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Two Lessons I Learned After Getting 9 Overdraft Fees

US Twenty Dollar Bills & Hand

Have you ever had that experience of logging into your bank account only to realize you have an overdraft fee?

What about nine overdraft fees?

Yep…it happened to me.

Thankfully it was a while ago, 2004 to be exact. Here’s what happened.

I had written a large check to someone, but they failed to cash it promptly. After several weeks, I completely forgot about it. It finally hit my account on a Friday afternoon, resulting in an overdraft. Consequently, every transaction throughout the entire weekend (gas, Starbucks, Rudy’s, etc) created another overdraft charge.

I checked my account on Monday after my card got denied, and to my horror I discovered nine overdraft charges at $33 bucks a pop. Ouchy.

I learned two valuable (and expensive) lessons from my overdraft fees fiasco.

1. You Have Not Because You Ask Not

Just a few months before this, I was at a real estate conference where I heard Tim Velor say…

In life, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you ask for.

So I decided to ask. I went to the local branch of my bank and asked for mercy. To my surprise, they had some. They waived four of the overdraft fees. But the lady I spoke with stated I would have to call corporate to get any more fees waived.

So I called…and asked…and magically they waived four more.

All in all my $297 in overdraft fees was reduced to just one fee of $33, which I felt was more than fair given the circumstances. Turns out God was right after all…you have not because you ask not.

2. Don’t Play The Victim Card!

Who’s fault was it for the overdraft fees? Mine!!

I went into the bank with a humble attitude, took responsibility for the fees, and was amazed at how much grace people wanted to extend to me. I have a hunch that if I’d gone into with a “how dare you do this to me?” attitude I would have ended up paying more.

That said…are you playing the victim card right now in your situation? Who are you blaming for your situation? The bank? The government? The economy? All of these are outside of your control, so why are you giving them the responsibility for your well-being? Whatever your situation is, own it. Even if you didn’t cause it you have the power to change it.

So now if you ever have the pleasure of an overdraft fee in the future, you know what to do! Or better yet, just learn to manage your money so that you avoid them all together!

Dedicated to your freedom,

-Wesley

Comments: Let me know if you have had any experiences were just “asking” opened the door to something unexpected for you!

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How Healthy Are Your Finances?

 

I want to share an amazing tool created by our friends over at CNN Money. 

It’s a simple questionnaire which takes less than 3 minutes to complete. When finished, you receive a “grade” on your financial health.

Here’s a little self-disclosure. I got a C+. We’ve been so focused on paying off debt and building up savings that we’ve neglected investing and retirement. A couple of easy changes and I can get that up to a B. To get an A, I’m going to need to get very aggressive with saving for retirement.

I encourage you to spend 10 minutes on this. Go through the process with honest answers to see what you get. Then do it again, but change the answers so that you can see what you need to be doing to get a better grade.

On our morning walk today, I was telling Beth the old adage that young people trade their health for wealth while older people trade their wealth for health. I feel the temptation to neglect my health in order to devote more time to work. And at almost 37 years old, I know I’m not a young buck any more and have the desire to put more time into maintaining my health. It’s a challenge to maintain balance between the two. But thankfully, this simple tool helps provide clarity as to what I need to do to maintain financial health.

Committed to your success,

-Wesley

Comments: Let’s be honest – what was your grade? What do you need to do to improve it?

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6 Hours to Becoming a Millionaire

 

This is Rule #7 of our Managing Your Money series: Review Your Plans Monthly.

Ok….so the title is a little presumptuous. Talk about Get-Rich-Quick schemes…6 hours?

But the truth remains that those who fail to manage their money will sooner or later have no money left to manage. As Solomon wrote centries ago, “Whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” The key to a million is learning how to manage the thousands. Let’s get started.  

Rule #7: Review Your Plans Monthly

Out of all of the 7 Rules, this one is the easiest. It requires less than 30 minutes a month (6 hours a year). It’s a simple monthly check-up that consists of two steps:

Step 1: Review the prior 6 rules. In essence, all you’re doing here is asking yourself, “How’s my financial picture (Rule #1)? Do I need to make any adjustments to my Spending, Savings, Giving, or Investment plans (Rules #2-5)? Am I being diligent with tracking my spending weekly (Rule #6)?

