Skip to content

Money Management Tips Every Small Business Owner Should Know

By GreenPath Financial Wellness 

Owning a small business comes with satisfying rewards (being your own boss? Check. Deciding what days you wear real pants? Check.). With the benefits comes the responsibility of money management.  From tracking cash flow to tax prep, these best practices have a big impact when it comes to the success and sustainability of your business.   

1. Build a Budget: To lessen the risk of overspending, map out your expenses, including fixed costs like rent and utilities, variable expenses such as supplies, and one-time expenditures like equipment purchases. Remember to account for taxes and an emergency fund for the unexpected (we’ll get to that!). 

Unsure where to start? Expense management software can do the heavy lifting to ensure your budgeting efforts are precise and strategic. Gain insight into your business’ financial health and use features to: 

  • Monitor Cash Flow: Track incoming and outgoing cash to ensure you have enough liquidity to cover expenses. Implement efficient invoicing and payment collection processes to minimize delays in receiving payments.  
  • Automate Bill Payment: The last thing you want is mounting late fees or debt that can hurt your credit score or good standing with creditors and vendors. Automate, when possible, to save yourself time and calendar reminders.  
  • Stay on Top of Taxes: Thorough records of income, expenses, and deductions throughout the year will streamline tax prep and make it easier to meet filing deadlines and avoid penalties. Some software includes tax prep guidance; however, you might consider consulting with a professional to optimize deductions.  

2. Separate Accounts: Operating from your personal account is a quick route to financial instability. Open separate bank accounts and credit cards for your business to stay organized. This will simplify accounting and tax preparation, as well as safeguards your personal assets if you’re faced with legal issues or bankruptcy. Make it a habit to only use business funds for business expenses.  

3. Manage Debt Wisely: Applying for loans may be necessary to finance operations or expansion, however high-interest rates can erode profits and damage your credit. Evaluate financing options thoughtfully, choosing the most cost-effective solution that meets your needs. Aim to keep debt levels manageable (to avoid over leveraging your business) and consider debt consolidation to streamline repayment.  

4. Plan for Emergencies: Recessions happen. Vendors change. Supply costs increase. Whatever the event, building an emergency fund provides a buffer during difficult times and allows you to weather temporary setbacks. A good goal? Set aside three to six months' worth of operating expenses in a dedicated savings account. Treat your emergency fund as a non-negotiable expense and grow it over time.  

5. Evaluate your Finances Regularly: Ongoing financial check-ins will help you refine your budget as your business evolves. In addition to the money management practices listed above, you also have the option of enlisting professional guidance from financial advisors or accountants who can identify potential pitfalls and provide recommendations that align with your goals. 

Pro Tip: Your business’ financial health begins with your personal financial health. Our trusted partners at GreenPath Financial Wellness can help you eliminate debt, review your credit report, and take advantage of free financial courses on your preferred schedule.  

(This content does not constitute tax or financial advice. It is advisable to seek guidance from a licensed professional tailored to your individual circumstances.) 


Hidden Savings: Commonly Overlooked Tax Deductions

By GreenPath Financial Wellness 

Tax filing deadlines are approaching…have you filed yet? To lessen the anxiety of the season, take this opportunity to explore overlooked deductions that can help lower your tax bill. While most people are aware of popular deductions like mortgage interest and charitable contributions, there are several lesser-known categories that can help you save. (Ready to check taxes off your list? File Free HERE.)  

Child and Dependent Care  

Did you pay for childcare while working or job hunting? If so, you likely meet the criteria. Typically, your child must be 12 or younger and considered your dependent. This credit also applies if you're paying someone to care for a spouse or dependent (irrespective of their age) if they are incapable of self-care. In most instances, you'll need to acquire the care provider's social security number or taxpayer identification number and include it on your return.  

State Sales Tax  

If you live in a state without income tax, or if you've made significant purchases like a vehicle or boat, you may be able to deduct state sales tax on your federal return. This can be especially advantageous for residents of states like Texas or Florida, where there is no state income tax, but substantial sales tax may be incurred on large purchases. 

