Exactly Why (and How!) You Should Track Your Spending

DesiraeLessons Learned, Spending, Strategies, Tools20 Comments

Exactly why you need to track your spending - and how to do it, with a free spreadsheet.

If you’re like ugh, not another lecture about why you need to track your spending, bear with me: it’s actually way easier than most other things you can do to be “good with money.”

That’s because the first step to getting where you want to go with your money is knowing yourself, which includes everything from knowing when you spend money, to understanding why you spend money, to knowing how much you actually spend.

I don’t think anyone would really argue that those things are hella important if you want to make sure your money is helping you live the life you want (and if you do want to argue it, I’m @half_banked on Twitter, come at me).

But getting to know those things about yourself – what you spend, how much you spend and why you spend – isn’t exactly something you can do in an hour or a day (sorry friends).

On the other hand, it’s definitely not rocket science, and I know from personal experience it’s not as hard as you think it’s going to be.

And the real secret sauce to doing all of these awesome things for your money? You guessed it.

Tracking your spending.

I’ve been tracking my spending for just over 18 months now, and it’s freaking magical. And if you’re sitting there thinking that it’s going to be this massive change with your money, and you’re going to have to cut way back on everything? I see you, because I used to feel the exact same way – and I was dead wrong.

The best part of tracking your spending is that you can take it as far or as not-far as you want.

If you aren’t ready to majorly overhaul your spending and your money? Tracking is the perfect first step, because all you have to do is record where your money is going.

It’s like the money equivalent of counting calories, but still eating the Ben and Jerry’s.

Come on, we all do that.

If you want to take it a step further, and make some changes to your money while you’re tracking, have at it!

But it’s entirely optional, and I’d say that’s the bonus round of tracking. Save that for month two. (Or hey, week two. No one said you have to commit for a whole month!)

So how do I track my spending?

Here’s exactly how I’ve tracked my spending over the past 18 months – and the tool I’d suggest if you’re looking to start tracking yours.

Phase One: The Basics

When I first started tracking my spending, my spreadsheet was the basic bitch of spreadsheets. It literally had three columns: what I spent, what I saved, and what I earned. And you know what? That totally worked for me.

All I wanted to get out of that spreadsheet was a detailed look at where my money was going, and a total for my spending and my saving – so I could keep track of whether or not I was saving half of my income.

Phase Two: A Sort-Of Budget

Now, I never ever thought I’d keep tracking my spending after the first few months, but when January rolled around last year, I realized I had the secret sauce to making a Real Life Budget: I knew exactly how much I spent on different things every month.

Even though I never really stuck to a category-based budget before, I decided to set one up, but to base it on how much I actually spent on different things every month (like how much I spent on my dog every month).

I took a look back at my months of actual, real-life spending and savings, and used those numbers to build a rough plan for how I was going to spend my money going forward.

It was a good way for me to keep tabs on when I was spending drastically more on one type of thing, and know that I had to pull back on other areas.

Ugh, fine, OK, it was a budget, I hear it too. I’m in budget denial. But this isn’t about budgets! (Not really, anyways.)

Phase Three: Getting (A Little Bit) Automated

That spreadsheet, which was a glorified version of my first tracking spreadsheet with a few “budgeting” numbers thrown in, lasted me for a full year, and I used it from January 2016 until December 2016.

And true confession, I’d still be using it if it weren’t for a fateful email from an awesome internet friend.

She emailed to ask if I had a spreadsheet – or knew of one – that would automatically update totals of spending based on the category she spent money in. I didn’t, but like… I want that.

I want to go to there.

i-want-to-go-to-there

Because seriously, I cannot even tell you how long it took me to painstakingly go through each of my old spreadsheets and pull out the money I had spent on things like my dog, my blog and my car this past year.

No, I actually can’t tell you, because it makes me too sad. It was so many hours. Worth it, sure, but so many hours.

So I learned some Excel, and I made the thing!

Specifically, this thing: the Track Your Spending spreadsheet.