Step 2: Adjust Accordingly. A good way to look at Rule #7 is to see it as your monthly performance review. If you find yourself off track in step one, then now’s the time to make any changes needed in order to reach your financial goals.

Just like with Rule #6 (Track Your Spending Weekly), your monthly review needs to become routine. Since the 1st of the month can come on any day of the week, Beth & I don’t schedule this on a specific day like we do with Rule #6. Instead, we simply run through this process when we do our monthly budget together at the beginning of each month.

I hope that sharing our seven step process of money management has helped you on your journey. Please leave us a comment to let us know how this has helped you!

Committed to your success,

-Wesley

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Track It Or Lack It

This is Rule #6 of our Managing Your Money series: Track Your Spending Weekly.

 

How many of you have ever written down goals somewhere, only to completely forget about them until months later when you happen to clean out your desk? The same thing can happen with your budget. A budget is nothing more than written monthly goals for your money. But if you create a budget, and fail to look at it until next month, then the chances are high that you’re going to overspend. For financial success, you have to track your spending weekly.

People think tracking their spending is all about finding the right software or app. But the key to tracking your spending is to make it routine. Jim Rohn said, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” The system or software you use is important, but the first step is to make this a habit that is ingrained in your weekly schedule.

Shoot For Sunday: I have a reminder set-up in Outlook that pops up every Sunday afternoon reminding me to sync my bank accounts with Quicken. I spend about 15 minutes making sure that all of the transactions are categorized correctly (ie, groceries, fuel, etc). This process is short and easy, and it helps us make sure we’re on track with our spending.

Choose Your Spending System: There are several ways that people spend money which affect their ability to track it. No one way is better than the other; it’s simply about what works best for you. Here’s an overview of each system with pros & cons for each.

1. Card Only (no envelopes): This is a no-cash system, which obviously means paying for everything online or with plastic (debit or credit). The pros are that you can track it easily to the penny, there’s always an online record of what you spent, and it’s very convenient. The cons are that you tend to spend more on purchase made with plastic than you do when paying cash.

2. Cash Only (all envelopes): This is rare in our society but there are some folks who do use only cash. The pros are that you spend less when using cash, and that you will typically never overspend. The cons are that tracking your spending is a pain. You always have to get receipts and all data entry is manual. And don’t forget mailing off checks every month for common reoccuring bills.

3. Cash & Card (some envelopes): This is probably the most common system of spending among budget-minded people. You make some payments online (mortgage, bills, Amazon, etc), and withdraw cash each month to fund your offline spending envelopes. This is the system Beth & I use. The pros are that it prevents overspending on the majority of your daily expenses (due to the envelope system). The cons are that you have to withdraw cash every month, and it’s difficult to track your cash purchases without receipts & manual entry.

One way around that is to simply let go of that feeling that you have to track every penny. If you throw $50 a week into your “Restaurant” envelope, then don’t worry about tracking it. When it’s gone just stop eating out until it’s time to refill the envelope. You can track yourself to death…the point here is to know you spent $60 this week on eating out, not $35.83 at  Outback or $3.27 at Starbucks.

Choose Your Software: There are numerous software options for tracking your expenses. I haven’t tried them all, so I’m limited on what I can recommend. Currently we’re using Quicken, which is doing the job for us. I’ve used the paid version of Mvelopes in the past (it’s now free!). I would recommend Mvelopes if you love the envelope system of budgeting. Mint is also a very popular free way to track your spending. I asked my friend how he likes Mint and he replied “Love it. Takes a little time but it’s worth it.”

Every software program has a learnig curve. You’ll enjoy the process much more if you know going into it that it’s going to take 2-3 hours to set up all of your accounts and a couple of months before you feel really comfortable with the software. Make some coffee, turn on some music, and lock yourself in a room for about 3 hours and you’ll be fine.

