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10 Practical Tips To Lower Your Banking Costs

10 Practical Tips To Lower Your Banking Costs

Recently, I was going over the details of my budget with a friend. When I got to the estimated expenses, he seemed to have a puzzled look on his face and asked me if I had forgotten to include banking costs. I was surprised by this question, but not as surprised as he was by my answer: “I don’t really have any banking expenses.”

“What about service charges, accidental overdrafts, minimum account balances etc.?” he asked. I shrugged. I don’t pay my bank to hold my money, they pay me for the privilege. Here’s how:

1. Set up overdraft protection … now!

Accidents happen. No one usually intends to overdraw their bank account, but sometimes a debit transaction comes through before a check clears and there you are with one or several charges applied to your already hurting bank account.

The first thing you should do after setting up a bank account is inquire about available overdraft protection. Sometimes referred to as cash reserve checking, this is a line of credit that the bank extends to its customers that kicks in when your debits exceed the balance in your account. Basically, you are pre-approved for a loan that is used to cover your negative balance.

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While this protection virtually eliminates overdraft fees, there are two small caveats. Firstly, you must be approved for such a line of credit, which is dependent on several factors including your credit score and history with the bank. Secondly, banks are not in the business of loaning out money for free, you will be charged interest on the overdrawn amount, though this is almost always going to be less than the fees that would be applied without overdraft protection.

2. Establish a good relationship with the tellers at your bank.

We often tend to view banks as large, faceless megacorporations, and save for the local credit unions, most of them are. That said, the people who work at your local branch are just that, people, and they often possess more power to help you out than you may realize. Knowing your teller by name, asking them about their family and what they are doing this weekend are, other than being generally polite things to do, great ways to ensure that you are treated fairly by your bank. I cannot tell you how many times my teller has pushed a deposit through to clear immediately or removed a fee for me: services that I doubt would have ever been extended to someone they didn’t know.

3. Prepare ahead for traveling abroad.

Oftentimes travelers run into additional banking fees and inconveniences, simply because they didn’t plan ahead. Be sure to tell your bank that you are traveling. Will you need to use ATMs while you are abroad? Check to see if your bank has any arrangements with banks in the countries to which you are traveling. If they do, using these banks can significantly cut down on fees and you can be assured that your money will be readily available when away from home. If you travel frequently, consider opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account, which automatically reimburses all foreign ATM fees.

4. Use online banking but don’t rely on it.

Online banking is a godsend for most people. It allows you to keep an eye on your balance, transfer money from one account to another, and more. Many banks allow you configure alerts so that you are notified via email or text message when your balance drops below a certain threshold. Get to know what your online banking offers and leverage these tools to stay in control of your account. While this can be an extremely useful tool, bear in mind that it does not replace the need to balance your checkbook.

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5. Balance your check book.

Every time you swipe your debit card or write out a check, add the transaction to your ledger immediately. For all intents and purposes, view that money as no longer being in your account. If you get into this habit and quit relying on the available balance reported by your online banking, you will save yourself a lot of trouble, fees and embarrassment.

Remember that transactions can often take days to show up on your online ledger. Always know what it really in your account. Maintaining a balanced check book will also enable you to more easily spot potential bank errors, such as double charges. While there are a wide variety of apps available to make this age-old act easier, I personally prefer Toshl, which is available on all the major mobile platforms and can also be used to set up budgets and generate helpful graphs about your spending habits.

6. Shop around for better accounts.

Before looking elsewhere, go into your bank and ask to talk to someone about your account. Let them know that you are concerned about avoiding fees and would like to know what types of accounts are available. Answer any questions they ask you with complete honesty. Do not say that you can maintain a higher minimum balance than you realistically can. Oftentimes, you can forgo interest (which is often quite meager to begin with) for a totally free account with no restrictions. After a simple five-minute conversation with my banker, I was switched into an account that is typically just for college students (which I am not) that offered some built-in overdraft forgiveness with no fees and no minimum balance. While your mileage may vary, it never hurts to see what is available. If it seems that your bank has nothing to offer, look elsewhere.

7. Be careful when writing checks.

Checks can be tricky as you never know when their recipient will cash them and if there isn’t enough money in our account when they do, they will bounce, which is costly and very embarrassing. Bounce enough checks around town and you might even find yourself in jail. If we are following tip #5 and balancing our check book, this should never happen. That said, sometimes we make mistakes. So, if you do bounce a check, and you happen to catch it right away (it shows up in your online banking, but the transaction is still “pending”), then immediately deposit enough funds in your account to cover the check and call your bank. There is a chance that they might be willing to manually approve the transaction and prevent the check from bouncing.

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8. Read every notice that your bank mails you.

Regulations require that your bank notify you of any new fees. Be sure to open and read every piece of mail that your bank sends you. If they are introducing a new fee of some type, contact them immediately and see what can be done to avoid being charged. Often they are just hoping that you won’t notice. Stay on top of things and you could avoid increasing fees.

