Going Organic on a Budget

Going organic is a great way to improve your personal health and the health of the environment. Fortunately, it does not have to mean spending big. Here’s how to go organic on a budget.

Prioritize your purchases 

If you’re on a strict budget, you likely won’t be able to go completely organic all at once. Start with what’s most important to you. You can move on to another area as the budget allows until you’ve completely embraced the lifestyle.

Buy in bulk

Look for bulk bins at your local natural grocery store for steep savings. If you can’t finish all your bulk organic purchases before they’ll go bad, partner with a friend and split the costs.    

Shop the seasons

In-season produce generally tastes better than off-season fruits and vegetables, and it’s cheaper. Choosing organic produce grown locally while it’s in-season can really bring down your grocery bill. A quick Google search can tell you what’s in season now in your area of the country.

Grow your own

If you have the time and space, consider growing your own organic greens and herbs. This way, you’ll have access to inexpensive produce that’s fresh and ready to eat. 

Shop the farmers market

Your local farmers market is a great place to find fresh, locally grown produce at affordable prices. Plus, it supports local business. 

Stalk your favorite organic brands on social media

Brands will alert followers to fantastic deals and discounts that may otherwise be missed. As soon as you find an organic food brand you love, follow it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This way, you’ll never miss a sale.

Look for store brands

Lots of grocery stores now offer their own line of organic products. These tend to be cheaper than companies that are not affiliated with a specific store. 

Shop smart

Finally, follow the basic rules for smart shopping to save on your purchases. Plan your menu around the sales, shop with a list and take a smaller cart, or even a basket. If all else fails, shop with cash. 

Follow these tips to make the switch to an organic lifestyle without breaking the bank. 

Travel Hacks 1 of 12: 5 Ways to Save on Airfare

Planning a trip overseas? Airfare will probably be your largest vacation expense. Fortunately, there are many ways to save on airfare to leave you with more to spend while at your destination. Here’s a list of five ways to save on airfare.

1.      Be flexible with dates and destinations

If you’re willing to be flexible about the dates and destination, you can potentially save hundreds on your airline ticket. Instead of choosing a date and destination for your vacation and then searching for the best prices, select a date and destination based on the best available deals. 

2.      Shop smart online

Harness the power of technology to score the best airfare price. Searching sites and apps, like ExpediaOrbitz and Priceline, is like using multiple travel agencies to find the best flights for your vacation. Kayak, another popular travel app, plugs your preferred dates into its search engine and searches airline sites and agency sites to provide you with all the prices and options available. 

3.      Act quickly to snag mistake fares

When an airline accidentally discounts a ticket, you can snag a flight for as much as 90% off its conventional price. Mistake fares get snatched up fast, so check your favorite airlines and flight apps often so you don’t miss a deal. 

4.      Consider booking with a foreign currency

If you’ll be flying a foreign carrier, it may be cheaper to pay for your ticket with the local currency of your destination. Before paying for your flight, check to see if it’ll cost less if you don’t pay in dollars. It can sometimes actually cost more this way, but you can often save a lot by simply changing your location from the U.S. to your destination.

5.      Book early

You’ll typically find the best deals on international flights 3-6 months before the departure date. If you’ll be traveling during peak times, like summer or during holiday seasons, start your ticket search even earlier. Flights are updated constantly, so check often to get the best deal.

Use the tips outlined here to get the best deal on your tickets and keep your vacation budget intact. Happy travels!

The Post-Holiday Budget Recovery Guide

The holidays are in the rearview, but if you’ve gone over budget with your spending, it’s time to deal with the aftermath, which is coming head-on. Here’s how you can get your budget back on track for the new year.

Review your holiday spending

How much debt did this season’s spending set you back? Spend some time crunching the numbers so you have a better idea of what kind of recovery steps you need to take.

Choose your recovery process

If you’ve got multiple credit card balances to pay off, you may want to consolidate your debt by taking out a personal/unsecured loan and then using the funds to pay off your credit card debt. You’ll have just a single, low interest payment to make each month.

Another option is to pay off one credit card bill at a time, maximizing payments on the bill that has the highest balance, or the one with the highest interest rate, until it’s completely paid off. Once you’ve crossed one debt off your list, move on to the next until you’re debt-free. 

Trim your budget

It’s time to cut that budget down to size! Consider underused subscriptions you can drop, inflated grocery bills you can trim and auto insurance policies that can be swapped for a cheaper plan. The more you trim, the more money you’ll free up for paying down debt.

Put your holiday resources to work

Along with a pile of debt, the holiday season may have left you with some extra cash through work bonuses, tax returns and gift money. Put these resources to work by using a portion of this money, or even all of it, toward paying down your holiday debt. 

Go on a shopping detox

Take a break from the mall this month and resolve to swipe the plastic only for essentials. At the very least, keep impulse purchases to a minimum until your budget recovers. 