Job Searching 

Hunting for a new job? Related expenses may be tax-deductible. Costs such as resume preparation, travel expenses for job interviews, and even fees paid to employment agencies can be claimed as deductions. While there are limitations and criteria to meet, exploring this deduction can ease the financial burden that accompanies unemployment.   

Medical Expenses & Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) 

Besides the obvious healthcare costs, travel expenses to and from appointments, medically justified home improvements and even some alternative treatments may be deductible. Contributions made to your HSA are also eligible for tax deductions. Not only do the funds in your account grow tax-free when used for qualified health care expenses, but your contributions can also help lower your overall tax liability.  

Student Loan Interest Paid by Others 

There are instances where parents or others contribute to the repayment of a student loan. In these cases, if the individual is not claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return—and is legally obligated to repay the loan—they can still benefit from the tax deduction for the interest paid by others. This gives a valuable opportunity to families or benefactors assisting with educational expenses to alleviate the burden of student loan interest.   

Home Office  

The IRS allows taxpayers to claim a portion of their home-related expenses, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities, and even a percentage of rent. The deduction is calculated based on the percentage of the home used for business, offering a practical way for self-employed individuals and remote workers to recoup some of the expenses incurred while conducting business from the comfort of their homes. 

Educational Expenses 

Whether you're enhancing your skills for your current job or investing in a new career path, some educational deductions can maximize your tax savings and help ease the financial strain. The Lifetime Learning Credit and the American Opportunity Credit are two valuable options. These credits cover qualified education expenses, including tuition, fees, and course materials. 

Energy-Efficient Home Improvements 

If you've invested in energy-efficient upgrades for your home, such as solar panels, energy-efficient windows, or a new HVAC system, you may be eligible for tax credits. The Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit and the Non-Business Energy Property Tax Credit can provide substantial savings. Not only do these improvements help the planet, but they can also boost your tax refund. 

Note that GreenPath Financial Wellness does not provide legal or tax advice, this information is intended for general guidelines only. Connect with your financial institution to see what tax resources they have available and check out these tips on how to allocate wisely if you’re receiving a tax refund this year: 

Make the Most of Your Money 

5 Wise Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund 

This article is shared by our partners at GreenPath Financial Wellness, a trusted national non-profit.

Money Mindfulness: Practicing Financial Self-Care

By GreenPath Financial Wellness 

The prevalence of self-care messaging reminds us to nurture our physical and mental well-being—with mindfulness practices, exercise routines, and virtual detoxing. But what about financial self-care?

When we cultivate positive money habits and plan for our future we are (quite literally) investing in ourselves. Financial self-care is rooted in self-awareness, discipline, and intentionality. Here are several ways you can practice financial self-care, starting now.

Build a Budget

Building a budget is akin to giving yourself the gift of clarity: it allows you to track expenses, identify potential areas where you can trim spending, and allocate funds to help you achieve financial goals. Rather than seeing budgeting as a restrictive practice, frame it as a tool that grants you freedom to spend where it matters. Connect with your financial institution to see what budgeting tools they offer and check out this interactive budgeting worksheet in the meantime.

Create an Emergency Fund

More than half of Americans fear they wouldn’t be able to cover daily living expenses for a month if they lost their income tomorrow, according to a recent Bankrate survey.  Invest in your future peace of mind: set up an automatic, recurring savings deposit with the goal of setting three to six months' worth of living expenses aside. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you can start small by setting aside 2% of your net income and gradually increasing your contribution rate when possible.

Tackle Debt

With recent federal interest rate hikes, borrowing costs have reached historic highs which means even your debt is costing you more money. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Taking proactive steps towards debt reduction can improve your financial health and significantly reduce your stress. Unsure where to begin? Explore a Debt Management Program, designed to pay off your debt in 3-5 years and deepen your financial resilience.

Plan for Retirement

If your employer offers a 401(k)-retirement plan, take advantage of this benefit (especially if your company matches part or all of your contribution). Don’t have a workplace retirement account? You can still open a Roth IRA—a tax-advantaged retirement savings account. If you find it challenging to save throughout the year, consider setting aside part or all of your tax refund as a way to begin investing without impacting your day-to-day budget.

