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You Can Save a Ton of Money With Financial Compartmentalization

You Can Save a Ton of Money With Financial Compartmentalization

Using Only One Account Doesn’t Save

Many people were fortunate enough to take a vacation this summer, and some of them probably even journeyed to the islands: now it’s time to take your personal finances there using a method known as the Island Approach. But unlike a real vacation, this trip to the islands can actually save you a ton of money!

You see, the Island Approach is a compartmentalization-based personal finance strategy that entails using individual accounts for specified purposes in order to:

  1. accrue the best possible collection of terms for each type of transaction you’ll make, and
  2. garner a better perspective on your spending and payment habits.

No single financial account beats the rest of the market in every single category, after all. For example, a certain credit card may offer the most lucrative rewards, but won’t provide the longest 0% introductory period. Likewise, a particular checking account may waive all ATM fees, but isn’t likely to have the highest interest rates.

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What’s more, if you use a single credit card for carrying revolving debt and making ongoing purchases, or use a lone checking account for savings and everyday cash management, it can be difficult to determine what’s what and ultimately track your progress.

The Island Approach can solve all of that. It can also apply to any one segment of your personal finances, or to the full breadth – from credit cards and everyday cash management tools to investments and loans.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll limit the following example of how the Island Approach could work in a practical sense just to credit cards.

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The Island Approach in Practice

Let’s say that you make the majority of your everyday purchases with plastic and currently have $6,600 in credit card debt (the national household average).

If you prefer the ease of using a single credit card, you’ll be forced to choose between:

  1. the most lucrative rewards your credit standing will allow you to get
  2. the most attractive financing deal, or
  3. average terms across the board.

You may also find it difficult to budget since your ongoing expenses are jumbled up with your revolving debt, which generally leads to higher interest payments. Interest is assessed on the average daily balance held on accounts with a revolving balance. When you use the same card to both revolve debt and make new purchases, your average daily balance will equal the sum of your debt and the new purchases.

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Interest will apply only to your revolving balance when you isolate debt and ongoing expenses. You’ll also give yourself built-in protection against overspending. We should all be able to pay off gas, groceries and other recurring expenses each and every month, so the presence of finance charges on the card designated for everyday spending will be a clear signal to cut back.

Then there are the improved terms. Rather than being stuck with one average card, you’ll be able to strategically take advantage of different market-best credit card offers. For instance, you could get:

  • The Slate Card from Chase (to lower the cost of existing debt): This balance transfer credit card offers 0% on transferred debt for the first 15 months and doesn’t charge either a balance transfer fee or an annual fee.  Assuming that you allocate $200 to paying down your balance each month, the Slate Card will save you nearly $1,800 in fees and finance charges while helping you become debt free nine months faster, compared to a regular card with a 17% interest rate.
  • The Blue Cash Preferred card from American Express (to maximize your everyday rewards earning): This card offers 6% cash back at supermarkets, 3% at gas stations and department stores, and 1% on everything else, in addition to a $150 initial rewards bonus for spending $1,000 in the first three months. Such rewards are not only worth the $75 annual fee for most consumers, but they’ll also enable you to effectively subsidize some of your most prominent recurring expenses.

You may even decide to get a bit fancy with the Island Approach and supplement your base cards with attractive one-time offers as they pop up. Issuers have made it a practice in the post-recession environment to offer lucrative sign-up rewards bonuses and financing deals. With the current offers in mind, you could get $400 in free money just by opening a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Barclaycard Arrival and meeting initial spending requirements.

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Bottom Line

The Island Approach is a personal finance strategy that entails using individual accounts to meet specific needs. It enables you to maximize your product terms, save money on interest, and keep better track of spending and payment habits.

However, there’s a reason it’s called ‘personal’ finance, and if you don’t think that keeping tabs on a number of different accounts will work for you, by all means opt for a more comfortable strategy. Just make sure to adhere to a budget and pay off debts as quickly as possible and you’ll be fine.

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Last Updated on March 4, 2019

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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Using Credit Cards with Rewards

Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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