Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nothing but praise for Bank of America

While all the other bloggers are complaining about Bank of America’s newly raised ATM fees, I have to say I have nothing but good things to say about them (the bank, not the fees). As a Bank of America customer, the new ATM fees don’t affect me, while some of their other policies do. Luckily, they all affect me in a good way.

I love BoA for their high yield money market accounts. The PF community seems to swear by HSBC or ING or even Emigrant Direct, but they all pale in comparison to the yield you can get from the Bank of America accounts. 5.2% or 5.3% doesn’t seem like much more than the 5.05% APY that the others are offering, but it can add up. That $10,000 emergency fund could have an extra $25 interest at the end of the year with those kinds of rates. $25 isn’t a lot of money, but I’ll be happy to treat myself to a night out or a used textbook with it during my upcoming starving grad student days. Even better, being a BoA customer, there’s no holding my money for ransom. If I want to transfer it to my (free) checking account, it appears instantly, helping me avoid overdraft fees while gaining the maximum interest from my money.

The second reason I love BoA is their MyPortfolio tool. Bank of America isn’t afraid to play nice with other financial institutions and understands that they may not fulfill all your financial needs. On the other hand, they recognize that you want everything in one place; there’s a reason Quicken is so popular. Using the MyPortfolio tool, you can track all your accounts; that Roth-IRA at E-trade will show up nicely right alongside your company’s 401k plan, your American Express Rewards card and your account at the local credit union. If you spend the time to quickly register all your financial accounts, you end up with a very accurate depiction of your assets and liabilities, or ultimately your net worth. It’s remarkably easy to track where your money is going when it’s all on one page.

The third reason I love BoA is their shiny, new, high-tech ATMs. There have been too many times that there aren’t any envelopes for deposits, or the ATM has started to make angry noises at me because I’m simply not fast enough getting things ready for deposit. The new ATMs that they’re rolling out (but haven’t reached everywhere yet) eliminate the pesky deposit problems. You can just insert checks directly in the maw of the machine and it scans them and automatically knows how much you’re depositing. If you’re depositing cash, it will take that, too, count it, and ask you to confirm your deposit. Although this system is a little intimidating at first, it saves the people behind me a lot of sighing and tapping of feet.

The final reason for my love affair with a bank highly regarded as evil has to be the convenience. As BoA becomes the massive conglomerate bank of tomorrow it’s appearing in more and more places. Unless you live in Kentucky (like I did) or rural Pennsylvania (like I do until the end of September), a Bank of America ATM is likely on your way to the office, near your grocery store, or a block or two from the gym. This is great for all those Bank of America customers who want easy access to their money, but sad for those of you who will be paying $3 every time you use that nearby ATM.

I’m not saying you should switch to Bank of America or that it will fit your needs, but for some of us, it really works.

Monday, September 3, 2007

In with September

Being a few days into September, I thought I would post my predictions for the month, although I’m not very confident in them. I’m moving at the end of September, which makes a budget hard to set. I know I’ll be using extra gas and probably eating out while on the road, but will there be miscellaneous expenses that I don’t know about? I plan on getting my prescription filled a few times here to avoid needing the transfer it to another pharmacy, but I don’t know if the pharmacy here will do that. My mother’s birthday is this month, but fear that I might be missing someone else’s. I have to do all my dry cleaning before I move, and may need to do extra cleaning. What am I missing?

Category Budget
food $250.00
housing $450.00
entertainment $150.00
transport $150.00
clothing $65.00
travel $0.00
health $175.00
beauty $10.00
education $7.00
misc $200.00

total $1,457.00

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Out with August

I’m actually quite surprised that August went as well as it did. When there’s no traveling it makes it a lot easier to spend less money. I ate down my kitchen reserves and utilized my library to end up spending substantially less than the $1000 goal. Unfortunately, September is likely to more than make up for my frugality this month.

Category Budget Actual Difference
food $200.00 $90.91 $109.09
housing $450.00 $450.00 $0.00
entertainment $150.00 $68.69 $81.31
transport $100.00 $31.63 $68.37
clothing $15.00 $4.00 $11.00
travel $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
health $20.00 $0.00 $20.00
beauty $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
education $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
misc $65.00 $34.00 $31.00

total $1,000.00 $679.23 $320.77

Saturday, August 18, 2007

New Credit Cards - the Upsell

I recently got a few new credit cards in order to increase my credit limit before I apply for educational loans in the spring. I did my research, raised my credit score by becoming an authorized user on my parents' cards and applied for specially selected cards. I was approved for all three, making my combined credit limit something above $12,000. I felt good about myself, very responsible, and don't plan on changing my spending patterns to match my new credit limit. I've never carried a balance or paid a bill late and don't plan on doing it now.

