My Credit Card Is My Single Most Powerful Budgeting Tool

Maybe the title of this post surprised you, as credit cards are often villified in the personal finance community. However, if you’re out of debt and you can manage credit without overspending, a credit card has more perks than pitfalls.

I have two main credit cards: gold American Express card, which costs $150 per year, and the no-fee MBNA cash-back rewards card.

American-Express-Gold-Cardmbna

I used to have the Platinum American Express card, but downgraded to the gold card when I went back to school. I really, really miss my platinum card and the airport lounges and my free car rental upgrades and my gift cards to Coach… sigh. Maybe next year I can get it back.

Whenever possible, I charge all purchases to my American Express.

At stores that do not accept American Express, I pay with my Mastercard.

I have a third no-fee, no-useful-rewards Visa card that I’ve had since I was 18 that I don’t use but just keep buried in a drawer because I constantly go back and forth about cancelling it. On one hand, it has the longest history (nearly 11 years!) but on the other, it never gets used so maybe it’s credit history doesn’t matter. I keep it out of a mix of being to lazy to cancel combined with a sense of emergency preparedness that, if my wallet were to get stolen again, I would be able to access money while waiting for replacement credit and debit cards to come in.

How My Credit Card Helps Me Budget

1. My credit card statement lists my spending, down to every penny. As much as I like money, even I find it tedious to write down where my every cent goes. My credit card statement is a perfect record of where my money has gone. (note: it’s possible for your credit card to contain mistakes and erroneous charges, which is why it’s important to check it against your receipts. Because I manage my transactions manually in the budgeting software I use — Money 4 by Jumsoft — I look at my credit card statement online 1-2 times per week to make sure it matches my own records)

2. All my regular bills are charged to my credit card, reducing the number of due dates I have to remember from a half-dozen to just one. I don’t know or care when my credit card, Netflix, or cellphone bills come in — they are all automatically charged to my credit card and I know when my credit card bill comes due!

3. I rack up the rewards points like crazy! By making an effort to put all my spending on plastic, I spend over $1,000 on my credit cards every month. On the American Express this will translate to 1,000 Amex points, or the equivalent of $10 (a 1% return). Already this year I’ve used Amex points to pay for over $250 of hotel stays when I went out of town to attend weddings. I love how Amex let’s you select how many points you want to apply to recent travel purchases:

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 4.53.08 PM

 *Note: even thought the American Express is “my” card, I use the points for joint spending with my boyfriend, like these hotel stays. Both weddings we attended were for cousins of mine, so I felt like because I dragged him all the way to Edmonton for my family events, the least I could do was help with the costs of our hotel stays. It’s just another way we share money after our joint chequing and joint savings accounts.

The only reason my credit card works for me as a budgeting tool is because I never carry a balance.

I usually make payments against my credit card balance 2-3 times per month. I have to — it gives me anxiety whenever I see it creep over $700! I’ve finally developed that magic personal finance sixth sense where I can just *feel* when my balance is getting too high and I just pay it down. This is the best practice because I never pay interest on any of my purchases.

If you owe a balance on your credit cards, DO NOT USE THE CARDS JUST TO GET REWARDS. The rewards don’t negate what you pay in interest, so you’re still operating at a loss. Put the cards away, kill the debt, and when you’re down to zero wait a full month, and then you can start using the cards again.

My credit cards make managing my finances easier, but I know it’s not for everyone. Anyone else have a great rewards card or other credit card that helps them budget?

Setting Up The Joint Savings Account

I blogged a few weeks ago about how my boyfriend and I manage our joint chequing account, so I thought I would follow with a post about the joint savings account we set up.

tumblr_mugof937TK1s2mrvko1_500

Balancing finances with your partner – no easy feat!

I actually found setting up a joint savings account a little bit more scary than sharing a chequing account. Because our contributions to the joint chequing account are only in $625 increments and the account is emptied every month, there’s not a lot of money on hand you have to trust your partner with. Even if the account was allowed to build up over the period of 30 days, the most damage either of us could do is spend the other person’s $1,250 monthly deposit. This is enough to really piss me off, but over the long term has no real consequence on my finances.

Joint savings accounts require more trust because there’s more money involved.

We’re going to start small, but as the months go by, our joint savings account will grow and it won’t take long for it to exceed the balance in our joint chequing account. When it hits $3,000 or $10,000 and so on, it’s suddenly a lot of money — half of which is yours that your partner has full access to. I have never let anyone have access to my money before so this is a big step!

I opened our joint savings account on September 1st with $100.

My boyfriend deposited $100 of his own money, and then we each set up regular contributions from our individual chequing accounts.

Now is a good time to do it, as Tangerine is offering 3% interest until November 30th on a new deposits made between now and September 15th. That’s better than 3 year GICs so I’m trying to get as much in our joint savings account as I can to take advantage of this great rate! If you don’t have an account with Tangerine, you can set one up using my Orange Key (32251507S1) and receive an additional $25 bonus. Lots of free money to be had!

