Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

Avoid These 5 Gross Banking Fees

This post is part of a sponsored campaign with Radius Bank. Radius Bank has not directed my content or my views.

I didn't even know I was paying half of these bank fees! Definitely time to switch!

I get that banks have to make money.

And I’m totally cool with them making money off of my auto loan or balance transfer fees.

What I’m not cool with is banks making money off of my deposit accounts like checking and savings. When I put that money in the account, they turn around and use it to invest in other assets, which is why I earn a small amount of interest on the money I keep in there.

It’s advantageous for banks to have my business in this way. Even if they don’t make an incredible amount of money off of my not-jumbo-sized deposits, they do open a door to market their lending products to me as a warm lead.

And it’s advantageous for banks to have your business, too. With that in mind, make sure you’re not keeping your money with a bank that charges one of these gross fees.

Maintenance Fees

Some banks will charge you a monthly fee just to have a checking account with them. It’s disgusting and unnecessary. If a bank is charging you for a deposit account, ditch them like a bad date.

Minimum Balance Fees

Other banks will charge you a fee if you don’t keep an average daily balance of $X,XXX in your account. This is exploitative, especially when we’re talking about checking accounts, which get many American families from paycheck to paycheck without a whole lot leftover.

Minimum Deposit Fees

You incur this fun fee when you don’t meet a certain threshold for direct deposits every month. I resent this fee as a freelancer with irregular income who doesn’t always get paid through direct deposit.

I also resent it because it’s a poor tax. You’re punishing people who don’t make a lot of money by taking more of their money. It’s super unethical in my opinion. So not with it.

ATM Fees

I’ve been doing online banking since 2006. One thing I’ve always liked about that is that the financial institutions I’ve worked with have never charged me an ATM fee for using an out-of-network cash machine.

They’ve also always refunded my ATM fees if they are charged by the owner of the ATM. So let’s say Bank XYZ charges me for using their ATM while I’m on a road trip. I have to pay $2.50 to get money out of my account. At the end of the month, my financial institution would refund me that $2.50.

If your bank is charging you money in order to access your money, it’s time to call your relationship quits. You can do better.

Overdraft Protection Transfer Fees

Most banks won’t charge you to set up overdraft protection, which links your savings account to your checking account. Should you ever spend more than you have in your checking, overdraft protection pulls money out of your savings account to make up the difference. If you don’t have protection, you’re usually charged a hefty fee for overdrawing your account.

However, some banks are sneaky and will charge you when you need to use that protection. These charges are called transfer fees, and they’re ridiculous. They allow banks to say, “We don’t charge you a fee to enroll in overdraft protection!” while still charging you should you ever have to actually use overdraft protection.

Which is shady as all get out. Find a bank that treats you better.

Find Someone Who Treats You Better

These are all common fees, believe it or not. You may even be paying some of them without realizing. I’d encourage you to get out your latest account statement and check.

If you are, know that there are other fish in the sea. Credit unions are a great place to look, but I also recently became aware of Radius Bank’s Hybrid Checking Account, which does not charge any of these fees. On top of not being sketchy with their fee structure, they also allow you to deposit cash at certain ATMs–even though they’re based online. Which is pretty cool.

Make sure your bank doesn’t charge you gross fees. And if you discover they’re a little grimy, walk out the door and don’t look back.

 

How I Stayed in Tokyo for Free

She stayed at some REALLY nice hotels for free. Definitely pinning for the trip to Japan I'm planning!

Oh, man, guys. I just got back from a huge trip to Japan, and it was indescribably amazing. As one Belgian tech guru told me one night as some of us were sitting around a fantastic meal:

“I think coming here has changed me.”

I have so much I want to tell you, and I’m going to take several weeks to do just that. Every Friday, we’ll talk a little about saving money while exploring this breathtaking country. We’ll start with accommodations.

How I Stayed in Tokyo for Free

Originally, we were supposed to fly into Osaka, but that involved a long, complicated layover in Tokyo anyways, so I called and lopped off that leg of our flight. My sibling and I spent our first night and last nights in Japan in the capital of Tokyo, and we did it for free.

