Tips on How to Perform a Financial Checkup
Now that you have the basic understanding of how to set up your budget, an important step to help you be successful in the Wonderful World of Budgeting is to do regular reviews of your financial situation. A checkup should be done quarterly, semi- annually or at a minimum annually. We do suggest however doing a checkup anytime there is a change to your lifestyle like a birth of a child, loss of a job, etc. When you do these checkups keep in mind that anticipating complications and having open discussions are the first steps to keeping peace in the universe or at least your household. We are not marriage or guidance counselors, but we have found that if you have an established a set of ground rules, you will be on your way to a lifetime of fruitful financial conversations!
Agree to give it a try. You may be cynical about having open financial discussions or doing things differently but ……
Agree to take equal responsibility. Whenever you plan for a fantastic financial future, it is the responsibility of both partners. That means you share the problems, (unexpected expenses) the parts, (balancing the checkbook, filing statements, collecting coupons, etc.) and the prize (sending the kids to college or taking that vacation on the French Riviera.)
Be honest. Don’t hide expenses when you’re trying to create budget. Just be upfront about that credit card you have at Candles R Us because it’s always best to be open and honest in order to avoid a challenge in your relationship.
Be realistic. We realize that we have busy lives so try to avoid anticipating that you’ll have a three-hour conversation about your finances every Sunday afternoon, especially if you can’t seem to find even three minutes to get together. There are many other ways to keep everyone updated. Try putting Post-it notes on a message board, refrigerator or cookie jar with the information you need to share. A good time to discuss finances might be when you and your partner have an errand to run together. You can have an uninterrupted conversation and together you can decide how much you can spend on your family vacation at the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint Museum.
Be fair. If one of you does the majority of the financial workload or picks up the other person’s duties, make sure they are rewarded. The simple act of unloading the dishwasher or giving your partner a pair of heated slippers will sure help recognize their added contribution.
Take a break if your conversation gets fiery. Lower the temperature, have a group hug, step back and review the ground rules that you both agreed on. But be sure to set a date to follow up to talk again before too much time has gone by.
Keep it current. Your checkup tête-à-tête will go much more smoothly if you keep your budget up to date. If you slacked off any do yourself and your partner a favor and catch up as soon as you can. To help keep you organized we recommend that whenever you receive statements or bills put them into a file so that you’re not spending hours hunting through a mountain of paper looking for your last bill.
Keep it exciting. Remember you are working together towards mutual goals. Whether you want to pay off debt or save for retirement, the financial checkup is all about making sure you reach your dreams.
Stay on course. We realize that there may be periods of unexpected life experiences and if you see that things are not staying on course, don’t panic! Simply let out a primal scream and then get back to work. If you find your bills have started to sneak back up agree to attack them more aggressively in the next month. If you need to dive into your emergency funds, make it a priority to replace the funds as soon as you can. Then at the next scheduled financial checkup treat yourself to a celebration. It’s okay. You deserve it!
It’s Fun to Budget...Yes It's Possible!
When you think about budgeting, what comes to mind? Too complicated, too difficult, too confusing? Let's face it, you would probably rather be watching a late-night infomercial on air purifiers instead of reading about budgeting! Before you tune out, keep in mind that a budget is all about knowledge, it's not about sacrifices or being deprived. Once you have gathered all your financial information, you will soon find that you now have all of the necessary information to make good choices and hopefully avoid any of negative feelings you may have about budgeting.
We realize that unless you’re a certified public account, budgeting will never be as fun as watching a 6-hour docuseries on the history of the toothpick, but it definitely doesn’t have to be painful either.
While all types of budgets have a basic traditional approach, there are still ways of creating a personalized budget that represents your individual lifestyle. When establishing your budget, determine how much money you have and where your money should go, then simply make it a habit to send it there. That’s it!
Tips To A Personalized Budget System:
- First make it user-friendly. If it is too detailed and difficult to work with, your budget will be certain to flop worse than a bad dance move.
- Decide on ways to treat yourself for following your budget. A nice inexpensive take-out dinner or maybe treating yourself to a small box of Belgian chocolate strawberries. Anything that will inspire you but doesn’t take your budget off track.
- Share the responsibilities. If you have a spouse or partner, split up the tasks fairly, and make sure you both agree to the process and manner you will be using to track your money. Nothing makes a task more difficult than having to do all the work or opposing the other person each time you work on your budget.
