Smart Money Podcast: Is Your Personal Finance Indecision Costing You? Plus, How to Shop for a New Bank

Sara Rathner
Sean Pyles
By Sean Pyles and  Sara Rathner 
Published
Edited by Kevin Berry

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Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions. In this episode:

Uncover the true cost of making financial decisions (and financial indecision) and get tips for shopping for a new bank.

This Week in Your Money: Explore the concept of financial opportunity cost and the trade-offs we make with our money with hosts Sean Pyles and Sara Rathner. They discuss the risks associated with sticking with the status quo, the importance of periodically reassessing your financial decisions, the potential pitfalls of always relying on automatic payments, and the benefits of switching banks and taking advantage of sign-up bonuses.

Today’s Money Question: Andee, a 69-year-old listener, joins Sean and Sara to discuss the challenges associated with finding the right bank for her financial needs. They talk about how to navigate the process of researching and switching banks for easier management and better interest rates. They discuss the sometimes misleading allure of signup bonuses, tips on how to compare banks, and options for managing savings and expenses through high-yield savings accounts. They also explain how you can use these accounts for both short-term and long-term goals, such as paying for recurring costs like mortgages and daycare, as well as saving for home renovations.

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NerdWallet stories related to this episode:

Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at [email protected]. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.

Episode transcript

This transcript was generated from podcast audio by an AI tool.

Sean Pyles:

Money is all about opportunity cost. What's the trade-off of choosing one financial priority over another? And what do you risk by doing nothing at all?

Sara Rathner:

Are you asking me, Sean, or are you just putting that question out there in the universe?

Sean Pyles:

I'm channeling my inner Morgan Freeman narrator here, but this episode I will also be talking with you about these questions, Sara.

Sara Rathner:

All right.

Sean Pyles:

Welcome to NerdWallet's Smart Money Podcast, where you send us your money questions and we answer them with the help of our genius Nerds. I'm Sean Pyles.

Sara Rathner:

And I'm Sarah Rathner. Listener, as we head into the holiday season, what money questions are on your mind? Are you wondering how to find the best deals on holiday gifts or whether New Year's resolutions are actually worth setting? Whatever's on your mind, send us your questions.

Sean Pyles:

You can email a voice memo of your money question to [email protected] or leave a voicemail on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730 N-E-R-D. You can also text your questions to the Nerd hotline or write an email to [email protected]. This episode Sara and I talk with a listener about switching banks, and whether those bank signup bonuses are worth pursuing.

Sara Rathner:

But first, in our This Week in Your Money segment, Sean and I are going to talk about the trade-offs we all make every day with our money, including what we risk by doing nothing at all.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah. We're keeping it light this episode. But really this is a super important topic to think about and apply to your own finances and your life in general. The way I think about it, money is just a tool that we're all using to get what we want out of life. And the more clearly we can frame our finances this way as a means to an end, the easier it will be to focus on what's most important to us. Then we can see what opportunities we might be missing out on by prioritizing one goal over another or by giving into inertia. For example, take my perennial financial weakness, the impulse purchase. When I buy that vintage sweater off eBay or yet another toy for my dog, that means less money that I'm able to save for a specific goal, like paying off my student loans or funding my eventual wedding.

And as a natural born spender, an adage that always helps me save more is that wealth is what you keep, not what you buy. So Sara, I know that financial opportunity cost has been on your mind a lot lately, so what are your thoughts on this?

Sara Rathner:

I mean, when it comes to your money, it's so much easier to just keep doing what you're doing, than it is to make a change. I mean, everyone's busy and it's really hard to find time to sit down and complete a super boring administrative life task. You've been working all day, you have precious few hours outside of work to do whatever you want and you don't want to spend that time doing paperwork or calling 800 numbers. I get it. And honestly, some days I barely have time to eat or use the bathroom because I have a baby and they don't let you do either of those things. Now you all know way too much about me. Anyway, doing nothing can cost you a lot is the issue. And also you really need to make time to use the bathroom for your health.

Sean Pyles:

That's important.

Sara Rathner:

Yes. Put your kid down in a safe place and just go use the bathroom. That's my advice.