Make a plan for next year’s holiday season

When you open a holiday club account at Olean Area Federal Credit Union, you can set up an automatic monthly transfer from your payroll or checking account to feed your holiday savings all year long.

If you blew your budget this holiday season, take steps to help your finances recover. Use the tips outlined here to get started.

Step 12 of 12 Steps to Financial Wellness – Review and Tweak

Congratulations! You’ve reached the 12th and final step of the 12 steps to financial wellness. Here, we’ll review the previous steps and adjust this part of your financial health plan as necessary. 

Step 1: Track your spending

Are you regularly tracking your spending? Knowing where your money is going will help you make more responsible spending decisions in the future. 

Step 2: Create and stick to a budget

Budgets need to be reviewed and tweaked every few months or so to ensure they still work for present life circumstances. If your budget no longer works for you, tweak until it does.

Step 3: Pay down debt

Have you made as much progress in your debt-paying journey as you’d hoped to by this point? Can you beef up any payments to make debt disappear sooner?

Step 4: Talk money with your partner

Have you had the big money talk with your partner? Need to revisit any of the topics you’ve discussed, such as sharing accounts, dividing expenses and saving up for a shared dream?

Step 5: Spend mindfully

Review some of your recent purchases. Are you blowing money on stuff you don’t need instead of relieving stress in a healthier manner? If so, look for better ways to de-stress. Spending mindfully is one of the most important steps to financial wellness.

Step 6: Pay it forward

Are you remembering to pay it forward? The money, time and smiles we share are the only moments that are truly ours.

Step 7: Pay yourself first

Are you remembering to feed your savings? At this time, you may want to consider increasing the amount you’re regularly putting into savings by trimming some discretionary expenses.

Step 8: Know when and how to indulge

Are you remembering to work your just-for-fun expenses into your budget so you can indulge without guilt? Now is a good time to look back at your indulgences to figure out if they were really good uses for your money.

Step 9: Check your credit score

If you’ve been following the rules for boosting and maintaining a high credit score, like paying your bills on time, having several active cards, and keeping your credit utilization low, your score should have improved during these last few months.

Step 10: Think about retirement

Review your retirement accounts and assess whether your funds have reached the place you’d hoped they would by now. 

Step 11: Start investing

Make sure your investments are performing well and that your assets are optimally diversified.

Step 12: Review your overall financial health

In this final step, you’ll review your steps to financial wellness on a regular basis, just as you’ve done here. 

Reviewing your financial health on a regular basis is an important part of staying financially fit

Last Minute Holiday Hacks

The holidays are nipping at your heels and there’s still a lot to do! It probably seems like your stress levels keep rising while the money in your wallet keeps dwindling. It doesn’t have to be this way. With a bit of planning and by following these holiday hacks, you can enjoy a stress-free and affordable holiday season. Not buying what we’re selling? Well, continue reading to find out how:

Clear the clutter for cash

Before the holidays, browse your closets for clothing in good condition you no longer wear. Sell these on resale sites like eBay and Craigslist. You’ll make room for any incoming gifts and give your holiday budget a little wiggle room at the same time.

Shop small businesses

Avoid crowds and enjoy a wider selection of gift items by shopping small businesses this holiday season. Independently owned stores are more likely to be fully stocked, even late in the season. As a bonus, you’re more likely to land unique gifts, and you’ll be helping local businesses stay afloat during these trying economic times.

Suggest a Secret Santa exchange

If the gift-shopping is getting to be a bit much, consider cutting back by suggesting a Secret Santa gift exchange. You’ll only need to buy one gift instead of one for everyone in an entire group, and the surprise factor makes it super-fun. 

Round up your change

It’s never too late to start saving for the holidays! As you shop, use a money app like Acorn to round up your charge to the nearest dollar, and save the change in a specific account. Small change can add up quickly and help offset the amount you’ll need to come up with in your overall budget.

Delegate

If you’ll be hosting events this holiday season, delegate jobs to your guests. Everyone will appreciate the opportunity to pitch in, and it’ll be more helpful for you if you can assign specific jobs to each guest, instead of having three different people show up with apple pies. 

Shop during non-peak hours

Peak business hours, which start in the early afternoon and run until evening, will have the biggest crowds and emptiest shelves. If you can get to the store early in the day, you’ll enjoy a full selection that you can peacefully browse before crowds show up. Stress-free shopping also means you’re more likely to make responsible spending decisions. Win-win!

Use the tips outlined here for a stress-free and budget-friendly pre-holiday season.

How Can I Save on Holiday Shopping?

Q: The holidays always have me worried about money. With inflation soaring, I’m more stressed than ever. How can I save on my holiday shopping this year?

