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Instant Money Savers

Dining on take-out; avoiding late fees

Money drainer: It's dinnertime and you're dialing the local pizza place again even though you just dropped $100 at the grocery store.

Money savers:

? Get on a meal schedule. Create a rotation of two weeks' worth of meals. Since you'll always know what's on the menu, you can stock your kitchen accordingly.

? Keep basics on hand. "I buy a few ready-to-serve rotisserie chickens when they're on sale, strip the meat from the bones, and freeze it in one-cup containers," says Courtenay Wells, a mom of two in Lafayette, Indiana. "I also fry up a few pounds of ground beef at a time and freeze it the same way."

? Join the meal-prep trend. Stores like Let's Dish and My Girlfriend's Kitchen, where customers assemble dishes to freeze and cook later, are springing up nationwide. "At the Dinner Station, I prepare a month's worth of meals in under two hours," says Kristy Hill, a mom of two, of Keller, Texas. "I freeze everything and pull out a meal when I need it." The cost  -- about $200 for 12 meals that serve four to six-breaks down to about $3 to $5 a serving. That's cheaper than many takeout options.

Money drainer: You rent movies for the kids and then forget to return them on time. And those late fees are a horror show.

Money savers:

? Sign up for a movie-by-mail service. Online DVD rental sites, such as Netflix and Blockbuster, offer several different monthly plans, starting at about $6. The biggest plus: no late fees.

? Be choosy about where you rent. If you decide not to do it online, select a shop that allows leeway on returns. Or try your local library  -- many have at least one-week lending periods, and the late fees may not be so onerous.

? Put returns in an "outgoing" basket when you finish with them. Grab what's in the basket as you leave each day.

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