The Day a Non-Saving Bank Teller Reaffirmed My Financial Plan

Did you ever have an overweight and out-of-shape PE teacher? I did. And it always confounded me. I thought, “Shouldn’t he practice what he preaches?”

I had similar thoughts Friday at my big bank, at which I keep my main checking account. I misplaced my debit card last weekend, so I went in to get a temporary card while the other one headed to my mailbox.

Justine helped me out.

She asked if I had a financial advisor. Bank of America’s partnership with Merrill Edge allows me a free, short session with an advisor.

I told Justine that I, indeed, have a financial advisor. I’m actually going to see my him in a few days. I’m excited to talk about my progress so far and look toward the future.

While further reviewing my account, Justine said, “Miss Wise, I noticed you don’t have a savings account with us.”

“Yeah, I know,” I replied. “In order for me to save, I have to keep my checking and savings completely separate.”

I told her that I save at another bank. Two actually—one at a credit union; the other, online. Without the separate savings account, I would constantly be transferring money into the checking account and never keep a dime.

She said she understood.

“I try to be a saver, but I have too many bills,” she said, “They just keep coming.”

A red flag went up in my head. I thought, ‘But you work at a bank! You work with money ALL THE TIME!’

If anyone could be saving, I thought it would be her. Of course, I don’t know the ins and outs of her life. I know sometimes bills seem to come at you in quick succession.

Our conversation reaffirmed these actions I’ve taken along my journey to financial enlightenment:

  1. Save for “unexpected” bills. Maybe Justine didn’t see some of her bills coming. But that’s the main reason we should have savings. Car repairs, medical bills and that annual AAA renewal aren’t really unexpected. At the beginning of the year, I decided to save for those annual expenses such as the AAA card so they wouldn’t seem to pop up out of the blue. One day, I want to have enough to cover the medical deductible and major car repairs, too. I’d keep a large amount in an interest-bearing account.
  2. Keep the savings account separate from the checking account. It takes much more effort to actually dip into those savings if it’s at another bank. You’ll either have to drive to a separate brick-and-mortar bank or wait 2-4 days for the transfer from an online bank.
  3. Make savings automatic. Having my savings automatically withdrawn from my paycheck into a separate bank doesn’t even allow me to factor that money into bill money or discretionary money. If I had to decide every two weeks whether to save or not, then I would also make a poor decision—to spend the money.
  4. Reduce monthly bills whenever possible. Whether it’s lowering your phone bill or cutting off the cable, do what you gotta do to keep the overhead low. Then put the difference in savings.
  5. Get advice when you need it. When something’s wrong with your car, you see a mechanic, right? I might take Justine on the Merrill Edge offer just for a tune-up. Although I have a financial advisor, I like hearing different perspectives.

I left the big bank happy about my current situation. I not where I want to be, but I’m making good money decisions and I’m working my plan. Yay for progress!

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How to Spend Guilt-Free While Not Living Debt-Free (Yet)

I subscribe to the EZ Bugdet or Anti-Budget from Dave Weliver’s MoneyUnder30.com. (I love that site. Don’t you?)

This spending plan is pretty simple. Dave instructs you to:

  • Total your fixed monthly expenses (your Nut).
  • Figure out your net (take-home) pay, per month.
  • Subtract your Nut from your take-home pay.
  • The remainder is what’s left to spend. On whatever you want—food, gas, beer and travel. For the purpose of this post, I’ll call this amount “the leftovers.”

ez-budget-napkin-money-under-30

The plan is supposed to help you take care of the most important stuff through automated payments, so you can spend the remainder—no matter how large or small—guilt-free.

My fixed expenses include the basics (rent, utilities, cell phone bill, etc.), and the extras:

  • savings
  • premiums for extra insurance not covered by my employer’s plan
  • Roth IRA contributions
  • aggressive debt repayment

The amount I spend toward the debt payoff is about $350 more than the combined minimum payments of $60. I’m sacrificing a large chunk of take-home pay each month to the debt snowball. So why do I feel guilty if I spend the leftovers on something cool?! I guess I’m fighting the felling that I should be doing more.

