Attention must be paid

May 7 2007 by Ellen Roseman

One day, I was going through the mail at home and noticed that my son, 20, had lots of bank statements that he hadn’t opened. I took them out of their envelopes and tried not look, but something popped out at me. He was paying $1.50 each time he took money out of a bank machine – adding up to $6 to $9 a month.

I spoke to him about it and he said his bank had no branches or cash machines on his route from home to the University of Toronto, where he’s a full-time student. So, he was using other ATMs and wasn’t really paying attention to the cost.

All day at work, I talk to readers who are starting to pay attention to their money –where they spend it and where they waste it. Often, they’re in a financial crisis or trapped in a billing dispute that forces them to review their expenditures. I love it when people try to track down the cash that goes through their bank accounts – what’s known as their burn rate. If they do it religiously, they’ll find dollars they can reuse for savings and investments.

While I’m surprised that my son wastes his money on ATM fees, I’m aware that he’s not ready to pay attention to his finances. Money is no big deal to him now. He lives at home. His parents (and his RESP) pay for tuition and books. He’s not a big spender. He has cash in the bank. He’s not in a crisis.

One day, most of us come to realize we can’t go on spending money needlessly and heedlessly. Attention must be paid to the little details we didn’t notice before: the late charges on utility bills, the way credit card issuers calculate interest, the unexpected costs of a cell phone plan.

Awareness leads to action. Seeing the money dribbling away, many people decide to challenge the charges they didn’t authorize. They shop around for a better deal and go back to their original supplier, demanding a change. If they don’t get action, they walk away.

So, that’s my mission as a long-time journalist covering personal finance and consumer advocacy. I want my readers to save more, invest better, retire earlier and not die broke (unless that’s their goal). But first and foremost, I want them to pay attention to their daily spending.

Identifying the latte factor, as David Bach writes, means finding where you overindulge and where you can cut back. But in my view, it’s not the fancy coffees that get most people in trouble. It’s the excessive long-distance phone charges if they stick with Bell instead of finding a lower-cost carrier. It’s the bank fees if they fail to check out no-fee options such as President’s Choice Financial. It’s the interest on credit card bills paid on the due date when it’s a Sunday or holiday. Most issuers won’t process the payment until the next business day.

I’m new to the blogging game and not as active as some of my colleagues Canadian Tour of Personal Finance Blogs “>here. But I hope to attract a wide range of comments as I have at the Bell Blues posting (more than 100 so far). I hope to create conversations among readers about their experiences and their opinions of customer service. Above all, I want to get people to pay attention to their personal finances, unlike my son, and start to challenge the companies they deal with. From that state of readiness, everything else will flow.

I urge readers to check out The Money Diva tour of personal finance blogs. There’s great information here and lots of attention being paid to pocketbook issues.


  1. Wolf Stone

    May 7 2007

    Hi Ellen
    I too was paying $1.50 for each trasaction i was making with my bank card and found it ludicrous so now i just withdraw a bit of cash at the beginning of each month and use that if i need it, to get me through the month or if i run out..i always have plastic!! So what do you think of the NDP’s move to ban (or lessen..not totally sure) the atm fees charged by banks?


    May 8 2007

    Hi Ellen,

    I’m a Vancouverite, and just started reading your Toronto Star articles online regularly. What you said about financial crisis forcing people into reviewing their expenditures is so true, and I can relate to that with my own experience. Sometimes it’s more effective to create a crisis for the kid.

    Jungle Guy

  3. Joren

    May 9 2007

    I’ve always made sure that I paid my credit card bills off (in full) during the week, but never noticed some of the dirty pool the card companies pull until watching an episode on Frontline (can watch over the web).

    Now it seems like all of them magically have the “date due” as being on a Saturday or Sunday. As they won’t be processed until the next business day, you’re considered late and will be paying interest. This also affects your credit rating!

    Also have stopped using ATMs other than my own banks, unless I’m really stuck – and even then will take out much more than I need. If I’m paying a service charge, I’ll make sure I get my moneys worth.

  4. growthinvalue

    May 9 2007

    Welcome to the personal finance blogosphere. I’ve been reading your in the mainstream media for years. Welcome to the other side…. 🙂

  5. Canadian Capitalist

    May 14 2007

    I totally agree with you that everyone should at least try to track their finances to help them find the “leaks”. It sounds like a tedious task but once it becomes a habit it hardly takes a few minutes a day.

    We can blame our taxes (they are too high!), the high cost of everything for our money woes, but honestly most people waste some of their money that can be easily saved.

  6. Riscario

    May 18 2007

    We’re currently listening to David Bach’s Start Late, Finish Rich. Once again, he describes the Latte Factor (LF). There’s also the Double LF and Turbocharging your LF.

    It’s interesting how saving $10/day by skipping life’s little luxuries seems much more achievable than saving $300/month.

  7. Dewey Kearney

    Jun 5 2007

    I have found two ways to beat the ATM fees. First, I use a debit card at the grocery store and draw out the cash that way. And second, I bank at a credit union which will return the fee the other bank may charge. I had to do some shopping around to find one that offered this but I did.

  8. Thomas Quigg

    Jun 12 2007

    I complained to you last year about Dell Computers not supplying me with an USB cord for my printer. You took it up with the company and I got a call from some manager. It did not look they were going to do anything. I now notice that in their advertising that they print the words
    “USB CORD IS INCLUDED.” Thank you for doing a great job.

  9. Thomas Quigg

    Jun 12 2007

    Canada Revenue Agency is closing their office in Willowdale. This office serves people as far north as Newmarket. You now have to go to Etobicoke,Scarborough or downtown Toronto. They used to have a staff that you could talk to. They have removed all of these people.

    You have to make an appointment at these other offices to talk to someone. I tried for 3 days to contact them by phone. I went to their office and they pointed to a phone in the corner, and then I got through to them. This office served many immigrants and people who do not speak English. Are they making business for HR Block and other accountants?

    You do a great job. Thank you.

  10. Brian Sudds

    Jun 12 2007

    After my monthly Ontario Disability Support Plan (ODSP) cheque is deposited, I pay my rent and transfer the rest to my ING account. Now I can withdraw money from my ING account for $1.25. Other ATMs, including banks, charge a $1.50 fee for using the ATM, plus $1.50 for taking money from your account. The one exception to this is if you use your bank’s ATM, which would be no charge. It does not take long to pile up fees of $9 a month, at $3 per withdrawal.

    Although ING may be cheaper when withdrawing funds, a large number of retailers cannot or will not process ING cards. You must budget daily/weekly expenses to allow for expected purchases. This also helps stick to a budget. Convenience card or Cash Cow.