Today's tip is part of our Fiscal Fitness '09 series. Every weekday this month, you'll get help getting fiscally fit as we work toward our goal of saving $2,000 to invest in 3 stocks!

You've saved some money and mustered up the courage to start investing it in the stock market. There's just one more bit of business to get out of the way.

Before you can take that $2,000-plus we've shown you how to save and invest it in one (or all) of the three stock tips we're doling out tomorrow, you've got to lay the groundwork for your plan. In other words, it's time to open a brokerage account.

Do you really need to pay hundreds more just to trade?
In keeping with our Fiscal Fitness theme, you'll find opportunities to cut costs here, too. By assessing trading and account maintenance fees, and those dastardly commissions (if you use a full-service broker), you can make sure that more of your money gets invested, and less gets gobbled up by transaction costs.

You'll find the biggest pricing difference between discount and full-service brokers. The discounters typically charge $25 or less for an individual online trade. But unlike a gas station, where you'll typically just pay an extra dime or two to have someone pump your gas for you, you'll shell out $150 for an average trade via the typical full-service broker.

And the fee frenzy doesn't end there. Many full-service firms charge maintenance fees that add another $75 or $150 per year. And even those that offer "unlimited free trades" in your account make you pay by charging you 1% to 1.5% of your total assets per year.

With full-service brokers, the extras you get for your money don't really amount to much, unless you like getting advice from a sales associate who often earns extra compensation by getting you to trade more and more. Is that worth paying $125 or more extra to execute your stock trades?

How many shares can you buy with $125?
Obviously, we favor discount brokers. We have an entire area on Fool.com devoted to helping you choose the right one.

Discount brokers also provide their own range of fees and services. Brokers like Zecco, TradeStation (NASDAQ:TRAD), ThinkOrSwim (NASDAQ:SWIM), and Interactive Brokers (NASDAQ:IBKR) offer super-cheap commission rates. Name-brand titans like Fidelity, Vanguard, and Charles Schwab (NASDAQ:SCHW) focus on higher levels of service at a reasonable, though somewhat higher, price. In between are brokers like Scottrade, E*Trade (NASDAQ:ETFC), TD AMERITRADE (NASDAQ:AMTD), and ING's (NYSE:ING) ShareBuilder. Their commissions fall in the middle of the expense spectrum, but they still offer some useful services not found at many of the deep-discounters.

Even if you only make a single trade each year, isn't it worthwhile to save $125 or more a pop by using a discount broker?

Get ready to buy stocks!
The mechanics of moving your money from one brokerage account to another -- or opening one for the first time -- are pretty simple. Your new online broker will be happy to walk you through the transfer and provide forms.

Since you don't want to undo any savings you'll reap by transferring your money, make sure to check into account transfer (or opening) fees -- from both your old broker and your new one. Depending on how you plan to use the account, be sure to study other fees that may be relevant to your usage, too.

For firsthand advice on the best brokers for your investing bucks, discuss these services with current customers over on our Discount Broker discussion board. The board's FAQ also lists other resources and links to rankings for those who really want to do their homework.

You'll be ready to start investing your savings in no time. So get ready; tomorrow, we're rolling out three investment ideas to get you started.

More ways to save...

  • Free research: Many brokers will give you access to research and other services that you'd otherwise have to pay for. If you're interested in those types of perks, see whether your favored broker provides them.
  • Keep closer tabs on your money: Think a brokerage account is too much hassle to track? Think again. Services like Mint.com will give you instant access to brokerage account information, while also letting you check in on bank accounts, credit cards, and more.

Read the latest from "Fiscal Fitness '09: 1 Month, 2 Grand, 3 Stocks" to get our other money-saving tips. You can also keep up with our tips through our daily Foolwatch email. Share your frugal insights and experiences through our Fiscal Fitness '09 discussion board, or leave a comment below.

Fiscal Fitness boot camp instructor Dayana Yochim owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. Charles Schwab is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters services free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.