After I paid off a credit card in June, I took advantage of a Groupon sale on top of the 50-percent discount to buy a cooking class I’ve been coveting for months. The class was a reward. And it helps me achieve another goal of constant self-improvement. I paid $79.20 for a 6-hour cooking boot camp valued at $199. That’s 60-percent off!

I paid for the purchase outright. But I felt guilty! Why couldn’t I just put that money toward the next credit card?!

Shouldn’t I go ahead and pay off that medical bill?

Shouldn’t it go toward my savings?
I’ve read so many of those posts with outrageous headlines, like “How we paid off $1 million dollars in debt in a week!” Shouldn’t I cut every corner like they did?

No. Personal finances are personal.

I should do what’s right for me. I don’t want to put every single penny into debt repayment because I want to have some fun, too. And that’s OK. There’s no fun in only spending the leftovers on gas, food and household items. I don’t thrive on deprivation. Also, interest isn’t accruing on the medical bills or the credit card debts because of the balance transfers.

Dave Ramsay fans are probably screaming his quote, “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

Yeah, yeah. But I am living like no one else. I’m not out here looking for a new apartment (which I want to do), buying new furniture (which I’ve wanted badly for two years), looking for a new car (which I’ll need pretty soon), buying new, sexy shoes (which would be nice to have), or taking a big trip (which hurts my inner globetrotter). I’m putting at least an extra $350 toward debt repayment for goodness sake!

I must deal with this guilt. I found these tips from Divine Caroline via Intent.

Tips For Dealing With Spending Without Guilt:

  1. Acknowledge your money fears, however irrational. Just like the post’s author, my irrational money fear is that if I spend a big chunk of money today on something for myself, then I’ll encounter some terrible financial misfortune that’ll cause me to regret spending money on said item. If that’s the case, then I’ll end up never spending money on anything fun. I’m not advocating for going overboard, but I must find a middle ground.
  2. Make sure your personal finances are in working order. Check! Since I’m taking care of my monthly Nut before spending on anything else, then my finances are in order. The bases are covered, so go ahead and swing for the moon.
  3. Set aside fun money that you absolutely MUST spend on yourself. I haven’t create a Fun Fund, so maybe I should do that now. I should plan to spend an allotment amount on self-care or fun.
  4. Save for big splurges ahead of time. I already save monthly for annual expenses I have to pay for, such as, renter’s insurance, professional organization fees. I should start another savings account to pay for a vacation or furniture.
  5. Give away some money to a good cause regularly. The author writes:Superstitious or not, I truly believe that giving some money to a good cause on a monthly basis makes for good money karma (and of course good life karma overall). When you are in the position of helping others in need through financial donations, you are always in a state of abundance no matter how big your paycheck is.”
  6. Be on the lookout for good deals on things you want to spend money on. I totally agree with this. Hence, my Groupon and LivingSocial obsessions.
  7. Prioritize what you want to spend money on and know what makes you happy. Right now my priorities lie in lifelong learning and self-care. So I will no longer feel guilty for buying the cooking class in June, or paying for the second part of wedding planning class, a pedicure or those classic dresses I bought on sale from one of my favorite designers at Dillard’s this month. These things make me happy and feel better about my self. They’re investments.

So, guilt, be gone!

It’s Not About the Money: Can Discovering Your Money Type Set You Free?

I had double jaw surgery just over a month ago. Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. Recovery was the perfect time to continue reading. While spending time in my hometown for the Fourth of July weekend, I came across Brent Kessel’s 2008 book It’s Not About the Money: Unlock Your Money Type To Achieve Spiritual and Financial Abundance in the library. I’m soooo glad I found this gem and my lil’ ol’ library.

Kessel is a renown financial advisor and yogi, so he offers a unique perspective on money. He discovered that people need to understand their core financial story in order to make meaningful changes. The book helps people identify themselves in 8 money Brent Kessler's 8 Money Archetypesarchetypes, provides information on how each archetype can revamp her finances, and provides exercises and meditations to inspire a fresh approach to her relationship with money. Meditating and looking at financial decisions more objectively can help you detach from emotions and make better decisions.

