3 Ways to Simplify My Finances

Life is short, we all know that.  Over time, small tweaks to financial habits can build up into a bureaucratic nightmare.  That’s what I think happened to me and it caused an unnecessary burden.  At the time of my decision, I’m sure getting that bank bonus was a great idea.  I’m sure opening this new cash back credit card that is slightly different than my hotel points credit card appealed to me for some reason.  There is nothing wrong with adding layers, cards, rewards programs like Swagbucks, etc. and I don’t want that to be the takeaway here.  But for me, it has become too much. I want simplicity and efficiency with my financial habit.  In this article, I identified three pain points in my current finances and propose solutions and action items for each.

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Method #1 – Consolidate Bank Accounts.  My mom opened my first bank account for me when I was a teenager.  It was the local National City Bank, the once proud Cleveland bank that was a victims of the financial crisis. My mom allowed me to upgrade to the Cleveland Browns debit card to show my diehard fandom.  Possessing that card was a badge of honor and I loved getting to show it off every opportunity I could.   Now PNC, it is one of the four banks that I currently use for a variety of reasons.  My fiance and I opened a bank account at another large bank in the area to begin our “house” account to cover the costs of the wedding and begin saving towards our first mortgage (which by the way, we are in no rush to buy a home!).  Bank number two was officially opened!  Then, I was introduced to the wonderful world of online banking by…you guessed it…Lanny!  We use Capital One Investing as our trading platform versus others such as Acorns or Robinhood.  Capital One also offers a checking and savings account that has a great interest rate and it makes transferring funds into your investing account a lot easier and more importantly, faster.  When I’m ready to buy, I have access to capital.   The last bank account is for the business and is at another financial institution.

Wasn’t that exhausting to read?   That is a lot of user names and a lot passwords to remember.  Reconciling my cash between the four accounts is consuming more time than I want or have, to be honest.    I started reflecting to see what caused me to spread my capital among so many different places.  I chased promotions and higher interest rates.  It was great at the time and now I find myself asking “Was it even worth it?”  Is my time worth the extra 50 basis points on a few thousands dollars in a savings account?  Is  the amount of time spent transferring capital between accounts and having to constantly check my balances really  worth that $150 sign up bonus?

So what is my corrective action here and how am I going to fix this?   After my wedding, I am going to try to reduce the number of bank accounts from four to two, nearly 50%.   We will work with one bank with a physical presence in the area and keep our Capital One Savings accounts because of the benefits it provides for investing purposes.   Shockingly, the fact that Capital One does not have a physical branch in Cleveland has not bothered me one bit or disrupted my banking experience.  With the new mobile deposit technology,  the need for a physical branch is dwindling.  But that is a completely different topic and article.   Sadly though, it looks like I may be cutting up my Cleveland Browns credit card for good in an effort to simply this aspect of my life.   Don’t worry though, I won’t be cutting my fanhood! 

Method #2 – Better Manage Credit Card Usage.  This complexity is driven by my desire to earn as many hotel points to reduce my out-of-pocket expenses for our honeymoon.   Currently, I have four credit cards (If you haven’t noticed, I love having things in sets of four).   One credit card is a cash back card (Chase Freedom), a points card that can be redeemed for gift cards (PNC), a card tied to a hotel chain to maximize the benefits of traveling for work, and a legacy card I have had since my mom opened my first bank account (This one has been cut and I don’t use it).  Since I am looking to cover our honeymoon resort with hotel points, I am using my hotel credit card for almost everything.

I know what are you thinking, what on earth is so complicated about only using one credit card to maximize the benefits?   It is the co-mingled usage of the credit card for work and personal stuff.  When I travel for work, I put the expenses on my credit card, fill out a re-reimbursement form, and receive the cash in a later paycheck.   This has its pros and cons.  Using my card allows me to rack up points really fast and I get to keep the benefits.   The con, and this is a big con.  If I don’t enter the expense by a certain date, then I may have to wait two paychecks to receive the re-reimbursement.  It is an issue when I stay in a hotel for an extended period, rack up a huge tab, miss the expense deadline because the hotel is not charged to my card until the end of a stay, and am forced to carry a balance for a long period of time.  It wouldn’t be a big deal if I used this card for business purposes only.  But when I couple the business expenses with my daily living expenses, the credit card bills can become very large and could cause me to use reserve capital to pay the large bill while I wait for the re-reimbursement to be paid out during the next paycheck.  After all, I force myself to pay my credit card in full each month to avoid shockingly large interest expenses.   The mixed use has also to caused me to not submit business expenses for re-reimbursement because I am unsure if the expense was for a business or personal purposes.  There have been instances where I have eaten expenses because I don’t want to submit a personal expense and have the expense eventually rejected by the company.  When that happens, I have to re-reimburse the company at a later date.  Nobody wants that to happen.

