Ramit Sethi will teach you to be rich – 4 links to wealth: negotiate, automate, cut costs & earn more

Ramit Sethi is my favorite financial blogger and advice-giver for the ‘basics’ (which can still be complicated) of personal finance: spending, saving and earning income.  He recently railed against those who worry about things that they can’t control, yet fail to do the simple steps that will really matter.

His quoted question below to these people (and everyone else who needs to take control of their money) have 4 excellent starting points (links) for personal financial freedom.  Check out each of these and apply them to your financial life.

“Have you negotiated? Automated? Earned more? Taken the 30-day challenge to save $1,000?”

Negotiation

Ramit stresses the importance of negotiating all things financial, from credit card interest rates, getting out of bank fees, to your next salary raise.

Automation

The best way to save is to automate the process so that no active effort is required on your part.  This can be anything from setting up direct deposits on your paycheck (most employers allow you to split the check into multiple accounts, the better to target your savings goals), having 401k deductions come out of your check, or using Vanguard (or whoever your mutual fund provider is) to invest money from your bank account on a regular schedule.  (If you already have a Vanguard account, go here.  If you need to set up a Roth IRA or other financial account, go here.)

Earn More

Expenses are only half of the financial coin of savings.  Earning a healthy salary is also a big help along the road to wealth.  Here’s a few ideas on how to make more money:

Get an education (academic or vocational, formal or informal) that increases the worth of what you know, and your ability to apply that knowledge and make money (or other benefits) from it.

Ask for a raise at work.

Start your own business on the side, or find a part-time or freelance job that you can do in your spare time.  (Make it something you enjoy and that energizes you, otherwise it’ll be hard to force yourself to do it given your other work/life commitments.)

Save Money – Enter Ramit’s ’30 day challenge’

Ramit put together a fantastically useful list of 30 tips (described in each of the links below) to save money.  These aren’t the typical ‘stop buying lattes’ ideas generated on so many financial blogs.  Instead, they’re likely to save you big bucks without taking away the things that you really enjoy in life.

While I’ve copied Ramit’s entire list below (with his links for the details of each tip), his original post can be found here.

Full list of Ramit Sethi’s tips from iwillteachyoutoberich.com
Tip #1: Pack lunches for the rest of the week
Tip #2: Turn your thermostat down 3 degrees
Tip #3: Sell something on eBay today
Tip #4: Involve your friends in your savings challenge
Tip #5: Optimize your cellphone bill
Tip #6: Use gas prices to become your own hedge fund
Tip #7: Create a “No Spending” day once a week
Tip #8: Implement the A La Carte Method
Tip #9: Only buy new things when replacing something old
Tip #10: Use the free rewards from your credit card, car insurance, and workplace
Tip #11: Never pay full retail price for clothes or eyeglasses again
Tip #12: How I’m saving $2,000+ on eating out in 2009
Tip #13: How to negotiate your car insurance
Tip #14: Use self-persuasion to share how much you’ve saved so far
Tip #15: Forget going to a bar — ask people over for dinner
Tip #16: Cancel any large purchase this month
Tip #17: Buy generic for the stuff you don’t care about
Tip #18: No Christmas gifts this year
Tip #19: Save Money, Eat Well and Look Hot in Less Than an Hour
Tip #20: Change the date of Christmas
Tip #21: Save thousands by pre-paying your debt
Tip #22: Analyze your progress in the 30 Day Challenge (plus, see how I’m doing)
Tip #23: Go cash only for 15 to 30 days
Tip #24: Cut your commute expenses by 40%
Tip #25: Earn more money using your God-given skills
Tip #26: Gardender? Cleaning lady? DIY instead
Tip #27: Use barriers to prevent yourself from spending money
Tip #28: Use price-protection guarantees to always get the lowest price (travel, retail)
Tip #29: Stop being a loser and spend money to save money
Tip #30: How I’m saving $25,000+ in 2009

 

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Automating your finances (Ramit Sethi-style)

I’m a big fan of automation, especially for personal finance & investing (think automatic 401k withdrawals.)  A ‘classic’ video from Ramit Sethi is at the bottom of this post, outlining his approach to automating your money.  I recommend watching it (12 minutes) and trying to automate your own money to the extent possible.  It takes a little up-front effort (which you never have to leave your computer chair for), but it pays off big time in making life simpler & helping you effortlessly hit your financial goals.

Using INGDirect for online banking is a big step in the right direction on the automation front.  I use them to automatically mail out my monthly rent checks, and to automatically put pieces of my direct deposited-paycheck into various high-interest savings sub-accounts.  Here’s how I do it.