Comments: Let us know in the comments what software or systems are working (or aren’t working ) for you!

Committed to your success,

-Wesley

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3 Reasons Why You Should Embrace Investing

 

Welcome back to our Managing Your Money series. Today is on Rule #5: Develop an Investment  Plan.

I’m about to break the #1 rule of blogging: Always pretend like you’re the expert.

I’ll admit, I’m a pro when it comes to budgeting, savings, and paying off debt. But the stock market is still a bit scary for me. And although I’ve had some success with real estate, I doubt The Donald knows who I am yet.

So this post is going to focus on the reasons for investing. If you want more practical advice on how to invest for your season of life and level of risk aversion, consult with a CFP in your area.

3 Reasons Why You Should Embrace Investing

1. It’s Biblical.   In the story of the talents (Matthew 25), the master says to each man who made a return on their investment “Well done, good and faithful servant!” This is where we get the biblical concept of stewardship. Proverbs 13:11 says “whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.”

2. It Outperforms Savings.   Many people see investing as risky. But the truth is that risky investing is risky…there are safe ways to invest. But what isn’t safe is to let your money sit in a savings account and do nothing. “But I’m earning interest on it right?” Yes, but with the average interest rate being just 0.2 percent (as of 2009) you are actually losing money due to inflation.

3. It’s What The Rich Do!   A proven method for success is to find someone who has achieved what you want to achieve and simply do what they do. Don’t misunderstand me…many financially successful people are complete failures on a personal level. But if you want to grow wealth, follow the advice of the wealthy.

Robert Kiyosaki, famous for his “Rich Dad” books, said “The poor and middle class work for money. The rich have money work for them. The rich buy or create assets that work for them so they don’t have to.” Robert Allen said, “How many millionaires do you know who have become wealthy by investing in savings accounts? I rest my case.”

My Thoughts for Debt To Life Readers

Most of our readers are buried in debt. And honestly, it’s a little premature to start working on an investment strategy until you’re debt free. Focus your energy on getting out of debt and saving up at least 3-6 months of living expenses. Then I would recommend meeting with a financial planner to discuss an investment strategy that’s right for you.  

Committed to your success,

-Wesley

Comments: Which of the three reasons stuck out to you the most?

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How To Develop A Savings Plan in 3 Easy Steps: Step 3

 

Tony Robbins said, “A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.” We’re wrapping up our series on How to Develop a Savings Plan. If you’ve decided that creating a savings plan is the right step for you, then it’s time to act.

Step Three: Organize and Implement

You can be diligent with setting your savings goals (Step One) and deciding on the amount and frequency of your savings (Step Two), but all is wasted if you don’t organize your savings and implement your plan.

Organize Your Budget and Your Bank

Your savings goals have to be reflected in your budget and in your bank account or you will simply fail to save according to your desires. Let’s look at your budget first.

Organize the Budget: Remember the list of short term and long term savings goals which you wrote down in step one? There has to be a line item on your budget that corresponds to each goal. And each month when you review and set the budget, you need to consistently be aware of your goals and move the money accordingly to reach those goals.

I can’t stress this enough: You will not reach your financial goals unless they are reflected in your monthly budget. Now let’s talk about how to organize your bank.

Organize the Bank: This is where it gets fun. You bank accounts need to be an online reflection of your budget. This means you need to have different accounts set up for your different savings goals.

Here is how we have chosen to do this. We have 5 accounts, and each time we get paid (via direct deposit into our Monthly Expenses account) we move money into the other accounts according to the following percentages (our percentages aren’t exactly like this but very close).

You’ll notice that there is no percentage for the Short Term Savings account. The reason is because that account consists of all of the non-monthly expenses in our budget, such as car insurance which is paid annually, and home maintenance. We simply add all of these items up, and transfer that amount from our checking account into the Short Term Savings Account.

Some banks will require a monthly fee to open additional accounts. We were able to get all five accounts opened for free due to a combination of having direct deposit set up into one of the checking accounts along with maintaining a certain minimum balance in each account.