9. Consider switching to a credit union.

If you are unable to get your banking costs under control with a typical bank, try a credit union. Credit unions are member owned and operated and as such, are service-driven as opposed to profit-driven organizations, and because of this they tend to offer more favorable rates and additional services.

10. Don’t be afraid to mix and match your banks.

If one bank offers a great free checking account and another has really useful features for its business accounts, don’t be afraid to mix and match. Find the accounts that suit your needs, regardless of where they are offered.

 

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With a little effort, it is possible to mitigate most banking costs, even those associated with mistakes made on your own part. For a look into some more money mistakes worth avoiding, check out 11 Money Mistakes You Don’t Realize You’re Making.

Featured photo credit: Money Bills Calculator Save Savings Taxes/jarmoluk via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. And that’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways on how to set financial goals and then actually meet them with ease.

5 Steps to Set Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task but if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps:

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal (let alone financial) without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream. And this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it is for. It could be anything like kid’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives, however small they may be, that you foresee in the future and put a value to it.

2. Keep Them Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going out of the line will definitely hurt your chances of achieving them.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic in nature for it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said – “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman”. And this quote sums up the best what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore account for inflation whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far away in the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years hence, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is mere 3%. So always account for inflation.

4. Short Term vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach towards achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It is important to bifurcate goals in short term and long term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal, which is due in next 3 years should be termed as short term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short term vs long term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

More on this later when we talk about how to achieve financial goals.

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5. To Each to His Own

The journey of setting financial goals is an individualistic affair i.e. your goals are your own goals and are determined by your want to achieve them. A lot of times we get on the bandwagon of goal setting only to realize later on that it was not meant for us.

It is important that your goals are actually your goals and not inspired by someone else. Take a hard look at this step at all the goals you’ve set for after this step, you will be on the way to achieve them.

By now, you would be ready with your financial goals, now it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

11 Ways to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a 2 step process –

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough; and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals. So let’s get down to ensuring healthy savings.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self realization is the best form of realisation and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your monthly expenses. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you would be surprised to see how small expenses add up to a sizeable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different bucket so that you know which bucket is eating the most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pump up your savings rate.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classical mistake which almost everyone of us do. We pay ourselves last!

Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and then manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement is to put the savings on automatic mode i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (for example – mutual funds, retirement corpus etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will make us lose control of our money and hence will compel us to manage in what’s left with us thereby increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick with It

Budgeting is the best to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be made.

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Nowadays, several money management apps and wallets can help you do this automatically. It’s easy and who knows, you may just end up doing what people fail to do.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Rise Again Even If You Fall

Let’s be realistic. It’s not like the world will come to an end if you made one mistake. This isn’t called leniency but discipline.

If you fail to meet your budget for a month, don’t give up the entire effort just like that. Instead, start again.

Remember that flexible plans are the most realistic plans. So go forward and try to follow your financial goals as planned but if for some reason, the plan gets out of hand for you, do not give up on it just yet. This has a lot to do with your psychology rather than any material commitment.

All you have to do is to stay on the road and vow to stay on it, no matter how much you fall down.

5. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make Savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counter intuitive to many but there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Usually weekends are expensive. Make it a habit and you would in turn be saving a great deal.

If you are travelling buff, try to travel during off season. Your outlay will be much less.

If you go out for shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

So the key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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6. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission. And it would be rather easy to lose the grip over your discipline.

Therefore in order to stay the course, it is advisable that you keep yourself surrounded with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

7. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

So if you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

Use this journal to write down all essential points such as your short term, mid term and long term goals, your current sources of income, your regular expenses which you are aware of and any committed expenses which are of recurring nature.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energised to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot more easier for you to follow you and track your progress.

At this point, you should be ready with your financial goals and would be doing brilliantly with savings; now it’s time to talk about the big daddy – Investments.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However savings when invested wisely can do wonders and we are at that stage where we will talk about making smart investments.

8. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investments doesn’t come naturally to most of us therefore rather than dabbling with it ourselves, it is wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

9. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about them.

Just like “no one is born a criminal”, no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference.

Do you remember we talked about bifurcating financial goals in short term and long term?

It is here where that classification will help.

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So as a general rule, for all your short term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less as compared to equity instruments.

10. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding,

Compound Interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.

So make friends with this wonder kid. And sooner you become friends with it, quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

Start investing early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

11. Measure, Measure, Measure

All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments; taking stock of how our investments are doing.

If there is one single step where everything (so far) can go wrong, it is at this step – Measuring the Progress.

If we don’t measure the progress timely, then we would be shooting in the dark. We wouldn’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not; whether financial advisor is doing a decent job; whether we are moving closer to our target or not.

Do measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

The Bottom Line

This completes the list of tips for you to set financial goals and actually achieve them with not so great difficulty.

As you can see, all it requires is discipline. But guess that’s the most difficult part!

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Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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