Why I Will Be Paying the Bank of America Debit Card Fee

A lot of people are up at arms at the news that Bank of America may be implementing a $5 monthly maintenance fee for debit card use.  They’re talking about changing banks.  On Marketplace yesterday morning, they read a letter from a listener who declared that she would be using her credit card and paying it off every month rather than paying the $5 fee.

On the one hand, I agree with the sentiments.  $60 isn’t a negligible amount.  Debit cards are less expensive for merchants to accept.  If you have bad credit – as I did for many years – the Visa logo on your debit card may be the only way for you to shop any way other than in person.

On the other hand, and for a variety of reasons, I’m a little irritated by these sentiments.  We’ve all gotten so used to “free” checking that we’ve forgotten that monthly maintenance fees used to be standard.  I worked in banking from 2001-2004, and spent much of that time explaining the suite of fees charged for services ranging from using a foreign ATM to getting your checks back in your statement to transferring money by phone.  Cut off times governed by geographic distance restricted when transactions could take place.  Need to make a deposit at a branch at 6pm on a Friday to beat a check to the bank? Sorry.  We accepted these fees as the cost of convenience and of doing business.

Now, I’m not going to defend the actions of Bank of America or any of the other big banks in this era of rampant financial speculation.  They’ve screwed up, and taken our economy down with them.  What I am saying, however, is that we’ve been able to take for granted that banking services are free.  Opening an account? Free, and in some cases, they’ll GIVE you money as long as you keep the account open. Depositing cash into an ATM without using an envelope? Free. Transferring money using a (free) mobile app from your phone? Free. Talking to someone on the phone? Difficult, but free. Writing checks? Free, though you have to buy the checks. Receiving, viewing, and paying bills online? Free. Withdrawing money from ATMs in any state plus a few foreign countries? Free, as long as you use the right ATM.  In the grand scheme of all of the things I’m able to do with my money through my bank, $5 per month in the months that I choose to use my debit card seems pretty minor.

I also understand wanting to keep your money in your community, rather than putting it in a national bank.  I did that for a number of years, banking with AMCORE until I moved to a Champaign, more than an hour away from the closest branch or ATM.  I loved AMCORE, and would have kept my money there if it had been remotely convenient.  I loved it for all the reasons one loves a local business – with the added layer of affection from two and a half years of working there.  In 2010, AMCORE was failed by the Fed, and is now part of Harris Bank.  I worked for Busey Bank for the first year I was in Champaign, and immediately felt the limitations of having my money at a small town – not even regional – bank.  I paid ATM fees at least 50% of the time I needed cash because Busey ATMs weren’t conveniently located in town, much less available out of town.  I switched to National City, then we moved to DC, where there were no National City banks.  We started using ING, but still couldn’t find ATMs.  So, in 2007, we opened a joint account with Bank of America – first to give us an option for depositing cash and checks, then for all of our banking.

So here’s why I’ll be paying the Bank of America debit card fee: the convenience is worth it.  It doesn’t make sense to me to change banks over $60 per year.  We would pay far more than that in foreign ATM fees if we were to change to the local credit union, for example, considering that we’ve been out of town 12 of the last 20 weekends, and taken day trips 4 of the remaining 8.  I don’t have a problem with paying for services I use, and the convenience of using a debit card is FAR GREATER than the cost.

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As if there weren’t enough reasons to long for the return of summer, today I came across this.

All I can say is, “Oh My.”

Can it!

Shane shared this article on Google Reader tonight and it had what I imagine was the intended effect – getting me thinking about the small canning empire I started last summer.  The author argues that canning – in its current urban incarnation – is less about frugality and more about a bourgeois sense of connection to what we eat.  (Is bourgeois the right word?  I’m never sure if I’m using it correctly.  Anyway.)