BEWARE: As your learn to manage your money, you will find that, almost magically, you have more of it. The temptation will be to increase your spending. We have fallen into this trap before and it will keep you broke. Keep your lifestyle simple, and always remember that your goal is to decrease the percentage needed for the monthly expenses column and increase it in all of the other columns.       

Implement:

So far you’ve been taking little action steps along the way. But now you need to work diligently to get steps one through three in place before your next paycheck. Put this into your schedule this week or it won’t happen. Successful people take action..average people make excuses.

Committed to your success,

-Wesley

Comments: Let us know if you took action! How has the savings plan inspired you?

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How To Develop A Savings Plan in 3 Easy Steps: Step 2

Savings.”

So boring right?

That word is not nearly as fun to say as spending. Yet true wealth does not come from spending, but from saving and investing.

Today, we’re back on the savings wagon, and the next stop on our “How to Develop a Savings Plan” journey is Step #2.

Step Two: Determine the Amount & Frequency of Your Savings

Once you have set your short term and long term goals (see Step One), you have to determine how much you will save and how often you will save.

1. Determine the Amount:

Researchers at USC have found that how you think determines how you save.

They found that abstract thinkers, who focus on the “why,” are more successful at saving when they have a savings goal with a specific amount (such as $200,000 for a house). The house then becomes the answer when the abstract thinker asks “why am I saving this money?” and it motivates them to save.

Concrete thinkers tend to get overwhelmed when setting a goal of a specific dollar amount. They focus on the “how” and get discouraged when they don’t know all the details of how they are going to save up for a specific amount. Concrete thinkers do better with simply saving as much as possible, rather than a specific dollar amount.

My suggestion would be for abstract thinkers to pick a dollar amount to save towards, and for abstract thinkers to pick a specific percentage of their income to save each month.

However, you have to do what works for you. For example, I’m an abstract thinker, yet Beth and I found that what works best for us is to save a specific percentage each month. I am still motivated to do so because I have a clear picture of why we are saving.

If you’ve never really saved before, or your monthly budget is very tight, we suggest starting out by saving 10% of every dollar that comes in. We’ll explain where to save it in our next post (Part Three).

2. Determine the Frequency:

How often you save will obviously have an impact on how much you will save. Our thought on this is that you should start saving a percentage of every dollar that comes in…immediately.

You have probably heard the phrase “pay yourself first.” Because of my Christian faith, I believe in paying yourself second, as giving back needs to be first. Even when we had over $100,000 of personal debt, we continued to tithe first on our gross income. We never once missed a payment on anything.

So when we receive income, giving is first, then we move a specific percentage into various savings accounts set-up for short term and long term savings goals. Then with the leftover we set our monthly budget allowances.

If you put your expenses first, then there’s never anything left for giving or saving.

Take Action (15 minutes):

It’s time to take action. Discuss the following with your spouse:
• Are you an Abstract thinker (“why?”) or a Concrete thinker (“how?)”?
• Should you set savings goals using a percentage of your income or a set dollar amount?
• Discuss when you will start saving. Immediately? After the debt is gone?

Stay tuned for step three. The easiest way to do this is to sign up for our newsletter. We send out one newsletter each week with links to that week’s posts.

Committed to your success,

-Wesley

Question: What are your thoughts on paying yourself first?

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How To Develop A Savings Plan in 3 Easy Steps

Welcome back! We’re continuing our series about the “7 Rules of Managing Your Money.” Today’s post is on rule number two:

Rule #2: Develop a Savings Plan.

Solomon, one of the wealthiest and wisest men to ever live, said “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.” (Proverbs 21:20)

For much of my life I have been the foolish man in this verse. I used to think my spiritual gift was spending money. But learning the wisdom of a saving plan has turned this discipline into a delight. If you desire financial freedom, you must develop a savings plan.

Saving is simple, so developing a savings plan should be simple too. We’ve broken down the process into three easy steps.

