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Simplifying Finances Saves You Money

The other day, as I was preparing my taxes, I saw a curious little $3 maintenance fee on my Bank of America Savings account. For the last five months, I’d been paying $3 a month in a maintenance fee that didn’t appear until November of last year (the account had been opened over a year ago). When I called, I was informed that the fee was because I had less than $300 in the account despite much more than that in the linked checking account. I had moved the funds over to the checking account because the difference in interest, much less than 1%, wasn’t worth me logging in to move funds as needed (vs. the risk of forgetting and taking a NSF fee). In my mind, I had figured that the account was one of those “minimum balance of $something, or combined account value above $something-else” and that I was safely in the $something-else category (usually it’s like $2,500 or $5,000 for something-else so I figured I was okay). Wrong, and they dinged me for $15 (of which I was able to recover $9 with a polite phone call, the other $6 were more than 90 days back and they couldn’t do it, which seems plausible).

The lesson for me here is two-fold and both are related to simplifying your finances [3]. The first, is that as my life becomes more and more complicated, my ability to keep things “on the table” in my mind will diminish. When I was in college, concerned only with a handful of classes and almost nothing else, managing a dozen accounts was no big deal. Now, there are significantly more demands on my mindshare and thus my ability to keep track of everything lessens. One of the things that fell off the table was a monthly review of bank and credit card statements. By simplifying my finances, I can save money because I can more closely monitor my financial accounts. I can catch the $3 fee in the first month, not the fifth, and nip it in the bud.

The second lesson for me was that sometimes what appears to be a smart money move is really more hassle than its worth. More hassle means I’m less likely to do it, which can the smart money move into a stupid money move. The savings account, with its pathetic < 1.0% APY interest rate, exists only because I thought that we could maximize interest earnings. An external transfer would take several days but an internal one takes mere seconds. The savings account could be a holding tank and I would simply move funds as needed. A year later, the hassle of "mere seconds" became too great and I scrapped that strategy, thus costing me a cool $6 and 15 minutes of phone time. Simple is almost always better because I am inherently lazy.

In the future, I’ll be continuing to simplify our finances and operating under the belief that simple is almost always better (because I’m lazy), a valuable $6 lesson.