Back to school – Bank accounts

I know, I know…you don’t want to think about “back to school” yet – it feels like school just let out for the summer!  However, if you’ll think about it for just a few minutes and get this bit of financial housekeeping in order, then you can go back to your summer playtime!

As you prepare for going to school again in the fall, one of the essential items on your list should be opening a bank account.  It’s helpful to have an account at a bank that is local in your college town for easy access when paying for books, food, and fun.  Ideally, the bank you choose is also convenient for you in your hometown so that you can always access your money.

To start out, I recommend that you open a checking account at a bank of your choosing.  There are plenty of banks that offer free checking accounts (they usually don’t pay any interest, but they also don’t charge any fees or have minimum balances).  You want to look for one of these.

Here are a few questions to ask when looking for a checking account that’s right for you:

  • What kind of overdraft protection is available (a savings account or credit card are normal answers)?
  • Is there a fee for this account?
  • What are the other fees, such as ATM fees?
  • Do you have a minimum balance requirement?
  • Do you charge transaction fees?
  • Do your checking accounts earn interest?

If you’re interested in keeping your money at one bank for home and school (assuming that you don’t go to school in the same region as your hometown), start by looking into national banks such as Wells Fargo, Capital One, and Bank of America.  They have a variety of account options to explore and will likely have branches in your hometown and college town.

These days with finances going digital, online banks such as Capital One 360, Nation Bank, and Ally Bank are a few more banks to consider.  You can still perform all the same transactions that you can with traditional banks, but there is no store front to visit.  For example, to make a deposit, you can usually take a picture of the check with your phone camera and submit that to the bank.

I wrote a little more in depth about what I like about Capital One 360 in this post, and if you’d like to open an account, please consider using this link:  If you open an account with $250 or more, both you and I will get a bonus!  It’s a win-win for everyone! 🙂

Regardless of which bank you choose, the important thing is that you set up an account for yourself so that you’re all set when it comes time to go back to school.

Ok, enough of that school talk – get back to your summertime playing!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – Bank of North America was the first chartered bank in the USA – it was chartered in 1781 and opened in 1782.  It was our nation’s first central bank. (Source:


Save before you spend

Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

As you probably know by now, I am a big fan of using cash (see this post for some ideas of cash allocation methods).  Credit cards can be a helpful tool, but I prefer using cash because it’s very easy to see when you’ve spent all that you’ve budgeted to spend.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me a valuable lesson.  I remember asking one year for a Nintendo console.  It had recently come out and it seemed really cool.  My parents could have very easily gone to the store to purchase this console for me.  Instead, they said that if I wanted this new game, I could save my allowance money and gift money and put it towards that goal so that I could buy it for myself.

This lesson helped me to appreciate the value of saving and spending wisely, and not expecting instant gratification.

These days, credit cards make it too easy for people to purchase items and experience instant gratification.  Instant gratification isn’t bad, but what is important is making sure that you have enough money to pay off that purchase, and you’re not putting yourself into debt with the purchase.

The added bonus of saving before spending is that you may end up deciding that you don’t want that large item after all.  You may end up saving yourself from an impulse buy you’ll regret later.

My husband and I saved before we spent our money on a new TV and sound system for our home.  We went to Best Buy and checked out the options and decided on a setup we liked.  We saved $100 each month, and within a few months, we were able to purchase the new setup.  We paid with a credit card at the store and then paid the credit card bill in full.

So, next time you’re planning a big purchase, be sure to save before you spend.

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – If you save 50 cents per day for a year, you’ll save $182.50 by the end of the year.  Talk about an easy way to save! (Source:

Budgeting 101 – Spending diary

Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

I’m sure you know that keeping yourself on a budget is important if you wish you meet your financial goals.  But if you don’t already have a budget, thinking about making a budget might seem too daunting.  That’s why we’re going to take baby steps to get there.

Today let’s talk about a spending diary.  You might wonder what the heck I’m talking about.  Well, when you make a budget for yourself, you want to be sure that it’s reasonable.  You may want to only spend $20 on gas each week, but if you keep track of how you’re actually spending your money, you may find that you really spend $40 each week, and you have no choice other than to fill up your gas tank once per week in order to get to work and back.

So you can see that keeping track of your actual spending habits will help you determine how much to budget in each category.

