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Ah, the good old question of whether to keep a little bit of money tucked away into the main checking account. This seems to come up quite often with people just starting out making their budgets and starting to tell their money what to do. I thought it would be a great time to dive in and explain what a checking account buffer is, advantages and disadvantages to having it, and finally, what my family does in regards to this for ourselves.
What exactly is a checking account buffer, anyway?
So, to keep a checking account buffer means that you are leaving an extra amount of money in the account that you are “hiding” or just setting aside from your balance to help offset in the event that you might go over your account balance and tread into negative balance territory. When we are talking about doing a zero-based budget where every dollar has a name, you can be spending every penny in the account where there can be no room for error, especially when you are just squeezing by and barely making ends meet. A checking account buffer would give you a little breathing room and would allow you to just barely eek by when the tightest of times come or something unexpected happens and you have to act quickly.
PROS: Yay! Give me that checking account buffer!
If you are set up on auto pay for your utilities, mortgage, subscriptions, car payment, retirement, savings, etc, then you probably know that these automatic payments can be scheduled a few days in advance of the actual payment date. Sometimes when this happens, the company has to pull the money before a weekend or holiday and if you aren’t prepared for this, it can wreak havoc on your zero-based budget. A checking account buffer can make sure you have enough to get you by until you get paid next. Look at your bills and try to figure out the payment schedule they work on. If they seem like they are too inconsistent, you may want to start paying them manually online through your bank’s online bill pay system.
You buy a LOT of things on debit.
When you use your card to buy gas, groceries, convenience store trips, etc, it adds a lot of extra transactions to your monthly budget log. There is nothing wrong with doing it this way, but you have to be disciplined and able to keep track of your balance much better than if you used a cash system to pay for stuff like that. Again, depending on where you are compared to your next payday with money left to spend, you may be running dangerously low to that $0 balance in your checking account. By having this buffer, you would be able to give yourself a little more wiggle room and forgiveness for missing a transaction here or there. For the record, we take cash out for groceries and eating out, but we do buy our gas on our cards. For almost all other discretionary spending, we use sinking funds to keep our balance from getting dangerously low because of variable expenses.
You are new to budgeting.
When you are new to making your budget, you will have a curve ball thrown at you a few times. It’s not because you are trying to budget, but because you are inexperienced and are just learning the ropes and how to play the game. The only way to get better is to practice! Dave Ramsey says that it generally takes three months to get “a firm grasp on the process.” I agree wholeheartedly with him. As we do our budget each month and see how our month plays out, each month is different and you are going to be dealing with it as it comes. Having a buffer in place allows you to learn without having to get your hand slapped each time you screw it up and end up accidentally going over to make everything work out.
CONS: No way am I wasting my money there!
There is always an opportunity cost when you are spending money or time. It is finite and you only have so much of it. When you do one thing with it (money or time), you lose the opportunity to do something else. By having it set aside in your as a checking account buffer, you lose the ability to have it to pay down your debt, fund your emergency fund, or invest for retirement or kids college, among other things. As long as you are putting that money into a buffer for your checking account, you can’t do any of these things with it.
Gives the Illusion That I Can Go Over My Balance
One big con to having a checking account buffer is that people often have less discipline when they have that extra $100 or more set aside as a buffer in their account because they start considering it as “extra”. They will say, “oh, just this one time” or “I will just repay it with my next check”. Don’t do this! It’s the same reason you ended up in debt in the first place. Save up and buy things. If you are going to keep the checking account buffer, be sure not to fall into this trap!
What My Family Does About Keeping A Buffer
I know that you are all dying to know what my family does in regards to this issue. We end up actually keeping a small checking account buffer that gets spent over the two weeks towards our next paychecks. What in the world? Basically, we leave our auto gas money a little heavily budgeted, by this I mean about $20 extra, and allow ourselves some extra wiggle room in the event that something comes up. But, that gas money dwindles down as we get closer to our next paycheck. This allows us to keep a checking account buffer while making sure that we watch how much we are driving around. I do know that sometimes it does get rather close for comfort. If I don’t think I’m going to make it, I will actually transfer in a little money to cover us out of our sinking funds until the next pay period. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often and we are able to move those funds around instantly. Also, since we are almost two weeks to a month in some cases ahead on our bills, we could even push them back if needed.
So there you have it, you should know what a checking account buffer is, the pros and cons of using it and how my family manages our main account with a buffer.
What do you do? Have you needed to use a checking account buffer to get by? Has your budget allowed you to get by without one? What strategy do you employ to get by when things are tight with your account?
Let me know by leaving a comment below, I would love to hear! Also, if you haven’t joined our mailing list to receive all of our posts by email, would you consider doing that? And, please don’t forget to share this article with your friends or others that might benefit from it! Thanks!
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