Sean Pyles:

Got to prioritize self-care, and sometimes that self-care means simply going to the bathroom.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. Or having a snack.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah. Hopefully not at the same time.

Sara Rathner:

Oh, God no.

Sean Pyles:

Well, Sarah, what are some examples of when just sticking with what you've always done or what's easier might not be the best course of action for you?

Sara Rathner:

Well, it's so easy to set things up on auto payment when it comes to things like credit card payments and other bills. And that's a great thing because it can keep you from accidentally paying a bill late or missing a payment entirely. But it can also put you on autopilot on a setting that maybe isn't right for you. For example, let's say you set up your credit cards to just make the minimum payment on the due date, and that's what your budget allows right now. And maybe you go in later and manually pay more.

But if your budget is bigger than it was when you first set that up, maybe your income has gone up or another financial obligation has gone away like you've paid off another debt and now you have a little bit more money, not going back in and increasing your payment amounts means that you are taking on more and more credit card debt. So you don't want to just set it and forget it forever. You do want to occasionally revisit those auto-pays that you set up, and make sure that they're still correct given your income, your budget, and how much you owe.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah. And the timeframe in which you want to get out of debt, because just making the minimums on your credit cards can leave you in debt for several years. And given how high interest rates are typically on credit cards, it can be a very costly and time-consuming debt.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. I mean, one thing I see a lot of friends do is switching over to bank accounts, which we talk with a listener about later in this episode. So this is very timely. I have friends that they've had the same bank account forever. It's what was opened up for them when they were a kid by their parents. And then when they became adults, they opened up an independent account with that same bank and they're very loyal to it. That's lovely. But those bank accounts might not offer the best features for what they need now in their life as an adult compared to what was available to them when they were kids.

When we were kids, there was no such thing as an online high-yield savings account, didn't exist. And there are so many other options now. It takes just a few minutes to open an account. A lot of them are paying north of 4% APY, which is a really great way to get your money to do something for nothing. And if you are keeping your savings in the same bank account you've been using for 15 years, you are potentially missing out on a lot of interest that you could be earning. And it's such an easy problem to solve. But I've talked to friends about this and they're like, well, I like my bank. And I'm like, do you like your bank? Your bank is not a person. Are you friends with your bank? Your bank doesn't care and you don't care. You like doing nothing.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah. In the personal finance space, there's often a great opportunity cost to brand loyalty because companies like insurers, especially car insurers, will sometimes charge you more if you stick with them year after year because they know you're not likely to shop around. And it's similar with bank accounts too. You might actually be better suited to a different bank than the one you've had for the past half decade or decade, and you might be leaving money on the table by not getting an account that's giving you a higher yield on your cash.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. I mean another way to do this is to carry the same credit card that you've always had, when your life has changed and there might be another one out there that's a better fit for you. Maybe a card that doesn't charge an annual fee, a card that offers more rewards, maybe a lower interest rate. Maybe your credit score has increased over time and what you would qualify for, the pool of cards you would qualify for, has expanded, and suddenly shopping around becomes a lot more appealing. But again, that does take time. NerdWallet has a great credit card comparison tool that can help shave some time off of this assignment. But it is hard to do something, again, because doing nothing feels so good. I get it. I love doing nothing. Sean, I was just saying to you before we started recording that one of my meetings got canceled today and it was like a dopamine hit. I love doing nothing.

Sean Pyles:

Because now you have 45 minutes to just sit in silence and stare at the wall or maybe go on a walk.

Sara Rathner:

I mean 45 minutes to do more work really instead of sitting in a meeting. But, I mean, still it takes some stuff off of your plate to have less to do. So I get it, but you are potentially missing out.

Sean Pyles:

But that said, there are often benefits to making these changes to help you meet your financial goals. So listener, two pieces of homework for you. First, think about the various parts of your financial life, like the bank you use, the amount you're paying for streaming services, the credit card that you keep in your wallet, and consider what trade-offs the decisions that you've made around all of these categories might mean for your money overall and your life in general. And also, as a side note, trade-offs aren't inherently good or bad. They just are. They're inevitable. But going through this exercise can help you ensure that you're making the financial decisions that reflect your goals and values.