       Step 1: Make a List of Your Short and Long Term Savings Goals
       Step 2: Determine the Amount & Frequency of Your Savings
       Step 3: Organize Your Budget & Your Bank and Implement

Step One: Make a List of Your Short & Long Term Savings Goals

Short Term Goals: This is for all non-monthly expenses for which you need to be saving, such as car insurance, maintenance items, gifts (birthdays/Christmas), travel, and even an emergency fund.

Let’s say you pay $600 a year in car insurance. If you don’t plan for this by saving $50 a month, this instantly becomes an emergency when it’s time to renew (where’d we hide the credit cards?).

The same is true for maintenance items in your home such as the air conditioning and appliances. Everything in your home has an expected lifetime, so if your refrigerator cost $1200 and has an expected lifetime of ten years, then every month you need to be saving $10 for a new refrigerator. 

For a budget to work it has to be SIMPLE; we would never recommend a separate line item in your budget for every appliance. Instead, have one line item for Home Maintenance and one line item for Vehicle Maintenance and save $50 a month towards each.

Long Term Goals: This is for big ticket items, such as a new house, car, college, and retirement. 

Saving for a car or home is pretty straightforward. Determine the cost of the item you want, set a “purchase date,” and do the math to determine how much you need to save each month to reach that goal. So if I want a $25,000 car five years from now, then I need to start saving $416 each month to reach that goal.

Retirement is a little more complicated. A simple rule of thumb is to save 10% – 15% of your income towards retirement. However, there are dozens of variables, such as your age, your income, what type of account to save the money in, etc. We recommend meeting with a certified financial planner to determine the best strategy for your specific situation.

Take Action (30-60 minutes):

It’s time to take action. Sit down with your spouse and work through the following two action points: 

  • Review your budget and make sure you have specific line items for your short term goals, such as home maintenance and car insurance.
  • Make a list of all of your long term goals, complete with purchase price and date, and the monthly savings required to meet those goals.

Stay tuned for steps two and three. Sign up for our weekly newsletter with links to all of our posts!

Committed to your success,

-Wesley

Comments: How have you created unneeded emergencies for yourself by not saving for short term goals?  What long term goal are you currently saving up for?

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Managing Your Money Series: Rule #1 – Take a Financial Snapshot

I struggled with how to title this post.

Originally, I wanted to call it “Rule #1: Turn on the Lights.” We tend to keep our problems in the dark, because we’re too afraid to expose them and confront them. Yet Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.”

In every area of our lives, not just financially, there is incredible power to being fully open and honest. Indeed it is the path to freedom.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step right? Well…kind-of. It begins first with understanding exactly where you are so that when you take that first step it’s in the right direction. That’s what Rule #1 is all about…turning the lights on to your financial situation and getting a clear picture, maybe for the first time, of exactly where you are financially. Let’s get started.

What You’ll Need

1. Time: This will probably take two hours, so grab some coffee and settle in.

2. Spreadsheet or Notebook: Going through this process for the first time will require gathering a lot of information. We recommend creating a spreadsheet where you can keep all of this information in one place. Keep a record of the following information: your financial websites (ie, banks, loans, bills, etc), account numbers, log-in information, due dates, interest rates, etc.

3. All Pertinent Financial Records. This is where you should go online and access all of your accounts, including checking, savings, investments, credit cards, school loans, mortgages, and any other assets or debts. As you do this, bookmark the sites, and record them on the spreadsheet listed above so that you’re only doing this task once.

4. Courage: You may not like what you’re going to see, but don’t be discouraged. Just work the plan and let the plan work. If you get overwhelmed, remember that it’s only numbers.

5 Steps to Getting a Clear Financial Picture

Step 1: Make a List of all Debts.

If you owe money to someone else, whether it is “good debt” or not, write it down. Include the amount of the debt, the interest rate, the minimum payment, and the date each month that the payment is due.

Step 2: Create a List of all Assets.

Make a list showing the value of everything you own, including the following: Liquid Assets (cash, bank accounts, money owed to you, bonds, etc), Investments (mutual funds, stocks, real estate, business interests, etc), Long Term Assets (retirement savings, pension plans, etc), and Personal Assets (personal residence, vehicles, household furnishings, collectibles, etc).

Step 3: Determine your Net Worth.

