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.

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. 

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.

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 Save Big Bucks by Brown-Bagging Your Lunch

Did you know that choosing to bring your own lunch to work each day can save up to $3,000 a year? Each takeout lunch can easily cost $12 more than a homemade meal. If you’d put that money into an index fund and contribute to it for 25 years, you can save $500,000! 

Unfortunately, too many people end up buying out each workday because they don’t realize how much it costs them, or they simply fail to plan ahead. Others may think it would be too much of a hassle to shop for, prep and bring along lunch from home.

You can use this handy calculator to determine how much you can personally save each year just by brown-bagging it to work each day. And, if you find the idea of prepping lunch five days a week a bit overwhelming, you can choose to bring lunch from home on specific days of the week. 

Here are some hacks for brown-bagging it to work with all the savings and none of the hassle. 

Plan your menu and shop for it early

Don’t get stuck staring at the contents of your fridge and wondering what to take to work seven minutes before you need to leave in the morning.  Plan your lunch menu early in the week and add whatever you’ll need to your grocery list. To save even more, shop the sales and the seasons, and then base your lunch menu around those items. 

Marathon-prep at the beginning of the week

The thought of prepping lunch at the end of a long workday when all you want to do is veg out on the couch can be daunting. Instead, hold a marathon session at the beginning of the week to do as much labor-intensive lunch prep as you can. Slice and dice all your veggies for the week, split dressing into small containers, cook your pastas, wash fruit and tackle any other prep that can be done in advance. This way, you’ll only need to grab what you need each day from the fridge instead of facing an entire meal to prep and package. 

Partner up

It’s never easy to be the odd one out, and if you set yourself up to be the only one pulling out a homemade lunch while the rest of the office packs out to pick up lunch or orders in, you can end up giving up and joining the crowd. Try to find a like-minded partner to brown-bag it with you on the days you choose to bring lunch from home. Eat your lunches together; the companionship will make it easier for both of you to stick to your convictions.

Love your leftovers

Save even more money, and make lunch prep easier, by bringing dinner leftovers with you for lunch. You can repurpose a leftover protein to serve as a salad-topper or sandwich-stuffer, bring along a container of soup to warm up in the office microwave, or beef up your work lunch with some leftover rice, quinoa or another side dish. 

Brown-bagging it to work when everyone else is ordering takeout isn’t easy, but by using the tips outlined here, you can save a boatload of money on work lunch without the hassle. 

5 Gifts for Mom that Don’t Break the Budget

It’s time to show Mom how much she means to you! But… if the idea of Mother’s Day fills your brain with ideas of pricey chocolates, flowers and other gifts, along with a busted budget, you may be going about this the wrong way. Don’t fret, though. We can help! Here’s five ways you can show your mom how much you care without draining your wallet. 

1.      A customized journal

A beautiful notebook for journaling can make a wonderful gift for Mom. You can turn it into a more personalized gift by adding inspirational quotes she’ll enjoy, gluing dried and pressed flowers onto random pages and even adding some of your favorite snapshots of you and her. 

2.      For the coffee-lover

If your mom can’t start her morning without her favorite cup of Joe, which is always iced when it’s warm outside, consider purchasing a Cold Bruer for $80. For a less expensive gift, which can also be perfect for the coffee-loving mom, consider an adorable pair of coasters from Etsy or a mug with a snappy mom message, like this one from Amazon

3.      A day to remember

Why not gift Mom with the best gift of all: a day in the company of everyone she loves? Plan a family day with Mom at the center and include all of her favorite things, from delish meals to her favorite parks and walking trails. 

4.      Peace and quiet

If you’ll be presenting a gift to your partner and you’ve got some little ones at home, consider giving their mom a day to herself. Take the kids out for the day so she can enjoy a rare afternoon alone in a quiet, clean house. 

5.      A homemade creation

No one is as proud of the things you can create as much as your mom. Make something for her this Mother’s Day to show her just how much she means to you. It can be a homemade bath kit to help her relax, a full, nicely packaged meal of her favorite foods or even a scrapbook of your best shared moments. 

Use the ideas shared here to help the mom in your life celebrate the best Mother’s Day without spending much money at all. 

Step 3 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Pay Down Debt

You’ve tracked your spending, designed a budget for your monthly expenses, and you’re on a good path to financial wellness. In this next step, you’ll create a plan for paying down debt.

Consumer debt can be one of the biggest challenges to financial wellness. With some intentional action and commitment, reaching true financial wellness is possible.

Here’s how to pay down or off your debt in five simple steps.

1.      Organize your debt

List every credit card you own along with an outstanding balance. Jot down the amount owed to each card issuer. Next, list the interest rate of each card. Repeat these steps for other loans you may have as well. 

