I’ve been a working woman for ten-plus years. I have a 401(k). And an emergency savings I’m working hard to bulk up. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the financial insight overhaul I experienced when my husband and I sat down and did a deep dive into our bank account with a real deal financial advisor. (FYI, we used the folks over at Stash Wealth.) The goal: To get our sh** together with a concrete strategy that doesn’t require forgoing daily Starbucks runs. Here, what we learned in just two sessions.
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When I pay $80 for the electric bill, my husband uses Venmo to send me $40. I do the same when he pays the cable bill. That’s all well and good, except for the fact that we’re married, and according to our planner, it’s pretty impossible to work as a money team without a merged bank account. Here’s why: Nickel-and-diming each other over “fixed” (aka required) household expenses wears thin—and fast. (Seriously, just ask my husband when I remind him that he owes me $7 for his half of last night’s cab.) We both make decent salaries and thought we were keeping things fair by keeping things even. But it’s a lot less work (and easier to track our budget for the month) with a joint account for set expenses like rent, groceries, utilities, date night, etc.
My current savings strategy: I have my own savings account with my own money I’ve set aside for years. My husband also has one. And then we have a separate joint savings for cash we received at our wedding last year. And clearly all three accounts are at different banks. Our advisor’s wisdom: Merge the savings accounts to start chipping away at our emergency savings goal. (According to Stash, we need to have three months’ worth of fixed expenses—aka expenses we can’t ignore if one of us were to lose our job—set aside.) After that, it’s all about opening separate joint savings accounts targeted at certain objectives. So maybe one for our Paris trip next year. And one for the car we’re hoping to buy. By nicknaming separate savings accounts that we both contribute to jointly, it keeps our eyes on the prize. (FYI, we went with Capital One’s 360 Savings, which lets you set up as many as 25 separate savings accounts at no extra cost.)
To repeat, we currently have three separate savings accounts at three different banks. And while it makes sense to keep our checking account at Chase, we can actually get a higher APY by moving our savings to a high interest online account. For example: Ally Bank has an APY of 1.15 percent.
Credit card debt is the bane of my existence. The bottom line from my planner: I need a strategy that focuses on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first. A quick examination of the variety of cards in my wallet helped me prioritize. The first debt I needed to whittle down? My J.Crew credit card…with a 21.99 percent APR. Ouch. Next up is the card with the 5 percent APR (a reasonable interest rate, actually). And finally, the card with the 0 percent APR. By tiering my debt obligations from highest to lowest, I can come out ahead dollar-wise. (Note: My financial planner reminded me that even though I’m to concentrate my cash on the card with the highest APR, I still had to make the minimum payments on the other cards, too.)
It goes against my way of thinking, but my debit card should really never be my go-to. According to the planner, the easiest way to keep track of daily purchases is to pay for everything on a credit card and pay it off all in one shot. Here’s why: Using a credit card—one with a zero balance—makes it easier to track our monthly spending and collect credit card points we can convert into savings goals. To stay on top of our spending, we simply have to keep our credit card spending within our monthly budget, then pay it off in full at the end of every month.
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This was a shocker: My financial planner told us we were actually over-contributing to our 401(k) plans. See, apparently in your 20s and 30s, it can be a common worry that you’re not saving enough. (Definitely a top fear on my list.) But there are other factors to consider first, like how old we are, our actual retirement goals and anything we might need to save for in the nearer future—say, a house. After maxing out our company’s 401(k) matches (which we of course need to do), our planner found we were actually ahead of schedule to retire at age 65 in style. Alternately, we had practically nothing saved away for owning a home—a better use of our savings at the moment.
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