Federal income tax returns are due in eight days. And as you’re scrambling to get yours finished, how you’ve spent your money in 2009 should be fresh on your mind. That’s why this is a great time to start (or revisit) your personal savings plan for the rest of this year.

Now, we all know about the “conventional” ways to save — including opening a traditional savings account, starting a Christmas club account, accumulating debit card rewards or bank points with our everyday purchases, and setting up monthly automatic deposits to savings accounts.

So, today I’d like to explore five unconventional methods for socking away a little extra cash each month… Savings Strategy #1:
Separate your long distance phone carrier

Instead of bundling all your phone services, consider separating them. There are several long distance phone carriers that charge you cheap rates for only the long distance calls you make.

How it works: They charge about 3 cents or 4 cents per minute with six-second billing increments and no minimums or monthly fees.

For instance, if you call someone out of state and talk for an hour or so, your bill can be as low as $5 or $6, including taxes and fees, for the month. And if you don’t talk to anyone in a month, your bill is zero!

Pioneer Telephone is one example of a company that offers this type of service. But there are plenty of others with similar services. Just do a quick Internet search and you’ll find lots of choices.

Savings Strategy #2:
Enroll in your local utility company’s budget plan

By enrolling in a budget plan, participating customers pay about the same amount each month, no matter what the temperature does.

How it works: The utility company looks at your energy usage for the previous 12 months. Then, your monthly budget billing amount will be based on the average of your actual bills during the last 12 months.

While it may not actually save you money, the predictable nature of this payment system makes it much easier for you to budget. And that means it will be far easier for you to find ways to regularly plan and save.

Savings Strategy #3:
Switch to a cash-back gas credit card

If you haven’t done so already, consider applying for a gas-company credit card that offers cash-back rebates with your purchases.

For example, BP Plc has the following program for their customers: If they buy Amoco Ultimate gas they will earn a 2 percent rebate on every $1 of net purchases made at BP locations with no limit on the number of rebates they can accumulate in the program.

Then, for every $25 earned in rebates they can receive a $25 BP gift card … receive a check for the amount … or donate the rebate to an environmental charity.

And there are plenty of other gas companies offering similar rebate programs. A simple Internet search will yield plenty of choices.

Savings Strategy #4:
Review your auto insurance bill

We’ve all seen the commercials telling us to shop around for a better rate because we may be paying more than necessary with our current carrier. And in some cases it can be true!

You may find you’re being overcharged by a company you’ve been loyal to for years. So, it’s best to at least shop around to see if you’re getting the best rate possible. A couple of phone calls or web searches can really pay off.

It also makes sense to revisit the individual line items on your current bill. You may find overlap with other insurance plans you have — such as the policy from your healthcare insurance provider — or pieces of coverage that no longer apply to your current situation. Cutting a few superfluous options will yield big savings without sacrificing your overall protection.

Savings Strategy #5:
Download coupons online

If you’re looking for discounts on your purchases, they’re probably just a mouse click away.

One popular website is coupons.com, and all you need to get started is your zip code. The site will tell you which coupons apply to your area. Another website I like is SmartSource.com, the self-described “#1 Website for Printable Grocery Coupons.”

Plus, if you buy items online, it almost always pays to do a quick search for coupons that apply to the particular online store or product you’re looking at.

And if you have an iPhone, an application like Yowza can also help you save money while on the go. The app finds deals and coupons in your geographic area … then, at the cash register, you show the clerk the Yowza deal on your mobile device and they’ll simply scan the barcode on the screen!

One word of warning: When visiting these websites or downloading mobile phone apps, some stores you patronize may not honor online coupons or deals. So before you run out the door with your online coupons in hand, please check with your local store to see if they accept them.