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Don’t Pay to Manage Your Money

Don’t Pay to Manage Your Money

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    Bank fees, software, tax preparation: if you aren’t careful, your money can wind up costing you a pretty penny. I’m of the opinion that in most cases, you really shouldn’t have to pay to manage your own money. As long as you’re an individual (as opposed to a business), I can’t see the point of paying for a whole list of things that are available for free with just a little hunting. I’m not talking about options that require extra work on your part, either — while some of the open source budgeting software can be pretty cool, I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t the best option for the average person.

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    1. Banking Fees

    In addition to an intense dislike for fees I can avoid, I really don’t see the point of paying my bank for the privilege of letting them use my money — which is what banking fees amount to. Most banks have at least one free bank account available, although it may not offer every bell and whistle. Credit unions can be good options for finding a free account, as well, as long as you qualify to join the credit union.

    There are also several banks that have built their reputations on offering only free banking, like ING Direct and FNBO Direct. Personally, I use ING Direct and have found it to be ideal — if you’ve used another bank with a great free account, please let me know in the comments.

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    2. Budgeting software

    With sites like Mint.com and Quicken Online offering free money management and budgeting software, I have a really hard time thinking of a reason to pay for budgeting software. In fact, the only concern that I’ve seen with online money management applications is the question of privacy. Sites like Mint have gone to some pretty significant lengths to protect users, but if you’re still worried, you might consider downloading an application. There aren’t as many solid software packages that you can download for free, I’m afraid, but I know there are a few options out there. If you’ve got a lead on a good one, please share it in the comments.

    3. Tax Preparation

    While there are a fair number of people who do need some help with tax preparation, it’s amazing just how many people can actually avoid paying to have their return prepared and e-filed. If you earned less than $56,000 in 2008, you’re automatically eligible for the IRS’ Free File program. Even if you earned more than that, you can get your taxes prepared for free with online options like TaxAct or TurboTax, as long as you have a relatively simple tax return.

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    You may need to explore other options if your tax return doesn’t look like it will be so simple: if you have a business, unusual deductions or income from a wide variety of sources, a free filing option may not be able to correctly complete your return.

    4. Credit Counseling

    There are so many companies promising that they can get you out of debt or avoid foreclosure, for a reasonable fee. The fact of the matter, though, is that such companies are shady at best. You are able to access free credit counseling, as well as consumer debt and bankruptcy help through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. The NFCC offers referrals to local credit counseling agencies.

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    It’s worth noting that while you can avoid credit counseling fees, there are often fees associated with specific services offered by an agency. While these organizations are typically not-for-profit, they are still self-supporting.

    5. Personal Finance Books

    One of the librarians at my local branch told me that while our local library district has a huge collection of personal finance books — including many best sellers and new releases — they still don’t get checked out as often as you might think. If you’re working on straightening out your finances, and want to read a particular personal finance book, check your local library. If you’ve already got a library card, you can usually check a book’s availability online. You can have books brought to your local branch, add your name to the waiting list (if there is one) or even request that the library consider purchasing a particular book online in most library districts these days.

    6. Your Credit Report

    There’s actually legislation in place stating that each credit agency must provide you with a copy of your credit report each year. The three main agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, provide copies through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also arrange for free copies of other reports, such as your ChexSystems’ report. ChexSystems is a reporting agency used by banks to report problem customers. You’re entitled to one free report each year from each agency.

    More Than A Little Savings

    You can save a surprising amount of money just by taking the time to find a free money management option. Whether we’re talking about banking or credit reports, there are plenty of free opportunities out there — and there’s not as big of a trade off for making the switch as you might think. In other areas, choosing a free option over a costly alternative usually means that you’re giving up an element of service or a few features. But with the monetary options I’ve listed above, there isn’t that much of a difference: you may even find yourself in a better position by avoiding services meant only to take your money.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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