Personal Finance in the Digital Age

Turkmenistani Manat

Wad of Turkmenistani Manat
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 11/08

If there’s anything I’ve learned since stepping outside the college bubble and into the real world, it’s that financial literacy in America is piss poor. Every day, personal budgets are neglected, debts are magnified and irrational decisions are made. Did you know that at the end of 2008, the average credit card debt per American household–regardless of whether they had a credit card or not–was $8,329? Pretty wild, when you think about it. Given that the average interest rate on a credit card is roughly 15%, a household with that much debt can generate over $1,200/month in additional interest debt. Yikes.

Just over ten months ago I wrote Mapping Your Financial Infrastructure, an article about the importance of deconstructing your finances. You know, where money comes from. Where it goes. How much (and in what capacity) you save and invest. It was a good first-step in my adult life–systematically observing how money flows in and out, looking for ways to optimize.

In a continous effort to stay on top of my finances, I recently reread I Will Teach You To Be Rich, my choice when it comes to all things “personal finance.” Yes, the title is scammy-sounding and seemingly presumptuous,  but trust me, the author knows his stuff. Over the last month, I have taken his advice to heart and made a few infrastructural changes.

Credit Cards and Frequent Flyer Miles

I applied for a new credit card, the Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®. Long after my career as a cost-of-living surveyor is over, I still plan on traveling. This card has a much better airline rewards program than my previous card, the Bank of America WorldPoints Rewards Visa. I get 30,000 American Airline miles for signing up, and the annual fee is waived for the first year. Normally I’m against the idea of an annual fee (in this case $85), but all the best credit card reward programs have fees. Note: I did not close my BoA Visa! It has a really high credit limit ($13,600), so closing my access to that limit would significantly and negatively impact my credit score.

From Bank of America to Schwab

I moved checking accounts from Bank of America to Schwab. Lately I’ve had a couple of situational issues with Bank of America and I’ve been looking for a reason to move on to greener pastures. I chose Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking account. Schwab comes highly recommended for a variety of reasons; customer service, the fact that they reimburse ATM fees and a strong paperless system, to note a few. I was also attracted to Schwab because they make it easy to set up and fund a Roth IRA.

Opening a Roth IRA

For the last few years I had been investing $100/month into Class-A American Funds. While the American Fund family consistently outperforms its peers 1-2% each year, each Class-A fund has a 5.5% load, or fee. This means that for every $100 I invest, I’m only really investing $94.50. It’s not much, but with so many other no-fee options out there, I want to capitalize on compound interest.

I stopped putting $100/month into the American Funds and chose to open a no-fee Roth IRA instead. If you’re not familiar with the benefits of maxing out your Roth IRA contributions, read this.


The point I want to make is this. In today’s digital age, tracking and controlling and optimizing your personal finances has never been easier. The tools are there. The Internet makes it…so…damn…easy.  Over the last month, the two or three hours I spent making the changes above will no doubt save me thousands down the road.

Do yourself a favor this week. Take a peek at your financial situation and see if there’s any room for positive changes. Do a little research. Fill some holes. I’d be happy to entertain any questions you have about credit cards, savings accounts and the like. I’m no expert, but hopefully I can point you in the right direction 🙂

14 thoughts on “Personal Finance in the Digital Age”

  1. In Japan, you are not allowed to carry balances on your credit card. They are paid in full every month. When you buy new things, you have the option of dividing the payments over several months but balances are generally paid in full.

    I am somewhat jealous of all the ridiculous sign up bonuses offered in the US but at the same time I know that the credit card companies are part of the problem in the excessive personal debt of Americans.

    A thirty year old Japanese male will typically have more than $100,000 in savings. I don’t imagine the US is anywhere near that level.
    .-= John Bardos – JetSetCitizen´s last blog ..Interview with World Traveler, Niche Marketer Karol Gajda =-.

    1. @Thursday Bram: Interesting you say that. Most small business owners that I know are using BoA. Let me know if you find a suitable alternative!

  2. Hi Alan,

    I consider myself lucky that over here (The Netherlands) it’s quite unusual to have a credit card. It’s something for those few who regularly use hotels and book flights mostly. Even though you can still do those things with a regular debt card here.
    The only reason I have a CC is because of and the rare occasion that I use a hotel somewhere outside of my home country. It’s easier that way. Besides, my limit is 1500 euro’s. Small change compared to those monster cards you have in the US of A. (my quarterly fee is 3.45 euro’s, another big difference)

    Keeping track of all spendings and your current debt/credit situation is always a good idea. Got that down to the cent with GNUcash (open source accounting program). Keeping an exact track is the only way you can consistently live below your means and know about it and it made all the difference. Should have done the tracking ages ago.

    Greets, Christiaan
    .-= ChristiaanH – Mind the Beginner´s last blog ..The Rule of 7 and Effective Writing =-.

  3. My finances are something that I need to get under better control. I’m not saying they are in bad shape right now, but the potential could be there for that to happen. Thanks for the little wake up call. I think the first step for me will be signing up and using
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..reclaim your weekend =-.

  4. The fundamentals around the dollar (and MANY fiat currencies) mean it will continue to be devalued, so that should always be kept in mind.

    One of the smartest things we did (besides selling our dream house at peak in 2005) was to mostly get out of the dollar at that time. That has been a key feature in helping us live large in Europe on just 23 dollars a day per person since 2006 (while adding to our nest egg while we travel the world).

    Everyone should read the Casey article “The Dollar in Your Wallet Is Only Worth 18 Cents” to really grasp at what is happening to their money.

    Not everyone can get totally out of the dollar, but it’s smart to hedge and learn about currencies today.

    I like the huff po plan too about getting out of the big banks so as not to support the banksters running the country.
    .-= soultravelers3´s last blog ..Seth Godin, Linchpin, Education & Travel =-.

  5. Indeed, credit card debt is a major problem in America. The more you use your credit card, the more you spend and later you’ll feel like there is NO positive side to owning a CC.

    Nice article there, Alan. I will bookmark this. Apparently, many people still don’t use today’s technology to track finances easily, which if they do, would help a lot.

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