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Slash your everyday expenses

Financial flubs come in all sizes, but for most of us it's the little ones that cause the biggest cash drain.

Don't let these six budget busters squeeze the air out of your hard-earned income.

1. In the competitive credit card industry, your card issuer wants to keep you, the existing, charging customer. So don't settle for high rates on your credit cards -- even if your credit is not the best. Just call and ask for a lower interest rate. This form letter will help you request a rate change (and the elimination of your annual fee, too). If they say no, consider another card.

2. Take a second look at your daily commute to work. Consider what it costs for parking, gas, tolls, insurance and maintenance. Changing how you get to work can create more breathing room in your budget -- from gas savings to insurance reductions to reduced wear on the car.

3. Make your house energy-efficient to reduce utility bills. Opt for some easy, inexpensive solutions that yield an immediate payback, such as a programmable thermostat, new insulation, caulking and compact fluorescent bulbs. The right landscaping can even lower your energy bills by blocking winter winds or the summer sun. Consider these energy-use myths, too.

4. A cell phone plan that doesn't fit your lifestyle is a money drain. The most-expensive mistake you can make is signing up for a calling plan with a rock-bottom rate and exceeding your allotted air time each month. Zero in on your calling needs, brush up on your cell phone terminology and then research, research, research. Use this comparison worksheet to find the best cell phone plan.

5. Change your grocery shopping habits -- comparison shop, wait for sales, use shopping lists, redeem rebates and save those coupons! Bankrate offers a resource of coupon-clipping advice. Plan your weekly meals to limit eating out and to stop "crisis cooking" -- you know, when at 4:30 p.m. you decide what's for dinner and then stop at the store for pre-made, and more costly, fare.

6. ATMs are convenient, but can be costly. Make it a habit to only use your bank's ATMs. You'll avoid paying two surcharge fees -- to your bank and the other bank. Get extra cash at the grocery store; most grocery store point-of-sale terminals are free. Or you can save by switching to a bank with a larger ATM network and withdrawing larger amounts to maximize ATM usage.

Use the money you save from these everyday expenses to help pay off your debt and build up your emergency fund.

NEXT: Build an emergency fund

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