Everything I Learned From Having Two Checking Accounts Worth Negative $70

money-jarHere’s my financial snapshot for the month: I overdrew one checking account, my account balance in my other checking account is currently at $2.84, and I’ve had to pay the bank $72 for bouncing TWO checks.

The funny thing is, though, I’m actually pretty decent with numbers. I aced my college accounting class, successfully managed a professional organization’s $14,000 budget, and recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from a large university in the Midwest. So basically, I’m super responsible with money that isn’t my own.

After making it the norm to pay for drinks in handfuls of quarters (which was excusable because, well, college), one of my goals upon entering the real world was to get it together financially. I’ve always considered myself to be a Strong Independent Woman and part of that includes having control over my own finances. After looking at this month’s stellar financial highlights, I’m clearly not there yet.

If I’ve learned anything from reading The Financial Diet, it’s don’t hide from your problems and stay honest. I channeled these two lessons when I decided to own up to my missteps and vowed to put the following measures in place so those $72 fuck-up fees would be a thing of the past.

Have an open relationship with the bank
I opened an account with my current bank three weeks ago and I’ve already been in there four times with questions. Some of my inquiries are either stupid or me just being forgetful, but at least I’m not afraid to ask. My bank recognizes me (probably as the flustered girl struggling to add and subtract) the minute I walk into my branch and I’m beginning to build relationships with some of the financial planners. This has already proven helpful in getting fees waived and questions answered, as well as improving my ability to talk openly about my financial situation.

Manually record transactions
What got me into trouble with my overdraft fees and bounced checks was my blind reliance on my bank’s website and mobile app. As we all know, payments aren’t processed immediately and may take a few days to be reflected in your overall balance. Tips on restaurant and bar bills are taken out of your account at the last minute and can seriously skew the amount of available money you think you have if not recorded. Also, writing checks and not recording them will be the financial kiss of death especially if you have short term memory loss like me. The first thing I did after accruing $72 in fees was to create a Google spreadsheet for my finances. I use Google Drive all day for my job so I might as well keep track of my money on the same platform and in the cloud so I can access it from everywhere. I also set an alarm on my phone for every night at 10 p.m. to remind myself to record all withdrawals for that day.

Place money for bills in a short-term savings account
Having my rent check, student loan payment and monthly public transportation fee in a separate account helps give me a realistic idea of how much money I have available to spend on non-essential items. It’s obviously a great idea to budget your money out, but it works best for me to completely remove that money from the account that is linked to my debit card. That way when I look at my balance, I don’t have to remember if some of that money is going toward bills. Instead, it’s an honest and accurate number of how much I need to budget out until my next paycheck.

I’ve realized that avoiding excess fees (such as buying lunch when I could pack or saying yes to every happy hour invitation) won’t mean anything if I can’t balance the money that I do have. I’ll only reach my goal of becoming a *financially* Smart Independent Woman if I’m transparent and fiscally responsible. Plus, $72 is a lot of money for a 22-year-old and I’ll be damned if I don’t learn from that mistake.

Kerry Tuttle lives in Chicago and works in tech PR. She is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image via Flickr

  • Sarah Miller

    I just started using Monefy Pro to track my expenses. It’s manual entry, like Google Drive, but you can classify your spending so you can see where you’re spending the most money. It’s also great for a mini shame when you enter something you didn’t neeeeed to buy or could have done cheaper.

    • Kerry Tuttle

      I downloaded Mint a few weeks ago, but so far I’m not a fan. There seems to be a lag in its updates and it categorizes all my purchases wrong. I’ve discovered I like entering my transactions myself, so I’ll have to check out Monefy Pro. Thanks so much for the suggestion!

      • Meleah Bowles

        After you’ve used Mint for a while, it starts categorizing things better. It still messes up for me now and again, but overall, I think it’s learning my habits as I go.

      • LB

        It’d be awesome if you shared how you set up your spreadsheet!

        • Kerry Tuttle

          I set it up using an actual checkbook record as a reference. It’s pretty basic, but works for me. I have columns for “Date, Transaction Description, Withdrawal, Credit, Total” and room for any notes about the transaction. I have spreadsheets for both my checking and savings accounts. My savings account has a section at the top for “Goal” vs. “Current Balance” for various categories which are currently my emergency savings fund and a travel fund. Hope that helps 🙂

          • LB

            Yes, it does. Thank you!

      • I use GoodBudget. It has worked wonders for me. It lets you visually parcel your money out into “envelopes” so you can assign how much you want to spend on something in a month. I haven’t had an overdraft since I started my new job a couple months back because of it. I can easily look at it and see if I’ve overspent on food, or if I still have enough money in my designated “movies” spending envelope to go see Magic Mike (I do! Going tonight!) I like it because you get to plan ahead of time how much you’re willing to spend on the different things you like to do and adjust your budget to suit.

        • Kerry Tuttle

          Awesome – thanks for the recommendation! Sounds like a great option.

  • Nancy

    What short-term savings account to you use?
    I’m hesitant to start a savings account (mostly because I’m looking at changing banks) right now I’m using a site called SmartyPig because I have short financial goals I want to meet. But your last point really intrigued me and reminds me of the “Spendable” amount on Level.