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Save (at Least) $1000 a Year

Raising kids is expensive. When my kids were babies they seemed costly, but I now see that they were modestly priced infants, fine in hand-me-down outfits and bargain-brand diapers. Now they're major drains on my bank account. Henry, 11, and Margaret, 7, need clothing, birthday presents for friends, books, art supplies -- The list is endless, and the prices spike upward every year.

All of us parents, at one point or another, have to review our spending habits to figure out a way to make it work -- how we can afford the necessities and a few niceties as well. The good news: It's possible to cut your family budget without suffering. In fact, you might not even notice a lot of these moves -- but the savings add up. Ideas for getting started:

? Stash your spare change. Every night I dig through my pockets and purse, but I don't just set aside my spare change: I also pull out my singles and stuff it all in my sock drawer. Dollar bills add up a whole lot faster than nickels and dimes. Even if you squirrel away only $4 a week, that's still a nice little pot of $200 or so at the end of the year -- plenty for a treat (a full week of ordering in?) or a boring necessity (a new vacuum).

? Control those credit cards. Store cards charge exorbitant interest rates and nail you with a flat fee of $25 or more if you're even a nanosecond late with a payment. I learned the hard way that the 5 to 10 percent discount incentive for opening one of these accounts is more than lost by one late-payment fee. In fact, the more cards you have in general, the more due dates you have to deal with (and more time spent paying bills), and the late fees add up quickly. After paying out well over $200 in such fees, I closed every credit account I had except one (the one with the lowest interest rate). I also do my best to pay that card off each month -- or at least pay more than the minimum payment to try to keep interest charges down.

If you're organized enough to stay on top of it, you can also take advantage of those zero-percent introductory interest rates you get in the mail by transferring the balances of high-interest cards. But read the fine print carefully -- one late payment and the interest rate will soar. And be aware of how high the rate will go after the introductory period to make sure you're really getting a deal in the long run.

Alix Finkelstein is the mother of Henry, 11, and Margaret, 7.

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