It’s a spreadsheet that combines the flexibility I loved from my basic bitch spreadsheets, where I could literally just list my spending as it happened, with the automatic calculations that would make my life a billion times easier – including keeping track of how I’m doing on the whole not spending a gazillion more dollars than I budgeted on my freaking dog (13/10 love that expensive dogger, would recommend).

You can grab your copy for Excel and Google Sheets right here, but once you get it… how do you use it? Your budget categories are probably different than mine, so you’ll want to customize it a teeny bit.

Here’s How to Use The Spreadsheet

Well, the first step is to put in all of your most important spending categories – and yes, “other” can account for a big part of your spending in the first month until you start to see patterns. It happens to the best of us!

Here's where you can edit the categories in the track your spending spreadsheet.

Once you write in your categories, you’ll find them poppin’ up in the drop-down menus under “Category.” Every time you add in a dollar amount and assign it to a category, wham bam, it gets added to your total for that category.

Here's where you'll find the categories in the track your spending spreadsheet.

Excel is freaking magical you guys I love it so much.

If you want to take it a step further, you can add in a budgeted amount for each category, but can I just say, that is so optional?

My best money learning came from just tracking my spending – not trying to change it, or fit it into categories that I thought I was “supposed” to spend a specific amount on each month.

So if you want to take a hard pass on budgeting, and just see where your money goes – no judgement?

I am on that team, fam.

If you’re in like Flynn, grab your very own copy of the Track Your Spending spreadsheet.

Get your copy of the track your spending spreadsheet.

Have you ever made the effort to track your spending manually before? Did you find anything surprising – or did it impact your money management? Let me know in the comments!

PS. Want to watch me break down my full list of fave money tools? I do exactly that in my latest video, which you should totally watch.

The Best Investment You Can Make in 2017

DesiraeInvesting, Lessons Learned, Saving, Spending11 Comments

The best investment you can make in 2017 is in yourself

Let’s just get one thing straight: I am so not an active investor. That said, I still have a pretty strong opinion about the single best investment you can make in 2017, and luckily enough, you can be just as passive an investor as I am to do it.

And no, this is not another post about my love affair with robo-advisors.

Instead, I want to tell you about an investment I made last year that earned me a 314.52% return.

It was something I was excited about, and something I knew a fair bit about before I dove in. It took time and knowledge, as most active investing opportunities do (or so I hear anyways) but it paid off, big time.

It was me.

The best investment you can make in 2017 is in yourself

“Investing in myself” sounds like I just bought myself a bunch of massages because I deserve it (I do, my shoulders are terrible) but by “investing in myself,” I’m referring to the money I spent on growing my skills, growing my business and learning how to manage my money.

When I look at money spent on those categories – which I can track down to the penny thanks to my pesky tracking-my-spending habit – and compare it to the extra money I’ve earned, those “investments” have ended up making me an additional $3 for every $1 I spent on them.

Pretty nifty, right?

And you don’t have to have anything close to an official “business” to have all of this apply directly to you, either. If you’re sitting there like “I don’t blog, or dog walk, or side hustle at all,” don’t worry: Investing in yourself is still one of the best ways you can spend your time and money.

Here’s why, and how to do it.

Investing in skills that make you money

When I took a look at the amount I had spent on Half Banked way back in September (light years ago, really) I made sure to note that I didn’t view that money as just about the blog. Sure, I love working on Half Banked, and it’s my favourite hobby, but it’s also a way for me to get hands-on experience with parts of marketing I rarely get to implement in my day job.

So when I spend money on the blog – like for my email marketing software, or graphics that I’ll edit in Photoshop – I know it’s helping me learn skills that are directly applicable to my main source of income.

Being better at your job is never a bad investment, and in my experience, it always pays off in the end.

If you want to invest in growing your skills this year, think about the following questions.

  • How can you get hands-on experience?
  • Which skills are in-demand in your industry?
  • Are there reputable training courses out there you could invest in?
  • How will these skills help you in the future?