Sara Rathner:

Next, shake up that inertia. Pick one financial part of your life, one account, one credit card, something that has been in the background for a while, and ask yourself if you can make some positive changes. NerdWallet's comparison tools, like I said, can help you get started.

Sean Pyles:

All right. Well listener, I hope that this is a helpful thought exercise for you. Before we move on, a reminder that I want to hear about the best thing that happened to you financially in 2023 for a special end of year episode that we are putting together. We've already heard from some listeners who accomplished some pretty amazing things, but I want to include your voice in this episode too. So whether you finally got serious about saving for retirement or made a plan for paying off some debt, whatever you did with your money this year, take this opportunity to really celebrate your accomplishments.

Sara Rathner:

So leave us a voicemail of your money win on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730 N-E-R-D. You can also text us there if you'd like, or you can email it to us at [email protected].

Sean Pyles:

All right. Now let's get on to this episode's money question segment. Stay with us. This episode we're talking with a listener Andee, who's 69 and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Andee is considering making the jump to a new bank if she can find one that checks all of her boxes. Welcome to Smart Money, Andee.

Andee:

Thank you. Good to be here.

Sean Pyles:

So to start out, can you talk with us about your finances in general? Where do things lie with you in terms of savings and also what do you want from your money right now?

Andee:

Well, I have an IRA that I rolled over from my 401k when I retired three years ago. And I have the bank I'm still using in St. Louis that I moved away from three years ago. That's where I do all of my online banking and it's my main set of accounts. And I've got two different online savings accounts where I'm earning four and a quarter percent interest.

Sean Pyles:

All right, not bad.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. So you mentioned to us that you are interested in potentially hopping to a different bank. What's inspiring this change?

Andee:

I guess it's a number of things. First of all, it's all of those mailers I keep getting both through the postal service and email offering cash bonuses if I open accounts with them. And then it made me think I have my savings in two other accounts and my checking in that third account, does it make sense to consolidate everything under one umbrella because at 69, I'm looking at growing older and want to make sure that it's all streamlined so it's easy for me to navigate.

Sean Pyles:

So what I'm hearing is that you're getting a lot of these ads in the mail and you're maybe thinking that updating the way you're managing your banking will help you have an easier financial management system as you are looking to your golden years.

Andee:

Yes, while growing the money to the best degree possible and still managing my own finances by doing online bill pay with a bank I can rely on.

Sean Pyles:

All right. Is there anything else that you really want from your money right now beyond easy management and carrying you through the years ahead?

Andee:

I want it to be safe. I want it to grow. I want it to be there for emergencies and to finance my travel. I just don't want to have to have any hassles or worry about it. That might be too much to ask, I know.

Sean Pyles:

I don't think it is. There are a lot of great banks out there that offer high interest savings accounts, and I know you were also interested in having no fee checking and a reliable bill pay feature along with good reviews. Right?

Andee:

Yeah.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. There are lots of options out there.

Sean Pyles:

It might sound like you're asking for a lot, but no, there are plenty of banks that do fit that description.

Andee:

There are. But then when I look at the customer reviews, I keep crossing banks off my list and I find it frustrating trying to compare banks and their pluses and minuses side by side. Do I need to create some massive spreadsheet, which I was never very good at.

Sara Rathner:

Hopefully not. Because nobody wants to create a spreadsheet in retirement because you've moved beyond that. You shouldn't have to do that anymore.

Sean Pyles:

And also there is a website, Andee called nerdwallet.com where we have tons of roundups. Where we've done all this work for you.

Andee:

That was my starting point. So the first bank on your list is offering a $500 bonus, but then it takes 15 minutes to read through all of the boilerplate and the caveats and okay, well I don't have $50,000 I want to put in that account. So really it's only a smaller bonus. Is that bonus worth shifting my money from one bank to another? Well, let's look at the next one down the list and on it goes. I don't know if those cash offers are distracting me.