Get Educated

One of the most empowering aspects of financial self-care is education. Chat with your financial institution about what resources they offer. If you want to explore courses and are worried about costs, take advantage of free financial education online. Whether you’re preparing to buy a home or navigating your auto loan, these sessions offer jargon-free, shame-free guidance to help you reach your financial goals.

This article is shared by our partners at GreenPath Financial Wellness, a trusted national non-profit.

3 Steps To Pay Off Credit Card Debt

article from Bernadette Joy at Forbes Magazine

If you’re overwhelmed with credit card debt, you can kick-start your payoff plan today with these three counterintuitive strategies.

If you’re feeling the squeeze, and even a little bit of shame, you are not alone. About one-third of Americans carry credit card debt from month to month, up 6% from 2022, according to a January 2023 Bankrate survey of 2,458 U.S. adults.

February marked a record high $4.82 trillion for consumer credit in the United States, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve. With interest rates higher than previous years, you may notice that your balances are rising faster than you can pay them off, which can be disheartening, and even a little scary.

As a money coach, I see many people leaping into paying the debt aggressively, only to boomerang back into debt because they skipped three fundamental moves.

Gather Your Total Net Worth In One Secure System

I’ve taught thousands of students since starting my financial education company in 2020, and the vast majority could not answer this question: What is your net worth?

Before paying down credit card debt, it’s important to understand how this debt fits into your overall financial well-being as measured by your net worth. Your net worth is calculated by taking the monetary value of everything that you own and subtracting out the monetary value of everything that you owe, including credit card debt, car loans, mortgages, student loans and other forms of debt.

I teach all of my students to track all of their finances in one system, such as a Mint or Empower. These kinds of tools track most kinds of accounts securely and automatically, to reduce the busywork of updating manual spreadsheets.

By putting this whole financial picture together, you are better able to see how your credit card debt is impacting your overall worth, and its relative impact to your finances. For example $5,000 worth of credit card debt is more impactful to someone whose net worth is $50,000 versus $500,000.

Budgeting apps also help track transactions and show how much interest you’re paying each month in actual dollars, versus percentages. Once my students see the dollar impact of the interest they paid, and have a place to document the progress over time, it tends to motivate them to stick to their payoff plan longer.

Set Aside One Month’s Worth of Expenses As Buffer In A High-Yield Savings Account

Before I became a money coach, I assumed most people who had credit card debt were people who overspent or lived beyond their means. But as I met more and more diverse students, I learned that oftentimes, credit card debt built up after a stressful or traumatic event such as a job layoff, a medical emergency, a divorce or a mental health challenge. One-time charges built up over time versus constant overspending.

People also falsely assume paying off debt will be a straight-line journey and might feel dejected when an unexpected expense derails their payoff progress. Before paying off credit card debt aggressively, I teach students to pay the minimum balances, open a high-yield savings account, and focus on saving up one month’s worth of expenses in a contingency fund.

Temporarily Pause Your Credit Card Use

This sounds obvious, but I’ve been surprised by the number of students I’ve coached who continue to regularly use their credit cards, even though they’ve racked up debt, because of one thing — they don’t want to give up the points.

Credit card companies have done such a good job of marketing this fear missing out on points that it masks the simple truth: If you carried any credit card debt, even for a month at the current average interest rate of 24.20%, you’ve paid for your points.

This can be a scary move if you’ve been reliant on your credit cards to pay your bills. When I stopped using credit cards in order to pay down my student loan debt, I felt the fear of missing out on points. But after a month of using only my debit card, it became abundantly clear I was overspending, because I started to overdraw from my account.

Temporarily pausing the use of credit cards showed what my real cash flow looked like, and it was undeniable that I needed to change the way I spent. If you find yourself reaching for cards while paying off debt, you can cut them up without closing the accounts, and request a new credit card once your debt is cleared.

