The savings rate in America as measured by the government has been zero or negative for years until now. A recession has been a wake-up call to save more.

That savings rate is now 5 percent compared with a 0.1 percent rate a year ago. Most of that increased savings has come in the form of reduced spending.

It’s easier to increase spending than reduce spending, so Americans have been truly burdened by this recession. If you are needing to boost your savings and cut your spending, the folks at BillShrink.com recently offered these tips:

– Packaged drinks: Bottled water and soft drinks can easily be substituted. In addition, individual coffee cups at shops and gas stations are priced higher than home brews.

– Prepackaged food: Ready-to-eat meals and snacks in individual servings are more expensive than buying ingredients individually in larger bags or bulk. You’ll get more bang for your buck preparing it yourself.

– Fax service: If you need to fax a resume or document to someone, avoid the copy centers, which can charge $1 to $2 a page. Instead, try an online service that allows you to use your scan feature on your printer and then fax the document over the Internet.

– Car repairs: Shop for an independent repair shop by asking for references from friends and avoid the dealer’s repair shop unless the car is under warranty. That said, don’t ignore the dealer because they could have competitive prices.

– Extended warranties: It’s highly unlikely a new product will need to be protected for the long-term as either technology will need to be replaced in a few years or it will break in the first year while still under original warranty.

– Bank and credit card fees: The easiest to cut. Just pay on time and maintain minimum balances or move to a bank or account that doesn’t have minimums. Set up overdraft protection to avoid bounced checks. Also avoid ATM fees by using your own bank or finding a bank that reimburses fees.

– Print publications: If there is a version online that contains most of the print version, there is no need to pay for it when you can get it for free unless you need it for the convenience of carrying around. That said, Sunday newspapers often have enough coupons to make it worth buying the print versions.

– Flowers: Shop beyond florists by visiting your grocery store or an online flower delivery service. I’ve heard grocery store flowers may not be as high a quality as florists’, but the ones I’ve bought lasted just as long.

Little things like these, and we’ve heard them before, are ways we can change our shopping habits to benefit our savings and survive in tougher times.

Copyright 2009 McClatchy Tribune Information Services