Coming into 2018, I am facing some challenges in regards to my personal finances. I have the standard added expenses of 2 additional children; and with Toddler L., I did not need daycare. Now, I do. I also moved (which always costs more than you anticipate), desperately need to buy a car, and my main bank account is scheduled to be closed in February due to a corporate merger. So I feel like I need to keep a close eye on my money this year.
In spite of all this though, I have a fairly positive view of the year ahead. This is my game plan at the moment:
I still have my trusty money market and savings accounts at Ally Bank. Since I am in Chexsystems, it is a big ordeal to try to find a checking account. I used Ally when I had no other options (they do pull Chexsystems for their checking accounts…but not for their money market and savings accounts…at least they didn’t when I opened my account 2-3 years ago). With the exception of ATM withdrawals, you are limited to 6 transactions a month on both accounts. So I shy away from using them for regular spending. They also have some of the best interest rates I’ve seen – 0.90% and 1.24% respectively. Given my low-ish income, that does not translate into a lot of interest for me (I earned a whopping $1.78 last year). But hey, it is something!
I opened a Scottrade brokerage account in late 2016 and from there, opened a corresponding bank account. This was my main checking account. Their banking technology was dated, but I appreciated their reasonable fees (free stop payments on checks; no incoming wire fee; the ability to avoid overdraft fees by linking the brokerage account to the checking, etc.). However Scottrade has been bought out by TD Ameritrade; who might also offer checking services, but the communication on setting this up has been murky.
One thing that I’ve learned with money is that is better to be safe then sorry. I started looking right away for a replacement bank. I signed up for Chime on 12/22/17 and installed their Android app. Their app is very slick and easy to use….their website, a little less so (I guess they really want to push you to use the app). They offer an automatic savings and reward program when you use the debit card at select retailers. However it is not a full featured bank account. There are no paper checks; mobile check deposit was just recently added (I haven’t had a chance to use it yet); you can’t have a joint account; you can’t utilize wire transfer services; etc.
I may do a full review of Chime later, but so far my biggest frustration is that you can’t really hit the ground running with them. As of today, I have yet to receive my debit card. I couldn’t use the mobile check deposit feature because I hadn’t set up direct deposit yet (I had…but my pay cycle is so that a deposit has not been made yet). There are some lackluster reviews of Chime, but for the most part they are good. Even so, I did not feel comfortable setting them up as my primary bank.
I had read how BBVA Compass offered checking accounts to those in Chexsystems. On 12/28/17 I applied for their ClearChoice Free Checking account online and was approved, no problem. I received my debit card two days ago. BBVA’s online banking website is more like a traditional setup; although their app is not quite as slick as Chime’s
So for now the jury is still out. Chime can help me squirrel away some money for a rainy day fund for sure. It remains to be seen if they can fill the shoes of a bona fide bank.
The merger of Scottrade over to TD Ameritrade is set to happen in February. I have the very modest goal to invest $25 a quarter. That why it will be easily to identify my gains (or losses).
Some Help From Uncle Sam
Now that my family size is 4, I actually qualify for a couple of public assistance programs. WIC supplies about 80% of the formula needs for the boys. We all qualify for Medical Assistance so I was able to drop my health coverage from work (which saves me $90 a month). I have an application in for daycare assistance, so that will be a huge help if I am approved for that.
I never changed my paycheck withholding for taxes from single either. That means I should get enough money back on my tax return this year to buy a car outright. Yes, I know that everyone says that you should not let the government hold your money interest free. But what I’m saving on car loan interest will be a greater savings to me in the end.
I applied for, and got on the CAP program for my gas and electric bills. This has been a huge help – and has reduced my monthly utility bills by about $200/month. Also my new landlord is not charging me for sewer and water like my previous landlord. So that’s another savings of about $50/month.
When I start accumulating change in my pockets, purse and car, I go to the Coinstar machine in my local grocery store and convert it into a cash voucher that I can use towards my purchase of groceries. The problem with that is that they charge a fee for this. Well I found out that if you opt for an e-gift card, then you get the full amount of your money. I tried it today and for $8.00 in quarters I would have gotten a cash voucher of $7.04. So I opted to turn it into an Amazon gift card where I get to keep 100% of the money.
I also need to start packing my lunch at work at least 3 times per week 🙁 .
Also I lost about $125 dollars last year to overdraft fees. I need to nip that in the bud pronto!
These changes will most likely not stop me living from paycheck to paycheck (sadly). But combined, I should be able to eek out anywhere between $3,500 – $4,500 in savings. Again not a ton, but every little bit helps!