The Bottom Line

Credit card debt is nothing to be ashamed of if you choose to let it be a short-term solution versus a long-term lifestyle. Getting started on a debt payoff plan is the hardest part, but as someone who has now lived debt free since 2019, I can attest that the freedom you’ll feel on the other side of this challenge will be well worth the short-term discomfort.

Managing Debt as Interest Rates Rise

Article By GreenPath Financial Wellness

Debt can be a challenge to manage, even in the best of times. Now, with the economy in the news nearly every day, how do you effectively manage your debt as the cost of borrowing for things like homes, cars, and credit cards rises?

Here are five general questions to ask in order to minimize the hit to your wallet in the face of rising interest rates.

What’s your current credit score and history?
Knowing this information helps you understand how rising interest rates will apply to you. Some research shows that only 33 percent of Americans checked their credit score in the past year. Regularly monitoring your credit can alert you to errors, protect you from fraud, and provide you valuable information to strengthen your credit score – which can potentially minimize the rising cost of borrowing.

What’s your debt portfolio?
Another helpful course of action is to make a list of your current debt such as credit cards, car loans, student loans and other debt. Although it’s a simple step, this can make a big difference in visualizing the big picture of your financial situation. Part of seeing the impact of rising interest rates is understanding exactly where you stand.

What are your current interest rates?
An effective next step is to regularly review your balances, terms, and interest rates on a monthly basis. By staying on top of this vital information, you can make adjustments and informed decisions about reducing any existing balances more aggressively. As a debt paydown strategy, it often makes sense to start with the highest interest credit cards or loans.

What is a realistic payment plan?
As you are able, consider paying credit card balances in full by the due date each month. You can avoid interest charges on what you purchase, which means rising interest rates may not have much of an effect on your household finances.

What is your overall financial plan?
To stay financially healthy and minimize the impact of rising interest rates, it is key to earn more than you spend, so that you have enough money to build savings for the future. Keeping an eye on your spending is an important step in the effort to create a budget without the cost of high-interest debt. Once you develop a household budget and track income and spending, it becomes clear where the money is going and where you need to adjust your spending to achieve your financial goals. By setting financial goals, preparing a financial plan, sticking to a budget, and setting up an emergency fund for the unexpected, you ensure that your financial well-being does not suffer as interest rates rise.

Trusted Resource
There may be times when you need additional help to manage everything going on financially – especially as the cost of borrowing becomes more expensive.

Our partner, the trusted national nonprofit GreenPath Financial Wellness, provides guidance to help you understand your credit history, as well as debt management advice.

Contact a caring GreenPath counselor to address your financial concerns, and develop a plan for debt payoff, building savings, and creating a financially solid future.

This article is shared by our partners at GreenPath Financial Wellness, a trusted national non-profit.

Protecting Your Loved Ones from Elder Fraud

Article By GreenPath Financial Wellness

In 2022, Phyllis Wiseberg, a 90-year-old widow lost $20,000 when cybercriminals withdrew the money from her account. Her story, shared by the National Council on Aging, is devastating, but unfortunately not uncommon. Financial exploitation is a reality many seniors face, especially in the age of online scams. Here are actions you can take to help financially safeguard your loved ones.

What can I do to prevent elder fraud?

  • Communicate. In a post-pandemic world, it’s easy to lose touch, but maintaining communication is key. Remind your loved ones to avoid disclosing personal financial details via email, phone, or text. Sign them up for the National Do Not Call Registry and have a candid conversation about the most common scams targeting seniors.
  • Designate trusted contacts. Connect with their financial institution for information on adding a trusted contact (or a view-only user) to their account — this is someone who can be contacted if there are questionable transactions taking place or if they can’t be reached. This is a safer alternative to a joint account which allows someone to withdraw funds directly.
  • Monitor accounts. Vigilance is easier with tech support. Set up online tools designed to detect suspicious transactions, fraud, and identity theft. Some programs will walk you through reporting and recouping any losses that have occurred.  
  • Appoint financial power of attorney. If your loved one becomes incapacitated, it’s crucial they be financially safeguarded. Bypass the standard power-of-attorney form and enlist the help of a lawyer to customize the form according to their needs, whether it’s filing taxes or managing property. Free and low-cost options are available through Eldercare Locator.
  • Vet caregivers. If you’re seeking aid for healthcare or home management, hire someone through a bonded agency that utilizes a rigorous screening process. Be vigilant during the post-hire period as well—requesting updates regularly and observing in-person when possible. 

