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5 Painless Ways to Save Money

Kathy Kristof

Everybody hates the notion of cutting back financially because it usually means living without things you like. But not always. There are many painless ways to save that could reduce your annual budget by thousands of dollars a year, said Erin Huffstetler, editor of the About.com Guide to Frugal Living.

Here are five great ways to save:

Switch to store brands. An increasing number of grocery chains are launching their own lines of food, often even organics. By and large, these bargain brands cost vastly less than the name brands, but taste the same and, in fact, are often made by the same companies. Switch and you could save 25 percent on your grocery bills, which are likely to run about $100 a week. Estimated savings: $25 weekly, $1,300 annually.

Make a list. Whether you're buying groceries or gifts, spur-of-the-moment impulses are your enemy. Some experts estimate that 20 percent of grocery purchases and roughly 40 percent of retail purchases are the result of impulse buys. To curb those desires, make a list before you go shopping and stick to it. If you're tempted to buy something on impulse, force yourself to go home and think about it. If you're still set on the item later, you can always put it on next week's list, Huffstetler said. Estimated savings here depend on how impulsive you are, but she thinks even the marginally impulsive would blow $20 a week, or just over $1,000 a year.

Carry snacks. Buy a 12-pack of soda and each can is likely to cost less than 50 cents. But buy a soda at a restaurant or fast-food joint and you're likely to pay twice as much. The same holds true for virtually anything you eat out versus bring from home. And the price differential is far greater if you're at a movie theater or an amusement park. There snack foods are likely to be marked up to four or five times their supermarket price. So if you know you're going to be out for several hours and likely to get hungry, throw an apple or granola bar in your car or purse; carry a six-pack of soda or water in your trunk. If you frequent the junk food vending machines for an afternoon snack at work, go to Costco and get a big box full of whatever it is that you favor and keep it in your desk drawer or credenza (or substitute for a healthier snack). Over the course of a year, you'll save hundreds of dollars. If you're smart, you'll eat better too.

Use it up. Before you run to the store, make sure you check your cupboards and fridge. There's a good chance that you've got lots of unused or partially used items that will go to waste while you waste your cash buying more. Whether its food, beauty care or hobby supplies, use it up before you replace it, Huffstetler suggested. If you need ideas of how to use up the leftovers in your fridge, Huffstetler has a dozen recipes here that are specifically designed to use up what you've got.

Shop your insurance. Once a year, when your policies are about to renew, make a point of shopping around for both auto and, if applicable, homeowner's coverage. This is particularly important if your circumstances have changed, including if you've gotten married or divorced, have a newly licensed teen, or moved. That's because pricing strategies vary dramatically from insurer to insurer. Even if you made a point of getting the best price in the past, you might find that your insurer isn't as competitive today. Spending 15 minutes getting a few competitive quotes could save you hundreds of dollars.