$300 Bonus for Opening Checking Account

bank_of_americaBank of America, where I currently pay my mortgage, offered me a $300 bonus if I opened a checking account and deposited a certain amount into that account within three months.  The required amount was about 3 times what I pay in my monthly mortgage payment, so to start earning that $300, all I had to do was open the account (which took about 10 minutes) and set up a direct deposit allocation on the intranet at work (5 minutes). That’s it.

Now, instead of logging onto the Bank of America website each month and paying the mortgage from my credit union checking account, I use the same BoA website and pay the mortgage from the new Bank of America checking account.  I’ve set up the direct deposit so that each time I am paid, which is every two weeks, half of the money I need for the mortgage payment is sent by direct deposit to the BoA checking account.  Over the course of a year, this will be enough for 13 payments instead of the required 12, so I’ll probably use the extra amount for additional payments towards the mortgage principal.  I can  make the mortgage payment every 4 weeks (every other payday) and I’ll be making 13 payments in 12 months.  I’ll put the $300 bonus towards the mortgage too.

Eventually, when it can be done without incurring any “account closing” fee, I’ll probably close the account (which should take another 5 minutes) … and wait for next time a bank is willing to pay me a bonus for opening a checking account.

$300 for 30 minutes work is around $900 per hour.  Nice work if you can get it.

This isn’t the first time and I hope it won’t be the last.  Given the amount of interest I paid due to unwise use of credit cards when I was young and stupid, it’s nice to be getting some of it back.

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Don’t be Embarrassed to Save Money

Thorstein_VeblenThorstein Veblen was an economist and sociologist who coined the term “conspicuous consumption” several decades ago.  Conspicuous consumption: spending money just to publicly demonstrate wealth or status.  The flip-side of that, I guess, is being embarrassed to appear as if you don’t have money to spend.  Logically, it seems ridiculous — especially to anyone trying to save and invest from an ordinary income.  But I can tell you, it affects me and probably everyone else.

I can remember, at times, feeling just a tinge of embarrassment as I sat down in the workplace cafeteria and was getting ready to eat the lunch I brought from home.  In fact, there were times when I ate my lunch at my desk instead of going to the cafeteria and letting everyone see that my lunch consisted only of a couple hard-boiled eggs or sardines, crackers, and a flask of homemade iced tea.

Can you imagine that?  What was I afraid of?  That my friends, people I have known for years, might make some comment about my what I was eating for lunch?  How absurd is that?

Luckily, one day when I was getting ready to have my lunch at my desk, I suddenly came to my senses and said to myself:  Stop being stupid.  No one cares what you eat for lunch.

I went downstairs to the cafeteria, sat with the regulars, and had a perfectly normal, enjoyable lunch.  No one said anything about my meager fare.

There’s a lesson in that.

Accounting For Different Kinds of Accounts

savings_bank

Different kinds of accounts where you can keep your money … and how to use them.  This is the way I do it.

Checking account (for day-to-day expenses).  Even if it’s only used to fund ATM withdraws, debit-card purchases, and online bill paying, everyone should have a “checking account” — despite the fact that many people don’t even have blank checks these days, and the last time I purchased blank checks I probably got enough to last the rest of my life.  A checking account is for your usual day-to-day bills.  It should have enough money to cover transfers to your savings account (pay yourself first) as well as your regular monthly expenses, such as the rent or mortgage payment, and bills for utilities, groceries, transportation, and other things that you pay for every month.  Whatever spending comes out of your checking account should be replenished by income coming in.  (Did you see the post about how the money in your checking account is like a tank of water?)

In addition to your checking account for expenses that come due every month or more frequently, you should also have separate accounts for expenses that come less often.  The first three, like the checking account, should be at a bank or credit union.  The last one should be with a mutual fund company so the money can be invested in stocks.

Short-term savings (once-per-year expenses).  Money set aside for foreseeable and predictable expenses that come once per year, such as birthdays, holidays, and vacations.   

Medium-term savings (once every-several-years or just a few times per lifetime).  Money for foreseeable, but perhaps not predictable, expenses that come less often than yearly, such as an automobiles, refrigerators, heating and air conditioning systems, washers and dryers, or new roofs.  Other medium-term savings goals might include weddings, houses, college educations for your children, or starting a business.   

Emergency savings (unexpected expenses).  For unforeseeable expenses: accidents, medical problems, periods of unemployment, and special opportunities.

