Savings Makeover: Cut Your Costs by Thousands with Painless Financial Tweaks

"Wow, that's not necessarily good news because I don't want to get it," Robin joked. "Now I may have to!" This was no fluke. There are dramatic price differences between testing facilities for things like MRIs and CT Scans too. It was another hour-long task and if you think of your savings as your "earnings," it's like making $3,980 an hour. Nice!

Strategy #3: Check into student loan forgiveness = $17,500 savings

Robin and her daughter Jill both just graduated from college -- a huge accomplishment -- and huge debt. But Robin plans to become a teacher, and didn't realize the government will forgive $17,500 worth of her student loans if she works in an underprivileged school. Teachers who spend at least five years working in a designated Title 1 school can qualify to have their Stafford loans forgiven.

Robin doesn't have to do this now, but could take advantage of the opportunity at any point in her career. "There are a lot of challenges, but, I think, a lot of rewards," Robin said. There are also Perkins loan forgiveness programs for teachers. Mark Kantrowitz, founder of the indispensable financial aid website FinAid.org, points out there are loan forgiveness programs for people who plan to pursue other types of careers as well. He catalogs the possibilities on his site, which is a terrific resource.

To learn how Robin's daughter Jill -- and any college graduate -- can wipe out nearly $5,000 of their student loans, see our Web Extra.

Strategy #4: Refinance your car loan = $1,995 savings

Most people know you can refinance your mortgage but don't realize it's possible to refinance your auto loan. And most people know credit unions are a great tool, but don't realize they themselves can join. Here's how those two secrets come together to help you SAVE BIG.

Often you can do better on your car loan than the interest rate you were sold at the dealership. Robin and Gary Shoblock were paying 10 percent interest on a five-year auto loan. That adds up. Various institutions now do car loan refinances, but credit unions have made it a specialty of sorts, delighting in scooping up a little business at the expense of big banks. You see, credit unions operate on a non-profit basis, so they don't have to strive to make more, more, more money for their shareholders every year. Instead, they focus on their customers and can afford to offer them loans at very competitive rates.

In the Shoblock's case, that meant refinancing their Ford Escape at 7.5 percent through McGraw Hill Federal Credit Union.

That will save them $1,995 over the next four years! Better yet, auto refinances don't require all the paperwork and closing costs that mortgage refinances do. As long as your vehicle is on the newer side and you don't owe more than it's worth, it's a viable option. Not a member of a credit union? Never fear. You don't have to work for the company or organization that originally established the credit union. These days there are all sorts of ways to become a member. Check out the website FindACreditUnion.com to find one you can join.

Strategy #5: Use savings to pay credit card debt = $9,679

The Shoblocks reluctantly racked up some credit card debt while Robin was in school and Gary was looking for a new job. (After a few months, he found a great one, by the way!) But they had one thing going for them in the credit card debt battle: a small savings account -- if I could get them to use it.

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