Investing in your ability to make money

This might sound like the exact same thing as skills, but trust me, it’s not.

When I think about this category, it’s why I made decisions – and spent money – on the things that would help Half Banked grow, not just be a practice ground for my marketing tactics. See, without this blog and its growth, I’d never have found opportunities to freelance, and share some of my personal favourite financial tools with you guys.

This biz has turned into an additional way to make money, outside of my day job. Even if the skills involved were totally irrelevant to my work, that alone would have been worth investing in, because everything people say about multiple streams of income is hella true.

Having multiple streams of income is a great way to hit your goals faster.
It is a great way to diversify, so that you’re not as reliant on one specific source of money.
It is the perfect way to feel more secure while you’re building up your emergency fund.

So if there’s an idea you’ve had kicking around in your head, about how you could earn some extra cash this year by monetizing the skills you already have? That’s worth investing in, whether the investment is dog treats for your new dog-walking biz, or a website for your niche freelance writing services.

And yes, it’s even worth investing in if your biz idea doesn’t work out. You’ve learned something from it, and you’ll be more prepared to evaluate the next opportunity you see. (Just ask me about the time I thought I was going to run an Etsy store. Ahahahahahaha omg no.)

Investing in your ability to manage money

Last but certainly not least, investing in your ability to manage money is always going to pay off – even if it just means spending time reading financial blogs. Because yes, investing time is a real investment. (Ask me how much time I spend on this blog. Seriously, ask. It’s so much time.)

One of the biggest debates in the “personal finance world” is whether earning more or spending less really matters more. You’ve got some people who fall on extreme ends of the spectrum, who advocate spending almost nothing, or who rely on earning mountains of money, but most of us normals will fall somewhere in the middle.

Personally, I think they’re both important, and the best way to master your money is to focus on doing both at the same time. Think about it: if you spend a bit less, and earn a bit more, it’s a double whammy for your money (and you’ll be able to afford that dream trip, or that dog, or that fully-funded emergency fund way faster).

That said, both of them are easier said than done, and since the first two ways we talked about investing in yourself focused on the earning more side, I have to give a shout out to the “learning how to spend less” side of things.

If you’re just getting started with the whole managing-money thing, my best advice is to pick one small step, and do that – and no, I don’t mean giving up lattes. (I never mean give up lattes, let’s be serious.) That’s the advanced level, and honestly, if you like lattes? You’ll find money in your budget to accommodate them. I certainly have.

Instead, pick one thing that will give you a quick win without being overwhelming.

Follow it up with another small thing next month.

Building from those wins will have you feeling like A Person Who Manages Their Money Like a Boss in no time, and then you can tackle the big stuff, like saving a hefty emergency fund or totally overhauling your spending patterns.

For some ultra-quick wins you might want to tackle this week, why not…

The most important thing is to keep going.

Eventually, those small things will add up to big wins.

Example: I switched to an online bank almost two years ago, and it was my first foray into taking an active interest in my money. I’ve saved over $200 in fees since then, and earned over $100 in interest – just from my regular online bank, not my high-interest savings account.

Plus, when I started seeing the returns on my other investments in myself, I knew exactly how to handle them, where the money was going, and which goals to put that extra cash towards.

Managing your money is the foundation for making sure your investments in yourself actually help you get where you want to go – instead of just ending up with a bunch of stuff you don’t care about.

How are you planning to invest in yourself in 2017? I want to hear about it!

Manage Your Money Like a Pro – Even If You’re “Not” One

DesiraeBudgets, Goals, Lessons Learned, Saving, Spending3 Comments

Manage your money like a pro - here's how to start.

Managing your money can sound like this Big, Scary Thing – I get that. There’s acronyms, and experts, and a whole complex industry around it. Sometimes, things do need to get that complicated, but if you’re just getting started – or even if you started managing your money a few years ago – trust me when I say things do not need to be that hard, and you can totally do this.

