How to Avoid the $35.53 Donut

Mackenzie Smith, Family Resource Management AmeriCorps VISTA for SDSU Extension

You are about to read a cautionary tale that will have you rethinking your detour through Hy-Vee’s bakery for more reasons than just its delicious lack of nutritional value. 

It was a cold and hectic December, much like this one. Finals are here and family is breathing down your neck trying to figure out when you can schedule family time with your mom’s side, your dad’s side and your grandma’s neighbor’s cousin’s side. It’s also the time when you probably get and give gifts, and some of those are checks wrapped in cards we don’t read. 

In case you are unaware, checks do not go into your bank account immediately. Thanks to mobile banking and mobile deposits, you can now snap a picture of the check and avoid going into the bank altogether, but it isn’t instantaneous. Can we silently mourn the days of enjoying that process because we got a free sucker from the bank teller?

So there I was, craving the sweet sugar high of my favorite snack. I had bills to pay, rent with a check and a few others online. All in all, not my favorite way to spend money, but donuts make everything better, so I splurged the 53 cents (and of course I just cleaned out my purse so I had to pay with my card) to make my day a little more sunny.

Then comes the transaction history in the mail, and low and behold, I had an overdraft fee of $35 because I only had 42 cents in my account when I bought that donut. The rent check processed bringing me way low for the month, and grandma’s check hadn’t cleared yet. I had overspent already because I hadn’t budgeted for my friends’ Secret Santa. I had turned a pick-me-up 53-cent donut into a $35.53 one, all because I wasn’t timing my income and expenses with my spending. 

I wanted to think the main takeaway here was that my bank hated me, but my mom (love her) made sure to point out how it was actually because I was a moron and didn’t balance my checkbook like she told me to. Now, maybe you don’t work with checks that much or grandma is a cash kind of lady. You can still overdraft or rack up other ‘oops’ fees from timing the automatic withdrawal on your car loan wrong or not taking into account the ugly sweater contest you went all out for.

So how can you be better than me?

  1. Know your fees – If I had known it cost the price equivalent to 67 donuts, I would have made sure I knew how much was in my account before I swiped my card.
  2. Balance your checkbook – Having a running total of where your account is at can help you when you aren’t able to check your account balance online. Plus, it doubles as a way to catch fraud. It’s as simple as having your last total and then adding and subtracting amounts as you get paid or spend money throughout the month. More info on that here (
  3. Stick to your budget – If I hadn’t overspent on holiday fun, my account wouldn’t have been so low that a slip up cost me $35.

And for the record, the donut was stale.

If you want to know more about how to manage your finances you can visit ( For articles geared especially toward college students, visit It’s free!