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Weekly Roundup

This was a mixed week with regard to personal finance news, but this week’s roundup takes the bad, mixes it with some good, and adds a dollop of perspective for good measure.

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Daily Dimes 9/15/09

Pick a card, any card. In a world today that allows debit and credit cards to take more precedence — and wallet share — over cash, more people are finding themselves being hit with large overdraft fees if they (even temporarily) go beyond their balance.

The New York Times analyzes the reasoning behind banks not budging anymore when it comes to socking these fees on consumers, and how victims can fight to get the overdraft penalties removed. I have a very simple solution for debit card users: Don’t spend more than what you have in your account. It’s not worth the hassle. It’s as simple as quickly checking your balance online to see what you have available. If anything is fishy, you can call your bank and try to iron things out before you add an overdraft mess on top of it.

Can you see the trees from the forest? Sure, it’s easy to say that you’ve saved yourself $1,000 per year by not having a premium cup of coffee every morning before work — but if you decide to splurge unnecessarily on a larger purchase, like a luxury car, are you really helping yourself? This story on Consumerism Commentary asks readers to assess the small battles in the midst of the larger war … when it comes to your finances.

Honestly, I really don’t have a problem with people buying nice, brand-name, expensive things — as long as they can afford it. But, if you’re trying to avoid Starbucks to save money, chances are you shouldn’t be buying a Lexus. This is why it’s so important to have a clear budget and detailed goals to match, as I talked about in my Six Steps to Budgeting Bliss.

Finally, are you ready for Christmas? A post in the San Francisco Chronicle points out how Wal-Mart already predicted shoppers will wait until the last minute to get shopping done. Why? People generally hold out for bargains, and especially this year, they will also be comparison shopping like no other. Sure, Christmas is 101 days — and several layers of added clothing — away. The article suggests you should stagger your spending so you’re not facing a massive credit card bill in one month, or cut back in some other non-essential spending areas and pool that money for gifts. Since I crave simplicity and shop for everyone’s gifts at once, I suggest starting now to sock away some money toward presents.

I like to get all of my shopping done on Black Friday (I know, I know … busiest day. I love the rush of people looking for bargains) and have already saved the amount of money I will spend on gifts. I did it really early on purpose — I didn’t want to think or worry about it come Thanksgiving. That happened to me last year, since I had just moved a couple of months earlier and hadn’t really gotten my finances in working order yet. So I learned my lesson from 2008, sacrificed, saved, and can now allocate money for my other goals. I hope I can say the same next year for the financial services industry.

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