Westin Tokyo

westin tokyo review

I had built up some SPG points from business travel. I had enough for one free reward stay at the Westin Tokyo, which I was pretty psyched about.

I wasn’t nearly psyched enough. We took a bus from Narita to our digs. When we walked in the entry way, my sibling dropped their jaw and said, “Holy sh!t, Femme.”

The lobby was gorgeous. Dark wood colors lined the walls accented with gold. I’m pretty sure our footsteps echoed off the sky-high ceilings as we walked back to the check-in desk, where we were greeted by the sweetest and most generous host ever. She treated me like royalty even as I stood there in my yoga pants and tee, surely reeking of the 29 hours of straight travel I had just endured.

Not only was she nice, she upgraded our room–which already would have cost hundreds upon hundreds of dollars without points–to a suite. A gorgeous, two-room suite with one and a half baths. I took a rainfall shower that night before we went out to find some food, and soaked in a pink, cherry blossom bath the next morning before we set out on our journey.

view from westin tokyo

That night, we gazed out over the dazzling city with views of Tokyo tower gracing our window. The next morning, we grabbed some breakfast in the club lounge and kind of sort of talked, but mostly just sat there in awe as we took in yet another astonishing view.

The neighborhood, Ebisu, was super nice and just about my speed. There was shopping and dining, and a tasteful amount of nightlife. We walked by ice cream shops and bakeries as we stumbled upon gardens full of vibrant flowers–including one such garden directly behind the hotel.

Staying at the Westin was definitely the right way to start our trip.

Shinjuku

shinjuku mural

Our last two nights in Japan, we stayed in the heart of Shinjuku. We found an Airbnb that would have run us about $200 for both nights if I hadn’t had Airbnb credits that cancelled out all the costs. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, I highly recommend it as a great way to save money when you travel. You can get your own $40 travel credit when you signup here.

I wasn’t as big of a fan of Shinjuku. I’m pretty sure most people would consider that blaspheme. Part of my disenchantment undoubtedly had to do with the fact that I spent a good portion of my time there holed up in the Airbnb as I had caught a cold.

But from the walking around I did do, it was full of high-end shopping, tons of night life and at least one series of hotels where people go to have sex. I get that all that excitement is enticing for a lot of people. I’m just not super into high-end clothing and clubbing.

Also, I may have missed massive parts of the neighborhood and be passing unfair judgement. Because sick.

Where did you stay the rest of the two weeks?

Great question! I was originally going to title this post, “How I Stayed in Japan for 2 Weeks for Under $400,” but I decided against that because it would be a little misleading.

This entire trip was spurred on by the fact that one of my longest friends is a native of Osaka. We went to Japan to visit her and her family. We stayed with her family in Osaka, Wakayama, and Nachi Katsuura. I hadn’t seen my friend in seven years, and her family in 22. They are such wonderful people *trying not to cry right now* and made us feel so welcome in their homes.

But most Americans probably don’t have a family friend waiting for them in Japan ready to open up their home to them, so my situation was unique and fortunate.

The Guest House in Kyoto

kyoto guest house

We were there for a while, though, and people gotta work. So we spent about five days in Kyoto on our own, exploring the ancient city. I was planning on using Airbnb for that, too, but it turns out that if you’re in Japan for cherry blossom season, waiting to book an Airbnb three weeks prior to your arrival in Kyoto is not a great idea. In fact, it’s a crazy expensive one.

After some panicked searching, I found something called a guest house through Hotels.com–where I’m currently only a couple nights away from earning yet another free stay.

Ours, the Yuraku, was Japanese-owned and geared towards Japanese guests. One room with bunk beds ran each of us $385, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t plan on getting that number down further by applying some of the credit card points I earned during our sojourn to that purchase in the next couple weeks.

When a guest house is geared towards Japanese guests, they will ask you to be very quiet. Everything will be super clean and peaceful.

We learned from our host that when the place is geared towards Westerners, it tends to be a bit more rowdy and sociable.

Different strokes.

We enjoyed our stay at the Yuraku. I had booked it because it was available and somewhat affordable, but I would book it again because unbeknownst to me, it was in a great location in a beautiful neighborhood with a ton of amenities–like good food, a famous bathhouse, and coin-op laundry–just steps outside the door.

