Last week, I spent a good portion of my spare time working on my family’s budget. Our budget spreadsheet allows us to track our receivables and expenses, as well as our retirement investments and other savings. Via a “total assets chart,” we can look a full year out to see how much we’ll be banking and spending. It gives my husband and me a good idea of the luxuries we can afford and warns us when it’s time to be cutting back.

I try to update the budget spreadsheet about once a quarter or more. Like many of my spreadsheeting sessions, I began this particular exercise with the sole purpose of finding areas where we could spend less. Although it’s not always easy (because reducing costs usually means reducing fun), with the help of a little creativity and an open mind, I inevitably achieve my goal each time. And, albeit with a bit of reluctance, this time was no different.

In today’s economy, most companies–like many of us–are looking for ways to keep costs down. And the legal department–a cost center in and of itself–can sometimes be the first place a company looks for savings.

So it’s not so surprising that in this month’s cover story (“Creative Counsel“)–in which we profile innovative solutions 10 legal departments came up with to solve common problems–many of the solutions were born out of an effort to reduce spending. Thomas Newcomb Hyde, national director of legal and training at Liberty Mutual, for example, came up with a way to bring CLE training to Liberty Mutual’s offices–saving the company thousands of dollars a year on travel expenses.

With the help of IT, General Counsel Jason Weintraub at construction company DRI Cos. implemented a customized software system linking employee timekeeping information captured on PDAs with DRI’s payroll software–significantly reducing labor costs. And Joan Engstrom, deputy general counsel of General Mills, helped devise a Web-based tool that allows HR employees to search for answers to common employment-related legal questions without taking up expensive attorney time.

Although they may sound simple, these solutions aren’t obvious answers to common problems. It took creativity and innovation on the part of the project leaders as well as support from the top for all of them to be successful. And thanks to these innovators, their legal departments are that much better for it.