2.      Choose your debt-crushing method

There are two approaches generally advised to folks who are seeking to get rid of their debt: 

  • The snowball method involves paying off your smallest debt first, and then moving to the next-smallest until all debts have been fully paid. 
  • The avalanche method involves getting rid of the debt that has the highest interest rate first before moving on to the debt with the next-highest rate until all debts are paid. 

Choose the method that makes the most sense for your personal and financial circumstances.

3.      Maximize your payments

Once you’ve chosen your debt-crushing method, find ways to maximize your monthly payments. You can do this by trimming your spending in one budget category and channeling that money toward your debt. You can also find ways to get some extra cash for your payments, such as freelancing for hire.

4.      Consider a debt consolidation loan

When you consolidate debts to one low-interest loan, it’s a lot easier to manage the monthly payments. Plus, the savings in interest you won’t pay can be significant, especially if the new loan has a low interest rate. If this approach sounds right for you, consider taking out a personal loan from Olean Area Federal Credit Union. 

5.      Negotiate with your creditors

Many credit card companies will be willing to lower your interest rate once you prove you are serious about paying down debt. After kicking off your debt payment plan, it’s worthwhile to contact each credit card company to discuss options. 

No matter which strategy you go with or the methods you use for paying off your debt, commit to not adding more debt onto your card while paying it down. Paying off a large amount of debt will take time and willpower, but living debt-free is key to financial wellness. Best of luck on your debt-crushing journey! 

How Can I Save on Entertainment Costs?

Q: In this time of high inflation, how can I save on entertainment costs?

A: With a bit of creativity and pre-planning, you can trim your recreation budget without feeling pinched. We’ve listed eight ways to save on entertainment costs. 

1.      Attend amateur sporting events

Instead of spending big on professional sporting events, get your fix at local high school or college games. You’ll get the same excitement and a game featuring high talent without the high price tag. 

2.      Volunteer

Volunteering your time and service at local organizations provides an outlet and the opportunity to meet new people. Reach out to local soup kitchens, animal shelters, food banks and hospitals to see how you can help. 

3.      Turn a hobby into income

If you’re crafty, you can make money through your hobby by selling your creations on sites like eBay and Etsy. Use some of the money you earn to purchase new supplies and improve your skills. 

4.      Workout at home

Get your workout at home by checking out workout videos on YouTube. You can also get your heart pumping by going for a run in your neighborhood.

5.      Spend less on dining out

Don’t visit a restaurant without checking for coupon codes and discounted gift certificates on sites like Restaurants.com. It’s also a good idea to dine out less often and make meals at home to save money

6.      Buy season passes

If you find yourself often visiting the same entertainment center, consider getting a season pass. These may cost as little as two one-time tickets. 

7.      Attend local art shows

Check out local galleries for free events and shows for a night of fine art. Some towns also host monthly art walks featuring several galleries on display at no cost to the viewer. 

8.      Catch a performance at a local college

If you live near a college town, find out about performances and concerts they may be hosting. Lots of performers include colleges in their tours. Score an inexpensive ticket to a big-name concert by attending such an event. 

Don’t let inflation deflate your fun! Use these tips to save on entertainment costs. 

The Best Way to Spend Your Paycheck

Everyone loves payday, but too many employees don’t know how to allocate their paycheck in a way that best serves their financial needs. Use the tips outlined below to learn how to manage your paycheck responsibly. 

1. Automatically deduct contributions

Your first step in managing your paycheck is making sure you are deducting the optimal amounts. Your employer will likely deduct funds for your health care plan and taxes, but you can determine how much tax is withheld by changing a few elections on your W-4. If you receive too large a tax refund for the prior year, or you’re stuck with a big bill when you file, consider adjusting the amount withheld on your W-4. Also, be sure to take full advantage of any employer-matching offers for your retirement funds — don’t give up free money! 

2. Budget for necessities 

After your contributions are deducted from your paycheck, you’ll be left with your take-home pay, or net income. You’ll use this money for covering expenses until the next payday, so it’s best to budget first for necessities, such as your mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, etc. You can use the “envelope system” to put cash away for necessities or set up a detailed old-fashioned budget. You can also choose to use the “50/30/20 budget” that sets aside 50% of your income for needs. 

3. Budget for wants

Once you’ve set aside money for your needs, you can use some of the remaining funds for wants, or discretionary expenses. This can include entertainment costs, dining out and clothing, in addition to what you really need. Here, too, you can put away the cash you need for a spending category into an actual envelope, mark down the amount you can spend in that category on a paper or in an app budget, or simply keep in mind that 30% of your paycheck can be spent on these expenses. 

4. Pay yourself 

Now that you’ve taken care of your needs and wants until the next paycheck, it’s time to think about the future. Put a percentage of the remaining funds into savings. This includes IRAs, college saving plans, CDs, investments, emergency funds and the like. Use your predetermined amounts, or 20% of your take-home pay, if using the 50/30/20 budget. If you have any outstanding consumer debt, be sure to pay toward it as well. 