- Since each household is unique, there may be different expense categories. So, when you work on your budget, determine what falls into each category based on your specific lifestyle. Just make sure you keep track of what goes where.
Creating Your Budget:
- Begin with the all the income you receive. Gather together your one month’s worth of paychecks and any other source of income you may have, (interest income, child support, alimony, commissions, tips, paper route) then enter those amounts into your budget.
- Now collect all of your unavoidable monthly expenses and enter those amounts into your budget by category.
- Start with “Savings”: Include any regular deposits you are making into savings or investment accounts. Be sure to include any deposits you are making into your emergency savings account too.
- Housing Costs: Mortgage or rent payments.
- Food Costs: Enter how much you spend on groceries including dining out.
- Loan Payments: Car loans, credit cards, payday loans and any other loans types you may have.
- Transportation Costs: Gas, bus fares, etc.
- Clothing Expenses: Work, school clothing and uniforms.
- Utilities: Electricity, gas, propane, water, phone and internet.
- Insurance Payments: Car, home, life, renters, etc.
- Include any occasional/seasonal expenses like birthdays, holidays and school supplies. If you think there may be other expenses in this expense category, like classic violin lessons add those in too!
- Finally subtract your monthly expenses from your monthly income.
Any income remaining shows that you have money to put towards your financial freedom goals. Having extra money doesn’t always mean you should spend it! With any extra money left over, take a look at which one of your goals deserves an extra boost then adjust your budget accordingly. Don't get discouraged if there is nothing left over, remember the longer you stick to your budget the better chance you will have to succeed financially. Creating and faithfully following a budget will eventually lead to smarter money decisions. You’ll soon discover that you spend less on the unnecessary things in life and spend more on the ones that are.
Written by Dale Dedrick of First Financial Credit Union
Savings Goal Challenge
Having a case of the budgeting blues? Sometimes savings can become rather stagnant when you already faithfully pay your bills on time each month, and already have a set savings routine. Since it is crucial that you do keep up with a healthy financial lifestyle we want to let a little sunshine in and hopefully help cure those budgeting blues.
To help add some gusto to your financial game, we want to suggest a “Savings Goal Challenge” for you and your family. You can get your spouse, partner or children in on the fun too! Challenge them to contribute, and possibly offer a prize for the winner that you all can agree on. I know it may be difficult to be believe, but not everyone will want a new set of golf clubs! To help avoid any possible moments of weakness, put your agreement in writing and have everyone sign it. When all is said and done there is no substitute for having a physical document for everyone to see. When you write it down, it makes it a bit more real and all players may feel a bit more accountable. Now don’t panic. It doesn’t have to be a complicated type of contract. All you have to do is to simply write in the amount needed to save to buy whatever incredible reward that was decided on then divide that number into the time you need to reach this goal. After it is all on paper place on the fridge or some other place where it can be easily seen by every participant as a reminder and a constant source of inspiration! Below is an example of an agreement that you can follow for the challenge:
Through regular monthly saving of $_____________ I/We the undersigned will try really, really, really hard to accumulate savings of $______ over _____ months. This money will be used to spend on a breathtaking awesome incredible fantastic reward. I/We have decided the award will be: ___________!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
To add a little extra incentive to fulfill the challenge, decide on some inexpensive mini goals to help keep the momentum going. Make the mini goals all items that are easy on the wallet but still enjoyable to everyone. Maybe ice cream sundaes with sprinkles from your favorite restaurant or a mocha salted caramel drizzle double blended frappacino smoothie with extra whip! Next get out a calendar and pencil in the mini-goals and reward for each week of the month. If you are really ambitious, you can list out your mini goals for the next few months as well. As you tackle each goal, mark it off with a big X and then enjoy a well deserved reward! If it takes more than a week to complete your mini goal don’t get discouraged, just carry it over into the next week until you’re done. Just remember to hold off on the reward until the goal is actually achieved. (Sorry but those are the rules. We didn’t make them up!)