My desire to earn as many hotel points created this convoluted credit card situation that has become a nightmare to sort through on a monthly basis.  After my wedding, when I have maximized my hotel points and ideally paid for the honeymoon in points, I am going to split my credit card usage.  I will have one credit card for personal expenses and one credit card for business purposes.  Splitting the usage will allow me to better manage the expense re-reimbursement procedures and hopefully avoid the headaches described in the previous paragraph.  This doesn’t come without sacrifice though.  Certain cards offer bonuses during certain quarters on a type of expense or a one-time 10% cash back offer if used at X store.  At this point though, I am willing to sacrifice earning the better credit card bonus on certain transactions in favor of simplicity.

Method #3 – Changing Payment Due Dates –  This one actually just hit me.   I pay three credit card bills a month, rent, three utilities (gas, electric and internet – although I am not as lucky as Lanny who just slashed his bill), a car payment that I loath and would love to end, and insurance.  What’s sad is I don’t think any single one of them fall on the same day.  What this means is that I have to be cognizant of and remember all the different payment dates for each of these bills.  Autopay for some makes this a lot easier of course; but that doesn’t mean that I just blindly pay the bill without reviewing the actual expense.

So I had a thought here on how to fix this.   When I log into each account, there is an option buried in the menu asking me if I would like to change my payment date.  Why not adjust the payment date for bills to fall one two days of the month?  I get paid twice, so I could split the expenses evenly to correspond with my pay date schedule.  Then, instead of logging on and reviewing my bills near each respective pay date,  I could commit a focused few hours two times a month, review the expenses, schedule payments when needed, and move on with my day.  Plus, this method would prevent me from having to balance cash flow and payment date since my due dates do not always correspond with pay dates.  My corrective action here will be to adjust payment dates to two pay dates each month.  I know I could do this by scheduling payments for a certain day of the month on a recurring basis.  But why not make it official?  Let’s see how this works once implemented, I’ll keep you all posted.

What are your thoughts on my situations?  Am I over reacting here? Can you think of any other solutions or methods to simplify my finances?  How many credit cards do you own and manage?  Do you play the credit card points game and use many different cards to maximize the benefits?  Or do you prefer simpler finances?   Is my solution to Method #3 ridiculous?  Do you schedule your bills to be paid in blocks?  Or do you have different due dates for each bill?

-Bert

 

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33 thoughts on “3 Ways to Simplify My Finances

  1. Bert,

    I love this post especially because I have fallen into this as well. At one point, I felt as if I had 7 different brokerage firms. That being said, I now use 4….(I guess I like sets of four too =p). However, each has their benefit for me as one of my goals is to never have to pay commissions, I currently use EIGHT credit cards, but in reality only two get used. Personally, I do not mind having this many and will probably open more in the future in order to maximize benefits. Once in a while I’ll get a message in the mail saying my credit card will be closed if I do not make a purchase by a certain date. That is when I will make the decision to keep it open or not. I find it simple just because most of the cards I have are under the same bank account so I do not have to open 8 different accounts to check. PLUS- Mint makes it ridiculously easy to track.

    In terms of Method 3, I do not think this is crazy at all! I do this for all my cards, so they are scheduled for the same date each month. Otherwise it could be too hard to track and could accidently miss a payment! Regardless, I have autopay set up just in case. I think having the same due date is key to simplifying your finance so you are not logging in daily!

    Great article! I find myself battling these questions everyday too!

