Thursday, November 24, 2005

I'll Start Budgeting .... after the Holidays

We do like to procrastinate, don't we? That diet can wait till tomorrow. The exercise program will begin when it gets warmer outside. Those clothes will be mended later. And, the budget will start after the holidays.

After all, it's the HOLIDAYS! We can't be expected to discipline ourselves during the HOLIDAYS, now can we?

I understand the need to take a break. I think rewarding yourself for a job well-done is a good idea. And, I certainly agree that we must not venture too far outside our comfort zones when it comes to money ...

But ... (you knew that was coming, didn't you)

Discarding discipline during the holidays is the WORST possible time to get lax. The holidays are probably the #1 time when budgets are decimated, overspending is rampant, and money is wasted.

People are running around like chickens with their heads cut off - trying to find things to waste their money on. These spendthrifts are buying (pardon me for saying) stupid things like knick knacks, figurines, stuffed animals, cut flower arrangements, goofy ties, and fruit cakes ... things that are just going to gather dust, be given away next Christmas, or die and be thrown into the trash.

It makes me cringe when I think of all the money that is wasted during the holidays. I think of all the credit card debts that could be paid down, the mortgage payments that could be accelerated, and the savings accounts that could be fattened.

Creating a budget BEFORE and sticking with it THROUGH the holidays is probably the best thing you can do for your finances.

Have a spending plan.

Allot a certain amount of money for gifts and don't go over it.

Don't buy a turkey AND a ham, cakes, AND pies, AND candy, AND nuts, AND rolls for holiday meals (your wallet and your waistline will thank you later).

I know it's hard, but as exercise guru Tony Little used to say, "You can do itttt!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I'll Keep the Change

Many people save their change in jars, coffee cans, etc. Carrying around a lot of coins gets heavy and bulky after a while. Personally, I rarely have change because I rarely pay with cash. I find that carrying around cash creates too much of a temptation to buy little things, like spending $1.79 for a soda at a convenience store, or $.85 for a candy bar, or $1.29 for a sausage and egg biscuit at McDonald's.

I do, however, get frustrated by trying to reconcile my bank statement to the penny. It seems like there is ALWAYS a discrepancy of 8 cents or 21 cents or some such piddlin' amount. I guess we just have poor math skills, even though we use a calculator most of the time.

So, I was pretty happy to find that our new bank has a program that will enable you to round up the things you purchase on your debit card. Bank of America has a new savings program called Keep the Change. I think it's pretty nifty.

When you sign up for Keep the Change, purchases paid for with your debit card are rounded up and the difference (the change) is sent to your savings account. And, here's the really cool part... Bank of America will match the change sent to your savings account!

For example, let's say that you need gas. So, you go to the gas station, swipe your debit card, then proceed to put $10 in your tank. You get distracted because you hear motorcycles approaching and turn to watch two Harleys pull into the station. Oops! You've put $10.03 in your tank (this is a true story). With Keep the Change this is now a good thing because you've just added to your savings account and gotten some FREE money.

Just note that the gas was $10.03 in your debit register, but deduct $11.00 from the balance in the register. It's a snap to subtract whole numbers. You are much less likely to make a mistake this way.

At the end of each day, Bank of America adds all of your change from purchases made with your debit card and transfers the total into your savings account. And Bank of America will match 5% of your total 'change' transfers.

So, suppose that after a year, you have $137.10 in change transferred to your savings account. Bank of America will add an additional $6.85 to your savings account, FREE.

For the first 3 months after you sign up for 'Keep the Change', Bank of America will match 100% of your change. So, if you've had $100.10 in change (for the first 3 months) transferred to savings, Bank of America will add another $100.10, FREE!

Now, that's my idea of a good interest rate! After the first 3 months, the match goes to 5%, but that is still a pretty good interest rate too. You can't find 5% anywhere else, even with online savings accounts.

Of course, your regular savings are not earning that 5%. Bank of America offers a piddlin' 0.5% regular interest on regular savings account deposits, but if you want the 5% it's easy to get. Just use your debit card for as many purchases as possible and you will get a 5% match.

Matched amounts are added to your savings account once a year.