When I received my cards, I proceeded to call the 1-800 numbers on the sticker to activate my cards. With the first card, I read all the enclosures, then made the call and was connected to a call center in India. The man who answered the phone was very difficult to understand, so when he tried to upsell me on credit protection, I had to ask him to repeat himself. Finally understanding, I said no, I was only interested in activating my card. When he tried his second upsell, I cut him off, and reiterated that I only wanted to activate my card and was not interested in anything else. He got upset and hung up.

The second card connected me to a person who was much easier to understand, but who was also wily about the upsell. She would phrase everything in statements, making it harder to say no. "So I'll just go ahead and sign you up for travel insurance." "No, really, I would prefer not." At least this time, she didn't get upset when I told her no.

The third card had an automated system. I finally thought I would be able to activate the account and hang up. Not so. The recording then proceeded into scary statistics about identity theft and how much it could cost me without their service, ending in a command to press one to enroll or press two otherwise. Pressing 2, it launched into the same spiel about identity theft and tried to sell me the same service again. I listened and pressed 2 again before hanging up.

I wonder how effective credit card companies find this upsell. It just had the ability to annoy me, but really, since when do credit cards not only give you credit, but try to be the first thing you spend your newfound credit on?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thousand Dollar Month Update

My thousand dollar month is going o.k., if only because I’ve been able to eat my way through my kitchen. If I hadn’t had the stock of foods, this whole thing might be going differently. I’ve eaten my way through the can of sauerkraut that’s been on my shelf since February and made bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from the two packets of yeast that were hiding on the baking shelf. I made some peanut sauce with the long forgotten curry paste from the fridge, which goes nicely with some frozen mixed veg and rice noodles from who knows where. I ran out of milk a week ago and eggs a few days ago, but have still managed to not go to the grocery store. This is obviously not a sustainable solution. There will be some grocery shopping things weekend, as soon as I run out of bread.

While the food situation has definitely helped keep my spending down, I have managed some other areas pretty well. I haven’t been sending packages every few days and haven’t needed a tank of gas in more than a month. This weekend involved going to the (cheap) county fair one night and hiking the next day. I’m not really feeling deprived at all, even though my expenditures for the weekend were less than $20.

I could probably maintain a budget lower than $1000 most months if I continued to live in my small town, never traveled, and lived a quiet life. On the other hand, I’m only going to be young and single for so long. Am I wasting it?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

An August Challenge

Recently I came to the realization that although I'm doing a good job budgeting and saving, none of it has really been a sacrifice. I still eat out with friends, I still travel and I still send lots of mail. As a result, I've decided to actually stretch my self-restraint for August and set a budget goal I haven't met in my five months of tracking: a $1000 month. Even if I only get close, I'll still be doing great.

With that in mind, my $1000 August budget:
Category Budget
food $200.00
housing $450.00
entertainment $150.00
transport $100.00
clothing $15.00
travel $0.00
health $20.00
beauty $0.00
education $0.00
misc $65.00

total $1,000.00

I predict more frugal eating and very little travel. Should be interesting.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

July Results

July, July! It was less painful than expected, but still not a really sustainable level for the savings I'm trying to attain. The good news is that I've paid for my prerequisite class, meaning that University of Phoenix will be getting no more of my hard earned money. Without the education expense it was actually a pretty good month, but I admit that the significant other has started to pay when we're together, making entertainment and food lower than they probably should be.

Category Budget Actual Difference
food $300.00 $239.92 $60.08
housing $500.00 $450.00 $50.00
entertainment $300.00 $119.82 $180.18
transport $150.00 $151.97 ($1.97)
clothing $100.00 $10.97 $89.03
travel $100.00 $37.75 $62.25
health $100.00 $11.90 $88.10
beauty $50.00 $0.00 $50.00
education $1,700.00 $1,557.00 $143.00
misc $300.00 $190.83 $109.17

total $3,600.00 $2,770.16 $829.84

Hopefully August will be better to my savings account.