When Your Checking Goes Into the Red

Filed in Spending, Uncategorized by on October 17, 2014 2 Comments

When Your checking account goes into the redRecently while going home from work I stopped by McDonld’s to pick up a small fry and a hot fudge sundae. I know–don’t judge me. Not the healthiest thing to eat. But I wasn’t going to be home for dinner, and dammit, I just wanted some junk food.

So I pull out my checking debit card for the under-$3.00-amount and handed it over.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. It’s declined.”


I knew my balance was low, but negative??

I had hit a new low. Literally.

I haven’t had that happen in…..well…..forever. Literally, I don’t remember that ever happening.

I was curious to see what drew me into the red. But I was even more afraid to look.

So instead, I chose not to look, and willed myself to get to payday.


Why I Went Into the Red

Last month had been particularly tough. It didn’t matter that we got three paychecks in the month–that rare occurrence that makes you believe you can really just bank a whole paycheck. If anything, that made it worse. There was this false sense of, “Oh, yeah, there’s more money this month!” And I got careless.

Over on my other blog, Thrift Diving (a DIY blog about decorating on a budget) I just finished renovating my kids’ bathroom (it was a dive….you won’t believe how it looks now!).

But the funny thing is that this DIY project was the exact thing that pulled me into the red.

I’ve always touted about setting a budget before you start a project, but honestly, that’s easier said than done. A lot of times you have no idea what you’re up against when you’re starting a new project or room makeover. What starts out as thrifty ends up breaking the budget because you didn’t plan for the unforeseen. So how can you plan accordingly when you have no idea what kinks and coils are waiting to snag you?

That’s what happened to me.


How to Recover If You Go Into the Red

It sucks going into the red. So figuring out why it happened and preventing it from happening again is key. For me, I know for a fact it was because I lost site of how much I was spending due to this project. But for you, if it happens all the time, well damn, I think you need to seriously think about what you’re doing wrong. Why are you over-spending? Do you need to make more money? (Here are 20 ways you can make more money). If you overdraw on your account rarely, it’s probably an isolated incident where the stars aligned for you to financially screw yourself over that month. But if it rarely happens, here are some suggestions on what to do after going into the red:

DO THIS #1 – Cancel your automatic bill payments!

Since 2010, banks are required for you to opt-in for overdraft protection. Which is why my card was declined, because I never opted in. (And I would prefer it that way, thank you very much).

However, banks are still able to charge overdraft fees for bill pay and automatic bill payments. So even if you are declined at McDonald’s, that automated Geico bill may cause you get slapped with a fee. That’s what happened to me. My car payment and home warranty are both auto-paid. I didn’t cancel these auto payments, but I did cancel some other ones. In fact, I’m going to cancel the auto payments for all my bills so that my account can never be hit with auto fees if the event I screw up again.

DO THIS #2 – Beg for Forgiveness (and a refund!)

I skipped this step, only because I was totally at fault for these errors. After another thought, I will call them to ask for a refund. But sometimes (like my bank) will refund an overdraft fee once, and the next time, you’re S.O.L. We’ll see what they say….


DO THIS #3 – Live like a pauper.

It hurts, I know. Suddenly counting each penny and giving up things. Suddenly, all my extra spending stopped (my kids’ bathroom was also done, too, so that helped)! I started cooking from home (which I should have been doing anyhow!). And I didn’t eat out at lunch at all. I made a huge batch of pumpkin spiced soup (the stuff was nasty–I’m a horrible cook!!), and I ate it for a solid week for lunch at work! I was actually surprised how much more resourceful I could be when I was forced to be.


DO THIS #3 – Use cash only.

I’m still working my way up to this. Cash is more tangible. You can’t go into the negative when you’ve got a wad of bills in your hand. When it’s gone, it’s gone!! If you’re not a “cash” person, at least monitor your account balance daily so you know you’re still “in the green” and not close to going in the red.


The Bright Side

The bright side after all of this is that I have a pretty new bathroom for my kids!

DIY bathroom makeover for kids - Thrift Diving

Also, the alarm has been rung. What a wake up call when you get declined at McDonald’s.

I still struggle with a real budget. I still buy lunch out some days. I still overspend at the grocery store. But I’m no longer hiding my head in a hole like an ostrich that won’t face the truth that I need financial freedom.

That’s at least a start.


What other suggestions do you have to help recover after you’ve overdrawn on your checking account?

Leave a comment below and add to the discussion!






 Photo Courtesy: Free Digital Photos



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About the Author ()

Serena Appiah is a wife and mom to 3 boys in the Washington, DC metro area who enjoys writing about family, finances, and raising children.

Comments (2)

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  1. connie says:

    Serena. I loved this post.My tip is to go into a no spend month. I did this last February and it saved my butt. You only buy the absolute essentials for a month. No going into the store for milk and coming out with ice cream, cute nail polish or that new flavor of Oreos. I don’t have kids at home so it was easier. What this did was not only did I save money that month, but the results were lasting. I got out of the habit of grabbing things off the shelf I didn’t really need. I found myself with more than a few extra bucks at the end of the month. It became a fun challenge. There’s more to it but people on a budget can figure out what they need to do for this challenge.

    • Serena says:

      I love this, Connie! I did something’s similar a couple years ago. A popular blog did a challenge where you spend no money in November on eating out. I completed, too! Well, I may have bought a candy bar, but otherwise, I stuck with it. Anyhow, I am going to do your idea for November!!!

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