The exercises and meditations in the book are so helpful, in my opinion. Kessel asks tough questions to really help you understand your conditioning and motives for your financial behavior. He proposes that our “Core Story” was developed in early childhood and created money scripts that you subconsciously play out today. For example, growing up with little food and parents who worried about how to pay the bills could force one to try to make as much money as possible (like the Empire Builder) or worry about every cent that goes in and out of the home (like the Guardian).

The archetypes include:

  1. The Guardian is always alert and careful.
  2. The Pleasure Seeker prioritizes pleasure and enjoyment in the here and now.
  3. The Idealist places the greatest value on creativity, compassion social justice, or spiritual growth.
  4. The Saver seeks security and abundance by accumulating more financial assets.
  5. The Star spends, invests, or gives money away to be recognized, feel hip or classy, and increase self-esteem.
  6. The Innocent avoids putting significant attention on money and believes or hopes that life will work out for the best.
  7. The Caretaker gives and lends money to express compassion and generosity.
  8. The Empire Builder thrives on power and innovation to create something of enduring value.

Before reading the full descriptions of the eight archetypes, I realized that my money archetypes and philosophy have changed (for the better) over the years. Before getting serious about debt repayment and saving, I was the “Pleasure Seeker” and the “Innocent.” My pleasure-seeking lead to racking up credit card debt without regard to the future impact. The “Innocent” in me made think everything would work out even if I didn’t have a plan to reduce debt and set goals. Why did I think this way? Well, my mother exhibits this behavior. Apple. Tree.

Wow. It’s all just conditioning. I don’t have to act like that anymore. — Brent Kessel

Now, I’m much more vigiliant, realizing that being irresponsible wouldn’t help me in the long-run.  The “Guardian” and the “Saver” best describe me. I aim to become secure and wealthy by shedding debt, being careful and accumulating assets. This quiz on Kessel’s website can help you determine your archetype(s).

There are bad sides to each archetype, too. “For example, Savers rely on their habits to feel secure and safe, and Guardians turn to compulsive behaviors, constantly analyzing their financial affairs in the hope of finding some reassurance.” In the past week alone, I called about my loans, tweaked transfers and so on to try to gain the least bit of edge. My wheels are always spinning. It’s as if I’m become obsessed with my finances after years of apathy as a Pleasure Seeker and Innocent. Kessel wrote: “Often it is the archetype we reject that we most need in order to create balance and freedom in our lives.” He encourages you to find the “Middle Way”, a balance, among the archetypes to create a fulfilled life. We move toward balance “when we are not caught in the mind’s strategies to become secure or happy.”

…with just a few of the right tools, no matter what your history with money has been, you can earn and keep money, and even grow wealthy if that’s what you want. — Brent Kessel

What makes It’s Not About The Money awesome is that Kessel gives specific tips for each archetype on the following topics: cash flow and budgeting, investing, insurance, taxes, gifting and estate planning, and philanthropy and generosity.

Kessel suggests that you suppress the “Wanting Mind”, which constantly tells you that you are not enough or don’t have enough. That feeds the negative part of the Core Story. He spends most of the third part of the book talking about generosity. He wrote: “…when we are focused on the greater good, we are not as consumed by our own self-involved Core Story, and hence more is possible.” When you look to help others, you often forget about your own hang-ups and move toward balance and freedom.

We are free when we move from a focus on getting love, abundance, peace and freedom to being love, abundance, peace and freedom. In fact, when we are identified with that part of us that already has enough, that has arrived, that feels sufficiency rather than scarcity, impulses of love and generosity arise naturally and without effort. — Brent Kessel

Mid-Year Financial Check-Up | Progress on 2015 goals

Wow! I haven’t blogged since late January.

What happened? Love happened…well, a little bit. I started dating a handsome guy and reading everything about love and relationships. And I just got lazy. My cares about personal finance blogging took a backseat.