A: If you’re worried about making it through the holiday shopping season in the midst of record inflation, you’re not alone. A recent survey shows that 59% of American shoppers are stressed about buying holiday gifts due to higher prices this year. With some careful planning, though, you can enjoy stress-free holiday shopping. Here are seven easy ways you can save.

1.      Shop early

Experts are urging shoppers to hit the stores earlier than normal this year to take advantage of early-season sales. Lots of big-box stores are struggling with a supply surplus thanks to an inflation-triggered decline in demand. This will likely lead to sales events to make room for more current inventory. Shop these sales for big savings.

2.      Set a budget

Before you start shopping, build a reasonable budget for your holiday shopping. Make your budget easier to keep by allocating a specific amount for every gift, shopping with cash and/or reviewing your budget often. 

3.      Shop with a list

Instead of blindly hitting the stores, make a list of every gift to buy for friends and family. You’ll be far more likely to stay within budget when your purchases are pre-planned. 

4.      Leave some last-minute shopping for Green Monday

While it’s best to do the bulk of your shopping early in the season, you can leave some last-minute gift-shopping for Green Monday on Dec. 14. This is when retailers make their final pre-holiday markdowns. 

5.      Think outside the box 

If ever there was a holiday season to get creative with gifting, this is it. Retail inventories are full of products that were backed up during the post-pandemic supply-chain disaster. Think furniture, home decor and more. While these items may not be typical holiday gifts, there’s no real reason you can’t delight a loved one with a new office chair, exercise bike or coffee organizing station.

6.      Give gift cards

Protect your gift list against inflation by giving some gift cards. You can find discounted cards on sites like GiftCardGranny and CardCash, or use cash-back apps to earn them at no cost. Gift cards are easy to shop for, easy to budget for and appreciated by the receiver.

7.      Use apps to save

In 2022, there are so many apps that can help you spend less on your shopping, and even put money back into your pocket. Try coupon-scanning apps like Honey, cash-back apps like Ibotta and points apps like Drop to save this season.

Use the money-saving tips offered here to shop for the holidays without breaking your budget. 

How to Budget in Times of Inflation

Sticking to a budget during times of inflation is challenging – but not impossible. Here are five ways to help make it happen:

1.      Plan your grocery purchases

First, shop your pantry and fridge before hitting the store. You may not remember what you have at home, so a quick scan can help you stick to purchasing only what you need. 

Next, plan your week’s dinner menu before shopping so you can pick up what you need for the week in one go. The fewer trips to the grocery, the less you’ll spend on impulse buys. 

Finally, don’t forget to shop the sales!. Use apps like Checkout 51, Flipp and Grocery IQ to stay in the know of what’s on sale in each store.

2.      Consider an energy audit

With winter approaching and the cost of energy sources still climbing, this can be a good time to have an energy audit performed on your home. An audit will help identify energy drains, such as air leaks near your windows and doors, so you can fix them and make your home more energy efficient

3.      Choose your indulgence

Everyone needs to treat themselves to something special every now and then, but with costs rising on restaurant meals, movie tickets and clothing, something’s gotta give. Take a closer look at your just-for-me purchases, and try to narrow them down to just one or two treats. 

You can also find ways to trim the cost of your indulgences. For example, if you love dining out but restaurant meals are destroying your budget, you can eat out but skip desserts and wines, or split an entrée with your dining partner. 

4.      Switch your auto insurance plan

If you’ve had your auto insurance policy for a while and you’ve maintained a good driving record, you might save a bundle by switching to a new policy and/or provider. Reach out to your current insurer to discuss your options. Ask about raising your deductible in exchange for a lower premium, reducing overall coverage or negotiating for a safe driving discount. After obtaining a quote, call several other providers to get competing quotes. Go with your lowest offer, or call back your present provider and ask them to match it for your continued business.  

5.      Pad your income

If your paycheck is suddenly not enough to support your lifestyle, consider asking for a cost-of-living raise. You can also look for other ways to pad your income, such as driving for a ride-share company or consulting for hire on weekends. Every extra dollar earned counts!

Yes, you can get through times of inflation and keep your budget intact! Use the tips shared here to get started. 

How Can I Help My Elderly Parents Manage their Finances?

Q: My parents are aging, and I believe they can use help in managing their everyday expenses, and may eventually need a proxy. How can I best help my parents with their finances?

A: Your parents are fortunate to have a child who’s proactively willing to help with this challenging task. Here are some ways you can help your elderly parents manage their finances. 

Determine whether they need help

If you notice any of the following, it may be a sign that your parents need assistance with money management:

  • Unusual and unnecessary purchases
  • Piles of unopened mail. 
  • Physical setbacks. 
  • Cognitive impairment and/or memory failure.

Communicate openly

Before you take steps toward managing, or assisting with, your parents’ finances, have an open conversation with them about your current and future intentions. You can share that you are only there to help and that you will not take any actions without their permission, whether before or at the time of need.