What can I do if elder fraud has occurred?

  • Alert financial institutions. Contact their bank, credit union, or wire transfer service to request a cancellation or reversal of any fraudulent transactions if possible. At minimum they can actively monitor their accounts. You can also alert the Social Security Administration and the major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) to limit damage incurred from instances of identity theft.
  • Report abuse. If you suspect your loved one is being exploited, report it to your local Adult Protective Services agency (which may have a different name depending on where they live.). APS connects to social service programs advocating on behalf of older and disabled adults who need assistance. You can also report abuse to their local District Attorney’s office and request they prosecute the responsible party. If the fraud involved an online scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (for mail scams.) 
  • Offer support. Victims of financial exploitation often experience deep shame or grief. Be patient as they process their emotions and be vocal in your support while you help navigate next steps. Proactive gestures — like running errands or planning family events — can minimize stress. 
  • Create a game plan. Consider setting up regular family meetings to address budgeting, bill payments, or any lingering financial concerns moving forward. GreenPath Financial Wellness offers worksheets and guides that can help get you started.

    This article is shared by our partners at GreenPath Financial Wellness, a trusted national non-profit.

Common Cents for Couples: How to Manage Money Together

Article by GreenPath Financial Wellness 

For some couples, February might be a month for romantic connection - celebrating Valentine’s Day with dinner reservations or romantic gifting. For others, solidarity and closeness can be found in boycotting Cupid together. Regardless of whether you have a love or hate relationship with the cherubic matchmaker who wields heart-tipped arrows, one thing is certain: cohabitating couples will enjoy a more harmonious relationship when they align on money matters.

Finance may not be the most romantic conversation topic, but it’s inarguably an important one. A 2021 Fidelity Investments Couples & Money Study found that one in five couples cite money as their greatest relationship challenge and 44% of partners admit to arguing about money occasionally. Building up emergency savings, paying off debt, and saving for milestone events (like college or a new home) topped the list of concerns keeping partners awake at night.

So, what’s the best way to foster financial unity on the home front? We’ve come up with some suggestions we hope you’ll find helpful.

Skip the candy; talk candidly. If you want to be successful in managing your money, you must find comfort in talking first. Being transparent about your earnings, debt, and money philosophies may feel uncomfortable, but full disclosure is critical when it comes to making joint financial decisions like whether you want to merge finances or how you want to tackle bills. Make check-ins a regular conversation (versus a one-time event) so that when financial hurdles happen, you’ll already have a baseline sense of how your partner will want to move forward.

Create joint financial goals. What do you want to achieve as a couple? Do you need to create an emergency fund or start saving for a home purchase? Do you need to budget for an upcoming vacation or pay off a high interest credit card this year? Narrow down the primary financial priorities you can tackle in tandem, and then decide how you want those goals to be reflected: as a shared document you periodically refer to? As a vision board? As categories within a financial app? Everyone has their own preferences; the importance here is finding common ground when it comes to money milestones.

Organize accounts. If your money philosophies are aligned and you generally see eye-to-eye, congratulations! Who spends what is half the battle. On the other hand, if fully merging finances is a pain point, consider keeping three accounts: one for you, one for your partner, and one for joint spending. Decide what—beyond just your house payment and utility bills—falls under the shared category. For example, will medical expenses and gifts for family be shared or separate? Take time to fine-tune what constitutes “mine,” “yours,” and “ours,” (and how much you want to budget within those categories) so that discretionary spending doesn’t feel like something either of you need to defend.