Get more Japan Pictures!

A lot of people have asked me to post my Japan pictures on Instagram. Just one problem: twenty-four hours ago, I didn’t have an account!

But I got so many requests that I have now set one up so I can share all the beauty I beheld while I was away. I know I shared quite a few images in this post, but I’m going to be sharing more exclusively on that channel throughout the week.

Everyday at 1pm Eastern time, I’ll have a new one up there for you guys, so be sure to give me a follow!

In exciting Twitter news…

Financial literacy twitter chat

Also, want to let you all know that I’ll be co-hosting a Twitter chat on Thursday with my friend Tori from Tomorrow! You can join us at 8p Eastern on April 26, 2018 to discuss financial literacy.

Come whether you have questions on how you can improve your financial literacy or ideas on how others can get improve their money knowledge. It’s the first one ever, so I’d be so psyched to see you using the hashtag #TomorrowTalk!

We’re Going to Coachella!

Today’s author is Liz–a personal finance nerd who loves to talk all things money-related. She firmly believes that it’s not about how much you make, but rather how much you keep, and is always on the lookout for ways to hold on to more of what’s earned. A native of New York state, Liz now happily lives in Chicago but maintains that deep dish is NOT real pizza. You can find more of her money (and life) thoughts on her blog Open Mouths Get Fed.

Holy, wow. She's doing Coachella for under $1,000! These are some insanely good savings tips--for Coachella or any time you travel.

Tickets are $500.

Hotels will be price gouging.

You don’t have a job.

You’re too old for all that.

All thoughts that crossed my mind when I read the Coachella 2018 lineup for the first time. The Weeknd. SZA. Cardi B. Beyoncé. I repeated my earlier thoughts as I perused the event website. I admonished myself that all of my friends were too married and parental to go with me when I posted on Facebook, “Anyone down for Coachella 2018? I’m so sincere.” And I definitely compared my back fat to the cellulite free thighs plastered across last year’s Instagram Coachella hashtags.

It turns out that all I needed to cast aside my reservations were a willing friend who is parental but not spousal, a well funded blow money account, a half-assed commitment to diet and exercise between January and April, and the scant hope that Jay-Z would join his wife onstage.

Besides, if a 43-year-old Bridget Jones can sleep with Patrick Dempsey at a music festival, why can’t I do the same? Armed with my Chase Sapphire Reserve and the confidence of a mediocre white man, I logged onto the Coachella site, waited for my turn in the queue and purchased two tickets for the second weekend of Coachella 2018.

Adulting 101

Some might say that my decision to go to Indio, CA for a three day music festival is immature and irresponsible given the fact that I’m closer to 40 than 30 and have been (f)unemployed since November due to a layoff. Being without a steady, sufficient income for months should mean that cash is to be kept as closely as possible and I cannot afford to spend what could be thousands of dollars on a concert–not when there is a mortgage that needs to be paid and a student loan that’s still in repayment.

However, I can’t get behind that perspective. While some may call it responsible, I see it as accepting a scarcity mindset. I see it as an acceptance of money being a scarce resource of which I would be unlikely to find more.

To that I call bullsh!t.

I have been making money since Dubya’s administration. If by this point in my professional life I can’t figure out how to make a dollar out of fifteen cents then I’m doing something wrong. While going to Coachella is not a necessity, it is definitely an experience that I would highly value. I have learned the best way to be responsible with our finances is to allocate them according to our values, spending less on what we could care less about and more on what we do.

Since I could listen all day to SZA sing about Broken Clocks, have never met a vacation I didn’t want to take, and will take any opportunity to boost my melanin before summer, then I would say going to Coachella is the epitome of fiscal responsibility.

Figuring It Out

With this mindset the statement, “I can’t afford to go to Coachella,” gets flipped to the question, “How can I afford to give myself an experience I will value and remember forever?”

There is  difference between not having wage income and not having money. Prior to being laid off, I’d saved six months of post-tax income in addition to stashing cash into several sinking funds–including a blow money account. True, I could have taken the dollars from that account and transferred it to my savings. But who is to say that my blow money account wasn’t so nicely flush precisely for a time such as this?