Gather information

Next, sit down with your parents and ask these questions about their finances

  1. Have you named a durable power of attorney (POA) for finances?
  2. Where do you keep your financial records and assets?
  3. What is the name of your mortgage lender? 
  4. What are your monthly expenses?
  5. How do you pay your bills?
  6. How much is your annual income?
  7. What kind of health insurance do you have?
  8. Have you written a will or a trust?  

Establish a plan

Now you’re ready to establish a plan for managing, or assisting with, your parents’ finances. Be sure to honor their dignity as much as possible. Ask them if they’d like you to take responsibility for one or more of their monthly financial-related tasks. For example, you can pay their mortgage and car payments each month, or make decisions relating to their investments. 

At this time, consider simplifying their finances in any way you can. For example, if your parents have multiple credit card balances, you may want to consolidate this debt into an unsecured loan, and then only have to pay back the one loan payment each month. You can also automate as many bills as possible. 

Alternatively, you can talk about the future only, and have your parents agree to let you manage their money if one or both of them become incapacitated in any manner. 

If your parents find it difficult to relinquish this bit of independence, start assuming responsibilities for their finances gradually; just one bill at a time. 

Taking over the finances of elderly parents can be a delicate and daunting task, but it is often necessary. Use the tips outlined here to navigate this situation smoothly.

6 Ways to Pay Less at the Pump

With gas prices still rising nationwide, the pain at the pump is real. There isn’t much you can do about the price of gasoline, but there are ways you can pay less at the pump. Here are six ways to save on gas.

1.      Use cash

Many gas stations offer a discount for paying cash, sometimes up to 20 cents per gallon. This can quickly add up when pumping a full tank. Just be careful to have the cash handy when you need it, as you don’t want to lose all those savings to ATM fees if using machines not connected to your credit union.

2.      Use a rewards program or credit card

If you don’t like the idea of carrying around tons of cash, but you still want to save at the pump, consider getting a rewards program or credit card. Tread carefully though; not all of them actually benefit the consumer. Find out about a possible annual fee, a rewards cap, membership requirements and the exact redemption value of each reward point before signing up. As an Olean Area Federal Credit Union member, you can opt for the Extra Rewards program when you have the Visa Platinum Credit Card.

3.      Check your tire pressure

According to the US Department of Energy, a  well-inflated tire can save you 15 cents a gallon by boosting your gas mileage by 3%. Check your tires regularly to ensure they’re always inflated. To make this easier, consider springing for a tire pressure gauge that will automatically monitor the health of your tires. 

4.      Use a gas-tracking app

In 2022, there’s no need to search for the gas station with the best-priced gas. There’s an app for that! Popular gas-tracking apps include GasBuddyUpside and Waze. Using the gas station that’s right near your home or workplace might be easy, but taking the extra time to find one that sells gas for less can save you a bundle.

5.      Purchase a club membership

If you don’t already have one, this may be the time to buy a club membership. Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart Plus all offer discounted gas exclusively to members. Of the three, Costco tends to feature gas for the lowest price, up to 34 cents less per gallon than a typical gas station. In today’s gas-crazy climate, that’s a huge difference. Of course, you’ll want to find out how much a club membership will run you before joining.

6.      Buy gas at the right time of day

If you pump gas during the midday hours, after the sun has been beating down on the gas reservoir all day, the gas has likely expanded. This means you’ll be paying the same price for less-dense gas, which won’t last as long. Pump when it’s cooler outside, typically during the morning or late evening hours, for the densest gas.

Use these tips to help save on gas despite the rising cost of fuel.

Financial Lessons You Can Learn from Fantasy Football

With summer winding down and autumn creeping in, are you ready for some fantasy football? Drafting the best team and guiding them toward the championship takes knowledge, dedication, skill and talent. But fantasy football is much more than just a super-absorbing hobby. You can actually learn a lot about money management and growing your wealth from the game. Here are five financial lessons you can learn from fantasy football.

1.      Do your research

Knowing which NFL players to “draft” to your team on your league’s draft day is crucial. If you sail into this uber-important day unprepared, you’re essentially setting yourself up for a miserable season. During the weeks leading up to draft day, the true fantasy football pro is listening to podcasts from training camps, researching potential trades and learning about past performances of many players. 

In personal finance, the rules are similar. When choosing a place or company to sink your money into, you’ll want to do as much research as possible and ask lots of questions to ensure success and alignment with your values

2.      Diversify

In fantasy football, it’s important to diversify your team and to draft players who excel at various positions in real life. This helps to ensure as many wins as possible. In finance, diversification is even more important. You’ll want to spread your investments over a mix of whole-market funds, securities and savings accounts. The more exposure your portfolio has among various asset classes and markets, the more protection it has against market volatility and inflation.