But I’m getting back on track with reading and writing about money. And I feel as if I’m on track in regards to my goals.

Let’s revisit the financial goals I set at the beginning of 2015:

  • Save $53 per pay period to have an additional $1378 in the emergency fund by the end of the year –> I have been automatically saving that money each pay period. I’ve had to use some of those savings for big purchases, but that’s what it’s there for.
  • Learn more about investing by reading at least one book or completing an online tutorial quarterly –> I haven’t kept this up, but I look forward to catching up.
  • Reset Roth IRA contributions to contribute at least $100 per month –> I reset my Roth IRA contributions, but to $50 a month. I decided to put more money toward debt repayment for now.
  • Pay off two of the three remaining credit cards in full using the Debt Dash or snowball method –> I will pay off the first of those three cards in June. I should repay the second card by the end of the year.
  • Pay at least one extra student loan payment within the year by making a small extra payment each month –> I decided to put more money toward repaying higher-interest consumer debt instead of toward low-interest student loans.

Seeing some progress is better than seeing none. At one point, I never thought I’d finish paying off credit card No. 1. It was a card I got for car repairs. The card allowed promotional purchases in which you wouldn’t incur any interest for six months. But when those six months were over, the 29.99% interest kicked in. Woo!

So finally seeing a balance of about $2,100 (near the $2,500 limit) in June 2014 go down to a couple hundred bucks (MY LAST PAYMENT) is a huge feat. I’m excited to roll that payment into the payment for Card No. 2 and paying it off before the interest kicks in March 2016. Also, I think I’ve saved enough so that I won’t have to use the card again. Progress, people! Progress!

My 29th birthday gift to me: No more credit card debt

A co-worker read a poignant quote yesterday.

Do one thing every day that scares you. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Well, I did something very scary today. I am trying to transfer $3,000 from two credit cards onto one with a 0-percent interest rate for 15 months. Meaning that I’ll have to stick to my Debt Dash/Snowball plan and budget to the T in order to pay this off by March 2016.

I’M FREAKING OUT!!!

Why did I agree to transfer that much?! Why didn’t I give myself breathing room and put $2,500 on the card? That $500 makes a difference.

According to my plan, I can pay off the transfer by February 2016. That’s just a month ahead of the introductory fee and the month of my 29th birthday.

So my 27-year-old self is making a pledge to my 29-year-old self that I will not burden her with high-interest credit card debt. She will most likely have student loan debt. We’ll continue the snowball to get rid of that eventually.

But in 14 months, I want to be out of this hole.

It takes a lot of will, discipline, courage and help to slay the debt monster. But it can be done. – Dave Ramsey

I will continue to freelance and use half of that money for debt. That will expedite the process.

I just received my first payment of 2015 for a freelance piece and was unsure of what to do with it. Perhaps, I’d try the three savings buckets system and split it equally for:

  1. emergency savings
  2. save to spend
  3. retirement

But, no. I’ve got to use part of this freelance income to hit this balance transfer. Every little bit counts. It’s not cute to continue to be the slave to the lender.

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. – Proverbs 22:7

I’ve scared myself straight. I must make sacrifices to achieve this goal. My 29-year-old self deserves to be free of credit card debt.

BorrowerIsSlaveToLender

What to expect when doing a credit balance transfer

I’ve heard of balance transfers for a while now, but have been wary of doing one. This basically allows you to get a new credit card to pay off the old one. The key is getting a new card with a low- or zero-percent introductory interest rate over those months, for example 6 or 12 months, so you’re putting money toward your balance, not the pesky interest. It can help you get out of debt quicker and save money overall.

Strategize Before Getting a Balance Transfer

While listening to Ready For Zero’s MoneyBuzz podcast, a co-hostess talked about how she once got a balance transfer card but didn’t create a strategy to pay off her balance before the introductory period expired. She got hit by interest twice. Boom!

Years later, she ended up using another balance transfer to pay off that debt within the allotted time period. The plan made the difference. She knew exactly how much to pay each month to avoid interest. Hearing her success story made me seriously consider doing a balance transfer for the first time.