Here’s how I know.

At its core, money is just money.

It’s just a tool that you can use to live the life you want, and no one knows better than you what kind of life that is. Trust me, you’re the expert on Things You Want.

Do you want to retire a multimillionaire on a beach? Or are you more Team Tiny House in The Woods? Both of those things will cost at least some money, so you’ll need to get a handle on the dollars to make either one a reality.

And since you’re already the expert on what those are, you’re uniquely qualified to figure out the money side of it. Here’s the first four steps to turn your PhD in You into a rockin’ personalized plan to manage your money.

PS. Want to grab a handy checklist of all eight steps in this process, plus a worksheet to price out your goals? Grab it here! I got you, friend.

Step 1. Figure out what you want.

This sounds easy enough, but can I just say, sometimes it isn’t? The amount of times I’ve mistakenly spent money on experiences and things that I thought were part of my ~best life~ and ended up hating them (or just not loving them) is way too high.

I’m talking about everything from multiple outdoor music festivals (I hate crowds and I lobster right up in the sun) to living abroad. Luckily, I only made that last mistake once, because it was not cheap, yo.

But the spending that I’ve done on things and experiences that I actively didn’t enjoy, or don’t remember enough to make it worth buying again, has helped me clarify what I do want. If you look back on your past spending and think about it in terms of…

  1. what you still remember, and enjoyed
  2. what made you happiest, and
  3. what you would 100% spend money on again,

…you’ll be in a much better place to identify what you do want more of in your life.

When I looked back with that view of my spending, I finally accepted that I am boring as heck, and I love nothing more than a comfortable couch for snuggling my dog in close proximity to family. That’s why these days, I allocate a big percentage of my monthly money to my dog, and my house downpayment savings – and almost none to music festivals or extensive travel.

Step 2. Set SMART goals to achieve those things.

This one time, I was all “money goals aren’t real!” While I 100% stand by that, I’m also very much on Team You Need to Set Goals, and Team SMART Goals Are The Best Goals.

Yes, your ultimate goal should be something that means the world to you, and that will make you happy to have achieved it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use SMART goals to outline a plan of how you’re going to get there.

As a refresher course, SMART goals stands for goals that are…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Let’s say your ultimate goal is to spend two weeks travelling, and you know you’ll need to save up some money to make it happen. Instead of setting a goal to “save more money,” a SMART goal would look like “I save $2000 in my travel fund by August 1st, 2017.”

And to bring it back one last time to my stance on “money goals,” that SMART goal – to me, at least – is more of a detailed plan for your money than a goal-goal. The real goal in that case? Your two-week travel adventure.

Money is just how you make it happen.

Step 3. Estimate how much your goals will cost – or save! – you.

To amp up your SMART goals, it’s important to understand how much each of them is going to cost you, and which ones might actually save you money.

For example, if your goal is to buy a house, you should take a look at calculators that will help you figure out how much you need to save based on the purchase price. You’ll need to factor in things like closing costs on top of your target down payment, and the number you come up with might end up impacting your timeline (or how much money you can spend on your other goals).

On the other hand, if your goal is to eat healthier, that might include things like cutting down on alcohol and restaurant meals, or bringing your lunch to work every day. If those things are a big departure from your current status quo, you might end up saving a not-insignificant amount of money as a by-product of your goals.

Since most of us have multiple goals, spanning everything from our health, to our career, to our personal lives, it’s important to look at your goals as a whole when you’re pricing them out. If you want to save for a house AND add a personal trainer into your budget AND travel extensively, make sure all of those things play nicely together.

Which brings us to the “hardcore” money part of it. 

Step 4. Figure out how your goals fit into your budget.

As of right now, you’ve only got so much monthly money to spend and save. That might change during the year, based on your career goals or your plans to start earning money on the side, but let’s assume that for the next month or two, you’re working with a roughly consistent dollar amount.

Now that you know what each of your goals is going to cost you and save you, it’s time to work those into a monthly plan for your money – ahem, also referred to as a budget.

