Are you making your financial institution work for you?
Are you paying too many fees?

Want my advice as an insider of the banking industry?

Great! Here we go!

You probably have an account somewhere. If you don’t, then please finish reading this post and go open an account. It will make budgeting your money so much easier.

Let’s start with traditional banks

What’s the difference between a bank and a credit union? Glad you asked!


-Operate to turn a profit off of their customers. (That’s you)
-Return those profits to their shareholders (That’s the stockholders).
-Have a paid board of directors who guide the leadership.
-All deposits are insured by FDIC up to $250,000.
-Offer checking, savings, online banking, and a plethora of financial products.
-Most deposits are available on the next business day.

Credit Unions:

-Are not-for-profit and owned by their members. (That’s you)
-Return profits to their members in the form of lower rates, dividends, etc.
-Have a 100% volunteer board of directors to guide their leadership.
-All deposits are insured by NCUA up to $250,000.
-Offer checking, savings, online banking, and a plethora of financial products.
-Most deposits are available immediately.

In your financial institution, you will have access to the following: 

  • Savings Accounts: A place to store your cash that you may not be spending anytime soon. They generally earn interest, although very little. Your institution will likely have many, many accounts you can open that function like this-which is a great way to allot your cash towards specific goals (one for rainy day, another for wedding, a third for a new car…you get the idea). Your savings account is accessible anytime the company is open, and by ATM.
  • Checking Accounts: A place to store your cash that you WILL be spending sometime soon. Bills, groceries, gasoline, etc. Most places offer a “No Fee/Free” checking, but everyone offers a checking account that comes with some additional features (free checks, credit monitoring, free money orders) in exchange for a monthly fee. Your checking account is anytime the company is open, by debit card, checks, and by ATM.
  • Money Markets: A variation of a “savings account” that yields higher rates of interest for deposits, typically above $2,500. Accessible in the same ways that a savings account is.
  • Christmas Club: A variation of an interest earning “savings account” that can be used towards holiday shopping. I live by these. As an example, if you deposit $20 per
    week to your account starting in January, you will have over $1,000 by the holidays. Use your own discretion on what amount works best for you.
There are also debit cards (different from credit cards, because they are linked to your actual cash and not a line of credit), online banking, remote check deposit, automatic transfers, courtesy overdraft, direct deposit, and a TON of other features that you should be utilizing.

As a financial industry employee, here’s what I use.

To make this easier to read, I will refer to “automatic transfer” quite a few times. You can set this up within online banking for your account to automatically transfer a certain amount of money, on a certain schedule, to certain places (loans, savings, checking, etc.)
  • Checking Account 1: This is for my bills. Each paycheck, a certain amount is automatically transferred into this account, and my bills are auto-paid out of it. Example: If your monthly bills are $1,000 and you are paid twice a month, you would have $500 each paycheck transferred. This way, your bills are ALWAYS paid.
  • Checking Account 2: This is for my spending. Groceries, gasoline, hair cuts, shopping, etc. When this account reaches $0, that’s it. No more fun until payday.
  • Savings 1: This is my rainy day fund with no less than $1,000. You may find it easier to keep this savings at ANOTHER institution so it’s not staring you in the face every time you check your primary account and tempting you to spend it. If so, do that.
  • Savings 2: This is my short-term savings account. I often use it for vacations, but have also used it to save for new tires, a home improvement project, and a riding lawnmower. It’s function changes as frequently as my goals change. Automatic transfer, again.
  • Savings 3: I automatically transfer $25 per paycheck here to cover car maintenance costs. Brake pads, oil changes, and whatever else that the car needs.
  • Savings 4: I automatically transfer a fixed amount to pay for my annual dues, such as vehicle/tag registration, Amazon Prime, Costco membership, and other items that only come up once a year. I added up the yearly cost of each, divided it by 52 weeks (in the year) and let automatic transfer do its thing!
  • Christmas Club: I save $20 per week via automatic transfer. As I mentioned above, this nets me over $1,000 every single holiday season to use towards gifts, eating out, donations, and anything else during the holiday season. I advocate these heavily. The holidays are the same time every year, so stop letting it sneak up on you. Prepare for the inevitable.
This works for me because it gives me a few crucial things.
  1. It makes sure that my bills are always paid, and by keeping that money separate, I don’t have to figure out if the cable bill has come out of my account before I buy groceries.
  2. Having my spending cash in a different checking makes it visible, at any given moment, exactly how much I have available to use.
  3. By having multiple savings accounts, I can take a glance at my account and know how close/far I am from reaching any given goal at any given moment.
  4. I don’t have to stress about anything! Like clockwork, my account fairies move all my money where it needs to be, and the bill companies take their money when they’re ready. Instead of juggling 7 different account balances in my head every day–I only focus on one…and that’s my spending money!

Here’s some things I live by…

  • Online Banking & Mobile Apps: Being able to see my account, transactions, and balances anytime and anywhere. Yes please!
  • Debit Cards: I hate carrying cash, and if you have a super-rare fraudulent transaction occur, your institution will help you get your money back quickly.
  • Remote Check Deposit: The few times I end up having a paper check, I just take a photo of it with my phone and it’s deposited! No need to drive down to a branch.
  • Direct Deposit: I haven’t walked a paycheck into my credit union in almost a decade. Nearly every employer offers this for free. I’d rather be out having fun than standing in line in a branch somewhere.
  • ATM Deposits: Some of your financial institution’s ATM’s may let you deposit cash directly to your account, available immediately. I don’t carry cash on me, so I worship this.

Here’s some things I avoid…

  • Overdraft Protection: Also known as courtesy pay, this service charges you between $29 to $35 to clear transactions whenever your balance is below the amount needed. In simple terms; Your account balance $4 but a gas station charge of $20 comes through. The institution will take your $4, pay the gas station FOR you, and charge you a fee for fronting you the dough each and every timeimg_9991 it happens (not per day, per TRANSACTION). So, if you have 3 charges come through, you will get 3 fees. That turns your $20 worth of gas into as high as $55! And you still owe your institution amount you were short. No thanks. I’ll manage my cash better and save myself the money every time.
  • Monthly Fee Checking Accounts: They might require that you keep a balance of $x.xx, otherwise you are charged a fee. Some might charge you a flat rate fee every month. Others may hit you with a fee if you make so many transactions (or don’t) per month. Personally? Man Vs Cash keeps things free. I don’t need free checks, free money orders, or the other perks they promote. The “no fee” checking functions 100% identical, without the fees and often, without the limitations.
  • Paper Statements: Almost everyone charges you a fee ($1 – $10 per month) to mail you a statement, or you can sign up for electronic statements (and save a tree). They are available faster, they don’t get lost in the mail (or in your sofa), and you don’t have to pay for them each month.

…my rule of thumb is: if it charges me a fee, it’s not for me.