Prepaid Debit Cards

Growing up my grandfather gave me one of the most useful pieces of advice to use as a rule of thumb when dealing with personal day-to-day finance – Never buy something on credit if you wouldn’t be able to pay for it in cash.  For a person like myself, who isn’t great at keeping my checkbook balanced or remembering that I have upcoming bills to pay when I have the urge to make an impulse purchase – this is one of those guidelines that has saved me countless unpleasant conversations with the banks,  overdraft fees, and financial stress.  However, plastic has the upper hand when it comes to convenience, it is definitely easier to keep track of, and has replaced many of the places you used to need cash – like paying the parking meters.  It’s for these reasons that I took my grandfathers sound advice and gave it a bit of a facelift, adapting it to work with today’s currency culture by investing $2.95 in a prepaid debit card.

My way of making personal finances more consistent and less time consuming:

First I took a look at what my take home pay was, then added up my what my regular monthly expenses were (including a little extra in case of e random flat tire or parking ticket), and how much I knew I wanted to set aside in savings each month,  I was able to figure out an amount that I was comfortable allotting as my monthly discretionary income. That is, the amount of money I could spend on non-essential things like new clothes, going out with friends, or splurging on concert tickets. Then just a quick trip to get a prepaid debit card loaded with the amount of money you have allocated as your disposable income and you’re all set.

There is definitely merit to using a pre-paid debit card – it is a way to make sure you will be able to meet your essential financial obligations, and is a great way to learn about budgeting.  Here are a few of perks I’ve discovered along the way:

  • No more worrying about whether or not a purchase you make on your pre-paid card will put your bank account in the red.
  • Knowing you won’t be short when it comes to your monthly bills, since you’ve already set aside the funds needed to pay those
  • Since they partner with outside companies, like NetSpend™ and GreenDot™, if your wallet or purse is stolen – these funds are actually insured by the FDIC so you are reimbursed for the balance of the card.
  • These pre-paid cards can be set-up to automatically be reloaded if you receive a regular check from your employer or the government for the amount you specify.
  • Your card will have either a VISA™ or MasterCard™ logo which also enables them to be used as an ATM card if you need to withdrawal cash. Just remember that similar to an ATM card from a bank, there will be a transaction fee from the company who owns the ATM as well as the company you have your card through, so it’s best to try planning ahead to avoid fees for multiple withdrawals.
  • And if, in the end you decide it’s not for you, you can close out the card and receive the entire balance of the card back – hassle free.

This type of personal financing isn’t for everyone, but I found it extremely helpful for me in getting back on track with my money management, and many check cashing companies, like CFSC ( Community Financial Service Centers), have branches located all throughout the  Chicagoland area, and in my experience, they were there to help me get everything set-up and were more than happy to answer all the questions I had then as well as any new ones I come up with – just give them a call!

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