In today’s world, making the most of our money is not just a catchy phrase; it is the difference between keeping homes or foreclosure; getting much needed prescriptions or buying groceries; bankruptcy or survival. Growing our money, saving time and being smart about our finances is the only way to make it in our economy.

We hear so much about the importance of saving on the nightly news, and yet very few are able to put any money away for the proverbial ‘rainy day’. The consequences for not having any savings can be dire; if there is no money stashed away to cover those unexpected emergencies, like a larger than expected utility bill or a car breakdown, the money for that has to come from somewhere. All too often Americans find themselves putting these purchases on a credit card with a maxed out limit or a too high interest rate, or taking out a payday advance with complicated fine print. Both of these are risky moves, avoidable with some proper planning and money management.

When it comes to savings, a little bit can grow a long way. If you are able to stash a small amount of a paycheck each month in a savings account that draws interest, you are already ahead of the game. Depending on how much you have in your account, you could be currently gaining upwards of 4% on top of that money. That means for every $100 you deposit in your savings account, add $4.00 on top. That doesn’t seem like much, but in a year of monthly deposits, you could earn almost $50.00 for just having your money sitting in the bank.

Banks even sometimes offer higher introductory savings rates or other perks such as higher rates to those who use online banking, to get new business. Contact your local banker or search the internet to find out what the best rates and terms are. While you are at it, does your checking account draw interest? Many banks now offer checking accounts that accumulate interest on the money you have sitting in the account. Again, rates vary, and banks do run promotional offers for these kinds of accounts, but who doesn’t like earning free money for doing nothing?
While we are on the topic of checking accounts, is yours working hard for you? Does it have luxuries such as online bill pay or free checking? If it doesn’t, it should. Online banking is taking the country by storm. Gone are the days of envelope licking and stamp sticking; a new dawn of mouse clicks and instantaneous withdrawals has come.

Many banks provide this service as an added convenience to their customers, but beware. Safety first when doing anything with money online. Many utility bills and house payments can be made online through legitimate banking procedures; auto payments, school loan payments, and credit card payments all can be done quickly, easily, and safely. The first rule of thumb when banking or bill paying online is to make sure you have a complex username and password combination. Many sites require a standard mixture of numbers and letters; use different combinations and unusual patterns to ensure no one can guess your security information.

Also, use the security questions, as that is what they are designed for. Many of these sites require you to enter not only your username and password, but also to answer a series of pre-answered (by you when you set up the account) questions to confirm your identity. Store your usernames, passwords, and answers to security questions in a secure place where they will not be compromised.

These small steps can help you toward the path of financial fitness. Dig up the paperwork on your banking accounts; make sure they are working hard for you, not the other way around. Trim the fat in your monthly budget and find a way to stash some dough in an interest bearing savings account; it is free money just for letting yours sit around. Guard your identity when using handy online banking; make sure nobody is you except you. Making these small changes can make a large difference in your overall financial health.