There are a couple of things I take issue with in this article.  First, the opening paragraph references the author’s ” $15 per pint, straight-from-the-Greenmarket, homemade and canned in Brooklyn, N.Y., macerated and simmered in unprocessed sugar, spiked with organic chiles and small-batch Kentucky bourbon strawberry jam” in her calculation of a $17 PB&J sandwich.  $15 per pint is a ridiculous figure for jam – I think we can all agree on that – but unless she ate the entire pint, her sandwich probably works out to more like $3 at most.  She makes an important point, though – you’re not saving money by canning when you’re paying more for the raw ingredients than you would the finished product in the quantities produced.

I started canning last year in the midst of an eating-local mania.  Over the course of the summer and fall, I canned around 2 dozen pints of tomatoes, 8-10 pints of peaches, and a lot of applesauce.  In addition, I froze zucchini, asparagus, roasted tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, green beans, and roasted red peppers.  We’re still working our way through all the frozen stuff, though we exhausted the peaches earlier in the summer, and are on our last (I can’t believe it!) jar of canned tomatoes.

Has it been worthwhile?  Taste-wise, mostly.  The frozen vegetables didn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped, but the fruit was all great.  Always having tomatoes on hand is excellent, and the peaches were a treat long before they’d returned to the market.  Has it been financially worthwhile?  Not sure.

We buy most of our produce from the assorted DC FreshFarm markets.  It’s always a toss-up as to whether the market produce is cheaper than what’s at the grocery store.  Much of the time it’s comparable, and the primary gains from shopping at market are being able to select the specific quantity you need from higher quality products – in addition to the warm fuzzies that come from dealing with people who have first-hand experience with the produce, rather than a stockboy who doesn’t know what you’re talking about.

When I started thinking about canning, I realized right away that it was only going to be financially worthwhile if we could get the stuff to be canned very cheaply.  The author refers to putting up the bounty from a home garden – which is what my grandma did for years.  With no home garden to plunder, the only financially feasible option was buying 2nds produce – or going the you-pick route.  Whenever possible, we buy 2nds produce – things like tomatoes, apples, peaches, and pears that are still edible when less than perfect.  2nds produce is generally at least $1 cheaper per pound than the unblemished stuff, so by my calculations, it works out something like this:

10 pounds of tomatoes at $2 per pound produced 8 pints of tomatoes plus 3 pints tomato sauce.
Total expenditure on raw materials: $20

Cost of comparable store-bought items:
8 14 oz cans Giant-brand whole tomatoes @ $1.39 each: $11.12
3 14 oz jars Giant-brand Thick & Rich spaghetti sauce @ 1.25 each: $3.75
Total expenditure: $14.87

Does it work out to be financially worthwhile?  No.  Or at least not really.  This also doesn’t calculate in the cost of the jars and lids – a one-time investment in infrastructure – or the electricity used in the process.  At the same time, the oft-extolled “satisfaction of a job well done” is worth $5 to me.  I felt immensely proud to have done the dirty, sweaty work of canning.  I have continued to feel proud every time I open the cabinet to grab a jar of tomatoes at the last minute.  In the last 12 months, I can count on one hand the number of jars of tomatoes we’ve purchased – 3 at most, and those were because we were cooking in bulk for Obama volunteers.

Canning is not financially worthwhile at $16 for two quarts of strawberries, which is what the author paid – but then I guess if you can afford to pay $16 for two quarts of strawberries, the financials don’t really matter all that much.  Taking a $5 loss on something you enjoy doing is much more reasonable.  $5 would get you (maybe) two games of bowling or a skein of yarn or a single ticket in the bleachers at a baseball game.  Depending on where you live, $5 covers a beer or a Value Meal.

Last weekend I made 9 pints of Lodi applesauce – $16 for a peck of apples + $.07 for 1/4 C sugar = $1.78 per pint.  A 25 oz jar of Giant-brand Apple Sauce (Natural) is $1.69.  The price difference is about $.05 per ounce – except that Lodi apples aren’t usually available in the store.  They’re early apples, with a very short production season and a limited shelf-life.  They’re also the apples my grandparents grew in their backyard, so I grew up with Lodi applesauce, rather than the overly sweet or cinnamony stuff most kids had.  The extra $.05 per ounce is worth it for taste and – for me – nostalgia.