Sara Rathner:

They very well might be. They're certainly compelling. And you've mentioned getting mailers from different banks. They make for really sexy marketing copy. There's very little exciting about a checking and a savings account other than the fact that it's a safe place to park your money and it can serve a really great purpose for that. But the signup bonuses are what makes it juicy. So yeah, it's definitely something that can get a person thinking. But you're right to ask, is this worth the effort? Is this worth moving my money? Is it worth keeping a lot of money in one place for a set amount of time in order to fulfill all of the multitude of requirements just to earn this bonus and the fine print is extensive.

And honestly, in my opinion, and I have gotten bank bonuses for moving money over, in my case, in the form of airline miles, the juice was not worth the squeeze, if I'm being perfectly honest with you. It was way too much effort, way too many labyrinthine rules to follow and way too much money to park in one place for a set amount of time and not be able to touch it.

Sean Pyles:

Right. And my thinking is that if you already know that you want to go with a specific bank and they happen to have a signup bonus going on right now, might as well go for it. But as you said, Andee, there are lots of terms and conditions that make it a little bit of a hassle. For example, I recently saw a signup bonus where you would get $300, which sounds pretty sweet, but of course terms and conditions apply. So to get this bonus, you would need to deposit $5,000 a month for seven calendar months and maintain a minimum average daily balance of $7,000. And if you don't keep the account open for at least 210 days, you would face an early closure fee of $300.

So they're doing everything they can to get your money in their bank, and it's not super easy to get the bonus on your own end, because realize that the bank is going to structure any sign bonus in such a way that it's still financially advantageous for them.

Sara Rathner:

I love the 210 days, like nice round number.

Sean Pyles:

It's so specific. Yeah.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. Not 200, not 250, 210. So yeah, I would say also in this environment of high interest rates on high-yield savings accounts, I mean that's not going to be forever because these are variable rates, which means as interest rates go up and down they'll adjust. But we are in a moment where keeping savings in an account of this type can give you a nice monthly additional amount of money, and with no additional effort on your part too.

Sean Pyles:

I like to have my money across a few different banks. I have one online bank that I use for my high-yield savings, and then I have a credit union in the Portland area that I use for my checking primarily. And I find that my checking account is good for everyday spending, especially if I want to get cash out. But then my high-yield savings account is good for having me structure different savings goals across sub-accounts that I have with them. So I view them as distinct pots of money for different goals. Is that something that you are open to exploring with the way you're managing your finances?

Andee:

I am with a caveat, I don't want my money spread out over too many banks. It feels like too much to keep track of.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah. Especially in retirement when you're looking to have things be as easy as you can be. And what I'm thinking about as well is that you've been at the current bank you have, the one that's based in St. Louis, for a number of years now, and it seems like it's still working pretty well for you. Would you be open to just sticking with that just for the sake of keeping things easy?

Andee:

I would. Does it make sense or should I be moving it to a bank that's offering me 1% interest in checking as opposed to practically nothing?

Sara Rathner:

I mean, that could be a moment where if you're willing to have one bank for checking and another bank for high-yield savings, you could migrate your checking to a new account at a different bank that's offering that higher interest rate. That is a little bit more administratively complicated, as we've talked about. But that's one potential avenue. Another avenue is if you really do want that higher interest rate on checking than committing to moving all of your money over to a bank that also offers high-yield savings. Or honestly, inertia is powerful. If you are happy with your bank and it sounds like you do most of your banking online anyway, having a brick and mortar location in your area doesn't sound like a priority for you. So that does open up the possibility of staying put.

Sean Pyles:

So Andee, is there one thing that your current banking setup isn't providing for you that you wish it was besides maybe a one-time spot bonus of $300?

Andee:

Any interest really on the checking account, but I'm not getting that. For me, the non-negotiable in a bank account is excellent customer service and user reviews, especially if it's a online only bank. So there's not somewhere I can actually walk in and talk to a person face to face. I need to be able to get a hold of somebody by phone without delay.

Sean Pyles:

That is a big reason why I joined a credit union in the Portland area is because I wanted to be able to actually even be able to go in and talk with someone if I needed to, and call and know that they'll be able to answer my call pretty quickly. And on top of that, fees were a big thing for me too, because the bank that I had been using previously is a big national bank and they were charging me fees when I would use any ATM that wasn't theirs. So the ATM would charge me and then the bank would charge me too, which felt punishing. And their customer service wasn't the most friendly.

