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Make Your Home Finance Audit Fun While Fighting Back Against Bank Fees

posted by Nathalie Martin

The article Katie posted on bank fees was right on. The fees have gotten so creative that we invented a new household game to combat them, in which we compete for a pre-determined prize.  The prize makes it fun.  We do a competitive home finance audit over a glass of wine or two on the 5th or the 6th of the month, once the statements are all complete on line. Today is the 6th. Game on!! Stewart and I like competition.  To play, we scour all bank and credit card statements as well as certain purchases. The prize goes to the one that incurred the least interest or fees of any kind on anything, except the home mortgage. If there are no fees at all, no one wins the prize, but we both win!

Thankfully, it’s been a while since we have paid interest or fees on credit cards, but we still scour and we find little hidden fees in plenty of other unsuspecting places! Foreign ATM fees sometimes creep in as do $1.50 overdraft protection fees, and once in a great while, an annual credit card fee (but so far, we've talked our way out of all of them by threatening to walk). Sometimes, we lose a few bucks by holding onto those pre-paid gift or rebate cards too long. (Did you know many card companies actually deduct several dollars for each month you don’t use the card?) Whatever the fees are, they all count, any finance charge, fee or interest payment that does not result in us getting something tangible back for our dough.

This month, I probably lost. I bought one of those phones that does everything but cook breakfast, but had trouble making and receiving phone calls so back it went. Result?  A $35 Verizon restocking fee. One cool way to avoid the foreign ATM fees and create a bit more pocket change is to get one of those high- interest checking accounts (3-4% on up to $20,000), where you can get all foreign ATM fees reimbursed as long as you do 15 point-of- sale debit transactions a month. Just keep the transactions small so you can keep your interest- bearing sums high.

The main reason I write about this, though, is not for fun and games. I get the feeling that many people are unaware of the fees they are paying and we need to try to protect ourselves.  It feels good to have good financial “hygiene’ as one of our recent readers calls it, and even more importatnly, to hold onto our hard earned dough.  Pink Floyd had the idea right…”money…keep your hands off of my stack.”


To make the game more competitive, you might also want to include rebates cashed as a category. But then the game starts to become more difficult. Which leads to the point of my comment.

If you've got enough neurons and train them correctly, such games are fun and easy. And then you pat yourself on the back, as Nathalie Martin does and I do. And then you hear the distant cackling of the banks. You're part of their business plan! Nope, they're not ripping you off. But you benefit from their ripoff of others. And you know it. And they've just created a constituency!

Most of the readers of this site can play this game and win. To see what winning entails, let's move to a different playing field. Although I'm now a banker, I happen to be trained as a chemist. (Don't ask!) I can read ingredient labels as easily as a bank statement. It makes shopping a lot easier, and I'm sure I benefit from some cross-subsidies. At your expense. I might be smug about this, but non-chemists should be angry.

You shouldn't have to be a chemist and banker or professor to function as a consumer.

Ebenezer, great points, and here is a question. Do you think financial literacy can work hand in hand with consumer protection laws or does the former somehow undermine the latter? Just curious and thanks for commenting.

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