3.      Keep your investments private

To a true fantasy football addict, there’s no conversation topic as exciting as the team they’ve drafted and the wins they’re racking up. But to the uninitiated, there’s no conversation topic that will put them to sleep faster than your fantasy football league. Find like-minded fans to talk shop with, but otherwise, you’re best off keeping your observations and insight on the game to yourself.

Investments are similar. You don’t want to be the drag of the party, the office or the block. Talk about your stock performance with your partner, your financial advisor and maybe your mother. Otherwise, keep it to yourself.

4.      Assess your financial health throughout the year

A real fantasy football pro will monitor the performance of their players in real life. There will always be players getting injured, teams that change their strategies and players who have down seasons. You’ll need to keep an eye on what’s happening so you can make the best decisions about adding potential players on the waiver wire going forward. 

To achieve and maintain true financial wellness, you’ll also need to monitor your budget, savings, spending habits and more throughout the year. Review and assess your money management every few weeks for the best results. 

Fantasy football is so much more than an addictive hobby! Fantasy football can teach you financial lessons for life. 

Step 8 of 12 Steps to Financial Wellness – Know When and How to Indulge

Living a life of financial wellness means being happy with a lifestyle that’s within your means, but doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re lacking. At the same time, financial wellness means money choices are governed by discipline and not by emotion. So how do you strike a balance between the two?

Here’s how to indulge responsibly. 

Live with a budget

To do this, track your spending for three months. Next, make a list of all your expenses and list your income in a parallel column. Tally up your totals and assign a realistic dollar amount to each expense. Going forward, be sure to only spend within the allocated amount for each expense category. 

Leave room in your budget for “just for fun” purchases

As you work on building a budget, leave room for the occasional treat. The exact amount will vary by income level, lifestyle and personal choice. However, wisely choose an amount you can easily afford without feeling deprived. 

Review your savings

Before giving yourself permission to indulge, make sure you’re setting aside some of your monthly income to savings. Ideally, short-term savings should be enough to keep you afloat for 3-6 months if you have no source of income. Long-term savings should be sufficient to support your retirement and any long-term savings goal you may have. 

Choose your “treats”

Everyone’s got a personal vice or three. Take a look at where your non-discretionary money went over the last month and highlight the more expensive impulse buys. Hold these purchases up to these questions:

  • Did this purchase bring me happiness or positive energy the day I bought it? How long did that feeling last?
  • Did this impulse buy blow my budget?
  • Does thinking about this purchase now fill me with joy, guilt or something else?

Use the insight about your indulgences to help you make better money choices in the future. 

Lose the guilt

Once you’ve decided how much you want to spend each month on indulgences, it’s time to let go of guilt. If you’re spending responsibly, there’s no need to eat yourself up over an impulse buy you could have done without. As long as you’re keeping these just-for-fun purchases within your budget, you can maintain your financial wellness.

Cash, Credit or Debit – How Should I Pay?

Q: When paying for my everyday and occasional purchases, should I be using cash, credit, or debit?

A: Some purchases should be paid for with cash, some with a credit card and others with a debit card. Let’s take a closer look at each method and when they should be used.

When should I use cash?

Some retailers offer discounts for paying in cash, making it the wise go-to. Also, if you have a tough time sticking to your budget when shopping, it can be helpful to only take along the cash you plan to use. Finally, some small businesses only accept cash payments. 

On the flip side, cash offers no purchase protection and should not be used for large purchases. Also, cash leaves no paper trail, so it may be difficult to track expenses. Finally, cash always carries the risk of being lost or stolen. 

When should I use my credit card?

Credit cards are the double-edged sword of personal finance. Credit card debt is a leading cause of consumer debt. However, owning credit cards and using them responsibly is a crucial part of your credit rating

Credit cards also offer two primary advantages: rewards and purchase protection. Many credit cards can earn rewards as you spend on them, so it earns you something for your use. The purchase protection a credit card offers also makes it the ideal choice for paying for large purchases. In addition, using a credit card and making on-time payments can help boost your credit score while also making expense tracking easy. 

Ideally, credit cards should only be used to cover fixed or steady payments and for purchases you know you can pay in full when the bill is due. 

When should I use my debit card?

Debit cards allow you to track your spending and help you stay within budget since you can generally only spend what you have. In addition, if your card is lost or stolen, you can cancel it and/or close the connected account. 

Debit cards can be a great choice for everyday purchases of any kind. At Olean Area Federal Credit Union, you can actually earn rewards with your debit card if you have a myRewards Checking account! Learn more here: https://www.oleanareafcu.org/personal-accounts/checking-accounts/rewards-checking/

Use this guide to help you choose the right payment method in every situation. 

Back-to-School Shopping Hacks

It’s back-to-school season, but that doesn’t mean you need to break your budget. Here’s six back-to-school shopping hacks to get you started.