Did I mention Cardi B is going to be there?!

The Tickets

A couple of years ago I’d decided on a whim that I wanted to go to Coachella and tickets were upwards of $1000 on Stubhub. That wasn’t my ministry back then.

This time I made the decision to go before any tickets went on sale. The first step in answering the question of how I was going to afford this excursion was ensuring I purchased my tickets at face value. Easy enough. I channeled my inner 16 year old who used to call the radio station every night trying to be caller ten, and got on the Coachella website the minute tickets went on sale and got a spot in the sales queue. Thankfully, all servers were a go and I was able to get tickets for me and my friend the first day of the sale.

A Place To Lay My Head

Even more expensive than the tickets is the lodging for 3-4 nights in a town overrun by thousands of tourists. A quick perusal of AirBnB showed that even with a 4 person occupancy I would still be looking at a bill well over $600.

I did not want to pay that much money so I explored other options. I contacted several hotel chains and pitched article ideas in exchange for discounted room and board during Coachella’s second weekend. I got pretty deep into talks with one hotel chain before it all ended in, “We are totally booked that weekend.”

Luckily AirBnB came to my rescue when a cute ranch resort at $130 per night caught my eye. Sometimes it’s good not to know an area’s geography. I fired off an email to the host inquiring how far his listing is from the venue. He quickly responded that his place was more than an hour away. However, before I could dismiss the location as unfeasible, he informed me that he works at Coachella every year and offered free shuttle service to and from the festival grounds every morning and evening.

I knew it was meant to be when he eliminated the need to rent a car by offering a $100 round trip shuttle to pick us up and drop us off at LAX, which is more than two hours away. And that brings up another cost to afford…

Getting There

I have a good amount of credit card reward points and frequent flyer miles, either of which I could cash in for a free flight from Chicago to L.A. However, I’m hoarding points and miles to cash them in for a first class ticket the next time I fly back to West Africa to be with my family. Since I didn’t want to prematurely use this resource I decided to use another of my sinking funds for the purpose for which it was created. Every month I save for travel expenses.

To mitigate that expense as much as possible I chose to fly as a mystery shopper. Companies like SQM offer travelers a 50% refund on roundtrip ticket purchases for simply staying awake before take off and snacks and evaluating the airline experience from airport to the airplane. This option will bring the already low price of my airfare down to $144.50 once the refund hits my credit card. While I do forego earning miles, it is worth it to me to earn the straight cash.

Adding It Up

I am all set to live it up for three days in the desert. I have my event tickets, flight, and lodging. When all expenses are totaled and rebates factored in I managed to put together a trip that can cost thousands of dollars for the bargain basement price of $937.50. If I don’t buy new clothes for the occasion, take public transportation to and home from Chicago’s airport, and prepare and pack my own meals while in California, I may even be able to keep the total cost right under $1000 for the entire three days.

GOALS!

Final Thoughts

I will not concede that there are better ways I could be spending my money while I am without income. Not spending $1000 on Coachella will not buy me another month of living expenses and could potentially cost me years of regret when I am not long as free to use my money and pick up and go whenever I please.

One of the best things about making the decision to go to Coachella is that it has reinvigorated my creative juices on finding ways to earn money outside of a traditional 9 to 5. I am actively pursuing ways to use my everyday skills and resources to bring in enough to replenish my blow money and vacation sink accounts.

Best of all, I am challenging limits whether they be internally or externally imposed. It is up to me to determine where my funds should stretch. It is only I who can tell myself, “F#*k your cellulite, put on some short shorts, and dance your ass off to your favorite singers.”

Ideas to Save Money on Your Wedding

Today’s author is QL from Smart Money and Travel Blog. She and her husband write about personal finance and maximizing your miles and points. 

I would have never thought of this to save money on a wedding dress! Tons of other ideas in here, too.

