How to structure your bank accounts for financial success

Structuring your bank accounts in a way that works for you can make a big impact on your lifestyle and savings goals.

If you’re keen to get on top of your finances, getting the right bank account structure —based on the typical areas in which you spend or save — is one of the smartest places to start.

Best of all, you don’t need a financial guru to help you out — you simply need to take a good look at how you’re spending your money and think about what your financial goals are. The most successful structures are usually a mix of everyday spending, and short and long-term savings accounts, but to set yourself up for success you need to establish a system that works for you.

Where to start…

To begin, start by reviewing your current account structure, income and financial goals. How much do you earn on a monthly or fortnightly basis? What are your regular expenses? And what are you saving for? Is it a shorter-term goal, such as a new laptop, or something bigger, like a home deposit? This will help you to understand how many, and what type, of accounts you will need.

Next, start to allocate your income to each account. Begin with the big payments you need to make, such as mortgage repayments or rent — working out the major essential expenses first will let you know how much money you have left in your budget to spread into your other accounts. For more on budgets, see Find Your Budgeting Style.

As with any form of budgeting, you may find after a few months that you need to adjust what you’re doing. You may find that you’ve missed a few sneaky direct debits, so you’ve got less money than you expected, or that having multiple savings accounts really doesn’t suit your financial style. That’s absolutely fine — this will be a process of tinkering and adjusting to get to a structure and approach that works for you.

Common ways to structure accounts

Your bank account structure should establish a savings pattern to help you achieve your financial and lifestyle goals. Automating regular transfers between your bank accounts can also give you better control over your finances and minimises the potential for forgotten payments — which, in turn, can reduce your stress and increase your wellbeing. Win!

Here are some of the more popular ways to structure your bank accounts:

A central bank account
A central account acts as a repository for all your sources of income, including wages, bonuses and any extra income, such as side hustles or tax refunds. From here, you can transfer funds into your other bank accounts.

Everyday spending account
As the name suggests, this is an account for everyday expenses, such as groceries, petrol or public transport, and entertainment. Some people choose to put in a set monthly amount, but you could also transfer the funds from your central account on a weekly or fortnightly basis if you prefer to pace your spending.

Bills account
A bills account lets you capture all your regular direct debits in the one spot, including utility payments, Netflix, health insurance and so on. A good approach is to work out what your bills add up to over the year, then divide that amount into a monthly or fortnightly figure so you’re placing a set amount in your account each time. Some people also use this account for their mortgage or rent payments, or they may add another account for those items to the mix.

Savings account
Regular automatic transfers to your savings account will add up over time. You can have a general savings bucket, or create separate accounts for individual savings goals, such as investing, holidays and a Christmas fund.

Vipin Bhatia, Head of Finance, Banking, at Australian Unity, suggests separating out long- and short-term savings. He also recommends putting longer-term savings that you don’t want to touch into a high-interest saver account.

“A good bank offers flexible, high-interest savings accounts created by real people, for real people,” Vipin says. “For example, Australian Unity has a high-interest saver account where if you put a minimum of $250 per month, you get bonus interest rates, giving you a healthy return on the funds deposited into the account.”

A rainy day account
Saving for a rainy day is optional, but worth considering. An emergency fund account in case the hot water unit bursts, you lose your job or require unexpected surgery can give you peace of mind in the event that something goes wrong. As with your savings account, simply create a new account and set up an automatic transfer.

What to look for in a bank account

Of course, the best bank account for you might not be the right one for someone else. When looking for the best option, take the time to shop around to find an account that suits your spending habits. It sounds like a no-brainer, but always choose an account with low, transparent fees.

This advice is reinforced by Vipin, who says you should always take the time to ensure you understand the fee structure for each account.

Vipin also suggests considering how you will pay for any expenses.

“If you’re disciplined and you can manage your finances well, I’d suggest using a credit card and putting all your spending through that card to collect rewards points — these can really add up on purchases you were planning to make anyway,” Vipin says. But, he adds, if you lack the discipline, stick with a debit card.

Make saving a habit

While you’re in the heady days of youth, you may not be thinking about wealth creation in the long term, but younger Australians would be wise to set up a regular savings habit early. Stashing away 5 percent of your earnings every single month adds up over the course of a year, Vipin says.

“It’s also important to review your expenses and start tracking those areas where you’re spending more than you perhaps intend to,” he says.

“The good news is that bank accounts can give you a very detailed breakdown of your spending habits, and when they’re structured well it can make it even easier to stay on track.”

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to structuring your bank accounts and it’s important to use the categories that work for your situation. But if done in a way that makes sense, it lessens the financial admin you need to do, helps you feel more control and enables you meet your financial goals sooner. 

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