So now that you have set up an amazing saving goal challenge and mini goals don’t neglect your “What If” emergency savings. This emergency money is to primarily defend yourself against the tempting use of your credit card or getting a payday loan when you get into a bind. We do understand that binds happen-might as well plan for them. So, to get a better idea of what you should have saved in your “What If” account, ask yourself what would it take for you to survive financially if you lost your source of income? One rule of thumb is to have three to six months’ worth of your total expenses saved up. But if you can’t have this saved, try to at least have something. Even $200.00, $300.00 or $400.00 would help in a financial bind. And when we’re are talking about savings for emergencies, we’re are talking about real emergencies. Sorry, but a trip to Cancun is not an emergency. Nor is that fabulous Italian suit even if it is on sale. At some point your emergency savings may be all that stands between you and financial disaster. Also, try to budget beyond the monthly must pay bills to cover additional things such as future home repairs, vehicle repairs, appliance needs, holidays, vacations and other “what ifs”. Makes sense, right? If you have a plan to put a little money away on a monthly basis now, you’re more than likely to have the money you need when the time comes.
Written by Dale Dedrick of First Financial Credit Union
Money Fun for Kids
In spite of our increasing use of credit and debit cards, cash and change are still the most tangible way for kids to understand the value of money. And since they don’t see us using it as often, playing games can help kids of all ages learn about how dollar bills and coins add up. Below are some fun activities and games to help your kiddos learn the value of money.
For Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Start with the basics. Teach your kids how to identify and count different types of currency. Once they’re past the stage of putting everything in their mouths, make money magnets for your fridge. Glue some coins to craft magnets with some facing heads up and some facing tails up so kids can match the front and back of each coin amount. You can also, have them “pay you” with a quarter when you get them a snack.
- Use puzzles to boost money memorization. Use play money, then glue them to thin cardboard (like a cereal box) and cut them into puzzle pieces. As they put the pieces together, you can talk about the numbers on them and how five $1 bills add up to a one $5 bill.
- Sort by color and size. Kids love to sort, so gather up your spare change and give them bowls or cups and have them put the coins into the right container. (Again, this one should only be done for kids old enough that they won’t try to eat the coins)
For Elementary-Age Kiddos
- Set up your own grocery store. Since kids love to role play setting up a play store in your home can not only be fun but also educational! If you don’t have a plastic assortment of various fruits and vegetables, collect items from around the house and save clean food containers (like pasta boxes, oatmeal cartons and plastic jelly jars). Help your child assign values to each of the items and then use play money (or some they color themselves!) to purchase and pay for the items in their store.
- Money Toss. Gather different sizes of non-breakable bowls, and some coins. You and your kid(s) can take turns tossing mixed coins into a bowl. Those that stay in the bowl become part of the winner's stash, while those that land outside the bowl go to the other player. At the end of the game (you can set the time boundary based on age and level of patience), kids must count up their winnings to see who has the most. An important lesson: sometimes the largest number of coins does not add up to the greatest amount of money.
- Hide and Seek. You can modify this game depending on your children's ages and counting levels. Hide coins, real or pretend, around your house, but make sure to keep track of how many coins you hide so you know exactly how many coins need to be found. Set your children loose to find as many coins as they can! Pennies can be used for younger children and the rest of the coins can be added in for older kids. Once all the coins have been found, players count up their totals. The player with the highest total wins the game. Kids will immediately want to take a turn hiding the coins; just make sure you are able to find them all.
2020 Holday Season Budgeting
Since the COVID-19 virus swept the globe and Safer-at-Home orders have been in place, it’s hard to look ahead to the holidays. While old traditions may be on pause, who says you can’t make new family traditions for this 2020 holiday season? Here are a few tips to cut some costs and make the most of this very unusual year:
- Rethink gifts. Start by making a list (and yes checking it twice) then take some time to think what you know about each family member or friend that is on your shopping list. Consider planning a video chat and follow it up with a homemade note, homemade holiday treats, an at-home spa package, or another personally curated gift basket.
- Cut your food bill. Smaller family gatherings due to COVID mean you can lower holiday grocery costs. Since you likely are not hosting or traveling to larger gatherings, you can save money on food-related expenses. This year instead of celebrating the holidays at several family and friend gatherings, you will now probably only have to plan one meal with your immediate household members. Cut costs and your time by asking each family member what their favorite holiday dish is, and then only make their favorites. No need to make any extra dishes.
- Plan for quality time. You and your family may be seeing each other now more than ever, but by intentionally setting aside one-on-one time to spend with each kiddo and/or your significant other, you’ll be sharing time doing whatever that particular family loves to do such as playing video games or board games, developing a new masterpiece in the kitchen, painting, watching a movie, etc. This intended quality time will likely lead to some great conversations and strengthen your relationship and trust.
