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“Alert: An online or phone initiated payment was charged.”

The notification may be a familiar and a frequently occurring one, but this particular message is ominous because you don’t remember making it and now some unplanned payment amount was deducted from your account. Worse, it’s at a time when you’re certain the funds are all accounted for and so the unexpected charge will be detrimental to your bank balance. “Debt-rimental” would be a better way to say it, because this charge will leave you owing the bank.

As you open your banking app to check what and who caused the offending deduction, another alert flashes across your cell phone screen.

“Alert: Your available balance for account XXXX24555 dropped below…”

Below what?!

If your phone works like mine, the rest of the alert is cut off and you’re left hanging in suspense, scrambling to log into your bank app: “Did I go into the red again? Or do I have a few dollars to spare? What charge hit the account? What’s still outstanding?” If these questions aren’t enough to increase your heart rate, then I bet experiencing this on a monthly basis will keep you functioning at a high stress level.

Stress: The Silent Killer

Study after study shows that financial worries are one of the leading causes of stress. This can include:

  • Not enough income
  • Too many debts and expenses
  • Living beyond our means
  • Poor money management

I hear these complaints way too often, and I’m convinced most believe this is just how life is and there’s no way out of a financial funk. And this mindset, along with the other stresses and pressures of daily life, easily lead to being overwhelmed, mentally overloaded, anxious and depressed. The body was not designed to operate under a high level of undue stress. But the responsibilities we have in our lives — such as our families, work tasks and finances — are things we can manage. It’s all in how you look at it.

No, we don’t choose our families, but we can choose how we respond to their treatment and demands. We can choose the jobs we do and how we use our money. This realization alone gave me hope that anything in our lives is subject to change. We can get to a place of peace by being balanced. So when it comes to our finances, I suggest starting with our bank account management. There is a better way, guys. It’s called being financially prudent.

What Is Financial Prudence?

Prudence is a word you may not hear too often these days, but it’s one you need to log in your memory. Prudence, in simple terms, is being wise in practical affairs (such as finances) by planning for the future. In other words, you consider your financial picture, income and expenses/spending, always with an eye toward planning in case of emergency or for future events.

A lot of people haven’t given much thought to their financial picture beyond securing a job to generate income. To create a good financial management plan, you need to start where you are: take a thorough look at your bank account. Write down your total income and when it comes in vs. the expenses and their due dates. If the income covers the expenses, then determine the discrepancies that could be causing you problems. Are you missing due dates and incurring late payment fees? Or have you spent the money on nonessential items before paying your bills? This is often the case.

I recommend doing the income vs. expenses basic bank account reconciliation on a consistent basis, if not weekly then monthly. But when trying to set a new practice of staying on top of your finances, I suggest performing a more frequent review to keep you on track. And it’s a good idea to set goals with realistic timelines, such as “I want to save $250 in 3 months” and then hold yourself accountable.

If your complaint is that you don’t have enough income, there are options. Can you seek a promotion at your current employer or ask for a raise? Or maybe pick up a part-time job to add income until your finances are in better shape. Otherwise look for expenses you can trim for the time being, such as a monthly gym membership or the cable service extras, or maybe even (I hate to say it) your streaming service. When there is minimal income, you have all the more reason to meticulously account for every dollar and make sure your money is being spent wisely.

Your Bank Can Help

Your bank can be an asset. Not only is it holding your money and providing an easy way for you to pay your bills online, but it can also give you access to a debit card, a convenient way to pay that can be useful in budgeting in that you can only spend the money that’s already in the linked account. Many banks offer features that can help you to better manage your cash, like the following:

  • Account Alerts: Yes, the same dreaded alerts that got your anxiety spiking were intended as a safeguard to notify you of unexpected charges, low balances and possible fraudulent charges.
  • Budgeting and Free Cash Flow Analysis Tools: Using one of these tools can quickly itemize your cash inflow and outflow and show you, on average, if you are overspending and where your money is going.
  • Bill Pay Reminders and E-bills: Your bank can send reminder emails of new bills and due dates to help prevent missed payments.
  • Overdraft Protection: Your bank may offer coverage that allows you to link a savings account to your checking account as a back-up payment method to cover any unplanned charges. Just be sure you understand what you’re signing up for. Overdraft protection policies vary from bank to bank and typically include fees — some of which may be higher than what you’re willing to pay for coverage.

Free Your Mind from Financial Stress

You can get off the financial mismanagement cycle. Start today! Give your bank account an unbiased review and be determined to see your spending habits and financial picture change for the better. There are numerous books on money management and financial best practices to give you financial wisdom and help along your journey to financial freedom. You can do it! I’m rooting for you.

[Editor’s Note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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Image: Xavier Arnau

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