Will I be canning this year?  It depends on what’s available, and how much it will cost.  I’m volunteering at the  market this year, and as a result I get half-price produce.  Half price might be worthwhile.

2009 Walk for the Animals

This Saturday, Shane and I will be walking in the 14th Annual Walk for the Animals in support of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.  We adopted Mina from the AWLA, and the AWLA was very kind to us when Sid was so very sick.

I had a bit of a moral dilemma in writing this post and asking for donations for one reason: the AWLA isn’t a “no-kill” shelter.  In addition to being an animal shelter, they are also animal control for the county, so they take in all animals – sick, healthy, abandoned, surrendered, etc.  Having been in the facility a number of times in the last year – with Sid when she was so sick, again to pick up her ashes, buying various supplies for the cats, donating household items, looking for a new kitty, adopting Mina, and visiting other kitties when we were in the neighborhood – I can echo the comments of the reviewers on Yelp.  The AWLA is clean, staffed by kind and caring doctors and volunteers, and provides services like microchipping to the community.  Animals are kept in clean and comfortable cages, and are given lots of love and attention.  There are quiet areas for play and cuddling.

If you have spent any time with Shane and I, you know that we love our cats to pieces, and that we did everything we could for Sid when she was sick.  We volunteer for a no-kill shelter, and I feel conflicted about the fact that the shelter spends thousands of dollars on surgeries for individual cats – when that same amount of money could provide for the spaying or neutering of 80 cats at the AWLA.

It makes me sad that not every animal can be saved.   I did some looking around for information about no-kill shelters, and PETA reports that no-kill isn’t always the best option.  From PETA’s website: “Open-admission shelters are committed to keeping animals safe and off the streets and do not have the option of turning their backs on the victims of the overpopulation crisis as “no-kill” shelters do. No one despises the ugly reality of euthanizing animals more than the people who hold the syringe, but euthanasia is often the most compassionate and dignified way for unwanted animals to leave the world.”  I worry about the quality of life for the animals in either situation – kill or no-kill.

I choose to support both organizations with my time and money, because I believe both are doing the best they can.  I believe in the work that both are doing, and I believe they are both good causes.  I know that many animals have gone to wonderful homes.  I didn’t intend for this post to be about kill or no-kill shelters – but I felt like if we were asking for money, we should be up front about an aspect of shelters that some may be concerned about.

If you have a couple of extra bucks for a good cause, please consider supporting our team – Team Pettu – in this year’s Walk.   If you’re in the area, think about joining our team!  It was a nice way to spend an hour or two, even in the rain.

Thank you for considering a donation – and for supporting us!

P.S. If you have a couple of extra bucks for a good cause but would prefer to support people, please consider supporting our team for the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure.  My friend Tina and I will be running as Team Helpful Paws.

Obama-rama

We here in #505 are a bit tired of this whole primary season, and are delighted to see things pull to a close assumedly in Obama’s favor.  (It’s interesting that when I did a spell check on ‘assumedly’, it suggested ‘assuredly’, which is what I’d like to think.  Thanks, Firefox, for the power of positive thinking!)  It’s been an interesting, exhausting process, especially here, in such close proximity to the nation’s capitol (or actually in the capitol, as I am right at this moment).  The massive voter turnout and level of engagement at every step of the process has really renewed our excitement and engagement as well.

There’s an Obama rally this evening at the Nissan Pavillion, but given their stellar record for dealing with traffic, and given the storms coming, and given the incredible lines at his rally in St. Paul yesterday, I think we’ll be staying home.  We’ll be there in spirit, though, and we’ll be there at the polls come November.