    – The Dividend Mogul

    • Mogul,

      that’s very kind, thank you very much. Everyone has hit these crossroads at some point. I am thankful that all of you are taking the time to share your stories and advice with me. It seems the moral of the story is that each person has their own system and it is finding out what works best for them. I have never used a service like Mint before, so maybe signing up will help me out here. The credit card benefits game becomes tricky when you are managing a lot of them at once. But I like your approach. If the benefits aren’t there, don’t use it at the moment. Still keep the card though so you can turn it on again if the benefits suddenly fall into your favor.

      I am probably the most excited about Method 3. It never dawned on me as a realistic solution until recently. Why am I dealing with the headache of multiple payment dates. I’m thinking of breaking it out into two days. One for “Car and Cards” and the other for “Rent and Utilities.” Bundle them together into a nice package haha

      Please keep me updated with your battles and any potential solutions you have. Thanks again for taking the time to comment and share your experiences.

      Bert

  2. I use Capital One Investing for my non 401k, IRA investments. As you identified, I like how it’s tied to my savings account with Capital One. If I see a deal, I can instantly transfer money over.

    • I love my Capital One account. They have created quite the product in the online banking industry. Big fan of the free automatic transfer of capital in the event of a trade. That has bailed me out many times and allowed me to capture some great flash sales in the market.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Bert

  3. Sounds familiar! Since coming back to the Netherlands. We have consolidated all our accounts with just two banks (one in the Netherlands, one in Canada for the RRSP’s), and one for ETF’s. We ditch (or better did not get new) credit cards. So all is paid with debit or direct deposits. And we have all billing done automatically or we have shifted payments to coincide with paychecks to make it all more manageable.
    Life is so much easier this way. Hope you get some piece of mind yourself.

    • Team CF,

      How are you liking the simplicity of it all? I’m not bold enough to ditch credit cards all together because I love the rewards, but I would love to only have two banks and a few additional accounts. Isn’t it funny how we all have seemed to hit this problem at one time? Thanks for sharing your experience here with me!

      Bert

      • We love the simplicity! The simpler your life, the more piece of mind you have, and it is great!
        Ditching the credit card was easy though, they are not very common over here anyways. Plus, reward programs virtually don’t exist. Debit is really the way to go.
        Good luck Bert.

  4. Hey Bert, I think closing all those accounts is a good idea. There’s no need to have so many. We like to keep things really simple. Nearly every type of account we have is linked with one bank (transaction account, a savings account, investment account, brokerage services) and we have one savings bank account with another provider that gives a better interest rate %. That’s it 🙂

    I think doing all the changes would definitely make your mind clearer, financial feng shui.

    Tristan

    • Tristan,

      I appreciate your advice. My finances definitely needed a good scrubbing. I’m glad to hear that others take the KISS method to banking and credit cards and have dealt wit hthe same issues in the past. There is a hidden value in piece of mind that far outweighs the meager rewards points you get from some places.

      Bert

  5. Hey Bert,
    good job on simplifying your personal finance! My wife and I have 1 joint account and 1 joint credit card. All our expenses go through this credit card and it is paid in full at the end of the month. Therefore, I only have to login into my account once a month to make sure everything balances it out. This gives us some free time 🙂
    Cheers,
    Mike.

    • Mike!

      Thanks, but I haven’t quite done that yet. However, I have laid out the plan and it seems to be gaining traction here. I’m loving the simplicity of it all. You log in once, iron everything out, and move on with your life. Sounds amazing right about now, very jealous.

      If we don’t talk to you beforehand, have fun on your trip!

      Bert

      • Thx Bert!
        we will surely chat again, I’m leaving on June 11th 🙂
        I’ll pass not too far of you guys I think, email me your location if you are in for a coffee or a beer 😉

  6. Bert,
    Good idea on using Cap One 360. We downsized from separate accounts to do our joint banking there, and it has made our lives easier plus given us some extra interest. I also use Capital One Investing, and had since before that account – so life is easier yet. Good choice.
    With your credit cards you should look into what gets you the most reward that you want. My wife likes cash back, I prefer points for flying. Our vacation this summer is booked mostly via points (for flights and hotels) – in fact flights to and from Europe for us both cost $360 total – just to cover fees and taxes. If you like traveling, I recommend using the Chase Freedom / Sapphire Preferred combo. Using the sign up bonuses plus other bonuses you can move 1 point from Sapphire to a frequent flyer program (1 to 1 for United and Southwest). That stuff racks up fast. Before you know it you will be jet setting (a little bit) for a truly fair price. Also a great way to get a cheaper honeymoon.
    – Gremlin

    • Gremlin,

      I love the Capital One banking product. I’m very excited with the opportunity to change to one physical bank plus capital one. I was shocked how easy it was and how little I missed having a physical branch. It is sad because the jobs are lost, but the mobile banking has become very convenient for the end user.