Track your spending and savings. Once your accounts are organized accordingly, there are several options for syncing up finances. Check with your financial institution to see what tools they have available, or consider one of these three popular options all offering free versions:

  • Mint: tracks income, savings goals, and your credit score, and also syncs with your credit cards and checking/savings accounts.
  • Honeydue: Ideal for couples who appreciate the ability to chat about bills and transactions within the app (versus later at the dinner table).
  • Goodbudget: A good option for curbing spending. Acts as an “envelope system” in which you can only spend the amount that’s in each designated envelope (you can have up to 20 envelopes before switching to the paid version).

Planning for Your Future

Need a little guidance when it comes to planning your finances or creating a realistic household budget? Our partner GreenPath Financial Wellness works with thousands of people each month to help them pay down debt, improve their credit, and achieve their goals. Caring, qualified counselors are ready to connect with you today, and the call is free and confidential.

This article is shared by our partners at GreenPath Financial Wellness, a trusted national non-profit.


Looking to Purchase a Car? What you do before buying a vehicle.

A vehicle can be one of the biggest purchases you make. Part of the process is shopping for the right price, but there are a few other items to consider.

When looking to buy a car, it is important to know what your credit looks like. You don’t necessarily need to know what your credit score is, but you want to make sure that your credit report is correct. To obtain a free credit report you can go to Annual Credit Here you can request all 3 credit reports (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) for free. Typically, you can only pull your credit from this site once a year for free; but during the COVID-19 pandemic the 3 credit bureaus are allowing consumers to pull their credit report weekly at no charge (this will be allowed for a limited time; details on Annual Credit Report’s website).

Pulling your credit is a great opportunity to make sure what is reporting is accurate. If you find any discrepancies, you can submit a dispute to the credit bureaus to have the information fixed. 

There are some surefire ways to maintain good credit.

  • Make your payments on time each month. Your payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score.
  • Keep credit card balances to less than 30% of the total credit limit. For example: If you have a credit card with a limit of $1,000, the most you would want to carry as a balance would be $300. If you carry a balance of more than 30%, it negatively impacts your credit score. Credit limit impacts your credit score by 30%. 

Keep in mind that if you have limited or no credit, it still may be possible to get a vehicle loan. Use our online loan application to get pre-approved. This enables you to know how much you can spend along with the rate, term, and payment amount. You will also need to know you are shopping for a new or used vehicle as terms and rates may be different.

When car shopping, do some research on what you are looking for and ask yourself:

  •  “What am I going to be using this vehicle for”? The answer will help you pick the right car. If you are commuting, you will want to avoid a gas guzzler, and your best choice would be a vehicle with great gas mileage. 
  • “What are the average maintenance costs”? All vehicles require maintenance and some more than others. Keep maintenance and repairs in mind because those costs will add up year after year.

Lastly, ensure you can afford the vehicle. While you may “qualify” for a vehicle loan, certain debts are not considered when you are approved for a loan. Costs need to be calculated into your budget, like:

  • Car insurance (full coverage insurance is often required); Click here to get a quote on Trustage vehicle insurance for the specific vehicle you are thinking of purchasing. As a First Financial Credit Union member you qualify for special rates that could save you hundreds of dollars.
  • Payments for utilities (gas, electric, water, sewer, etc.), cell phone, internet, cable/satellite, food, other insurances like life insurance.
  • Subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, and any other reoccurring charges that may occur weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly.

The better prepared you are, the better the experience will be. Additionally, make sure you feel comfortable with the purchase. Take your time and do not be pressured into purchasing a vehicle. When in doubt, ask questions. Soon, you’ll be driving around with a vehicle that fits your budget and meets your needs.

Written by Richard Tapia of First Financial Credit Union

Savings and Spending!

By now, many of us have learned that money is important to our financial health. We have also learned that even though money can’t solve all of life’s problems it sure is nice to have some around when the water heater fails or the furnace conks out. Knowing beforehand how much you can afford to spend on an emergency can really help provide peace of mind. A big key to help you have these peaceful easy feelings is knowing where all your money is going. You work hard to earn your paycheck and before you know it, it’s gone. You are not sure where, but it seems that in a single day your money can fly out of your wallet, purse or checking account in every which way possible. The electricity to run your washing machine, the lights in your house, the burrito you buy for lunch, the extra-large coffee latte with extra whip, or the gas for your vespa. The list seems to go on and on and on…..