Our first wedding anniversary is coming up in April and we have recently taken time to reflect on the experience. Back in 2017, we weren’t exactly focused on FIRE (financial independence/early retirement,) but as first-generation immigrants, we have always been frugal and into saving for retirement. Toward the end of the last year, we decided to be more purposeful about our retirement goals. Thus, as we look in the rearview mirror on our wedding day, we wanted to share some thoughts on wedding planning. As we went through it, we didn’t always choose the cheapest alternative, but there were many areas where we either saved money, wished we hadn’t spent the money we did or were happy with our investment.

 

pink bridesmaids dress

Do the math on BYOB if it is an option

Alcohol is a staple at weddings, and it can sometimes cost more than the food itself. Over half of our guests were our parents’ friends. On top of that, our venue was in a secluded location accessed by a poorly lit, windy highway. Thus, we didn’t expect many of our guests to get very aggressive at the bar. Luckily, our venue had a BYOB + corkage fee option. We made some estimates and ran the math, comparing it with the all-you-can-drink option, which was $22.50/person. In the end, we went with the BYOB option and spent a little more than $6,000 on beverages.

Ask yourself if you really care about a wedding cake

At other weddings that we attended, we noticed that the cake was rarely eaten by guests. We also do not value taking a portion of our cake and freezing it to enjoy at some point in the future – that concept never really took hold with either of us. Therefore, we asked ourselves what we and our guests would more enjoy than an overpriced wedding cake.

We ultimately decided to go with che, a Vietnamese dessert, from our favorite chain Bambu. We worked out some details with the local franchise, and the morning of the wedding we picked up 200 servings and stored them in the venue’s walk-in cooler. After dinner, we had it brought out and set up. Our vendor provided all the cups and utensils so our venue did not charge us any additional fees. Our guests loved the unique dessert idea and our only regret was not purchasing more as it quickly ran out. The che station was more popular than the bar! We spent $400 on the che.

Make your own wedding favors

Another thing we noticed at previous weddings we attended was that many guests did not take home the wedding favors and some even threw the favors away. Thinking this through, we wanted to give something that was inexpensive, practical, and tied to our East Meets West wedding theme. We decided to go with a decorative and usable pair of chopsticks from eBay for each guest, pairing it with a printed card. Together with our wedding party and families, we spent a few hours tying everything together with a ribbon. In the end, we spent less than $100. Many of our guests collected the extras so we didn’t even have any for ourselves.

Shop around for your photographer and videographer

When we started evaluating photographers and videographers for our wedding, we noticed that the more established ones charged a significant premium for their services. These costs easily broke $10,000 and in some cases could exceed $20,000. This was significantly more than we were expecting to pay (we were hoping to spend ~$5,000).

We searched harder, looking for lesser known local photographers in Northern California on Facebook. A few stood out, and I scheduled appointments with them and flew back one weekend to meet everyone in person. I picked the one I liked the most and it ended up costing about $5,000 for an engagement session, a photo canvas, an entire day of photography (16 hours total), a photobooth, and a 5 minute wedding video.

Don’t get too hung up over a fancy dinner

For our wedding, we hosted two dinners. One welcome dinner for out-of-town guests and the second was the formal wedding dinner.

The welcome dinner for out-of-town guests was held at our brother’s restaurant about 50 miles south of the wedding venue. Our guests flew from all over the country so no one complained at all about driving the extra 50 miles. By hosting it at our brother’s restaurant, not only did he offer us a generous discount on the food, but we were also able to bring our own beer. This meal for ~30 guests cost about $100 and we gave another $100 for gratuity.

For our wedding, we could choose between a plated or buffet dinner. The plated dinner cost about 50% more. Obviously, we chose the buffet option as we did not think it would negatively affect the experience for our guests. In the end, there were no complaints about the food or the environment. If we could do it again we would not change a thing. Dinner cost over $12,000 with tax and gratuity.

Sometimes it makes sense to pay for things like flowers instead of doing everything yourself

Keeping your wedding small and doing everything yourself can save you a ton of money, however, we did neither. We wanted a wedding to include a lot of friends and family, and we did not have a lot of time to cobble things together ourselves before the wedding.

We flew back to California from Chicago two days before the wedding and not only didn’t have the time but also didn’t want to place a large burden on our friends by asking them to help make centerpieces and other floral arrangements. Therefore, we decided to have the florist handle everything. This ended up costing us over $5,500, but we and our friends were able to enjoy the day.