      Good advice with the rewards. I think we are similar to you and want one cash back card and one travel focused one. It is really nice when you can travel and have the costs covered, especially with how expensive the flights can get. I’ve never thought about the sign up bonus arbitrage though, I’ll have to look into it more haha

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience my friend!

      Bert

  7. I need to consolidate but my bank accounts. Before interest rates took a nosedive, I opened several high-yield bank accounts & chased the highest interest rate. I was a 20-something college student with nothing but free time. Since 2009, I’ve kept a few pennies in the accounts as a challenge to see if the bank would close. So far none of them have.

    • Josh,

      Have they tried to hit you with minimum balances or fees to close out your account? I’m shocked the banks haven’t done anything to squeeze more cash out of you or shut down your account. Its funny ho you can absorb the complexity of finances with a lot of free time. In college, you have plenty of time at your finger tips. Once you start working, that time vanishes into thin air.

      Thank you so much for stopping by!

      Bert

  8. We just changed all our credit card due dates as well. Oddly enough not every day was available with each card. Apparently the dates “fill up”. So we settled for a 5 day window. The 5th-10th. That way we can pay them in full and it’s close enough that we don’t have to repay later in the month (happened a few times before).

    Having too many things to keep track of stresses me out too.

    • That’s very interesting. I guess it makes sense that the CC company wants to spread their payment dates out evenly throughout a month to try and produce a consistent cash flow. Imagine if the company was waiting for all payments on the final day of the month. Have you found having a five day window to be beneficial and reduce your stress levels?

      Thank you so much for stopping by!

      Bert

  9. Making things simpler is always a good idea. Does simple means less accounts? Not sure. Automation might help a lot.

    I just did a review of our accounts – and I am working on post. We actually have far to much. Only a few a fully used and most transfers are automated. For us, it helps in the budgeting part.

    My wife and I each have a personal fun account. It is great that it is separate… No need to think when spending. We also have some dedicated savings accounts, That makes it easier to save for some specific items. The money has its own account.

    • Valid point. Before closing accounts, I should look to see if there are other ways to simplify things.

      I’m looking forward to seeing your blog post when it comes out. Would you mind sending a Tweet or comment over with the link once you publish it. Would love to see what you did, if you found it effective, and if I could copy any of your strategies!

      My fiance and I are working on figuring out the bank account situation once we get married. Our plan sounds very similar to yours as a matter of fact.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Bert

  10. I simplify my bills a little different than what you are suggesting with #3. I have my utility bills ( electric/gas/internet/tv/cell phone) all charge my credit card. This accomplishes two things for me: only one bill to pay each month and I also receive cash back from my credit card company. I’ve had only one problem with a utility bill being wrong and they credited my credit card once I called.

    I did investigate also having my mortgage payment made automatically on my credit card too. Unfortunately the mortgage company charged a fee that was higher than what my cash back would have been from my credit card so I did not end up doing it. If they hadn’t charged a fee I would have done it for sure.

    What do you think?

    • BG$$,

      Thank you very much for the suggestion. #3 isn’t a firm solution, but it was an intriguing one that I thought could be beneficial. I like the suggestion, it is a middle ground between changing due dates and automating your account. Another benefit from your strategy is that I would be able to earn some nice credit card rewards in the process. I have looked into credit card payments for mortgages or car payments; however, as you found, they smacked my inquiry down. That is one step over the line haha

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Bert

  11. #3 is interesting to me. All my bills are autopay, though I reconcile at month-end for bills due following month. I hardly ever pay early as that’s a free float to earn interest versus letting those folks earn it instead!

