(OPRAH.com) -- The recession has millions of consumers spending less, saving more and paying off debt. The fact that we are adjusting to the reality of this economy is good news, to be sure. There are items in any budget that can be scaled back easily.
Financial expert Jean Chatzky warns there are items you should not cut out of your budget.
But there's some spending areas where you shouldn't budge.
The Pension Rights Center counted about 20 corporations in December that announced changes to their 401(k) plans. Many others have discontinued or downsized their traditional pension plans. If your company is still offering matching dollars, you should keep kicking in money to grab them.
"To get that free money from your employer is so important for the long-term growth of your retirement nest egg. Especially now, with the down market, when you're dollar-cost averaging in at lower prices, that free money has more value in the long run," said Derek Kennedy, a financial planner in Cincinnati.
If your company has cut back, it still pays to contribute. Also consider an Individual Retirement Account. You can get your money out any time and, after five years, use it without penalty for a first-time home purchase.
Don't cut your homeowners insurance thinking that because home values have dropped you don't need as much coverage. What you're paying for is the amount it would cost to rebuild your home and replace your belongings. If you need to save, boost your policy's deductible. Raising it to $1,000 from $500 could shave 25 percent off the cost.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota just completed a study that found that people who go to the gym at least eight times a month have significantly lower health costs than those who don't. You can get those same benefits by going for a brisk walk, running or riding a bike or by spending less than the cost of a monthly gym membership on a pair of dumbbells.
Some cuts are fine -- generic drugs instead of name brand, for instance. But skipping doctor visits is a bad idea, and so is canceling your insurance.
"I've seen so many people go through horrendous financial nightmares and even bankruptcy because they don't have health insurance. This is just not one you want to mess with," said Jonni McCoy, author of "Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy."
Giving to others can make you feel better about yourself and your situation. If money is tight, donate items you no longer use, give canned goods, shop at thrift stores that benefit a charity or share some of your time. Oprah.com: Five steps to secure your financial future
By Jean Chatzky and Arielle McGowen, Oprah.com exclusive, March 2009
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