What To Consider When Selecting A Balance Transfer Card

  • Purchase Annual Percentage Rate (APR) | Of course, you hope to qualify for a card at 0 percent.
  • Balance transfer APR | 0 percent, please!
  • The expiration date for the teaser rate | It could be 6 months, 12 months or longer. You don’t want to get caught up and not pay your balance within 6 months. You have to be careful. After the 6 or 12 months are up, the interest rate jumps up significantly. A card I considered chose between 12.99% and 22.99% depending on the card applicant’s creditworthiness. Obviously, you don’t want to have a balance and get hit with those high interest rates…AGAIN.
  • Balance transfer fee | Some cards charge a percentage, for example 3 percent, of the balance you wish to transfer to the new card. So you would be charged a balance transfer fee of $3 for a card with a $100 balance.

While looking around, I noticed that you can’t get do a balance transfer within the same company. So example, you can’t dump debt from one Company A card to a second Company A card.

I ended up getting a card that offered 0 percent interest on new purchases AND balance transfers for the first 15 billing cycles of my account. Also, there was no fee for balance Balance Transfer Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 2.56.17 PMtransfers within the first 60 days of opening the account. I qualified for the lowest APR after the 15-month teaser period. Thanks, good credit score! The company approved a full transfers from one card and a partial transfer from another. Using this balance transfer calculator, I estimated that I could save $762 in interest over the duration of the promotion. After the promotional period, I could save about $19 each month.

I called the company to better understand how this will all work.

  • Balance transfers help consolidate payments. Depending on your situation, you can make one payment for two cards.
  • My old companies will receive payments from the new cards, so they won’t necessarily know that I made a balance transfer. It’s as if I paid the cards in full.
  • The balance transfer could have a negative impact on my credit score temporarily.

How Balance Transfers Affect Your Credit Score

If you plan to apply for credit like a loan or mortgage in the near future, then some folks advise against doing a balance transfer. Why? A balance transfer could negatively impact my credit score in three ways.

  1. Debt utilization (30 percent of my FICO score) | I’ll basically max out the balance transfer card. The rule of thumb is to use 30 percent or less of a card’s credit limit. That’s not good.
  2. Opening new credit (10 percent of my FICO score) | Opening new accounts could lower my score. Lenders don’t want to see that you apply for new credit often. That’s risky.
  3. Length of credit history (10 percent of my FICO score) | The longer I’ve had a card, the better.

It’s a good thing I don’t plan on applying for anything soon.

Whats-In-Your-Credit-Score-Fico-600

Looking Forward

I’m going to continue to use the Debt Dash/snowball method to pay down these two cards using the balance transfer. It’s great that my cash will go toward the balance instead of interest. Cheers to the interest-free future!

New Year’s Resolutions: The Importance of Setting Financial Goals

It’s amazing what a difference a year makes. On New Year’s Eve last night, I was in the same place—my apartment. However, I was in a different mindset. Earlier in the day, one of my friends came by, and we completed our vision boards. This was such a fun exercise. It was my first foray in vision boards. I dedicated aVisionBoardPost Money section to fiscal fitness. It features a hand grabbing cash, a cute piggy bank and positive sayings to remind of me of goals for the year (and the rest of my life, for that matter) such as:

  • “Your money. In your control.”
  • “Take control of your retirement”
  • “Cut costs.”
  • “Add a little richness to your life without spending a fortune.”

For weeks, I had been trying to get perspective on my money goals for 2015. One day, I looked back at my Debt Dash Plan created in January 2014 during the 21-Day Financial Fast. Four small debts are paid in full. Awesome! I had unknowingly completed non-fiscal goals, including dating more (well, at all, but that’s for a different blog), cooking new recipes, reading more and so on. I wrote down all of those goals earlier in the year, but misplaced the paper and wasn’t tracking them. The practice of simply writing them down must have helped manifest them, though. This year, I want to track my progress.

