Small changes can save your family big bucks

Disposable income. If this phrase sounds like an oxymoron to you, you’re not alone.

“Have you ever heard anyone say my net worth is too high, or I have too much disposable income? The chances are very slim,” says Gail Perry-Mason, an investment broker and author of Money Matters for Families.

The recession has hit families hard and whether you’re in a major financial pinch or just never seem to have any extra, making the most of your money is a skill that can benefit every household budget. “It’s time for home economics. Make some layoffs at home. If corporate America can lay off, so can your family,” says Perry-Mason.

Try a few of these easy adjustments that can save your family $50 or more each month-without cramping your lifestyle.

At the store: Try generics, private labels and store brands. According to Perrigo, the world’s largest producer of store brand over-the-counter drugs and vitamins, consumers would save $2 billion each year by switching from advertised brands to store-brand, over-the- counter drugs.

At home: Packaged ant traps can cost almost $5, but a little cayenne pepper sprinkled along the baseboards may do the trick, suggests Everyday Cheapskate (, which offers suggestions on how to create homemade cleaning products, beauty aids and simple health remedies that can save you big bucks.

At the ATM: Fees for ATM use can range from $1 to $3 for an automated teller not part of your bank’s network. If you withdraw money even once a week, you can rack up to $12 a month in charges. If you must make a withdrawal and pay the fee, take out extra cash, tuck it away and withdraw straight from your wallet for free.

At the movies: Two adult movie tickets to a prime-time show can cost $20 if you pre-buy tickets online. A matinee showing of the same flick can be $13 for tickets purchased at the counter. Save even more by taking advantage of the pay-per-view option from your cable service or renting a DVD from the local video store.

On TV: For cable subscribers, basic services can cost under $20 a month and include many major channels.

Look for some of your favorite programs on or network Web sites for free. Cutting back on a few special channels or downgrading even one subscription level can save you lots each month.

At the post office: The average American who pays bills online can save up to $45 each year by not paying for postage, not including the cost of checks. Bill pay features on your bank checking account are often free. Drop off bills for utilities at local payment centers, deliver insurance payments to the neighborhood office and pay merchants like Kohl’s and Target at the customer service desk.

Against the clock: Lenders charge hefty late fees on credit cards, mortgages and car loans, which can hurt your bank account as well as your credit rating if you’re even a day late. In the case of an exceptional circumstance when you can’t make a payment, call the lender to protect yourself and your credit score.

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