Your net worth is simply the amount leftover once you total up your assets and subtract all of your liabilities. Financially speaking, net worth is the true measure of wealth. CNN has a very simple tool to calculate your net worth. Once you have completed the exercise, I recommend reading this book excerpt by T. Harv Eker.

If you have a lot of debt and little savings, your net worth may actually be negative. That’s ok, the fact that you are now paying attention to your finances means that you will quickly see a change in this. So just work the plan and let the plan work.

Step 4: Determine your Monthly Income.

What is the combined total of all income each month, including salary, wages, bonuses, tips, etc?

Step 5: Determine Your Monthly Expenses.

If you’re not tracking your expenses, then you will probably be shocked at where your money is going each month. I recommend going to your bank’s website and downloading all transactions for the last three months into Excel. You can easily create a column where you can write in next to each transaction what it was for, such as gas, entertainment, groceries, restaurants, etc.

You can sort the spreadsheet and total up each category to get a clear picture of your average monthly expenses. If you’re not familiar with Excel, there are excellent examples of how to use it at YouTube, such as this one which explains how to sort data. Or, just keep it simple and do it manually.

Step 6: Create a personal profit and loss statement.

This is common in the business world, but we fail to adapt it to our personal finances. Basically, a P&L statement for your personal finances would look like this: “My total monthly income of $___  less my total monthly expenses of  $___  =  $___.

The final number is the amount leftover after all of your expenses have been paid. This is a key number as you want to do everything possible to get this number higher every month, either by increasing your income, decreasing your expenses, or both. What you do with this money will greatly determine whether or not you ever become wealthy.

How are you doing so far? If you’ve completed all 6 steps above I’m very proud of you! So many people want wealth, but they’d rather go buy a lottery ticket than actually do the work to create true wealth. You’re putting in the time and labor needed to learn how to manage your money, and trust me, the rewards of your labor will be well worth it! Stay tuned as our next post is Step 2: Create a Spending Plan!

I’m going to be creating a spreadsheet soon to help walk people through the 6 steps. If you would like a copy of this, please send us an email.

Committed to your success,

-Wesley

Comments? Did you get stuck on any of the steps? What was your favorite part?

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The Seven Rules of Managing Your Money

The #1 key to growing wealth is understanding how to manage your money. In the outstanding book, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, T. Harv Eker states that “the single biggest difference between financial success and financial failure is how well you manage your money. It’s simple: to master money, you must manage money.”

So how well do you manage money? Do you feel lost when thinking about your spending plan, your debt, and your investments? Do you ever catch yourself thinking “where did all my money go?” If so, you need to become a student of money management.

Don’t get overwhelmed, the rules of money management are simple. The problem we have is not in understanding the rules but in following them. We simply aren’t doing the things we know we need to do.

The Seven Rules of Managing Your Money

1. Take a Financial Snapshot: The first step in managing your money is to get an accurate picture of where you are financially. You may not like what you see but this is the first step to change.

2. Develop a Spending Plan: Give a task to every incoming dollar, such as buy food, pay the electric bill, or get rid of debt. Money gets lost when it doesn’t know where to go.

3. Develop a Savings Plan: Here’s where most people fall short. To grow wealth, saving is not optional.

4. Develop a Giving Plan: Want to read a crazy promise found in scripture? Read Malachi 3:10. It’s the ONLY time in scripture where God tells us to test him.

5. Develop an Investment Plan: To quote Eker again, “Rich people have their money work hard for them. Poor people work hard for their money.”

6. Track your Spending Weekly: Wealth is like a road trip, and tracking your spending is the same as keeping the car between the lines. Constantly checking and adjusting.

7. Review your Plans Monthly: This is like checking the map on a long trip, making sure you’re still on the right track.

I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you’re in a place where you are ready to take action and get control of your finances. Today is simply an overview of the seven rules of managing your money, however, stay with us for the next two weeks as we go into detail about each rule and how to take immediate action on each one.

Committed to your success,

-Wesley 

Comments? We love hearing from our readers. Let us know which of the steps you’re working on!

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