It’s not as hard as it sounds, though, and you can take it step-by-step.

Take a look at the costs of each goal you set, and then consider the dates you wanted to achieve those goals by. Divide the total amount of your goal by the number of months you’ve given yourself to achieve them, and take a look at how that number feels for you. Does it seem like a reasonable amount to save each month?

If it doesn’t, and you’re looking at that amount like “Damn, there is no way I’ll find that much money to save every month,” don’t panic. Start with a smaller amount, and figure out how you can work up to your ideal goal-driven savings number – or adjust how long you’re going to give yourself to come up with the money.

And if your goals are going to save you money? Well, figure out how you’re going to use those savings. They might go a long way towards topping up your emergency fund or your travel savings.

But.. what do I do next?

Ok, yes, it’s not quite as simple as setting your goals once, planning out how they’ll impact your budget, and then running off into the sunset with your money. But I think that at this point, we can both agree it’s not rocket science, either. I know, because these were the first four planning steps I took when I got serious about my money.

The next four steps were things like figuring out how to handle not hitting my goals, and tracking my spending, and all the adjusting that comes with living in The Real World. I put those next four steps – the ones that help you implement your plans in real life – and a worksheet to help scope out your goals in the eight-step Bankroll Your Goals checklist, which you can grab right here.

Get the Bankroll Your Goals Checklist Now

It’s everything you need to use your money to achieve your goals this year, minus the time you’ll spend setting your goals, and the steps you’ll take every day to make sure those two things – your money and your goals – are working together.

So grab the worksheet, grab a coffee, and DIY your own, personalized plan to manage your money this year.

You’ve so got this.

There’s No Such Thing as “Money Goals”

DesiraeGoals, Lessons Learned, Saving21 Comments

Money goals don't exist - which is the real reason you never seem to hit them.

I have a confession to make about my money goals, and in a way, about this blog.

I’ve been blogging for almost 18 months about something that doesn’t even exist.

See, for the longest time, I thought that “money goals” were a thing, which is why I wrote so much about my goal to save half my income.

But here’s what I’ve very recently realized: it was never about saving 50% of my money.

*shock! awe!* 

I realized this because in the past few months – as you’ll know if you’re on my email list– I’ve been very consistently saving over half my income since September.

I even pushed past what I thought was my goal, and topped a 60% savings rate one month this fall. That’s still ludicrous to me, especially since it took me so long to hit my 50% number for the first time.

But when I started hitting my goal consistently, the weirdest thing happened. 

Instead of feeling super accomplished, and like I could check a big, huge win off my list of goals, I felt… well, not much.

It was kind of like OK, that keeps happening, cool.

I guess I’ll just keep living my life.

So I dug into that experience. Why wasn’t I more excited about finally hitting this goal, especially after building an entire blog and “financial plan” around it?

Well, it turns out money goals don’t exist

The reason I didn’t feel excited about finally – finally – hitting my savings goal was that it was never my real goal.

That whole “save half my income goal” I thought I had? Yeah, it wasn’t real.

Whoops!

My real goals were actually…

  • Be a responsible dog owner, and have the ability to cover any emergency care The Dog might need.
  • Contribute half of a down payment on a house, and be able to put down 10%, with my partner by the spring of 2017.
  • Make sure that I’m covered if anything happened that meant I wasn’t earning income for a while.
  • Have the flexibility and means to do things like travel for family weddings and donate to my favourite dog rescue when they need extra support.
  • Buy a king sized bed, because I’m a luxurious monster. (Hey, the other ones were so responsible, ok? Let me have this.)

Those goals were the “why” behind my admittedly aggressive savings rate. The savings itself was just the “how” – which is why it never seemed all that exciting to hit that 50% number.

You know what was exciting, and hugely rewarding?

Achieving my real goals

Finally having a fully-funded emergency fund for The Dog, so that if he does something goofy that results in an unexpected trip to the vet, I know I can afford to have him treated without having to tap into my other savings accounts.