1.      Take inventory

Don’t set foot in a single store without first checking to see what you have at home. Keep a running list of everything you find so you know exactly what you have before you spend anything on new supplies and clothing. 

2.      Shop with a list

And we’re not talking about the list of required supplies your child’s school or teacher has sent home. When shopping for anything, it’s best to start out with a clear goal of what you plan to buy.  This way, you’ll be less likely to overspend and come home with stuff you don’t really need.

3.      Divide and conquer

The circulars are packed with specials on school supplies all summer long. The problem is that, while one store is offering a crazy-low deal on crayons this week, another is running a super sale on pencils – and the stores are across town from each other. Keep your savings and your sanity, by teaming up with another school parent. Divide the school supply list between, pooling costs and savings.

4.      Let your kids choose some items on their own

Teach your kids a lesson in budgeting by allowing them to shop for one or more of the costlier items they need on their own. Set a reasonable budget together, but let your child do the actual choosing and paying. To encourage thriftiness, you can offer to allow your child to keep the change. 

5.      Save some stuff for later

There’s no need to purchase a complete autumn wardrobe before Labor Day. Waiting a bit for the mid-season sales will save you a ton of money. 

If your kids are in need of some bigger ticket items this year, consider applying for a low-interest loan from Olean Area Federal Credit Union!

Use these hacks to cash in on savings this back-to-school season. 

12 Steps to Financial Wellness Step 7: How to Pay Yourself First

“Pay yourself first” is a catchphrase that refers to prioritizing your personal savings above other expenses. To achieve it, savings should be a fixed line on your budget that happens every month without fail. 

Here’s how to pay yourself first.

1.      Review your spending

Take a clear look at your spending. If you already have a budget, this will be as simple as reviewing the column which lists all of your expenses, including your discretionary spending. If you don’t have a budget, track your spending over several months to identify your primary expenses and to find the average amount of money you spend each month. 

2.      Set short- and long-term saving goals

Short-term savings, or funds you want to be able to access in the near future if necessary, can be allocated to an emergency fund. Experts advise having three- to six-months’ worth of living expenses set aside in an emergency fund in case of a sudden, large expense and/or loss of employment. 

Long-term savings should include funds you can afford not to touch for several years or more. Your long-term saving goals can include your retirement, as well as a down payment on a home, a new car, a sabbatical from work or any other super-big expense.

Narrow down your short- and long-term goals, then attach a number to each savings category.

3.      Set a timeline for each savings goal

Now that you have a number for the amount you want to save, you’ll need to work out a realistic timeline for meeting those goals. It’s best to give first priority to your emergency fund, but at the same time, it’s a good idea to start saving for retirement today so compound interest has an opportunity to work its magic. To that end, you may want to allocate the bulk of your monthly savings to your emergency fund until you meet your goal. Once your emergency fund is full, you can divide your savings more evenly between your short-term savings and long-term savings. 

4.      Calculate how much you’ll need to save each month 

Take your total for each goal, and divide it by the number of months in your timeline. For example, if you’ve decided you want to have an emergency fund of $24,000 established in four years’ time, you’ll divide $24,000 by 48 months to get $500 a month. This is the amount you’ll need to set aside each month to reach your goal in time. Do this for each of your goals. 

5.      Automate your savings

Once you’ve got your savings plan ready to go, it’s best to make it automatic. You can set up a monthly transfer from your credit union checking account to your credit union savings account or share certificate. This way, your savings will grow even when you forget to feed them.

Congrats–you’ve mastered the art of paying yourself first!

4 Ways to Stay Financially Fit this Summer

Ahh… summer! The season of flip-flops and sunscreen, of lemonade and baseball. What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, summer can also be the season of overspending for some of us. When the sun is blazing across a cloudless sky and the day stretches on with endless possibilities, purse strings are looser and cards are swiped with abandon. But nothing kills summer fun like a busted budget and a mountain of debt. So how can you stay financially fit this summer?

Keeping your finances intact throughout the summer is possible if you’re ready to plan ahead and make responsible choices. Here are four tips for a financially fit summer. 

1.      Prepare for a possible change in income

If you’re a freelancer, business owner or get paid per diem, expect to see a drop in income during the summer. Business is notoriously slower across many industries at this time, so it’s best to be prepared for this reality. To avoid dipping into savings or going into debt, trim your discretionary spending and use the extra funds to cover non-discretionary expenses. You can also choose to find a side hustle for the summer to cover the gap in your income. 

2.      Get your budget summer-ready

Your budget will see some changes in the summertime, and it’s wise to prepare it in advance instead of being caught unaware. Here are some changes you might expect:

  • Higher utility bills 
  • Increase in fuel prices 
  • Travel expenses
  • Increased activities for kids

3.      Create a vacation budget 

Build a workable budget for your summer getaway to avoid overspending. Attach a dollar amount for your hotel stay, car rental, food costs, transportation, entertainment and outings as well as any other costs you expect to encounter during vacation. 