- Hold off on impulse buying. The holiday season is filled with an abundance of emails, text messages, social media ads and commercials with act now deals and sales. While there are some instances where a short-term offer is worth it, often times a little research and shopping around will help you find better deals. The extra time you take to research might prevent you from impulse buys.
- Get a jump start on your New Year’s Resolutions. Making positive changes in your life can be done anytime of the year but a new year is great time for making changes to start the new year off right. Even if you are not ready to tackle everything on your financial goal’s list, you can start chipping away at it little by little. Sometimes the first step can be a bit daunting, so start off by just outlining your expenses and income. Then take a break and wait a day or two before you make any changes to your budget. That way you are not overwhelmed and can approach it with fresh eyes. Once you have tackled your budget, you can do the same for other financial goals, such as reducing debt.
For more information and other ways to give your budget a boost visit our website and check out Greenpath Financial Wellness. You can find free financial education and unlimited access to free financial education counselors.
Getting Out of a Credit Crisis - Part 2
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and that unicorns are actually real? How about being debt free? Well I have some good news and some bad news. First of all, the bad news. No one has found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and there are no signs that unicorns do exist. I’m not saying they don’t exist, it’s just there has not been any proof yet that they do. Now the good news. You really can become debt-free and never ever have those worrisome feelings again over that mountain of bills you once created because being debt-free can be really simple. All you need to do is to make it a habit to spend less of your money than you earn. That’s all there is to it.
And it is so very easy too. Right? Wrong! Over any length of time, if you spend more than you make, it will be a financial setback even if you do make all your monthly payments on time. If you have an economic disaster or a moment of weakness, you suddenly find yourself in a deep hole. We realize that money matters are not easy, but what at first seemed so simple can become so very difficult? We feel that defeating debt requires you to have complete discipline and willpower over the course of your entire life. If you have been an “adult” for any period of time, you probably agree that this is tough for many of us to achieve.
So, in order to help you get to where you need to be, first understand what Good Debt and Bad Debt looks like. Good Debts are some mortgages and student loans because they both normally have low interest rates and increase in value or increase your earning power as time flies by. Bad Debts are loans and credit cards that have an annual interest rates over 10% which means that whenever you make a payment, a low amount will go towards paying off the balance. Make sure you put them all on a list with the highest rate first down to the lowest rate so you can have a clear idea of what card you should eliminate first. Then have a plan to pay off the next one and so on.
If you can, always pay more than the minimum required. Please don’t think that the credit card companies are being generous when they require only the minimum payment. They do this to extend your payments for a long time which increases their profit because you pay more interest.
Also, stop using your credit card because if you already have a lot of debt, the last thing you want to do is to add more to it. Remove all credit cards out of your purse or wallet and leave them at home, give them to your mother-in-law or shred them into little pieces. Whatever it takes to stop using them. I have even heard that in order to avoid being used, freeze them in a jug of water however this probably is not too safe. But it is funny to see the reaction of your guests when they want to get something from the freezer. You may want to keep one to help build your credit history and for emergencies, but remember that new pair of shoes and matching purse does not qualify as an emergency.
Keep other credit card offers from coming to you by opting out. Call 1-888-567-8688 to stop receiving these pre-screened offers of credit.
Many credit cards have high annual interest rates so give them a call to negotiate for a lower rate. Even though it may not work every time, we believe you should definitely give it a try especially if you have a good payment history.
If you have available credit, consider combining cards with a higher rate to the lowest rate card. This will also make it better and easier for you to track since you will now have fewer cards. You will also have a better sense of your overall debt level when it is on a couple of cards rather than many cards.
If you get a tax refund, have a rich relative leave you with lots of cash, or you actually find that pot of gold, use it to pay off your debts. Remember: Bad Debts first, Good Debts last.
Written by Dale Dedrick of First Financial Credit Union
Getting Out of a Credit Crisis - Part 1
In this time of the Corona Virus pandemic, many of us are experiencing an unexpected economic crisis. People are losing their jobs and businesses are closing. If you are facing debt issues and feel that you are on the edge of insanity, STOP…… take a deep breath and don’t try to sell your kidney on Ebay.
It may feel like it’s the financial apocalypse but it’s not. It’s understandable that if you are currently facing a financial crisis it could be difficult to think clearly enough to develop a comprehensive plan that will satisfy everyone involved. To assist in a solution, below are some general strategies that can help anyone who is struggling with debt issues, and hopefully will be able to live free of money worries.