Since we’ve also both decided to tone down our spending for the month of September, I’m hoping there will be an extra $200-$300 left over in our joint chequing account at the end of this month that I can transfer to our joint savings account.

Our main goal for the account right now is a tropical vacation sometime this winter. 

Once we come back from sunny-wherever, we’ll start building up the account again for another vacation together, or major joint purchases that might come far in the future, like a replacement car or down-payment on a home.

Rules of the Joint Savings Account

1. Like the joint chequing account, it’s important to us that each partner contributes to the joint savings account equally. This is why we’ve opted to each contribute the same amount each month, and any extra will come out of our joint chequing account.

2. The money in the joint savings account can only be withdrawn with the other partner’s consent and is ONLY for joint purchases, such as vacations together, furniture for our shared apartment, a car for both of us, or a future home. It is not for individual major ticket items like laptop computers, bikes, etc. — we have to save for those on our own!

3. Contributing to the joint savings account comes only after contributions to our individual TFSAs and RSPs have been made. It is more important that we are individually prepared for financial emergencies, retirement, and long-term financial goals than it is that we take a vacation together or buy a new car. If for whatever reason one of us is short money one month, the joint savings account contribution is skipped so contributions to RRSPs and TFSAs can be made.

4. The purpose of the joint savings account is for us to enjoy spending our money together as a couple. If contributing becomes a financial burden to one or both partners, we will stop and go back to managing our savings exclusively as individuals.

Do you share savings with your partner? How do you squirrel away money together?

The $0 Weekend

Back by popular demand (and my own return to full-time student status!)…

The $0 Weekend – How to spend your weekend on the tightest budget ever: free

The-Mindy-Project-poster1. Watch The Mindy Project I’ve liked Mindy Kaling since her time on The Office. Last year I read her book and it was laugh-out-loud funny, and she delivers even more in her show, The Mindy Project. Now on Netflix and only 21 minutes per episode, you can occupy yourself for the next 48 hours in a full Mindy-Marathon — and you won’t regret it. I’m already finishing up season 2.. and I just started watching 2 weeks ago!

126051572. Borrow The $100 Startup from your library I will likely be devoting a whole post to this book on its own, but you’re going to want to get a head-start, because if you’re anything like me you’ll be reading it a few times over. I keep going back to use the checklists or ideas, or even just to get a kick of motivation on a project. Even if you don’t borrow the book, you might find something on the website, which provides everything from a 1-page business plan to a 39-point product launch checklist. IMG_90312-768x1024

3. Learn to cook a Paleo recipe Paleo is so trendy right now, you might as well get on board because without a doubt, next time you have people over at your house, one of them will be Paleo and they’re still going to need to eat. I totally dig Paleo from a distance and love the theory behind it, but in practice I just can’t give up my favorite foods, which consist almost entirely of baked goods. Nevertheless, the great thing about Paleo foods and recipes is all, yes ALL, of them fit into the healthy diet I maintain for my gym routine so even I’ve found myself taking down the details for a Paleo meal even though all I did was google “healthy recipes. If you can’t fight them… Well I found these Coconut & avocado grasshopper bars that don’t look too bad!

4. Pick a yoga pose and start working on in for at least 5mins/day The secret to achieving any challenging posture in yoga is consistency, but it’s unrealistic for most of us to visit a yoga studio for a full class every day. It is not, however, unrealistic to practice one pose for only 5 minutes a day. Now that I’ve gotten my arm & chest strength up to a level that can bench-press a weight that is more than that of a small dog, my current focus is nailing advanced variations of crow pose. If I can just get my balance to match my killer core strength, I should be able to get flying and side crow any day now… and I’m striving towards this a little bit at a time, at 5 minutes per day.

5. Check out Taylor Swift’s new music video When I heard the iTunes preview on this song, I didn’t really like it, but once I listened to it straight-through and saw the music video is was the good ol’ TSwizzle we know and love. This is the perfect house cleaning song, so it’s worthwhile to put it on full blast and give your place a good scrub. My parents arrived from Salt Lake City on Wednesday so I have Taylor to thank for motivating me through housekeeping duties to make my apartment meet my parents standards. Have a great weekend!

How To Manage A Joint Chequing Account

My boyfriend and I opened a joint chequing account the day we moved in together. It’s made managing our household finances a total breeze instead of a war zone, and we have yet to have a money squabble. There’s no right way to do couples finances, but this is what is working for us!

 How My Boyfriend & I Manage Our Joint Chequing Account

couple-holding-hands

  1. Each of us contributes $1,250 per month ($625 per paycheque) to the joint chequing account for a total of $2,500 per month.
  2. From that account, we pay for our shared expenses such as rent, utilities, internet, laundry, and groceries.
  3. Sometimes we also pay shared costs such as dinners out, vacation expenses, gifts for weddings we’re attending, etc.
  4. Each of us has the joint chequing account linked to our debit cards so it can be accessed any time, but usually we don’t make purchases without the other partner present.
  5. Individual purchases less than $10, such as picking up a treat at the grocery store or some other needed item with our regular purchases, don’t count. We’ve found it’s too much of a hassle to remember to “pay back” the joint account small sums withdrawn on a regular outing.
  6. Any extra or left over cash in the joint chequing will be used towards joint “fun” purchases like more furniture/decor for our place or weekends in the mountains, but thus far we’ve found our $1,250/mo each has been right on the money (ha!) for our living expenses.

