Most people don't realize that thousands of dollars a year in savings are a few phone calls away.

Before you begin slashing your budget or looking for a second job to weather the economic slump, pick up the phone and make nine calls to make sure you are getting the best value for your money.

Credit card company: If you have credit cards that carry a monthly balance, ask your credit card company for a better interest rate. It may seem strange that a company would reduce your interest rate simply by you asking, but if you are a good customer, they often will.

A lot of your success will depend on credit history and if the company knows you can easily switch the balance to another card. Due to the cost of getting new consumers, most credit card issuers will do their best to keep you. The result can be hundreds to thousands of dollars.

If you don't carry a balance, but have a credit card that earns points and charges an annual fee, ask to have the fee waived. The cost of getting a new customer is often more than the fee. With a bit of determination and a willingness to say you will cancel if you don't get what you ask for, you can often get what you want.

Utility company: While you aren't likely to get a discount on your bills, a call to your utility company can often get you a free or discounted energy audit. If your utility company offers energy audits, they will send a representative to your home to check all the places where money may be leaking out of your house. You will receive a report on how to fix them, how much it will cost and how much you will ultimately save by making the improvement.

Human resources department: Most people don't take advantage of all the savings their company offers, especially if you work for a large company. They may have arranged discounts with numerous local companies, may be willing to pay for education and many other deals. Call and ask for a list of offers and begin taking advantage of those that help you save money.

Cable TV: Cable TV companies seem to constantly offer introductory deals. If you are willing to say you will switch to the competition, you can often get rates adjusted to these special deals for three to six months. Simply find a competitor's offer, call your cable or satellite TV company, let them know you are thinking about making a switch and you may see your rates drop dramatically.

Gym: While there are a lot of ways to save money by choosing alternatives to a gym, there are some people who find it's the best place to get exercise. If you do have a gym membership, you were probably lured by a special discounted offer that has long ago disappeared. You can use the same strategy as with cable TV by calling up and letting your gym know that you have a special offer from a competitor and are considering making a move. This should be enough to get the gym to lower your current payment.

Phone service: Competition among phone companies is as fierce as in any industry. While phone companies don't usually match competing offers like cable TV companies and gyms do, they usually find a plan that yields significant discounts.

Internet: Internet service is yet another place you can use competition and the threat of leaving to get a better price. It's also worth asking whether bundling several services such as cable TV, Internet and phone makes sense. Sometimes doing so will give you a greater discount than paying for each separately.

Car insurance: If it's been a while since you have reviewed your car insurance policy, call your agent and ask how you can get a reduction. If you have an emergency fund, you may want to increase the deductible, or if your car is getting older, you may be able to drop the collision insurance. If higher gas prices have encouraged you to use your car less, you may qualify for a discount.

All other insurance: You should be able to call and negotiate a better price on any insurance, such as homeowners' or renters'. The Internet has made it easy for consumers to compare prices and get quotes that can be used as leverage to get a better rate. If you find a rate from a competitor that is lower, it's in the insurance agent's interest to work with you to find discounts.
Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.

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