Reach out to all of the businesses you owe money to. Yes, I realize that this sounds about as much fun as speaking in front of an audience of 10,000 people, but it is generally always to your advantage to make first contact. Many businesses would rather work out a manageable repayment plan that you can handle than getting bill collectors involved or having to repossess your cherished car.
After you have made contact, keep a record of every conversation with your lender or bill collectors that you made by phone, in person or by email. Remember to always be courteous, honest and diplomatic. Get the names, employee numbers or any other information you need to help identify the person you contacted. Be sure to document the date and time along with all arrangements and agreements that were made by both parties.
Once a settlement has been agreed upon, request a written statement sent to you with all the agreed stipulations listed. Save all related mail even the envelopes. When you need to return something to your lender or bill collector, visit the post office and have the letter sent by certified or registered mail with a return request receipt verifying your letter was received by them.
To help you keep on track, set up a “Contact Calendar” that indicates when you need to follow up on any of the previous commitments or conversations that you have made. Simply list the specific days in your calendar and write down or set up automatic reminders on your phone to help you meet completion dates.
This sounds like a lot of fun, right? OK, I know that it can be hard to force yourself to do all of these steps, but by doing so, you will help gain a sense of control over the entire process. Hopefully it will also ease some of the financial stress you may be having and keep you from selling your valuable kidney.
Unfortunately, if you are already experiencing calls from bill collectors, we have some good news and bad news for you. The good news is that you are well protected by federal laws. The bad news is that it will take a disciplined effort on your part to be aware of these laws. For instance, by law, your debt collectors can’t contact you by phone before 8:00 A.M. or after 9:00 P.M. Bill collectors can’t threaten you with jail time as delinquent debtors can never be sent to debtor’s prison and no one can garnish your hard-earned wages without a legal proceeding. You have further protection with the Fair Debt Collection Rules and Regulations that are enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. If you ever experience any violations of the Fair Debt Collection laws, contact the FTC or the State’s Attorney General.
Another great resource is to find a Credit Counselor that can provide the necessary expert service you need to turn your life around. A Credit Counselor can offer everything from expert advice and a sympathetic ear to hands-on budgeting help. Here at First Financial Credit Union, we provide Credit Counselors as a free service to our members. Simply contact your local branch to make an appointment with one of our experts today.
Written by Dale Dedrick of First Financial Credit Union
As we continue with the COVID-19 Pandemic; scammers are looking to take advantage of consumers fears. According to an article posted by CNBC “Americans have lost $145 million to scams linked to Covid-19”. But there are steps you can take to ensure that you do not fall prey to these individuals. The big thing to remember is if something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut.
Here are five items from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to be on the lookout for:
- Ignore offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are trying to sell products to you that claim to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they actually work.
- Hang up on robocalls. Scammers will use illegal sales calls to get your money and personal information. A robocall occurs when you answer a call and you hear a recorded message. While there are some legitimate robocalls associated with political and telemarketing campaigns; scammers also use this to verify that the phone number is valid for future calls. For more information on robocalls visit the FTC site here.
- Watch out for phishing emails and text messages. Never click on links in emails or text messages that you were not expecting. Phishing can be defined as a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information or data, such as usernames, passwords, credit card or banking information by disguising themselves as someone who is from a trustworthy business or entity in an electronic communication. If you suspect the information to be questionable, contact the source yourself by looking up the contact information; do not use any links or phone numbers that are listed on the message.
- A current phishing scam is people receiving a text message stating there is a package waiting for them, asking you to click a link to learn more. The message at times will state that the package has been waiting for them for some time to be picked up. If you think the message is legitimate, contact the company directly using a website or phone number you know is real. DO NOT use the link or information in the text message. By clicking the link, you can be tricked into giving your personal information like passwords, account numbers or Social Security number. Clicking these links could also let scammers download malware or a virus onto your device.
- Research before you donate. Don’t ever feel rushed or pressured into making a donation. If you are ever unsure about making a donation, do some research on the charity. There are resources online that can help. Here is a link provided by the FTC for more information.
- Stay in the know. There are resources at your fingertips to help you in the event something doesn’t feel right. Never be afraid to question or review the information. You can find more information here.
For the latest information on current scams please visit the FTC website here.
Written by Richard Tapia of First Financial Credit Union