Long-term savings (once in a life).  For foreseeable expenses that come just once in your life, such as buying your dream house and retirement.

The Saving Road to Independence

Here’s inspiration from a century ago from The Baltimore and Ohio Employees Magazine (February 1916):

The Saving Road to Independence

For Men and Women of Limited Salary

DEBTS accumulate rapidly. Savings accumulate just as rapidly! It’s therefore a matter of determination, first, whether it shall be savings or debt.

Money will either serve or rule you. The minute you save your first dollar and begin to think of safe investments you are master of the situation. So reflect NOW. Do not regret later.

saving_roadMany people today are closing the door of opportunity by failing to lay aside some part of their earnings—thus condemning themselves to a life of continuous hard work. Your problem is one of persistence, not one of existence. So be up and doing!

Saving is the springtime of prosperity. To be effective, it must be practiced daily. It’s the steady, consistent, aggressive saving that makes men and fortunes. Save to the limit of your possibilities!

It is not enough to make money. You must make your money work for you. Putting your money to work means investment, and investment cannot begin until you have learned, or until you have an earnest desire to learn, to save.

Economize, but in the right manner. Avoid foolish, extravagant expenditures; save your money and invest it carefully while saving. You will always be in a position to live well and view the future complacently. Isn’t it worth while? A man who has always intended to start tomorrow has nothing. He is a slave to pay day.

Every dollar you save and invest brings you just one dollar nearer the goal of prosperity—the time when interest on your investments will provide for your comforts.

Prosperity begins when a man invests his savings or surplus capital intelligently. The man who saves his money will always have an opportunity to invest it. If he invests wisely, he will soon become a man of means and of credit.

Be prepared! Being prepared is half the battle. More men and women learned the value of ready money during the last financial depression than ever before during a similar period. Cheap investments abounded on every side and a man with ready money was master of the situation.

What of tomorrow? Are you prepared for it? For any emergency that may arise? Commence TODAY to fortify yourself against sickness, misfortune or financial difficulty, by saving and investing your money systematically. There is no time to begin like now, which, spelled backwards, means success.

Work hard! Plenty of work is your greatest need. It keeps your mind clear, your body strong and your appetite good. And see that your work accomplishes something. Your days are numbered— your earning period is short. Make each day show a satisfactory result. The best results are obtained when you save, invest and realize.

Nothing makes a man feel safer, happier and more courageous for life’s battles than a nest egg in the shape of good investments. It destroys fear of a rainy day and enables him to grapple with the big things.

If you have failed so far to lay aside any money, try again today.

To be a capitalist it is not necessary that you have several thousand dollars in the bank. A man with five dollars is a capitalist just so soon as he decides to make that five dollars work for him—to place it so that, with other sums he may add to it regularly and systematically, he will save, invest and realize in the shortest space of time consistent with safety.

Remember that interest in our work means interest on your money. Get the habit of doing things! Go it alone! You can succeed.

Homeowners: Pay Property Taxes and Insurance Yourself

Generally, home mortgage payments consist of 4 parts:

  • principal (a partial payment toward the amount that was initially borrowed)
  • interest (the cost of “renting” the remaining loan balance)
  • property taxes
  • insurance

mortgageWhen someone borrows money to buy a house, the lender has a good reason to want to make sure that the property is insured and the taxes are paid.  (If the house were destroyed in a fire or other accident, the lender would have no way to collect the debt if the borrower walked away.  If the taxes aren’t paid, the local government could seize the house and sell it to pay the unpaid taxes.)  Because lenders prefer to make sure that insurance and tax bills are paid, and paid on time, they include those costs in the monthly payments and pass the money along to the insurance company and local government as needed.  The money is kept in a separate “escrow” account in the mean time.  Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans always come with an escrow account and include insurance and taxes in the payments.

Many homeowners like escrow accounts just fine.  It’s convenient.  Not making insurance and tax payments means two fewer things to worry about.  Someone lacking in financial discipline might not be able to put enough money aside for the tax and insurance payments, and that could lead to trouble.  Simply forgetting to make the payments can lead to late fees, or worse.

However, someone who is able to manage their money and wants to spend a little extra time doing so might want to consider a no-escrow loan.  While this does not reduce your taxes and insurance costs, it does let you keep your money in your own account until you need to make the payments.  This might allow you to earn some interest from the bank (or credit union!) where you keep your checking and savings accounts.  Additionally, you might more easily meet some minimum balance requirement that eliminates monthly service charges.

