About the only thing as onerous as paying taxes is paying for insurance. And many people view their insurance bill much the same way they view their tax bill: They have little control over it, so they hold their noses and pay.

That could be a mistake.

"People spend billions of dollars each year on insurance, yet many of us spend only a few seconds thinking about it," said Peter van Aartrijk, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute in New York. "Most people don't shop around for insurance, but they definitely should because prices do vary. They vary widely."

The Alliance of American Insurers estimates the average person spends 5.2 percent of his household income on insurance; other estimates from nonindustry sources go as high as 16 percent.

Here are some ways to save:

Auto insurance: You'll save significantly on your premiums if you agree to a higher deductible -- particularly if you own a late-model car. The most popular deductible is $250, but people with some means and good driving habits should consider going to $500 or even $1,000, van Aartrijk said.

"If you have a good income and a $250 deductible, that's really not being very cost-effective," he said.

Auto insurance companies offer a wide range of discounts off their base rates for people who qualify. A few will even reward you for not smoking in your car, the theory being that you're less likely to have an accident if you're not fidgeting with a lighter or brushing away hot ashes.

Other discounts are offered if you drive for a given time period -- say three years -- without a major accident; if you insure all your vehicles with the same company; if you car pool; or if teenagers who drive your car make good grades.

There are also ways you can guarantee increasing your premiums.

If you have accidents, most companies will place a surcharge on the base rate you pay for insurance -- and probably will cancel or decline to renew your policy if you have more than one accident in a given time period.

What if you've been convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol? If you're already covered, your insurer probably won't raise your rates because of the conviction but would seriously consider not renewing your policy. Other factors that increase your premiums include having teenage drivers in the family, particularly boys, and driving sporty, foreign cars.

Homeowner's insurance: As with auto insurance, homeowner's insurance will cost less if you increase your deductible. You can also influence your premiums with the type of coverage you buy. A basic homeowner's policy has two parts. The first covers you for the house itself and the property inside. The second offers liability protection in case you are sued for damage or injury caused to others, for instance, by the family dog or an icy sidewalk. Most homeowners find adequate protection with $100,000 to $300,000 liability coverage. But if you have special circumstances -- for instance, if you often baby-sit for neighborhood children in your house -- you should consider increasing your liability coverage.

Today, most insurance experts urge homeowners to buy "replacement cost" coverage for the house and its contents, instead of actual cost value, which is the replacement cost minus any depreciation. If you have an $800 sofa that is damaged, for example, replacement cost will pay for a new sofa. Actual cost may not pay you anything if the sofa is 10 years old, even if it's in good shape.

"It does cost 10 to 15 percent more to have replacement cost, but it's certainly worth it," van Aartrijk said.

Under replacement cost, you need to insure at least 80 percent of the cost of replacing your home. So if you have a $150,000 home, it would be cheaper to insure it for $140,000 -- thus still qualifying for replacement coverage -- than to insure the full amount. There are exceptions and adjustments to benefits offered by different insurance companies, so be sure to ask your agent.

Most insurance companies offer discounts on homeowner's policies. For example, you can save as much as 15 percent if you insure your home and automobiles with the same insurance company. You can get small credits if you have smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and burglar alarms. Homes with sophisticated burglar alarms can save their owners as much as 20 percent on their premiums.

A few insurers offer to reduce premiums if homeowners pledge not to smoke. Newer homes built with fire-resistant materials may qualify for a discount. And if you're at least 55 and retired, you may qualify for a mature homeowner's discount. "The thinking, I guess, is they {retirees} stay home more, can get to fires sooner and take better care of their homes," van Aartrijk said.

Life insurance: The debate has long been: term or whole life? And the answer still depends almost entirely upon who you talk to.

"We typically would recommend term insurance," said Ron Avey, division manager for Waddell & Reed, which sells life insurance.

But many people prefer whole life, said Jeri Powers, an agent for Farm Bureau Insurance in Wichita, Kan. "It's like buying a house. You get equity in a whole-life policy whereas in term, if you leave, there's nothing to show for it," she said.

With term, when you pay your insurance premium, you are insured for a specific term -- usually one year but sometimes five or more. If you die during that term, your heirs get the death benefit. If you live, neither you nor your heirs get anything. Term is usually much cheaper than whole life in the early years because you are buying only protection. It gets much more expensive the older you get.

With a traditional whole-life policy, premiums never go up. But they are more expensive because part of the money goes toward investments that ultimately will produce a cash value. This cash value -- which can be tapped for loans to pay for college, to provide income for retirement or any other need -- makes whole life attractive. You can get the money when you decide you no longer need insurance and surrender the policy.

"We don't necessarily feel that a life insurance policy is the place to establish a savings account," Avey said. "We just feel there's a better place to accumulate cash than in a life insurance policy."

The solution? Consider buying a term policy first, one that can be converted to a whole life policy. Probably the best thing you can do to get a better life insurance rate -- besides being generally healthy -- is to be a nonsmoker. In fact, life insurance companies have a special category for smokers that can be as much as 30 percent more expensive than their category for the healthy.

Health insurance: People who aren't covered by employer group plans -- and that's a growing number -- will find that health insurance is probably the most costly type of insurance they buy. And there's not much they can do to contain the cost.

These days, health insurance companies are reluctant to insure the sick; if they do at all, it's for a high price. One way that people with diseases can get a better rate is to buy a policy that excludes their specific illness, meaning they won't get coverage for it. That's not much help to the person with the sickness, but it does enable him or her to get coverage for other family members.