Utilize miles and points for wedding dress shopping

Many brides spend thousands of dollars on wedding dresses. I didn’t want to spend that much on a dress that is worn for a few hours. Therefore, I used my airline miles to book my mom and myself tickets to fly to Vietnam. There, I was able to buy 3 wedding dresses for $150, total, as well as get all clothing and accessories for the wedding party, which ended up costing about $170. I also got our invitations made for $115 and picked them up while I was there.

If you want to see a detailed summary of our wedding costs, check out the numbers here.

 

Painless Money-Saving Tips for Everyday Life

This post is brought to you and contributed by Abby Locker.

These are some great tips to save money on everyday expenses!

For most of us, it isn’t just important to save money. It’s also important to eat as healthy as possible while saving money. It’s important for our money-saving habits to allow us to live fully functional lives.

Fortunately, that is easier than ever to do by just making a few modifications to our daily routine.

Meals & Snacks

With the hectic pace of modern life, it is no surprise that food costs can skyrocket as we try to make up for time with foods that are marketed as being more convenient. But just how often do we hit up the drive-through for a quick dinner or our favorite coffee shop for a fast pick-me-up only to end up stuck in a never-ending line? Then we have wasted not only our precious time but we’ve also increased our monthly food budget.

By simply taking a few extra minutes in the morning to prepare our lunch, or to make a decadent caffeinated treat with vanilla coffee syrup from our own pantry, we can end up saving ourselves time, frustration and money.

The initial pushback you may be feeling is probably due to thinking about getting up earlier and having to do another thing before walking out of the house. However, if you think about how much time and money you spend by stopping for that coffee in the morning or burger at night when all you really want is to be home, you may find your resistance lessening.

For those who aren’t sure this is really a painless way to save money, try it for two weeks and see if you don’t have more time and more money.

Power Down

Fuel costs can be a considerable strain on one’s budget when you take into consideration the cost of transportation and heating or cooling your home. Because it has the potential to be one of the biggest and most regular strains on your budget, it is also an area where you have the potential to save the most money with a few fine-tuning strategies.

Your monthly transportation costs are largely associated with the power, or fuel, required to move you from one place to another. If you are driving yourself there is one very easy way to minimize your fuel costs – modify your driving habits.

This includes things like resisting aggressive driving tactics, driving a little slower, and minimizing idle time. Aggressive driving tactics like accelerating rapidly can cause your fuel efficiency to decrease and your fuel costs to skyrocket. Other habits that increase fuel consumption are consistently driving in excess of the speed limit or allowing your speed to fluctuate wildly. The easiest way to combat both of these is to set your cruise control.

There are probably a lot of energy vampires causing your home fuel costs to be higher than they need to be as well. While everyone has a different temperature at which they are most comfortable, most people will agree that the temperature doesn’t need to be maintained when no one is in the home. Yet, many people absentmindedly leave their thermostat set to the same temperature regardless so that the home will be comfortable upon their return.

Within the past few years, smart thermostats have become more effective, user-friendly and affordable. They provide an easy way to ensure the home is not heated or cooled at expensive peak hours when no one is at home and that the home is comfortable when the family returns at night. Once installed, it requires no additional effort to begin easily saving money each month.

Financial Automation

How often do you find yourself paying late fees because time got away from you and you simply forgot to make a payment on time? If you’re like the majority of the overworked population, it’s a frequent occurrence.

You can begin saving money every month simply by switching all of your recurring bills to automatic payments. Most companies charge no additional fee for this service and it ensures you won’t be hit with additional late fees multiple times each month.

Another easy automation tip that can help immensely is to set up a specified amount each month to be transferred from your primary account to a special savings account. People spend the money they have, even when they don’t necessarily need or want anything. By removing a predesignated amount each money you will not only be reigning in any impulse spending by removing the funding temptation but you will also be doing something beneficial for your financial future.

Don’t worry–you don’t have to implement all of these tips at once to begin reaping the money saving benefits. Start with one and add more as you become accustomed to the new routine. Soon, you’ll be a money-saving expert.