Being able to take a 10-day vacation to the Rocky Mountains to celebrate a family wedding, without worrying about the cost.

Sending extra money to a local dog rescue a few different times this year when I knew they had taken in a lot of dogs who were running out of time.

Achieving my real goals was always an awesome experience.

But saving half my income?

Enh. It’s just the “how”.

Don’t get me wrong, the “how” matters a lot

Now, this is in no way me throwing in the towel on writing about money, because literally none of those aforementioned amazing experiences would ever, ever have been possible without money.

Sure, saving half of my income wasn’t my real goal, but it is the real reason I was able to do all those things I wanted to do.

It’s also why I’m on track to do the rest of them, so don’t worry: I’m still on the save-half-my-income train. I’m just much more clear on what it is, and what it isn’t. It’s a great tactic to reach my goals – like, hella great – but it’s not the end goal.

And as much as I’m not the queen of frugality, and as staunchly as I’ll defend spending money on fun, it does take a certain amount of know-how and prioritization to save half your income.

There’s a whole lot of “how” that goes into making your goals a reality. Money is just one part of that – albeit an important part.

But your “how” will never be your “why”

The money stuff – the strategy, the tracking your spending, the investing, the budgets, whatever – is never going to be what you actually value.

And figuring out what you value? What your “why” is? That’s the tough part.

It takes time, and trying things, and making wrong choices, and course-correcting like a boss, even when you thought you had already learned that lesson, dammit.

Once you know what you really want, that’s your goal.

The money stuff is all just “how”.

And while it’s important, and a key part of the puzzle, it’ll never be your “why”. And since it’ll never be your “why”, it’ll never be enough on its own.

That’s why it’s so notoriously tough to set a goal to “save more money” and just… never achieve it.

It’s not your fault!

It’s just that “save more money” isn’t a goal.

Even “saving 50% of your income” isn’t a goal (my bad!). That’s why, on its own, it’ll never work. It’ll never be enough to make you prioritize saving over all of the other things you (rightfully) want to do with your money.

Saving 50% of your income to build a stable life in the neighbourhood you want, even if your dog breaks his leg? That’s a reason to choose to make more coffee at home (but still buy lattes because you’re kind of obsessed with them).

So as we head into the new year, can we just agree to strike “save more money” and “spend less money” and all variations thereof off of our list of resolutions?

They’re not real goals.

And because they’re not tied to the things you really value, they’ll end up left in the pile of resolutions you didn’t complete this year.

Putting them in that pile would be a huge shame, too, because as much as they aren’t goals in and of themselves, they’re still hella important things to do in order to achieve the things you want.

Money just isn’t a goal by itself.

Because there’s no such thing as a “money goal”.

PS. This is the last Half Banked post for 2016, as I take the next two weeks to plan for next year and drink copious amounts of eggnog. I’ll be sending one last weekly newsletter out on Saturday morning to my email list, which you can join right here. Otherwise, I’ll see you in 2017, friends!

Use money to achieve the goals that matter to you - here's how.

How To Build a Holiday Budget That Actually Works

DesiraeBudgets, Gifts, Spending, Strategies, Tools6 Comments

How to build a holiday budget that works, without giving up lattes to do it.

Building a holiday budget sounds like the opposite of a merry good time, but it’s not as bad – or nearly as hard to do – as it sounds.

This past weekend, I realized that I hadn’t even started my Christmas shopping yet, and hadn’t gotten into the real swing of the holiday season yet (minus my tiny tree that took about two minutes to set up).

Before I dove into it (aka fired up Amazon.ca on my laptop) I sat down and wrote out a gift list – and the approximate amount I wanted to spend on each person on my list.

That turned into a list of the parties I’ve already committed to attending, and what I thought I might end up spending on each of them.

And in true personal finance nerd style, that turned into a detailed spreadsheet to tally up everything I plan on spending this holiday season. AKA, a holiday budget.

