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5 painless ways to save money – or spend it wisely

Saving money doesn't have to feel like a punishment. In fact, spending wisely and getting out of debt should feel great.

When we give up our old financial ways, we give up stress, fear and uncertainty, and gain freedom. Here are some baby steps you can start with.

Shop around for car insurance. You wouldn't believe the kinds of things that affect the price you pay for car insurance. It's not just accidents and tickets and the type of car you drive. Your credit score, address, income and profession make a big difference, too. That's why it's a good idea to get new quotes every couple of years – especially if any of those things have changed.

About five years ago, I switched providers and saved $800 a year – even with the same coverage and from a reputable company. My friend heard about my savings, shopped around herself and saved $1,200!  You can also ask your current insurance provider to review your policy and see if there is any room for improvement.

Use a shopping portal – but make sure it has the best rates. First things first: Don't ever buy anything online without starting at a shopping portal first. Shopping portals give you cash back on purchases, which can be redeemed for gift cards, airline miles and rewards points.

But the percentage you get back can vary from site to site. That's where portal aggregators, such as Evreward and Cashback Monitor come in.

As I'm writing this, for example, Cashback Monitor shows Rakuten (formerly Ebates) is offering 2% cashback at L.L. Bean, while Active Junky is offering 9% cash back at the same store. It also shows what I would get if I opted for airlines miles (one point per dollar on Southwest, four points per dollar on British Airways), credit card rewards (two points per dollar on Chase Freedom) or other rewards programs (three Swagbucks per dollar on Swagbucks.com).

Delete, delete, delete. We've all heard that we should take our credit cards out of our wallets and leave them at home when we're trying to spend less. And you have probably heard the "freeze-your-card-in-a-block-of-ice" trick (don't try that if you have a chip!).

But the same concept – making credit harder to access – is even more important in the digital age, when you can spend thousands of dollars with a tap of your screen.

Don't keep your credit card information on file with any consumer websites or apps. If you've already got it on file, delete it. Delete saved passwords from every shopping app or website you've ever spent money with, including the app store and any place you order music, movies or books. Once you've done that, delete those shopping apps or take the bookmarks off the websites altogether.

Unsubscribe. Unsubscribe from store emails and deal sites such as Groupon. You think you'll save money keeping an eye on the sales and deals, but those things actually drive us to spend more money. Out of sight, out of mind.

Use price trackers. If you're in the market for something or still need to keep an eye out for deals on specific items, sign up for price alerts on those purchases only, via sites such as CamelCamelCamel (the Amazon price tracker) or GasBuddy (the app that alerts you to the gas stations with the best gas prices).

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