4.      Review and adjust as necessary

Blowing a budget is never an excuse to go all out and overspend without considering the consequences. To avoid falling into this trap, review your budget and your overall spending on a regular basis throughout the summer. Being aware of the state of your finances will make it easier to make responsible choices going forward. 

Follow these tips to keep your finances intact throughout the summer. 

10 Fun Gifts for Dad that Don’t Break the Budget

It’s Dad’s time, a day to go all-out to make your all-time favorite hero happy. But, Father’s Day doesn’t have to drain your wallet. You can make Dad’s day and keep your budget, too. Here are 10 fun and low-cost gifts that’ll make Dad smile.

1. Apple charging dock

This awesome charging dock can juice up an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods all at the same time. Get Dad’s 3-in-1 charging station for just $19 on Amazon

2. BenShot pint glass with real golf ball

Does Dad love to golf? Surprise him with this unique pint glass with a real embedded golf ball. Just $26 on Amazon.

3. Classic charades

The classic game of Charades, just $12 at Chroniclebooks.com, will help create warm family memories way beyond Father’s Day.

4. Open bottle wine rest

This adorable mountain-shaped wine bottle rest is the perfect gift for the outdoorsy dad who loves to enjoy a good glass of wine and save the rest for later.

5. Rainbow socks pizza socks box

The pizza-box packaging of these socks make them a super-fun Father’s Day gift. Just $26 on Amazon

6. Bluetooth speaker beanie

With its built-in Bluetooth speakers and a super-warm design, Dad won’t want to take this beanie off all winter! Just $28 on Amazon.

7. Fitness dice

At-home workouts are fun again with this innovative fitness dice set. Every roll gives you one of 45,000 possible routines, all are equipment-free. Only $19 at uncommongoods.com.

8. Bean Box coffee subscription

If Dad likes his morning cup of Joe, he’ll love a regular delivery of fresh bags of whole bean coffee from artisanal brand Bean Box. Subscriptions start at just $16.50.

9. Chillsner

Dad will never have to wait for his drink to chill again when he has this nifty little gadget. Keep the Chillsner in the freezer and pop it into any drink for an instant chill. $10 at uncommongoods.com.

10. Marvel’s greatest comics

Let Dad dive into an anthology of the greatest Marvel comics of all times, including favorites like Iron Man, Captain America and more. Get the collection here.

Use this guide to find the perfect gift for Dad that doesn’t break the budget.

Step 6 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Pay it Forward

There’s so much good you can do with the money you’ve been blessed to have. There’s also a lot of good you can do with your time, talents and possessions. Let’s explore some ways you can make the world better by paying it forward

1.      Donate funds to your favorite cause

The classic and simplest way to pay it forward is by supporting a charity or two that speaks to your heart. Make a donation that fits your budget to help make a difference. Be sure to verify the authenticity of the organization on a charity-vetting site, like Charity Navigator or CharityWatch. Don’t forget to save your receipt so you can claim a tax deduction. 

2.      Commit to do one random act of kindness each day

Kindness doesn’t have to be big, loud, or costly to make a difference. The smallest act of kindness can have a big impact on someone’s day. You can offer to make a coffee for your coworker, feed a parking meter that’s about to run out, remove a branch or rock from a busy thoroughfare or let someone go ahead of you at a checkout counter. 

3.      Write thank you letters 

When was the last time you thanked your child’s teacher, your parents or your postal carrier? Pick up a set of thank you cards, and spend 20 minutes writing thank you letters. Your letters may be cherished by the recipients for many months or years to come. 

4.      Donate your time 

Unfortunately, there are many people suffering from various hardships. With just a small donation of your time, you can help alleviate some of their suffering. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, help bring cheer to hospitals, offer to babysit for a couple who is going through hard times so they can have a night out or visit with a lonely person. You can brighten someone’s day simply with your presence!

There are so many ways to pay it forward and make the world into a better place. And when you give to others, you’re really giving to yourself by learning to be a better, kinder person. 

The Ultimate Grad Gift Guide

Celebrate with your grad and show them how proud you are of their accomplishments with these low-cost, awesome gifts!

1.      ID lanyard

Make it easy for your grad to carry their ID and wallet around campus or workplace. Super-cute and durable, these lanyards are the perfect graduation gift. 

2.      ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’

You can’t go wrong with this Dr. Seuss classic! Whimsical, yet inspirational, it’s a great read for the older teen setting off into the big world of adulthood. 

