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Cut the cord!

Or rather, cut the card.

Creating a detailed budget to see where all of my money went and finding expenses that could be eliminated was a high priority to me. Like most people I didn’t have a detailed budget and really didn’t know where to start. So I just googled it. Of course a nice budget template came back as a Google Document. It looked like a good place to start.

I started plugging in my numbers. Some of the items were easy. I know the fixed items: my salary, rent, phone, Internet, TV and a few other items. Then there are lots of variable ones: electricity, water, gas, groceries, fuel for my car etc. I had to estimate these items. But I had the bills for the utilities or a good idea of what I usually spend on groceries, so that wasn’t too hard either. Now the only thing left was the misc items that I wasn’t certain of. I had several items that were auto debited out of my account each month. I figured the easiest way to gather these was to log on to my bank web site and glance through the transaction history. I was wrong. It wasn’t easy at all. I had so many $2.00-$20.00 debits to descriptions that I had no clue what they were. I went back three months and noticed that some of the items were reoccurring and some were not. I had to jump in feet first and start googling or calling the different debits to find out what they were. I started and quit the process several nights. It was very labor intensive and I was getting frustrated.

But then something amazing happened (well I didn’t think it was amazing at the time). I lost my debit card. It was in a public place, pulled out some money from an ATM and left with my card in the machine. Of course I realized this five minutes later and returned to the ATM and it was gone. I went to my bank immediately and canceled the card and had to get a new card with a new account number. They said they had to mail it to me and it would take four to five business days. Luckily I just pulled out money, so I didn’t have to write a check to myself for cash.

I was stressing out about all of the things that were not going to get paid on time because of this. But then something magical happened the very next day. I received an email from my toll tag company saying that they were having problems charging the card on file and they supplied a link and my username for me to update my information. I think I laughed out loud at this point. I didn’t need to dig though all my bank transaction history or stress out about anything. I just had to wait for each auto debit to try charging my old card and let them send an email to me. So this is what I did.

A month later I had received over twenty of these emails. I compiled a list in a Google Spreadsheet of all my auto debits and the usernames for each. I also went through the process of changing the password to the same password so that I didn’t have to try to remember several different ones that I had used over the years. I also was able to eliminate more than half of the charges. Things that I just never used or no longer had an interest in. I freed up close to $75 a month immediately and identified several others that could be reduced.

Well that was kind of a long round about story to suggest something simple. But here it is.

The easiest way to figure out all of the little auto debits that you have on your debit card, is to cancel it. Drive up to your bank ATM and pull out enough money to last you the four to five days. Then drive around the bank and park. Cut your existing card in half. Walk into the lobby and tell them that you need a new one. There is no paperwork that needs to be done. You just have to prove to them that you are the account holder. They will mail you a new card and every company that was automatically charging your account will send you a very polite email, saying they can’t charge your account. Deal with it as soon as you get the email. Make a decision if you need the service anymore. Update the card information or cancel the service. Then document the service URL and login information.

Don’t forget to add the charges that you want to keep to your budget.

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