4 key expenses NOT to cut

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In a worsening economy, almost everyone is trimming the family budget. But don’t be so quick with the scissors. Certain cuts might save you $25 or $50 today but cost you thousands later.

1. Your car: Cuts that cost you

Skip your regular oil change every 3,000 miles and you save $25 to $30. But those savings could be temporary when aging oil damages your engine.

Worst case scenario: You’ll need a new engine, which could cost $5,000.

“Old oil turns to sludge and you have restricted oil movement through the engine,” says Jeff Ammons, owner of Howard Motor Corp. in Williamsburg, Va. “Dirty oil is bad for an engine.”

Added benefit of a regular oil change: At the same time, your mechanic will check all the fluid levels in your car, helping ensure your safety on the road, Ammons says.

Skip getting your tires rotated and pressure checked, also every 3,000 miles, and save another $25. But beware the consequences if you ignore your tires, Ammons warns.

Worst case scenario: You could be in a wreck, creating huge mechanical and medical costs.

“A lot of accidents are caused by not enough air pressure,” Ammons says.

Added benefit of tire TLC: Rotating tires helps them last longer, delaying the day you have to spend hundreds of dollars on replacements. The right pressure also improves gas mileage, he says.

2. Your car: Cuts that count

Improved spark plugs and computerized carburetors mean you can lengthen the time between tuneups, Ammons says. Savings: $250 to $500.

“If the car is running well, leave it alone and do the other things that have to be done,” he says. “Usually I end up talking customers out of a tuneup because I find something else a little more important.”

Worst case scenario: Your car engine will start running rough or vibrating. At that point, bring it in for a tuneup, Ammons says.

3. Your medicine cabinet: Cuts that cost you

When you consider the cost of medications, you may be tempted to skip doses of your medicines for lowering blood pressure or cholesterol — and double the life of that prescription. Unlike some illnesses or conditions, high blood pressure and high cholesterol don’t normally produce daily symptoms. But you may shorten your own life — that’s why doctors call high blood pressure the silent killer.

“You do see people skipping doses,” says Sophia De Monte, a pharmacist with Costco in Melville, N.Y. “Instead of taking a medication every day, people might take it every other day just to make it last a little bit longer. With high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you don’t feel the changes in your body.”

Potential savings: one-half the cost of the medication.

Worst case scenario: a life-changing or life-ending heart attack or stroke.

“You’re putting your health at risk,” De Monte warns.

4. Your medicine cabinet: Cuts that count

But you can save on both prescription and over-the-counter medication by thinking about your medications before you go the pharmacy. Start at home. Your health insurance company likely releases a list of medications and how much your co-pay will be. Bring that guide to your doctor to refer to when writing a prescription, De Monte recommends. “There may be a similar medication you can tolerate at a lower co-pay,” she says.

Continue saving in your physician’s office. Ask for samples, a voucher or coupon.

“It’s perfectly OK to ask for samples, especially if it’s a new medication,” De Monte says. “Some doctors can give you a seven-day, 14-day or a one-month supply as a trial. That would offset the cost and let you know if it works or not.”

Ask about a generic version of your medication and check to see if the prescription drug is available now over-the-counter. “Some antihistamines and antacids are much cheaper purchased over-the-counter,” she says.

Before you get the prescription filled, shop around. “Call ahead and get a price quote, especially on a new medication,” De Monte says. “Mail order can work too if you’ve tried the medication and know you’re going to be on it for the long term. The savings can be enormous. You might get a three-month supply at a one-month co-pay, compared to a retail pharmacy.”

Chop chop (maybe): Even though you shouldn’t halve the dosage of your medications, sometimes you can get a prescription at double the dose, but not double the price, and cut the pills in half. Keep in mind, however, that pills that are coated or time-release should not be cut, De Monte says.

5. Car insurance: Cuts that cost you

Remove a family member from your car insurance and sure, your premium will go down. How much you’ll save depends on the carrier. But even though many policies do cover a friend or neighbor who drives the car in a pinch, family members who drive should be named on the policy. The savings aren’t significant anyway, says Kate Hollcraft, spokeswoman for Allstate Insurance Co.

Worst case scenarios: You may not be covered in case of an accident. Also, your insurance company may drop you.

“Failure to list someone who is a regular driver could result in a loss of coverage because you were not honest in your dealings with us,” Hollcraft says.

If you have a minor fender bender with no injuries, you may decide to leave your insurance agent in the dark to avoid an increase in insurance premiums. But that other driver who first says he’s OK could come back later and claim to be hurt. “You never know when someone might sue you,” Hollcraft says. “You want to make sure you’ve told your insurance company about an accident.”

6. Car insurance: Cuts that count

If you have towing coverage both through a motor club and on your car insurance, nix the towing through your insurance carrier, Hollcraft says. If your old clunker isn’t worth much, consider dropping the collision coverage, she adds. Your savings will vary depending on your carrier.

You can also find a payment plan to fit your budget. If you can afford to pay your premium every six months, you might save 10 percent compared to 12 monthly payments. On the other hand, if cash flow is tight, maybe a monthly bill would help you budget, Hollcraft says.

Although teen drivers (and any drivers younger than 25) typically drive up the cost of car insurance, relief is available. Check with your car insurance carrier to see if it’s one of the many that offer a good student discount. Other programs for young drivers also are available. For example, State Farm also offers a discount program called Steer Clear Safe Driver for parents insuring drivers younger than 25. The drivers must not have had any accidents or moving violations in the past three years, must watch a safety DVD in the agent’s office, and must keep a log of their driving experience, says Jeff McCollum, spokesman for State Farm Insurance Co.

7. Home insurance: Cuts that cost you

With a lower appraisal, you may be tempted to save money by reducing the insurance on your home and its contents. Savings will vary by insurance carrier and the value of your home. Why it’s a bad idea: “Even if the value of your home has gone down, the cost to rebuild it has not,” Hollcraft says. “The cost of wood and other building materials has not gone down. If you have a loss, you want your insurance to make you whole.”

You may also be tempted to look for savings on the liability insurance that covers you if, say, someone trips and falls in your home. Again, your savings will vary. Why it’s a bad idea: “In many states, claimants can sue,” Hollcraft says. “If you have insurance, the coverage will cover the lawsuit. If not, you’ll have to cover the suit by selling assets.”

8. Home insurance: Cuts that count

But you can find savings. If you raise the deductible on your homeowners insurance from $250 or $500 to $1,000, you might save as much as 25 percent, McCollum says. Just make sure you have the difference socked away in savings so you can pay it yourself if disaster strikes.

Finally, if your car, home and other insurance policies aren’t with one carrier, look into the savings from consolidating. Most carriers offer a discount to customers who insure multiple cars, their home and other needs.