3.      College survival kit

Hit the dollar store to scour the aisles for a big basket, filling it with all sorts of stuff to make a college survival or house/apartment warming kit. Include essentials, like flip flops and hair ties, kitchen utensils and hand soap. Have a bit of fun with extras, like Bluetooth speakers, wall decals and more!

4.      “Open when” letters

Pen some letters for your grad to open at key milestones and/or more challenging times, such as after the first round of final exams, when feeling homesick, when needing a laugh, etc. Your letters will be the gift that keeps on giving throughout their first year outside the nest.

5.      Picture collage

Help your grad have the most awesomely decorated room in college with a fantastic homemade picture collage! Check out their social media pages for their best snapshots and put together a low-cost, meaningful gift they’ll always treasure.

6.      Laundry essentials

Spring for an adorable laundry hamper and fill it with all your grad needs to master the wash. Think detergent, dryer sheets, stain-remover and more. Add a cute note, like “Have LOADS of fun in college!” to complete the gift. 

7.      Chef’s special

Fill a big mixing bowl, Bundt pan or other large basin with all they need to master the kitchen. You can load it up with spatulas, measuring cups and spoons, a cute apron, oven mitts, a skillet and more. You can also add one of the many college cookbooks you’ll find on sites like Amazon.

Use these ideas to find the perfect low-cost gift for your grad. 

How to Celebrate Memorial Day on a Budget

Celebrating Memorial Day can cost a pretty penny, but there’s no need to spend wildly to have an epic holiday weekend. Here’s how to celebrate Memorial Day on a budget.

1. Hit the beach

Get out to the shore at the first opportunity! The beach can provide hours of relaxation and fun for the family at little or no cost. Stock up on some inexpensive patriotic-patterned towels to make the day a little more festive.

2. Host a potluck

If you’ll be hosting this Memorial Day, make it a potluck. Ask each guest to bring one dish for a complete dinner that doesn’t cost anyone a lot of money. As a bonus, the menu is a lot more fun when it’s varied and prepared by many different cooks.

3. Go easy on the decor

No need to blow a ton of money on making your Memorial Day celebration look festive. Spruce up the place with some red, white and blue balloons from the dollar store, and add some banners like these for a complete patriotic look.

4. Make a signature drink

Instead of setting up a full bar, make one signature drink for the night. You can find some great drink recipes here.

5. Look for coupons

Don’t go anywhere without first checking if you must pay full price. Pick up some great discounts on restaurant meals, entertainment venues and more on web sites like Groupon.com.

6. Host a DIY sports event

For a fun and frugal alternative to the traditional Memorial Day BBQ, invite family and friends over to your place, or meet up at a park, for a day of sports and games. You can play flag football, soccer, have a tug-of-war competition or even drum up a full game of baseball.

7. Visit historical sites

What better way to spend Memorial Day than checking out historical attractions? Many historical sites host free events in honor of the three-day holiday. 

8. Rent a boat

Enjoy a day out on the water at little cost by renting a boat from a nearby boat rental service or a private owner. Bring along some snacks and drinks and good music for a fantastic day of water fun. 

Use these tips to enjoy a memorable holiday weekend on a budget!

Step 5 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Practice Mindful Spending

Creating and deciding to stick to a budget is easy; actually carrying through on your plan is the hard part. For many people, a big part of the gap between what they want to do and what they actually do is caused by their failure to spend mindfully. When every buy is just a swipe away, it can be super-tough to rein in that spending instinct – but it is possible. Here’s how to learn the art of mindful spending

Find alternative ways to de-stress

Choosing to go shopping to reduce stress, deal with challenges or just to escape real life for a bit makes it difficult to make smart, responsible choices. In addition, the bills or extra debt you’re creating will just power-up your stress levels in the long run. Instead, find another way to lift heavy moods. Find someone to talk to, take a long, hot bath, go for a jog while zoning to your favorite pick-me-up playlist or take up a forgotten hobby again. 

Consider disabling the one-click feature for online shopping

If you’re big into online shopping and often end up buying more than you’d planned, consider disabling the one-click feature on sites like Amazon. You can also choose not to have your device “remember” your payment information, so you have to input it whenever you shop, so there is more resistance for your purchases. It may give you just enough pause to reconsider.  

Put large purchases on hold

One of the best ways to avoid buyer’s remorse is to put all large purchases on hold. Set your own dollar threshold for what you consider to be a large purchase and resolve to wait a while before completing any purchase in this amount. This, too, will give you time to think about it and allow you to consider whether you really want to spend this money now. 

Avoid temptation

It’s hard to keep telling yourself no when temptation is constantly flashing across your screen. Opt out of social media accounts that get you to spend more than you should and unsubscribe from email lists. Avoid browsing on brand sites that trigger overspending and only visit when you need to buy something. 

Mindless spending can be the undoing of the most carefully crafted budget. Follow these tips to learn how to spend mindfully.

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