It’s usually easier to avoid escrow on a new loan and harder or impossible to remove an escrow requirement from an existing loan.  Even if you can avoid escrow, watch out: banks might charge a higher interest rate on a no-escrow loan.  As always, shop around and negotiate.

Inspiration From Youtube

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, your thoughts become you deeds.  Thus, if you control your thoughts, you end up controlling your deeds.  That’s called self-control and it’s essential if you want to reduce your spending and thus be able to increase your saving.  One way to control your thoughts is by listening, reading, and watching media on the subject of personal finance.  You can find podcasts and radio shows, books, and (of course) videos.  Here’s an example.

Maybe not everything mentioned in this video is applicable to your situation.  Okay.  So find another video.  You know how to work the internet don’t you?  Then you can find books at the library or among the used books at your local thrift shop.

Finally, I’ll mention that as you get lots of personal finance advice from a variety of sources, some of what you’ll hear or read might be not only not applicable to your situation … it might also be downright incorrect or untrue.  But that’s okay.  If something isn’t true, remember that free advice is sometimes worth what you pay for it.  And it isn’t just the actual factual content that you’re looking for.  It’s also the inspiration that comes from seeing and hearing someone else talk about doing what you want to do.  Just knowing that other people have done it should show you that you can do it too.  That’s one reason why The Richest Man in Babylon is still one of the best books about personal finance, despite the fact that it’s almost 100 years old.  So get inspired and save money!

Spending is Like a Faucet

An old song says “Love is like a faucet … it turns off and on”.*  Spending is like a faucet too.  It can be turned off and on.  Or it can be set to any spending level between the off and on extremes.

We can extend the imagery a bit.  Let’s say the spending faucet is attached to a storage tank.  Income is like water flowing thru a pipe into the tank.  Spending (in other words, buying things that are sure to decrease in value, such as automobiles, clothes, food, furniture, etc.) is water flowing out of the tank through the spending faucet.  The amount of water in the tank is accumulated wealth.

Spending = Income

spending_equals_income

Is your situation like the first image?  Money is flowing into the tank (as income), but it’s flowing out (as spending on things that quickly decrease in value) just as quickly. The tank will never be filled.  There will never be any accumulation of wealth.  This will be true as long as Spending = Income.

Note that as long as Spending = Income is true, the tank will never be filled — no matter the amount of income.  This first image could represent a person with an income of $20,000 per year and spending of $20,000 per year.  Or it could just as well represent someone with an income of $20,000 per day and spending of $20,000 per day.  No matter how high the income, people who spend all they earn — people who are unable to live below their means — will never have wealth.

Sadly, this is how many people live their whole lives.  They wonder, like Senator Hoar, why they can never get ahead.  In some cases, I believe, the people are doomed to financial failure because they can’t even imagine, or they’ve never been taught, that there is any other way to handle their money.

There are also other people who are even worse off.  Spending > Income.  Through borrowing, they actually spend more than their income, finding themselves with debt and compounding interest on the debt.  I haven’t found a way to illustrate this with a picture of water going into a tank.  Spending > Income is possible only for a short time and completely unsustainable over the long term.  The sooner they stop spending more than they earn, the better off they will be.

Spending < Income

saving_and_spending

The second picture is clearly different.  The tank is filled, representing an accumulation of wealth.  Look at the picture for a moment and you’ll see why the tank is filled, and will stay filled:  The spending faucet has been adjusted so that spending has been reduced.  Spending is now less than income (Spending < Income).

Also notice that the tank has another pipe.  The new pipe leads to saving and investing.  We can think of the tank as a checking and savings account at a bank.  The saving and investing pipe leads to retirement savings accounts, stocks, bonds, IRAs, 401-Ks, and other investments.  Buying shares of stocks or mutual funds might be thought of as “spending” but there’s an important difference: it’s buying things that have a good chance of increasing in value and paying dividends or interest.

If your personal financial situation is like the second picture, then you have learned the lesson of living below your means and allocating part of your earnings for savings and investment.  If your situation isn’t like the second picture, then there’s an important lesson you need to learn.  Start today.

saving_and_spending

Here’s another image, which is the best way to think about the financial plumbing.  It’s basically the same as the second picture.  You can see that Spending < Income because the tank is full.  But, by using the pipe at the bottom to represent saving and investment, and the pipe at the top to represent spending, the third picture represents the application of another important principle, which is, “Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving” (Warren Buffet).


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