5. Don’t feel forced to spend it all

Many people mistakenly think they need to spend all of their paycheck before the next one arrives. If you’re left with extra money at the end of the month, there’s no need to waste it. You can beef up your savings, get ahead of your debt or stash some cash away for the holiday season

Learning how to manage a paycheck takes time, but once you get used to it, it will almost happen by itself. 

Find more financial tips by visiting our blog, and by following our social media pages!

What to Buy and What to Skip in February

Are you looking to snag some bargain buys this month? We’ve got you covered! Here’s what to buy and what to skip this February. 

Buy: TVs

Whether you’re a diehard football fan or love to binge watch, you can pick up fantastic deals on big-screen TVs in February. These sales often continue through President’s Day and may even run until the end of the month. 

Skip: Flowers

Flowers have their big day in mid-February, but that doesn’t mean fresh blooms are discounted this month. In fact, you’re better off skipping flowers in February and finding another way to express your love.

Buy: Winter gear 

Retailers generously mark down winter gear this month as they make room for the spring stock. Prices on sporting equipment, like skis and snowboards, can be slashed by up to 30%. You can find winter clothing discounted by as much as 80%!  

Skip: Electronics

Aside from TVs, you’ll want to skip all major electronic buys this month. You’re better off purchasing them during Black Friday sales in November. If you can’t wait that long, you can also pick up great deals on electronics during “Black Friday in July” events.

Buy: Furniture

Pick up some beautiful new furniture at great prices during Presidents Day sales, which can run for a full week or two. Be sure to check out prices at several stores before splurging on a big-ticket item since prices on furniture can vary between retailers.

Skip: Fitness equipment and gym memberships

Fitness equipment and gym memberships are at their lowest in January to attract the hordes of people seeking to get fit in the New Year. By February, markdowns on workout gear and promotional offers on gym memberships are gone – and you won’t see them again until warmer weather sets in. 

Buy: Jewelry

During the second half of February, prices on jewelry plunge up to 80%. Hold onto your bargain-priced jewel buys until Mother’s Day, your love partner’s birthday or your shared anniversary. 

Find more financial tips by visiting our blog and following our social media pages!

12 Steps to Financial Wellness – Step 2: Creating a Budget

Now that you’ve tracked your spending and kept a careful record of where your money goes over the course of a month, you’re ready to move onto the next financial wellness step: creating a budget. Budgets play a crucial role in promoting financial awareness, which leads to more responsible money choices. 

Let’s take a look at how to create a budget and review some popular budgeting systems, as well as how they work. 

Create a budget in 5 easy steps

  • Track your spending and income. This includes all your financial documents, like your account statements, bills and pay stubs. If you’ve followed Step 1, you’ve already completed this step–nice work!
  • Tally up your totals. Calculate the totals of your monthly expenses and all streams of income.
  • List your needs. Your needs include anything that is essential for living and basic functions, such as mortgage payments. As you list each need, write down its corresponding cost. Sum the total of all your needs when you’ve finished. 
  • List your wants. This includes anything that is not essential for living, like entertainment costs. Here, too, note the monthly cost of each item on your list and add up the total when you’re done. 
  • Assign dollar amounts to your expenses. Open a new spreadsheet and copy your list of expenses. Assign an appropriate dollar amount for each of these costs.
  • Review and tweak as necessary. You will likely need to adjust the amounts in each expense category at least once a year to keep your budget relevant. 

Budgeting systems

There is a wide range of budgeting systems to fit every kind of money management style.

  • The traditional budget.  After working out a number for every expense category, you’ll track your spending throughout the month to ensure you’re sticking to the plan. 
  • The money-envelope system. Withdraw the amount you plan to spend on all non-fixed expenses in cash at the start of the month. Divide the cash into separate envelopes, designating one for each of these expenses. Then, withdraw cash from the appropriate envelope when making a purchase in that category. 
  • The 50/30/20 budget. Set aside 50 percent of your budget for needs, 30 percent for wants and the remaining 20 percent for savings

A well-designed budget can provide you with a sense of financial security and freedom. Start budgeting today!

How Can I Save on Super Bowl Sunday?

Q: How can I save big on costs when hosting a party for the big game on Super Bowl Sunday?

A: Super Bowl parties are always great fun, but hosting costs can add up just like Jonathan Taylor piling on the rushing yards. So, we’ve put together some hacks to help you pull off the party of a lifetime without breaking your budget

Don’t fumble the decor

Keep the decor simple with free printables of your team’s logo from sites like Pinterest, and by choosing party goods in your team colors instead of branded items. You might also hit the dollar store to score some fun football-themed party supplies. 