So, how can you really expect to be financially fit if your money is pouring out all over the place? The first step is to follow the money. Do you know how much you spend on groceries each month? At the corner gas station or the burrito guy? Time to get in touch with your inner Sherlock Holmes! Your first assignment is to follow your money trail.  Hopefully once you realize how much you are wildly spending on Frank Sinatra records you can see how it matches up with your short, mid and long-term goals. If you don’t know where your money is going you can always start by making some guesses. How much do you think you spent on eating out? Gas for your cars? Utilities?  Savings or retirement? The best way to find the answers to these questions is to review your receipts, online account statements and your check book register, provided you are one of the amazing people who use this tool. After reviewing, were you shocked or surprised? The reality is, most of us really don’t know where all our money goes. We typically pay our bills and then we spend the rest as we want. If there is any money left over, you can do the happy dance! If there’s not any left to spare, then sometimes we use our credit card to get by until the next paycheck. Right? Wrong. The problem with this is that it’s not always in your or your family’s best interest to get into debt to try to afford a lifestyle beyond your means. 

Now, we know that most of us think keeping an eye on your finances can rank up there with a trip to the dentist, but keep in mind, you are the commander of your cash flow. You make the decisions of what kind of budget you want to follow and what sacrifices you may need to make to be successful and sail through life! You decide whether you want to purchase a new home or a classic 1967 Jaguar XKE. We are not really promoting a penny-pinching lifestyle, but we are encouraging you to try to squeeze the most out of each penny. 

We also know that every person should oversee their own finances, not the other way around. It’s all a decision in how you provide your limited resources to a seemingly unlimited number of choices. Some of these choices can put you into the driver’s seat, like having an emergency fund or a retirement nest egg. Other choices can get you into trouble, like excessive debt and unaffordable luxuries. 

Unless your main financial goal in life is just to collect Cracker Jack prizes, you need to realize that your overall goals will probably cost more, just a little bit more. Since you’d probably prefer to reach your goals sooner rather than later, tracking your finances and making sure that more money is going to necessities over frivolities will increase your chances to reach your goals and the time it takes to accomplish them. 

Once again well done, you have just taken another step toward investing in your financial future!   

Written by Dale Dedrick of First Financial Credit Union

Establishing Your “Priority Goals”

Whenever you are deciding on major goals and priorities, you first need to identify what top one or two that you are really determined to meet.  These are the things in your life that keep you motivated, excited and inspired.  We have found that the best goals are the ones that you love so much that the steps required to accomplish them are stress free.  Being able to achieve your goals whatever they may be won’t happen overnight.  It takes planning and discipline.  To help you, here are a couple of ideas that may help you save money: 

Be Specific. Describe exactly what you’re going to do differently.  For example: “I will increase my 401(K) contributions from 3% to 10% within 12 months to be able to retire sooner”.    

Be Realistic. You know yourself better than anyone else and you know what “needs” versus “wants” are. So, we won’t ask you to deny yourself every new (insert what makes you happy).  Instead, acknowledge the realities of temptation so you can set aside a certain amount of money to spend on your expanding 8-Track collection. 

Share Your Goals. People are more likely to meet their goals if they’ve made them public.  Tell your friends so they can help you meet yours.  Use a calendar to put goal “check- ins” as another shared reminder.  Use our loan text reminder feature to send reminders such as: “Have you paid an extra $50.00 on your credit card bill this month?”

Achieving your goals will mean focusing on only a few now, then setting new ones later after your first set of goals have been met.  We have found that if you try for everything at once, you’ll likely end up disappointed and we don’t want that!

In a perfect world, what you spend and what you save would directly line up with your “Priority Goals”.  “Priority Goals” will vary greatly from person to person.  Whether you are looking to buy a retirement home in the French Riviera or pay off a credit card, the only way to get there is through some planning. 

