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The 1 question to ask about $1,300 in overdraft fees

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I was having breakfast with someone today who told me the most interesting story. He had been dating his girlfriend for two years before they talked about finances. “It took me that long to get her trust,” he said. She was a public school teacher, so she didn’t make that much money. When he looked at her finances, he noticed that she had a lot of overdraft fees. He asked her to guess how much she had spent in overdraft fees. “About $100 or $200?” she guessed.

It turns out that her overdraft fees totaled $1,300 in the last year.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. He didn’t freak out or start yelling about how to negotiate out of bank fees. He simply pointed out something very gently: “What if you could focus on your overdrafts? If you eliminated just that fee, you’d be so much better off.”

Not set up an entire investment plan and global asset allocation. Not create a fully automated system with multiple accounts and savings strategies. Just focus on one big problem.

Now the question is…what’s your one big problem?

(Mine is eating out too much.)

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69 Comments

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  1. Anonymous Person Link to this comment

    My spouse, that’s my biggest problem 😉 . . . posting as anonymous for obvious reasons.

  2. $820 in overdraft fees just in the past 120 days. i was hoping to see some answers in this post – i already know i need to focus on it. but WHAT do you do?

  3. My 87 Jeep. Its not intentional. . .but I want to keep it running and not buy a new car.

    Maybe that would be cheaper?

  4. @holly

    You keep track of your account balance, sign up for online banking to keep abreast of your balance, and don’t write checks or use your debit card for purchases when you don’t have the money in your account.

    You keep a running tally of your purchases, even in a tiny notebook, so you always know how much money is in your account.

    You build a buffer in your checking account (mine is $150) that the account will NEVER fall below. NEVER. If that means that I’m eating nothing but plain pasta with frozen vegetables for a 10 days, so be it.

    The most important thing: keep track of your balances and purchases. If you know how much you had, and how much you’ve spent, you will know how much you have left. Without keeping track of the information you’re running blind.

  5. and to answer the question:

    my biggest problem is outdoor gear. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower for me to not run down to REI and buy all the gear i want (not need), especially when they keep sending me catalogs with new climbing and backpacking gear…

  6. I was there once. For Holly, If a check is going to bounce go somewhere where you can write one big check instead of lots of little ones. I had as grocery store that would let me write checks ( I had overdraft protection) for 150.00 over my purchase. This would give me some pocket money for (cheap) lunches or other needs, needs, needs. Not Wants, NEEDS. If it’s not a need then live without it until you can afford it.
    When I was married the first time my spouse would write checks without regard to the balance in the bank. We had 400.00 in charges in one month. One check was to a fast food restaurant where the food cost 1.80 and the returned check charge was 25.00 and the bank fee was 20.00. Total cost of a burrito and a coke $46.80!!!!!!!!
    Other ideas: borrow the money – Prosper.com even at 25% it’s a lot more affordable than the outrageous charges banks and payday loans charge.
    Best of Luck to all and a reminder that tough decisions pay off in the long run!

  7. I used to do the same thing all the time … darn debit card. Between that and those awful (being kind there) payday loans, aka suck-your-soul-out loans, I was constantly behind.

    I created a budget in Excel that tracks when I’m paid and when my bills are due. It has a column for every day of the month and a running total at the bottom of each day. That way, I can highlight which days of the month (right after car payment and rent usually) I will have the lowest balance – that way I always know how much “buffer” I have.

    And once I created the spreadsheet, it was easy enough to cut and paste months, even a year or so ahead.

  8. A good book on the subject of getting control over your daily finances is “Your Money or Your Life”, by Joe Dominguez. It completely changed the way I think about money. Some of his investment ideas are a little too conservative (i.e. T-bills), but his basic premise is sound.

  9. my 50000+loan

  10. @holly

    What Mark said.

    a) Sign up for online banking and online bill pay — I had irrational fears about this, but it ROCKS. You will be in tune with your current balance, it’s easy and saves time.

    b) Get a cheapy spiralbound notebook, a pencil, and use your ATM slips and debit card receipts to try and balance out your checking. You’re just trying to get yourself matched up with the online balance. When you forget, just pull the current balance online, and start again.

    This is a good reality check. And the low-key subtraction math helps me reflect on whether I really wanted to spend my money the way I did.

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