Tackle the food together

Ask your guests to help with the food coverage. You can go potluck and have everyone bring one dish, order takeout and split the bill or set up a spreadsheet with all the menu items and have each guest choose one to bring along. 

Skip the Super Bowl platters

Fast-food chains and grocery stores aggressively advertise “game day platters” ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, but these are rarely worth the cost.  Instead, make your own for a fraction of the price and just a few minutes of work.  You can slap together some extra-long hero sandwiches and cut them up for an easy sub platter.  For your health-conscious guests, slice up everyone’s favorite veggies and add a dip for a low-cost veggie platter.

Save on pizza

If you’re going with a pizza party, consider doing it partially homemade by picking up some frozen pies at a great price from your local grocery store. Just pop them in the oven before the party. If you want it hot-from-the-pizza-store fresh, reach out to a few local pizza places ahead of time to see if they’ll be offering any specials, and see who’s offering the best deal. 

Consider your lineup

When setting up your buffet, place more affordable items at the head of the line. These are typically grabbed first, and putting them front and center, with the pricier stuff in the back, will help to ensure you don’t run out of any buffet item too quickly or blow your budget on one pricey food. 

Use the tips outlined above to keep costs down while throwing a Super Bowl party that’s fit for champions. 

Environmentally Friendly Ways to Save on Heating Costs

As outside temperatures fall, indoor temps and heating costs go up! And this winter may come at a higher cost. In fact, while fueling up at the gas station, you’ve seen the impact of our 6.8% inflation rate first-hand. 

U.S. households on natural gas heat are expected to pay 25% more than last year. Homeowners who heat their homes with electricity will see a 6.5% spike, while homeowners using heating oil or propane may see a jump as high as 54%!

With that in mind, let’s look at some easy habit changes that will benefit our budgets and our environment.

  1. Add rugs to your floors to help insulate rooms. Dress in layers, warm sweaters and socks. Use flannel sheets and more blankets at night.
  2. Clean or change air filters. Debris is unclean for breathing and will impede warm air circulation. 
  3. Lower the thermostat by 7-10 degrees when everyone is out for the day. Use a thermostat that automatically adjusts according to your schedule. 
  4. Have a pro inspect and tune up your furnace. The cost can be well worth the savings since old furnaces can work at just 60 to 70% efficiency.
  5. Contact your utility company for a free home check-up. Service or upgrade costs may be offsetable by federal tax credits and/or utility rebates
  6. Check windows for leaks. Detect them by lighting a candle and watching if it blows in a certain direction. If you find any, seal them up with caulking, foam insulation or plastic insulation sheets.
  7. Open the shades during sunlight hours and close at night to retain the heat.
  8. Use heaters to warm up isolated areas instead of turning on entire heating zones if all the space is not in use. Also, close vents in rooms not being used to avoid unnecessary output.
  9. Switch to LED light bulbs. They use about 75 percent less energy and last about 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Though the initial cost is higher, it pays off over time. 
  10. Reduce your water heater temperature to 120 degrees, which is safer for skin and easier on heating costs.

Discover more money-saving tips by visiting our blog at https://www.oleanareafcu.org/blog/

12 Steps to Financial Wellness – Step 1: How to Track Your Spending

Tracking your spending is the first step toward greater financial awareness and overall financial health. But mastering this skill is easier said than done. How can you track every dollar you spend when you make multiple daily purchases?

We’ve outlined how to track your spending in 3 easy steps. 

1. Choose your tools

Tracing every dollar’s journey isn’t easy, but with the right tools you can make it quick and simple. Choose from one of the following money-tracking techniques: 

  • Budgeting apps. If your life happens on your phone, download a budgeting app like YNAB or Mint to help track your spending. Both apps allow you to allocate a specific monthly amount of money for each spending category and enable you to track your spending with just a few clicks. 
  • Spreadsheet. If you like to see everything spelled out clearly, a spreadsheet might be a good choice. You’ll need to record every transaction, but if you prepare the sheet with all the spending categories you think you’ll need, it shouldn’t take long. 
  • The envelope system. If you’re a big cash spender, consider withdrawing the cash you think you’ll spend in a month and keeping it in an envelope for each category. When you need to make a purchase, just use money from the envelope. 
  • Receipts. Hold onto every receipt from the purchases you make this month to help you track your spending.
  • Pencil and paper. Recording each purchase the old-fashioned way can help you make more mindful money choices throughout the day.

2. Review your checking account and credit card statements carefully

Along with one of the tools listed above, you can track the purchases you make with plastic by reviewing your monthly checking account and credit card statements. You can access these online by logging into your account and downloading. 

3. Review and categorize your purchases

At the end of the month, use your chosen tool to review all the purchases you’ve made throughout the month. When completing this step, don’t forget to include any automated payments you rarely think about, such as subscription fees and insurance premiums.

Use the tips outlined here to successfully master the skill of tracking your spending

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