How I automate my money

I generally have a ‘cycle’ of automatic things that happen per each paycheck.  A certain percent goes to my 401k at Vanguard (and invested according to the index funds I picked.)  The remainder (minus taxes and insurance premiums) is direct-deposited into my ING checking account online.  Of that, a fixed dollar amount goes into a vacation sub-savings account, an account for money that I spend on myself to make more money, and to my no-ATM-fee Charles Schwab checking account that I use for miscellaneous cash needs.

Once a month, my rent check is automatically mailed out to my landlord from my ING checking.  All my other bills (including utilities, cell phone, internet, etc) have been set up to be automatically paid by my credit card.  Thus, I just have one automatic credit card payment out of my ING checking that occurs monthly.  (Some bills can be set up to automatically come out of your bank account if paying by credit card is not an option; but I prefer the latter for the simplicity.)

Anything left over is available for me to either spend (without feeling guilty since I’ve hit all my savings goals), or add to my savings.  If you know me, you can guess that I generally choose the latter, but every once and a while I loosen the purse strings and splurge on myself in the form of good beer or relatively-inexpensive travel.  (I know, I know, I’m a wild man when it comes to my spending sprees.)

Below is a picture from Ramit’s post (linked below) that illustrates how this works:

Having my money automatically going to various savings places BEFORE I get to spend it on discretionary items is part of the idea.  I’m ‘paying myself first’ as the mantra goes.  Of course, you’ll want to have a rough idea of your more ‘mandatory’ spending like rent/mortgage, utilities, gas, groceries, plus a little spending money so that you can estimate how much you can sock away.  If you want to have more money to save, scroll down to the 30 excellent tips in this post.

Ramit’s more detailed explanation

Ramit outlined the approach he discusses in the below video in a blog post here as well.

How to never pay overdraft fees on your ATM or debit card again

It can be hard to track how much (or little) money you have in a savings or checking account, especially when you make frequent cash withdrawals or debit card purchases.  For this reason, evil banks (which is all of them) institute outrageous fees, often charging you $25-$35 per overdraft transaction.  I’ve heard horror stories where banks have arranged the order in which a day’s worth of transactions occurred to maximize fees.  You could charge $5, $15 and then $40 in one day with a beginning balance of $35, and the bank would structure it so that instead of paying one fee (the $40 when you have $20 left after the first two transactions), FIRST they count the $40, triggering an overdraft fee, then two more fees for the $5 and $15 transactions!  Pure.  Evil.

While you can (and should) always call to reverse these charges, wouldn’t it be better to have them never occur in the first place?

Fortunately, there’s a very simple and painless way to accomplish this.  Just pick up the phone and call your bank’s customer service number on the back of your ATM/debit card (have your account number(s) handy.)  Ask them to make it so that your accounts can never be overdrawn when you use your ATM/Debit/Check card (writing checks will still allow others to overdraw your account, which is good because you don’t want checks to bounce!) Checks will bounce if they overdraw your account, and they are potentially a few other issues (see my confirmation letter below from my bank for details.)  They’ll fill out a form and send it in on your behalf.  Once that goes into effect, you will be unable to overdraw your account.  I recommend also asking them 1) how long it will take to go into effect and 2) to notify you with a confirmation letter or email when it does.

This will make it so that if you don’t have the money, your ATM or debit transaction will be denied until you put more cash into your account.  This is the simplest and best way that I know of to protect yourself from these obnoxious fees.  I called Bank of America to have them do this for me and it took about 10 minutes, so make the call as soon as possible and never worry about overdraft penalties again.

[For those of you trying to eliminate credit card debt by switching to cash/debit card-only shopping, this is a vital step in helping you succeed by forcing you within certain cash limits while avoiding pesky fees.  (Scroll down to page 40 of Ramit Sethi’s book here for more on how to get rid of your credit card debt.)]

UPDATE: Here’s a copy of the confirmation letter that Bank of America sent me when I eliminated my overdraft fees.  They lied to me (likely out of incompetence, not malice) and told me my checks would still go through instead of bounce.  This is apparenlty NOT true.  Thus, I recommend keeping your ATM/debit card account separate from your checking account.  (Or switch all your payments to electronic or cash like I do.)

Posted in Banking. 1 Comment »

Transfer money to someone internationally for 0.5% on PayPal

If you have friends, family or business associates living abroad, you may have found it difficult or expensive to transfer money.  PayPal seems to offer a cheap solution HERE.  If you transfer the money using funds in either your PayPal account or bank account (linked to PayPal), the cost is 0.5% of the transaction (at least for denominations of a few hundred dollars.)

I haven’t completed a transaction yet, but apparently you’re shown the exchange rate when you choose to send the money internationally.  My only other question would be how good of a rate you get, but I would assume it’s pretty close to the rate banks and credit cards receive (which I believe is the best you can get.)

If anyone has used PayPal to send money internationally, please comment with your experience and/or the exchange rate you received!

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