You may be wondering how to get started and it simply starts with just writing them down.  You can simply begin with only naming your top five dreams that demand your money.  Then pick a date that you want to meet each goal. Always try to keep your most important goals in the fore front of your mind.  If it helps, carry around a list of your goals in your wallet or purse so that you are reminded what they are every day.  In doing so, you may be less tempted to make an impulse purchase that is not directed towards your goals.

Make sure you include both short, mid and long-term goals.  It’s extremely hard to work towards achieving your dreams if you only have long-term goals that seem so many, many years away. 

If you don’t mind the cleaning lady analyzing your lifestyle, post the list of your goals including the dates you want to achieve them and display them prominently on your refrigerator so you can see them every time you open it.  

Life happens and if your financial situation changes do a “reality check”.  Make sure that if your goals are unrealistic, you make the necessary changes and avoid setting yourself up for disappointment. Remember to regularly review your “Priority Goal” list.  Your goals may change and if they do, don’t worry.  Just make the necessary changes and continue to follow all the tips above that you followed the first time you set your goals.   

Once again congratulations, you have just taken a giant step towards realizing your financial future!   

Written by Dale Dedrick of First Financial Credit Union, Source Credit: David Gardner and Tom Gardner, “The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook”

Invest in Yourself First!

How can you become a successful investor? Since money is already a part of your daily routine think about each decision that affects your finances. Whether it’s ordering a $8.00 cup of coffee or getting a home equity loan to pay off your credit card debt, simple adjustments on spending could help your savings grow. We are not suggesting that you obsess over every penny you throw into a wishing well (and please don’t embarrass your partner or spouse by diving in after it), but an easy start is to make investing a part of your daily life. 

A major part of investing is paying yourself first. In fact, you should always pay yourself first! When you pay your bills such as credit cards, gas, water, electric, cable, phone bill, the kid who washes your car (yes, the one who throws your newspaper into your neighbors’ porch instead of yours every morning) make sure that you put yourself first on that list!  When you pay yourself first, simply put away as much money as possible into savings with the primary goal to save at least 10% of your gross annual income. The more you save the more wealth you will create, so try to save as much as possible depending on your monthly payment obligations. Remember even a few dollars saved now will add up for your future. Anything is better than nothing. To make it easier, be sure to take advantages of services that automatically transfer funds to a savings or investment account. You’ll probably be surprised how easy it is to live on fewer dollars each month and possibly won’t even notice a difference. 

It’s unfortunate that so many people don’t consider investing more in stocks and mutual funds because they figure they’ll need a lot of money, professional expertise and an advanced level training. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your success will mostly rely on the degree to which you understand your individual financial situation. Your goal of investing is to create wealth, but not all investments should not be treated equally, not even by a long shot! You will need to treat short-term and long-term savings differently in order for money to be available when you need it.  

Short-term expenses are for major expenses intended for the next three years.  Like a down payment on a house, a family reunion, a cruse or college tuition. Short-term expenses should also include an “emergency fund”. We want you to think of your “emergency fund” as a credit card defense fund – money to defend yourself against the seductive call of the plastic when you are in a bind. Binds happen – might as well plan for them.  

A good question to ask yourself is how much would it take for you to survive financially if you lost your job? What would you do if your ten-year old water heater bit the dust? A rule of thumb is to have at least three to six months’ worth of expenses saved up for emergencies. If you don’t want to figure out how much you spend each month just multiply your monthly income by 3 or 6 and there you have it! Your instant emergency savings fund goal!  

Money for longer term goals can be in low-risk accounts or stocks or a combination of the two depending on how much time you have and how much risk you are comfortable with. Although there are no guarantees that the market will increase your investments there is one guarantee, doing nothing will not provide for a comfortable future. 

For more information on investing visit our financial partner, CUE Financial Group

Written by Dale Dedrick of First Financial Credit Union


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 temperaturehave 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!

Written by Dale Dedrick of First Financial Credit Union

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.


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


Find out what's happening here

News & Events