4 great ways to keep your bank account stuffed

Money can get tight, even when you curb spending habits and try to save. Fortunately, here's a couple things to try to keep your bank account padded nicely and your debt down.

4 great ways to keep your bank account stuffed

1. Keep a slush fund handy

Something — be it a car repair, an emergency root canal or a job layoff — always comes up to throw you off your monthly budget.

  • To keep these incidents from running you into debt, you need to have an emergency stash in an easily accessible account, preferably a money market account (they earn a little more interest than regular savings accounts).
  • Need to figure out how much is enough to get you out of a bind? Easy. Track all of your spending for a month (including everything from your mortgage payment to lunch at the deli), and multiply that monthly total by three. That three-month operating budget is a scary number, eh?
  • Well, this is the minimum you should have on hand in case the roof caves in (literally or figuratively) and you need some dough to get you through the rough spots.

2. Ditch the ATM card

We're always making impulse purchases, from a pack of gum at the supermarket checkout line to that new Van Halen-meets-bluegrass CD.

  • How can you stop your bank account from hemorrhaging? Take a page from the old-timers and shred your ATM card.
  • It's just too easy to take out $100 at the local convenience store when you're jonesing for a nutty-chocolate bar after midnight. Instead, figure out how much cash you'll need each week for your regular, cash-based purchases, head on over to the bank teller's window and get your walking-around money for the week.
  • With a finite amount of cash, you'll start to think twice before spending frivolously.

3. Unionize your money

There's a better place than a bank to park your dough for your chequing account needs, and if you want to take out a home equity loan, there's a better place to get that as well.

  • It's called a credit union, and it acts much the same as a bank, but it has better loan and savings rates.
  • Here's how they work: a credit union is a cooperative venture that doesn't have to make profits for clamoring stockholders. The people who do business with the credit union — you, with your chequing accounts and loans — more or less "own" the credit union.

Many credit unions now offer the same services as banks, including debit cards and online banking. You can find a credit union at the Credit Union Central of Canada's website, www.cucentral.ca.

  • It has a searchable list of credit unions. Just type in your address and it will locate the nearest ones to you.

4. Put yourself on your payroll

There comes a time every month when the bills start piling up and you force yourself to sit down and write out all the cheques. Well, there's one more cheque you should be writing — one to yourself.

Jay Fine, a longtime financial planner based in Monroe, New Jersey, offers this easy way to put your retirement planning into high gear. "Put yourself on the payroll," he says. "Every month — or even better, every paycheque — make sure you set an amount aside for investment.

  • "A good number would be about six percent. Anything more would be great. If you have to, you can even write yourself a cheque to deposit or send to another account.
  • "But just as you pay your mortgage and your electric bill without fail, now you'll be making sure to pay yourself as well."
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