So many of us are making New Year’s resolutions. According to a Fidelity survey, the top three financial resolutions for four years now are:

  • Saving more (55 percent). The median commitment is an additional $200 a month.
  • Paying off debt (20 percent)
  • Spending less (17 percent)

The Fidelity survey also found a correlation between expressing a financial goal and improving one’s financial life. About half (51-percent) of those who made a money resolution last year said they are now “better off financially,” compared to just 38 percent of those who didn’t set one. One out of two. Not bad.

About half (51-percent) of those who made a money resolution last year said they are now “better off financially,” compared to just 38 percent of those who didn’t set one.

Furthermore, for those who made a resolution last year, almost two-thirds (74 percent) succeeded in at least getting halfway to their goal. Even better, 29 percent were completely successful.

I completed two of the goals I set in June, and got halfway through the third one. Progress! It’s all about progress!

Here are my financial goals for 2015:

  • Save $53 per pay period to have an additional $1378 in the emergency fund by the end of the year (That’s how much I would have saved doing the 52-week money challenge, but I like saving consistent amounts instead of $52 one week; $51, the next, and so on.)
  • Learn more about investing by reading at least one book or completing an online tutorial quarterly
  • Reset Roth IRA contributions to contribute at least $100 per month
  • Pay off two of the three remaining credit cards in full using the Debt Dash or snowball method
  • Pay at least one extra student loan payment within the year by making a small extra payment each month

Unfortunately, the extra student loan payment will go toward interest not the balance, but I gotta do something. It’ll make me happier to know that I’m, at least, trying to speed up the repayment process.

In You Don’t Have to Be Rich: Comfort, Happiness and Financial Security On Your Own Terms, personal finance champion Jean Chatzky says just working toward your goals —not even completing them — boosts happiness.

“People who are steadily working toward their goals are much closer to the happiness levels of people who are already there then those they’ve left in the dust. … You don’t have to hit your marks to be happy. Just making the effort to a point at which you start to notice results makes a tremendous difference.”

“You don’t have to hit your marks to be happy. Just making the effort to a point at which you start to notice results makes a tremendous difference.”— Jean Chatzky

Chatzsky also says writing down goals helps you see them clearly, realize all the interim steps you need to take to accomplish them, see how much money you need to put toward them and think of the trade-offs.

“And—oh yes— it makes you happy,” she writes. “Goal setters are happier with their finances and less likely to worry about their money. Likewise, financially happy people are more knowledgeable about the amount they need to save in order to reach their goals, and are more likely to be on track to do so.”

Follow more of Chatzky’s tips below:

The Four Steps of Setting Goals

    1. See what you want. (Visualization is key. Be specific. Be clear. Once you have your vision, focus on how it makes you feel. To become a better forecaster of your own happiness, you have to think about how those things, people and outcomes will make you feel if and when you get them, ex. winning the lottery.)
    2. Write your goals down.
    3. Turn your goal into an action plan. (Break it down into manageable parts. Saving $5,000 in a year turns into saving $100 for 50 weeks.)
    4. Understand the time involved. (It won’t happen overnight.)

The Six Keys to Achieving Goals

“People who have at least started to achieve their goals are much more likely to feel useful, content, and confident.”

  1. Begin.
  2. Recognize the obstacles in your way. (i.e. emails from daily deals, hanging with certain people, driving by a certain store.)
  3. Build better habits. (“Many people make the mistake of looking at goals as a point in time some distance away. You’re better off if, instead, you can look goals as a series of lifelong changes you have to make to achieve those desires.”)
  4. Automate where you can.
  5. Set up reminders.
  6. Focus on tomorrow (not yesterday).

In Good Debt, Bad Debt: Knowing the Difference Can Save Your Financial Life, author  Jon Hanson writes that goal setters should consider the BDO method (Be, Do, Own) to understand why, not just how, you’re going to complete goals.

  • Who will you become?
  • What will you be doing to achieve these goals?
  • What do you see yourself owning?

That’s why it’s great to name your goals and savings funds, like folks do on their online Capital One 360 accounts. Give goals names and meanings. And, hopefully, you’ll be on your way to success.

Cheers to 2015!