So I find that if there isn't a compelling reason to switch banks, it can often just be fine to stay where you are. But if you aren't feeling like you're being treated well by the bank that you're using or they're charging you for things that you honestly maybe shouldn't be charged for, then that can be enough of a reason to go somewhere new for banking.

Andee:

This is all good news.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah. I mean, you're doing things right. So I do want to go back to the high-yield savings accounts that you have. Do you have structured savings buckets like we talk about a lot on Smart Money for different savings goals, or how do you have your savings set up?

Andee:

I know you talk about that. I think about it every time I hear you discussing it, and I wonder how would I set that up?

Sean Pyles:

Another way to frame it is having a spending plan, and that's how I view my savings buckets. I am allocating a certain amount from each paycheck to go into these different accounts and I'm going to plan on spending it on travel or my wedding or my student loans, whatever I know I need a pot of money for. And that way I feel like I have my life and my finances organized for the things that I'm planning for down the road.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. I do something similar, not just for longer term goals, but also for even more recurring costs. My husband and I pay our mortgage out of a high-yield savings account. And we keep three months worth of a buffer of mortgage payments. So at any given time, that amount of money is earning more interest. And we can also look at the account and say, okay, this is the amount of buffer we have just in case something goes wrong in our lives and we need to know how many months we could afford our mortgage before we have to start tapping into other savings.

We also have an account that we pay for daycare expenses. So those are two recurring costs, the two biggest recurring costs in our lives that are paid out of savings accounts. But then we also have accounts that we don't touch as often, and those are for things like home repairs. We're saving up for some renovations. So those are some longer term goals that we don't access the accounts as often for.

Sean Pyles:

And Sarah, your way of managing your ongoing expenses through a savings account brings to mind for me the fact that for a lot of people nowadays, the difference between a checking account and a savings account can be just a matter of language. Obviously with savings accounts it's not as easy to get cash out, but you're still able to make those regular payments for your mortgage or for daycare like you would from a checking account. But you're getting a much better yield on your money just by having it in one of those high-yield savings accounts.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. I think the standard rule for savings accounts was something like six withdrawals a month or six checks written out of the account from... I don't write checks because I'm a millennial. But you get like six withdrawals of money to pay for something from that account was traditionally the limit on savings account. So it's not really designed for the constant flow of money in and out the way a checking account is because you're paying bills, you're buying stuff on a credit card, then you're paying off the credit card, whatever.

That being said, I'm pretty sure my particular high-yield savings has just lifted that limit. So it's as if they're behaving in such a way that they realize that people are using their accounts for this purpose and they're certainly not going to stop you from doing that. But yeah, so for those once a month, twice a month expenses, I find a high-yield savings account to be pretty helpful. And you can link it to some sort of an automatic clearing house bank transfer payment, just like you can with a checking account. So it's really not a different experience at all. A lot of this stuff is on auto pay.

Sean Pyles:

Right. But I use my savings accounts to pay off my credit cards which I do at least weekly, and I've never hit a limit where I'm not able to make any more transactions on my savings accounts.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. And I would say, you asked Andee, how do you go about structuring your savings into different buckets? That depends on the bank. Some banks will have a built-in feature that let you create... Let's say you have $10,000 in one savings account, you can go in and designate, okay, well this $2,000 is for this purpose and this $3,000 is for my next vacation. And it's all one account, but it just artificially creates those envelopes for you. So mentally you could look at your account and say, all right, this is the money I have saved up for this goal and this goal and this goal.

Other banks don't have this, but with online banks, it's so easy to create another account that something I've done is just you go in and boop boop beep three minutes later, you have another savings account with the same bank under your name and you can name the account. So you can call it home renovation. And then you can begin transferring money into that account from either another account from the same bank, or if you're checking account’s at a different bank you can set up a transfer that way too.

Andee:

Okay. Good to know.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah. You can do everything from your phone. It's really easy.

Andee:

I love that. I do everything from my phone.