(We currently do not have a joint savings account, and contribute individually to our own TFSAs and RSPs.)

Truthfully, going forward it might make sense for us to contribute more to the joint chequing account. The $1,250 each was what I calculated based on our fixed expenses and our regular grocery shopping, but what I didn’t account for is how much we spend on things we do together. Whenever I go out to dinner or to an event or concert, my boyfriend is usually right there with me. Since so much of our discretionary spending happens together, increasing our contributions to and our spending from the joint account makes sense, but for now we’re sticking with the $1,250 each.

Why this is the best system ever:

Easiest Emergency Fund Balance calculation ever: need to save up 3 months of expenses? 3 x $1,250 = $3,750 needs to be set aside.

After I transfer my $625 to the joint account, I know that my living expenses and food are taken care of and the rest of my paycheque is entirely “mine”. This makes it budgeting simpler than ever because I don’t have to think “I better leave $60 in my account for food..”

Each partner is paying the exact same amount, so there’s no feelings of resentment about expenses being distributed unevenly. Because my boyfriend earns a higher salary than me and has less expenses, we discussed splitting bills proportionately to our incomes. However, because my income isn’t that much less and my student status is temporary, it wasn’t worth the hassle. Furthermore, $1,250 actually works out to less living expenses for me than before we lived together thanks to the reduced costs in splitting rent, internet, utilities, and groceries.

This is the first time I’ve shared finances with a partner and I can’t believe how easy it is — it’s even less of a headache than managing it all myself! How do you manage your finances with a partner, or plan to do so when you live with someone?

How many hours did it take you to buy that?

Now that I’m working full-time at an hourly rate, it’s almost too easy to quantify purchases in time. This habit of calculating my spending in terms of hours worked has been dormant as a freelance writer/blogger when my income was all over the place and seemed to be in no way correlated to the amount of hours I worked. Now I know exactly how much I’m paid per hour work, and the result is time is my new metric for what’s in my bank account.

tumblr_n0qfggLwlI1rwu3xto1_500

If you’re getting excited because you’re salary translates to a high hourly rate, slow down. Your net disposable income is probably less than you think! First, you have to take off 20% to 30% just for things like income tax, CPP, and EI. As a result, what hits your bank account is actually only about 70% of your gross pay. Say you make $25 per hour:

$25 x 70% = $18.75 net hourly wage

Not bad right? But realistically you don’t get to spend everything you make. Some (most?) of your income goes to meeting a heap of financial obligations, not the least of which is keeping a roof over your head and food in your stomach. If your needs take up 50% of your income (assumption: 30% housing, 10% transportation, 10% other including groceries) and you’re a diligent saver putting at least 10% away in savings, then you’re disposable income is only the remaining 40% of your net income:

$18.75 x 50% = $7.50/hr disposable income

Now, that actually isn’t too bad, considering it’s for every hour of every workday. What it is good for is quantifying potential purchases with time instead of money.

A $5 latte takes 40 minutes of work to afford. Since a latte doesn’t even take 40 minutes to drink, is it really worth it?

Maybe you’re better off working only 16 minutes to afford a $2 drip coffee instead.

Suddenly you see that $100 pair of shoes takes 13 hours, or one and a half workdays, to afford. If you’re having dinner with friends tonight, you’re spending nearly 3/4 of the day working for it. And so on. If you’re a daily spender, this quick calculations should help reel you in. If you’re naturally less spendy and only buy 1 latte per week, then working 40mins out of your whole workweek for that treat might seem more reasonable.

If you’re in debt:

How many hours of your life are already spoken for to payoff you past? 

Even if you owe something as small as $5,000, you’re on the hook for the next 16 weeks — and that’s assuming you don’t spend any of that $7.50/hr of your disposable income on anything but your debt! Thinking of your spending in the context of the hours it takes to work for it can be discouraging, but remember it works the opposite way too:

Saving now reduces the number of hours you need to work later — and often at an accelerated rate!

As you saw in my latest post how saving $100,000 in my RRSP by age 33 would net me over $500,000 by retirement, which means that’s a full $400,000 I wouldn’t have to earn. How many hours would it take to earn $400,000? In my working lifetime, at $40 per hour, that’s a full 10,000 hours or 5 years of a full-time income (that’s 10 years if you assume my obligations take up 50% of my paycheque!). Saving now means not having to work later.

So next time you’re about to make a purchase, ask yourself, how many hours do you have to work to afford that?

And if you’re really into this concept, I encourage you to check out the movie “In Time” on Netflix which I’ve recommended previously just because it’s such a cool idea to quantify our lives in minutes instead of dollars!

Justin-Timberlake-In-Time-1