Want in? Grab your copy of the Holiday Budget Calculator here.

So if you, like me, are still trying to get your head around the fact that oh god, it’s already December, and you need to figure out how you’re going to swing this month financially? I have got you covered, fam.

3 Steps to a Holiday Budget That Actually Works

Literally none of this advice is related to cutting out lattes, or giving up the parts of your holiday season that you love the most in the name of saving a few bucks. No, instead, it’s a series of steps that will help you figure out what spending you should be doing, and how to get a realistic picture of your holiday spending in real life.

And oh hey, there’s a video!

If video isn’t your jam, here are those three steps I mentioned.

Step One: Prioritize Your Holiday Spending

If there are things that you absolutely love about the holidays, prioritize them! Whether it’s travelling to see family (or travelling to avoid family, no judgement) or buying nice gifts for your loved ones, make sure to account for spending on those things in your plan – AKA your budget.

To help find money to support those priorities, you should also figure out what’s not a priority.

I know no matter how much money I spend, I’ll never be the best dressed person at the office party, or be able to bake like Martha Stewart, so I specifically don’t spend money on new outfits or specialized baking gear during the holidays (even though true confession, I still want to sometimes).

That way, I can afford the $8 eggnog that becomes a weekly indulgence during the holiday season. Don’t judge, it’s divine and worth every penny.

Take some time to really work through what’s most important to you during the holidays, and how much you can afford to spend on those things. Then, because the holidays isn’t actually a solo affair, ask your loved ones – especially immediate family and partners – what makes the holidays great for them.

This can lead to some awesome conversations, and might end up saving you all money if you agree that certain things really aren’t a priority this year.

Step Two: Plan Your Holiday Spending

This is the step that looks most like “traditional budgeting”. It’s where you look at all the different categories of things you think you’ll spend money on this holiday season, from parties to gifts, and you add them all up to figure out how much the season will really run you.

While it’s easy enough to make a list of all the gifts you need to buy, it’s just as easy to forget the little – and not-so-little – costs that add up over the season.

That’s why I made the Holiday Budget Calculator. It has areas to fill in and estimate how much you think you’ll spend on all of your holiday-related costs, and it tallies up what all of your planned spending will look like. It walks you through everything from what you’re going to spend on an Uber home from the office holiday party, to how much you’re going to spend hosting friends – and if you know what your priorities are, you’ll be able to quickly see if your planned spending lines up with them or not.

It’s how I’m planning my holiday spending, and how I realized that oh shit, the holidays really are going to cost more than I thought they would. And that’s without any travel, since my family is mostly local.

Step Three: Track Your Holiday Spending

I know, I know, I’m a broken record about the whole tracking your spending thing, but it really is one of the most powerful things you can do for your money. 

That’s why, instead of just using that calculator to make a plan for my spending, I’m also going to be updating it with what I end up actually spending on planned things and not-so-planned things this holiday season.

By the end of the month, I’ll be able to see how accurate (or, ahem, inaccurate) my plan was, and I’ll have a great idea of how much I need to plan on spending next year. If it’s way more than my monthly income can support? Then I’ll also know I have to figure out some kind of savings plan to make sure I’m covered for next year.

Based on my plan, it shouldn’t be that much, but if there’s one thing tracking my spending has taught me over the past 18 months, it’s that until you actually get into the details, you have no idea what’s really up with your spending. True story.

So if you’re convinced, and you want an easy way to both plan and track your holiday spending this year, grab your copy of the Holiday Budget Calculator now!

Friends, what other advice do you have to make sure the holiday season isn’t a credit-card-debt disaster waiting to happen? Have you already made a plan for your spending – or are you maybe even done your shopping?! Tell me all about it in the comments, yo.

How to Get Your Annual Credit Card Fee Waived

DesiraeSpending, Strategies, Tools18 Comments

How to get your annual credit card fee waived.

Have I ever told you guys I’m horrible at remembering things, like remembering to cancel credit cards before they charge me an annual fee?