    • Right, you don’t want to hand over your money before you need to. You don’t get interest on that amount sadly. Autopay is a nice blend between changing due dates and spending as little time on your basic bills as possible. We will see what i am able to muster up!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Bert

  12. Hi Bert,
    Having bank / credit accounts open for a long time improves your credit score. So if you’re considering to apply for a mortgage in the mid/short-term you might want to review any impacts of closing those accounts early since it’ll reduce your credit score which could lead to a higher interest rate or insurance premiums. If there’s no minimum fee charges / low-activity penalties it can be worthwhile just keeping the account open. Some sites such as CreditKarma allow you to estimate the impact of opening/closing accounts.

    Websites like Mint can automatically pull in transactions from multiple accounts allowing you to review all transactions from one spot. I personally use Quicken for that Personal Capital, Mint and many other services are available.

    One other reward points tip if you have a utility bill that charges a flat fee (e.g. $4) for payments is to pay one-year’s amount e.g. $2000. You’d earn (say) $20 in cash back vs a $4 fee for a return of $16. This doesn’t work if it’s a percentage-based fee though.

    Best wishes,
    -DL

    • DL,

      Thanks for reminder about the credit score. I can’t sacrifice my long term health in a knee jerk reaction to this. Any move that I will make will be well calculated and the trade-offs with credit score will be well vetted. What has prevented me from using Mint or another website is the fact that I use a personal credit card for work expenses and am re-imbursed. Having those extra transactions muddles up your Mint profile and it doesn’t accurately reflect your true spending habits. I know I can fix it, but it is a timely process. Well, at least it was timely when I used to do it. Maybe it is time for me to give it another whirl.

      Thanks for the advice and stopping by!

      Bert

  13. Keeping things simple makes it so much easier to not have an Oops moment. I like the freedom to determine my payment dates. I have three cards currently, but only use the rewards card. The other two will cover an Uber in another city and keep my credit utilization low while keeping my credit history long. Worth it to me.

  14. Great read and very valuable information!

    Method #3 – Changing Payment Due Dates.

    This one is Key. I have every bill come out on the same Friday every month. It’s a great way to keep it simple and not run into any surprises.

  15. I was playing the points game with credit cards but my wife didn’t like the complexity of having to know what card to use at which store during which month…. I had over 100K in my IRA so I switched my bank account to Bank of America and my brokerage to Merrill Lynch. Picked up $200 for the checking and $600 for the IRA account. We switched to the Bank of America credit cards (Travel Rewards and Cash Rewards) and now we mainly use the Travel Rewards card and get 2.625% in travel redemption for every purchase (Except when we use the Cash Rewards card for groceries which gives us 5.25% cash back). Another bonus: there are no fees on up to 100 trades a month with Merrill Edge. My wife likes the simplicity of just using the two cards.
    Love the blog! Keep up the good work!

    • Wow, way to throw your weight around with your capital and take advantage of some nice sign on bonuses with BOA. Imagine the equivalent in points you just earned and how long it would have taken you to earn $800 in points equivalent. We have four cards right now, and I keep a sticky note on my phone reminding me which card gets me which bonus. Honestly, I appreciate your wifes point of you about the simplicity and it would be nice not to have to think about that on a quarterly basis.

      Thanks James – looking forward to more comments from you!

      Bert

  16. Great ways to simplify. It’s always nice to have more time to pursue things you want versus taking time to do automated tasks without the automation lol! Could you elaborate on some of the investing benefits of capital one 360?

    • lol I need to continue automating things more. It is SO nice not having to worry about some day to day items because of automatic features. Here is the skinny on Capital One and why I like it. For investing, all on demand trades are $6.95/trade, so pretty darn cheap. Then, if you set a trade on Monday by 5 PM for a company for a set dollar amount, you will purchase a flat dollar amount (even fractional shares in the company) between 11 AM EST and 12 PM EST the next day. These trades cost only $3.95/trade…even cheaper. If you have a Capital One 360 checking account too, then the funds will automatically transfer from your checking to investment account without having to pay a fee. I like not having to make the transfer and then make the trade a few days later when the funds finally arrive.

      Hopefully this helps!

      Bert

  17. #3. We don’t care when the bills are due. We just pay all the bills on the 1st and we’re done. My time is worth so much more than the piddling amount we would earn if we waited till the last minute to pay. Whatever is left over is ours to spend. Simple. And the lack of stress is priceless. 🙂

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