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Nipping hidden costs in the bud

During uncertain economic times, everyone is searching for ways to cut back on spending.

Maybe you've already started brown-bagging lunch and stopped buying that $5 latte, but there's no reason to stop there.

Stop paying credit card interest rates

If you do not pay off your credit card bills each month -- or pay only the minimum balance -- the credit card company is charging you interest rates that get added to your outstanding balance each month.

That means you end up paying interest not only on the purchases you've made but also on the interest charges for those purchases.

If at all possible, consider paying off your balance or chipping away at as much as possible each month.

Many are willing to do so if they think they will lose your business otherwise.

If that doesn't work, find another credit card provider with lower rates and transfer your balance to one of their cards.

Read the fine print on any credit card agreement, though, to be sure that the new credit card company does not charge hidden fees.

Get a better price on Internet service

Are you using the lowest-priced Internet service provider?

Getting information about competing offers is a good idea even if you would prefer not to change your service.

That's because you can call your own provider armed with information about the competition and ask if they are willing to match the lowest price out there.

Slash your cell phone costs

Are you making full use of all the cell phone services that you're paying for?

This is a good time to reread your contract to see if you truly need all the bells and whistles that come with your current plan.

If you don't really do a lot of phoning or texting, don't pay for unlimited options, for example. Instead, choose the least expensive plan.

Reconsider your landline

If you find that you are actually using your cell phone most of the time, it might be a good idea to cut out an unnecessary cost by getting rid of your home land line altogether.

If you're reluctant to do so, look into cheaper options, including voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) or cable phone services.

Reduce your bank fees

Don't keep paying monthly bank fees when you could be getting free checking.

Many banks now offer attractive deals on checking and other services, so it's smart to shop around.

If you pay for checking, find out what services are included and decide whether you really need them.

Ask also about the ATM and other added fees at your bank and at others to see who has the best deal.