Sean Pyles:

Well, Andee, we've thrown a lot of information about banks and signup bonuses and high-yield savings accounts at you. Where are you now? What's your current thinking about whether you might want to hop to a new bank or stick with what you have? How has this conversation maybe changed your thinking?

Andee:

Oh, I feel so reassured that it's okay to stay with my bank in a different city. I am happy with their services. I'll continue to read those offers, but maybe I don't feel now the urgency to make some decisions. And that's a relief, that just takes it off my shoulders.

Sean Pyles:

Urgency is such a key word here because those mailers that you're getting are designed to create this sense of urgency. They'll say, oh, you can get $300, but you have to sign up this month. So you think, oh, I don't want to leave money on the table. And then you realize what it would take to get that 300 bucks and it's not quite worth it oftentimes. Well, Andee, thank you so much for talking with us. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Andee:

Oh, thank you. You're my favorite podcasters.

Sean Pyles:

I love to hear that.

Andee:

Love the program. It keeps me on track. It's making me smarter.

Sara Rathner:

Come back anytime.

Andee:

Thank you.

Sean Pyles:

Keep going, Andee. Keep going.

Sara Rathner:

I was going to have you on as a recurring guest.

Andee:

You got it. Whenever you need a boost, call me.

Sean Pyles:

Absolutely. All right. So Sarah, what are you thinking after that conversation with Andee?

Sara Rathner:

Here's what I love about this conversation, Andee is using the queue of receiving marketing materials in the mail to ask, is what I'm doing with my finances still serving me? It worked for a while before, but now my circumstances have changed. Do I need to change how I manage my money? And I think that's such a wonderful question for everybody to ask themselves once in a while, once a year, maybe once every three years, depending on how many changes have occurred in your life recently. Sometimes the answer is, I'm not going to change anything. But sometimes the answer is, I'm going to make several or even massive changes to how I'm managing my money.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah. She was getting these mailers that are looking really sexy and she maybe got the seven-year itch a little bit and is like, "What's going on? What else is out there? What can I explore?" And after reviewing what's on the market, it seems like Andee is pretty content with their current setup. But sometimes you do need an outside perspective to help you see that. Because once you're stuck in a relationship with a bank for many years, you can realize, oh, this is boring. Is it doing everything that I need it to or that it could do for me? And when you look around and realize other options may not be as good despite how enticing a signup bonus may be, it's just nice to have that outside perspective to really validate what you're currently doing.

Sara Rathner:

It's funny that you use the word boring because these sorts of marketing materials really try to amp up the excitability of banking products, which is fine, sure. Whatever gets people excited about banking is fine with me. But it's totally okay for your money management to be pretty boring. It functions in the background of your life. It serves the purpose that you need it to serve and it works for you. And then you can be freed up to do all these other more exciting things than stare at your checking account app on your phone. Please don't do that all day.

Sean Pyles:

No. Because when things are not boring, it can just add more stress to your life. Do you really want to be too consumed with what your bank is doing? As long as it's fitting the needs for you, in Andee's case, it's doing her bill pay, then why not stick it out with what you have? But at the same time, if you do get that seven-year itch and you do realize, hey, my bank isn't really living up to what it could be doing for me. It's absolutely a great idea to shop around using NerdWallet as roundups if you want to, and find one that is going to do a little more for you.

Sara Rathner:

Yes. Especially in this time of high interest rates. If you don't earn a nice interest rate on your savings account yet, this could be a really good time to look into other options and have those accounts work that much harder for you again in the background while you're doing more exciting things. Yeah.

Sean Pyles:

That is all we have for this episode. Listener, if you have a money question of your own, turn to the Nerds and call or text us your question at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730 N-E-R-D. You can also email us at [email protected]. Also visit nerdwallet.com/podcast for more info on this episode. And remember to follow, rate and review us wherever you're getting this podcast. This episode was produced by Tess Vigeland, Sarah Rathner, and myself. We had editing help from Kevin Berry. Kevin Tidmarsh mixed our audio. And a big thank you to NerdWallet's editors for all their help.

Sara Rathner:

And here's our brief disclaimer. We are not financial or investment advisors. This Nerdy info is provided for general, educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances.

Sean Pyles:

And with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.