest in a filter pitcher and a few filter refills. Doing so will cost you about $40.00 and give you roughly 200 gallons of filtered water. To get the same amount of bottled water, you'd have to spend about $280.00, even if you bought it in bulk. The savings are clear; a filtered water pitcher is a more cost-efficient option.

For more information on small ways you can save money, as well as additional personal financial advice, click here to visit www.SmartMoney.com.

By Erin Petrun