There are several ways in which you can keep a spending diary.  You can keep a small notebook in your car, where you write down EVERY TRANSACTION!  Cash, credit card, whatever.  Anytime you pay for anything, you write it down in this book.  You can use the note taking program, Evernote (available as an app for your phone and accessible from your home computer through the web), which would also be an easy way to record EVERY TRANSACTION!  You can also simply keep all your receipts from each transaction and enter the expenses on an Excel spreadsheet.

Now, gathering this information for a month or two may be all the information you need.  Then you can see that you really spend $40 each week on gas.  And you can see that you eat lunch out every day, and there’s a savings opportunity if you were to bring your lunch with you to work instead.  This exercise can be very eye-opening.

If you want to go a little further with the exercise, you can create an Excel spreadsheet with spending categories on it that you can use to continue to track your spending habits in each area.  I have created one for myself, and I use it to track all my cash transactions (click here to learn more about cash allocation methods).  If you are interested in using the same spreadsheet, please contact me using the contact form below and I will email the spreadsheet to you for free!

Try out a spending diary and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – The $1 bill’s famous nickname “Greenback” started from the Demand Note dollars created in the late 1800s during the Civil War.  These notes were printed in black and green on the back side. (Source:

Financial Independence

In honor of July 4th, my great country’s Independence Day, I’ve been trying to figure out how to apply that to finances.  Then I thought of it – Financial Independence.

You’ve probably heard people say it (and maybe even said it yourself) – “I need to be financially independent (or independently wealthy) in order to do ­­­___________ (fill in the blank)”.

It’s fine to have financial independence as a goal, but as with any goal, you need to have a plan if you’re serious about achieving it.  This is the perfect time for you to sit down and really think about how you want your future to look.  Does it include traveling all around the country and even the world?  Does it include a big house and fancy cars?  Or is the size of your bank account what matters to you?  Does it mean sending your kids to the best schools available in the country?  Owning a vacation home or two?  All of the above?

How ever you picture your perfect life, it is important that you have plenty of money so that you can follow your dreams.  That is sometimes easier said than done.  How do we get from here to there?

First, it’s vitally important to be doing something for a living that you love.  I mean, really LOVE.  It makes life so much easier when the way you earn your money makes your heart sing.

Next, take a close look at your finances.  Decide if all your current expenses are really necessary.  Ask yourself – does this expense make me happy?  Will it help me to achieve my goals?  Is this really something I want to be spending my money on?  If you answer no to any of these questions, cut that expense out.  Now I know you’ll likely say no when you examine taxes, let’s say, but there’s not much you can do about that!

Once you have an overall picture of your future, take a piece of that picture and break it down into little parts.  This makes working toward your goals more manageable.

For example, if driving a Corvette is part of your dream life, first determine how much they cost.  With that information, you can look at your monthly savings and determine how much of it to allocate to buying your new ‘Vette.  Then you can figure out how long it will take until you are behind the wheel of your brand new car!

Finally, now that you’ve decided on an idea of what you want your future to look like, set about getting yourself there.  Keep these goals in the front of your mind each day.  In order to do that, consider building a vision board.  Cut out pictures and phrases from magazines that remind you of your goals and paste them on a board that you keep in plain sight.  Make it into something fun!

In the Corvette example, I’d certainly cut out a picture of the Corvette I have my eye on.  I’d also find a large logo, and maybe even a picture of the steering wheel to add to my poster.  Then I’d add pictures of the kind of house I want, places I want to visit, and so on.

Really get into your visualization of your dream life.  Wait expectantly for it to come to fruition.  This doesn’t mean to sit around and wait for it to show up.  This means that you’re working toward your goals in a logical manner and you expect that you’re following the right path that will lead you to your dream life.

What is most important is that you commit to your goals and always work toward them.  If you decide in the future that you need to tweak your goals, that’s no big deal – tweak away!  There is no shame in realizing that you actually don’t want that goal after all.  Feel free to make a complete 180 degree turn and go for a goal that is totally different.

As long as you work toward what you think will make you happy, you’re doing the right thing.

I recently found a great blog.  The woman who writes it is passionate about cheering you on toward your goals, whatever they may be.  If you need a pick-me-up, or just to feel like someone is on your side, cheering you forward, check out the blog:  You will be happy that you did!

I wish you success on your road to your own financial independence.  I am happy that you have chosen me to help you along the way.

I’m proud to be an American!  Happy 4th of July!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – In 2011, the US imported a total of $232.5 million of fireworks – that’s a lot of fodder for great celebrations! (Source: