Finances for the Fearful :)

Since you have heard a lot from the Health Nut and not so much from the Nerd, I (Jessica) have asked Aaron (the Nerd) to write a little bit about how we do our finances. I told him to write and then I set him loose. Here is what he wrote. I love my math nerd :) For those of you who are struggling to organize your finances and budget, or are looking for a smart way to start a savings, this will appeal to you.

So Jessica asked me (Aaron) to write a little bit about what we do for our finances. The way we do it makes it very easy for us to manage our finances and keep a pretty close eye on everything that's happening, as well as have minimum upkeep. That being said, I'll introduce you to one of the most wonderful tools ever invented:

For anybody that hasn't ever heard of Mint, I'll explain the basic idea. When you create an account, Mint asks for your online banking information. For us, we use Chase and ING, as well as some credit cards, so we gave Mint those usernames and passwords. Mint logs in to the banking sites periodically, downloads recent transactions, categorizes them (as best as it can, you have to change categories sometimes, but it learns over time), and allows you to review them. That is only really helpful inasmuch as you have a budget set up (on Mint as well.) It might help if I illustrate the process using a simple transaction, like a trip to Wal-Mart.

Let's say I go to Wal-Mart and buy a live lobster (just because.) The next time I log in to Mint, my accounts update (Mint downloads their recent transactions), and it shows on my transactions list that I went to Wal-Mart and paid $20 (my guess for a lobster price, its probably a lot more.) It categorizes that as groceries, so our groceries budget, which was at $200 before, now is at $180. When you reach your budget, it sends you an email/text message to let you know that your limit has been reached. That's the biggest problem I've seen with keeping budget: not knowing how close you are to your limit. Mint helps you know immediately how close you are so you can adjust your spending accordingly.

Another really nice feature, and probably the most helpful for us, is the smartphone app. If we had to log in to the site every time we wanted to see our budget, it wouldn't probably get seen very often. But with the app, wherever we are, we can get on and see where we are at with our spending and if we have enough left in our budget to buy whatever. It also shows account balances and credit card debt, which is really helpful to keep track of your spending and avoid overdrafts or excessive debt. As well, since it shows all of your transactions, it is really easy to spot charges that are not yours, allowing you to take care of problems very quickly before some guy goes on a spending spree in Paris (which happened to my dad, some guy stole his card number and bought $2,000 of clothes in Paris.)

Here's a link to their how it works page, which can probably give you a better idea of what Mint does and how it can help you. Like I said, I really encourage it, it automates a lot of the budgeting process. In the traditional way, you have to go and type (or write) in all the amounts and categories of the things you buy, which takes quite a lot of time (but does have the benefit of making you want to spend less, since you know if you buy something, you're going to have to go home and file it away and all of that jazz.)

As for our accounts and why we have them, we use Chase for our checking account for a couple of reasons. One, Chase is really widespread, you will always be near a branch or an ATM. Two, their smartphone app allows you to deposit checks from your smartphone, which is really convenient. Instead of having to go to the bank, you just take a picture of the front and back of the check, double check the routing/account numbers, and then send it to them through their app. It gets deposited as soon (sometimes sooner) than a regular check, and takes less time, plus you can do it in your underwear, which is a big plus for me. :)

For our savings, we have two different accounts, both set on automatic deposits. Our traditional savings account is through ING Direct, an online bank. That means that all of your banking is done through your computer and online transfers, which for us is totally fine. We have it set up to automatically take $70 from our checking account on the 1st and 15th of every month. Online banks usually (but not always) have higher interest rates than brick and mortar banks since they have a lot lower overhead (lots fewer buildings, employees, etc.) We're currently getting a 0.85% interest rate, which doesn't sound too amazing, but lets compare it to a few other savings options. At Chase, if you have a savings account balance below $10,000 you get a 0.10% rate. Even if you have a $5 million balance, you only get 0.30%. For a Zions savings account, you get 0.15%. The only thing really comparable right now as far as savings goes is a CD (Certificate of Deposit). This means you deposit a certain amount of money in the bank and make an agreement not to withdraw any until a certain amount of time passes (12 months, 24 months, etc.) With Chase, if you get a 36 month CD (you can't touch the money for 36 months = 3 years) with a minimum deposit of $1,000, you get 0.50% interest per year. If you do a 36 month CD with a minimum deposit of $10,000, you get a 0.75% rate. With ING, your money is not in a CD, which means it is available whenever you need it, and its at a comparable interest rate. That's why we are sticking with ING! If you want to start an ING account, just email/Facebook me or Jessica, since for every person we refer who starts an account with at least $250, that person gets $25 and we get $10.

For our other savings, we use Betterment. Basically, they invest your money between stocks and bonds (you choose the percentage of each you want, stocks are higher risk but have the possibility for higher returns, while bonds are lower risk but make less money.) They diversify your portfolio for you, protecting you from some of the risk traditionally associated with investing. Don't get me wrong, there's still risk, but its lowered a lot by diversifying. Here's a picture of the site when you log in (this isn't ours, we don't have that much money!)

Our current allocation is 70% bonds and 30% stocks, since we are trying to use it more as a higher interest savings account than a hardcore investment plan. We only have it set to put in $30 every two weeks, but once the economy picks up a bit we will probably increase our contribution. Betterment is nice because it allows you to gain a lot of the bonuses of investment without the hassle of having to deal with a lot of the risks/costs. They charge a small percentage of your balance yearly based on how much money you have invested (more money invested means lower interest rate.) The rates go from 0.30% to 0.90%, so for us (since we're poor) we are really only getting a rate of about 0.70% right now, but if the economy picks up, our rate will go up. If you want to start an account with at least $500, let us know, they have a referral program as well, where you get $25 and we get $10.

That's our checking and savings account, I hope the tools/programs described are helpful! Mint really allows us to stay on track and informed about our finances, and since finances are one of the most common causes of divorces, Mint can save your marriage :) I'll do another post later about what we do for our credit cards! Enjoy, post any questions in the comments section, I'll see if I can answer them!


  1. We use Mint too and it works great! If you guys have an iPhone you'll have to check out this app called Pageonce Bills. Its really neat. It lets you know how many days you have until your bills are due, has a reminder alarm, and posts your next bill as soon as it becomes available.