Well, I am.

I’m truly terrible at it, and I use every ounce of my planning-and-remembering capabilities while I’m at work, and to make sure I hit every single freelance deadline I agree to.

So when it comes to plain old regular life things, I’m all tapped out.

That’s how I ended up with a $150 annual credit card fee charge on one of my credit cards – a card that I’ve been meaning to cancel since September to avoid this exact situation.

Sigh.

Luckily, it’s not that hard to get your annual credit card fee waived in a lot of cases, and the process is pretty simple. Yes, even if you’ve already had the fee posted to your account (like I did).

Here are the three steps you can – and should! – take to get your annual credit card fee waived.

Step 1. Call a Real Human, and Ask Them to Waive Your Annual Fee

Yes, I know, we’re millennials and we hate talking on the phone, blah blah blah.

But for a potential savings of $150 – or more? It’s worth picking up the phone.

Most companies will only be able to help you out with a request like this via a human customer support rep, so find their support number and give them a call. (Trust me, I checked, I can’t even cancel any of my cards online.) While you’re on the phone, remember that you want this human on your side, so be nice! If they can help, they will.

When you get someone on the phone, greet them, and then let them know you’re calling about the annual fee on your card. If it’s the first year you’ve had the card, start with…

“I was hoping to have the annual fee waived, since I’m a new customer.”

If you’ve had it for a while, try this instead…

“I was hoping to have the annual fee waived.”

I know, simple, right?

It’s just an opening line, but what you’re really looking for is to see how the person on the phone reacts. They’ve been trained – or are following a script – on how to react to this exact thing, and you’re more interested in what they have to say after you bring up what you want.

They might say they can’t do anything for you, or they might offer you something else instead. Here are ways to react to both of those things.

Step 2. Be Ready to Cancel Your Card If They Won’t Waive the Fee

Listen, true fact about credit card companies: it costs more for them to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one. So if you’re feeling bashful about asking for them to waive your fee, stop it. You’re worth that and more to them, so make sure you know that!

If the answer you get when you ask them to waive your annual fee is “no,” you can reply with…

“Ok, I understand. In that case, I’d like to cancel my card please.”

Again, nicely!

But to have the best chance of getting your annual fee waived, or scoring equivalent benefits, you have to mean it when you say you’d like to close your card.

If you’re calling to get your fee waived on a card you use for absolutely everything, and that you’re not ready to say goodbye to? They might figure it out, and realize you’re not that big of a flight risk.

Plus, if they call your bluff, what are you going to do?

So while saying you’re going to cancel your card is one of the best ways to get your credit card annual fee waived, if you aren’t ready and willing to go through with it (and have at least one other card to fall back on) maybe don’t go there.

Instead, you can try Step 3 instead.

Step 3. Stay Open to Possibilities Beyond The Fee

Getting your fee waived and keeping your premium card at the same time might not be on the table, based on what your rep can do. That said, I guarantee you that they want to keep you as a customer, and keep you (somewhat) happy.

So if you got an “I can’t waive your annual fee” reply, and you don’t want to cancel your card? Try this.

Is there anything else you can offer to retain me as a customer?

Note: you didn’t even have to say you were going to cancel your card. You’re implying it, sure, but not outright saying it.

They might be able to offer you a range of other options, from bonus points in your account (think Air Miles or Aeroplan points) to switching you to a comparable card.

That’s actually what happened to me when I called my credit card company.

They couldn’t refund the fee and keep me on the premium card, so they refunded the fee that had already been posted to my card, and switched me to their new no-fee card.

It has fewer (OK, zero) travel benefits, but I can keep my account open with them and still avoid the $150 annual fee.

That seemed like a pretty fair tradeoff to me.

Have you ever had success getting an annual credit card fee waived? Did they offer you anything different to offset the fee? I want to hear your stories! (And so does everyone else!) Let me know what worked for you – and obviously, what didn’t 😉

Here's - exactly - how to get your annual credit card fee waived.