Category Archives: Family budget

A, MR & PR | date created: 2006:08:30

Easy ways to spend less at the grocery store

Do you ever look at your grocery receipt and cringe? We all need to eat, but that doesn’t mean our wallets should be punished for it every time we visit the store.

While groceries are a never-ending household expense (we’re out of frozen waffles again?), they don’t have to eat away at your paycheck. There are a lot of simple ways to save on groceries, and it all starts at home.

Make a list
Before your regular trip to the store make a list of what you plan to buy. This way you’ll know exactly what you want, decrease your time spent in the store and cut down on any potential impulse buying.

Clip coupons
We know clipping coupons isn’t glamorous or fun, but the extra effort can really pay off. Whether you cut them out from the weekly circulars, download them from your grocery store’s mobile app or print them from sites like coupons.com or SmartSource, using coupons is an excellent way to shave a little off your grocery bill. Although the savings per coupon may be small, they can add up. The trick is waiting for the right time to use them.

Focus on sales
Knowing what’s on sale each week goes a long way. Items tend to go on sale in 6-8 week cycles, so it’s a good idea to stock up on certain foods while you can. You can even build your list around what’s currently on sale and use those coupons you’ve been saving to get even more of a discount. Just remember, just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you need it—stick to your regular purchases when possible to avoid impulse buying things you would normally pass on.

Limit your trips
The more you visit the store, the more you spend. Plan accordingly and shop for groceries only when you have to. Buy your dry goods (canned soup, cereal etc.) in large enough quantities to last you for a couple weeks, and limit your produce purchases to what you can eat before it spoils. You might have to stop by the store to replenish you veggie supply, but you won’t need to make the rounds to every department. That way you save time, and avoid impulse purchases.

Do it yourself
While it’s easier to buy pre-cut, prepackaged or prepared foods, you’re paying for that convenience. It’s more time consuming, but preparing your own meals from whole ingredients is usually much more cost effective. Buying the entire chicken or block of unsliced cheese includes a little extra work, but your wallet will thank you for it.

Buy generic
It may be hard to break out of your brand-loving comfort zone, but you might be pleasantly surprised. The difference between store brand and full-price name brand products is usually hard to detect, and the savings are always real. If you’re looking to save a couple dollars on cereal, food staples (flour, cooking oil, etc.) or cola, buying generic is an easy way to do it.

Shop alone
As anti-social as it sounds, it may be a better idea to leave your kids and spouse at home next time you hit the grocery store. Kids are the ultimate impulse shoppers, and giving in to their requests can really add up. It’s not always easy to say no, but that doesn’t mean you should pay more because of it.

Beware of store tricks
Whether it’s positioning the produce section in the front entrance or playing slower music, stores use a variety of subtle tricks to get you to spend more. Knowing what to watch out for will reduce that risk as well as make you a smarter shopper. (“Not today, 10 for $10 dollar deals!”)

What do you do to save money at the grocery store? Let us know in the comments!

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3 Ways to Get Your Budget Back After the Holidays

If holiday spending left you dreading the mailman, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted by American Research Group Inc., Americans plan to spend an average of $882 this year on Christmas gifts alone. Add in the cost of family dinners, decorations and other holiday events and your average American household is spending well over $1000 during the holiday season.

If you’re one of the many Americans who to plan to make all their holiday purchases with a credit card, or you just totally overshot your budget, you may find yourself carrying a mountain of new debt into the New Year.

Here are some suggestions to get your budget back on track before the temperatures start rising again.

Know what you spent.
Don’t be surprised by your bill in January. Save your receipts from any holiday related credit card purchases and immediately make a mental subtraction from your checking account. You’ll know what to expect when the holidays are over, and you’ll have enough to pay for it.

Make a repayment resolution.
Many Americans add holiday purchases to existing credit card debt. If this sounds like you, separate the total you spent on holiday purchases and make a plan to pay off that amount by the end of the first quarter of the year. You’ll be back to making pre-holiday payments by April.

Save your bonus.
While it can be tempting to use that year-end bonus or money you got has holiday gifts to just pay off your credit card debt, it’s probably only a temporary solution. According to Nancy Anderson, a financial planner and Forbes.com contributor, it’s often better to develop a realistic repayment plan and save your hard earned bonus to prevent the same debt-accumulation problem in the coming year. To find out if this is the best plan for you, read her article “When Not to Pay off Your High-Interest Credit Card Debt.”

For more help rebooting your budget, check out our easy savings, debt and budget calculators at ihmvcu.org/calculator. See what it will take to pay off your debt, calculate your household cash flow or even see the impact of setting a savings goal.

What’s your best holiday budget advice? Share in the comments, on Facebook or Tweet us!

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Why Your Budget Isn’t Working

Creating a budget that works for you and your family is the first step in living a financially healthy life. We talk a lot about budgets. If you’re a regular reader of our MoneySmarts blog, you know we frequently offer “budget friendly” tips  and easy ways to “stick to the budget.” But what does all that mean if you don’t know anything about the way you or your family spends money?

Odds are you probably have at least some kind of budget for your family—whether it’s just monitoring your accounts and keeping a general idea of how much money goes in and out, or a totally itemized spreadsheet. Is how much you spend each month reasonable while leaving room to save or invest? How do you find out?

While there’s no perfect budget that will work for every family every month, experts agree that the best way to ensure you live within your means is to follow a percentage based plan. The most common suggestion is the 50/30/20 plan:

50% of your income should go towards required expenses. This includes housing, food, utilities, transportation (including car payments), insurance, etc. These are NEEDS.

30% of your income goes towards optional expenses like clothing, vacations and gifts–the little things that help you enjoy life. These are WANTS.

20% of your income should be allocated for paying off debts (like student loans and credit cards) and saving/investing.

These guidelines are helpful, but keep in mind that they’re not the end-all-be-all of budgeting. You’ll have to make adjustments based on your family’s needs. A recent college grad living at home is going to have a wildly different budget than a family of five with a mortgage and a baby on the way. Where you live, how far you commute, the size of your family, etc. will all play a role in how you make the budget work for you. Whatever adjustments you make, just make sure it all adds up to 100%.

If you’re not the spreadsheet type, you may benefit from online services that make keeping a budget less tedious. Try IHMVCU’s budgeting and saving calculators to find out what would happen if you changed your money habits. IHMVCU members also get free access to FinanceWorks, a budgeting tool within Online Branch. FinanceWorks tracks your income and expenses, allows you to set realistic spending goals, and even alerts you when you meet or exceed your spending limits.

Now that you have a place to start, calculate your current spending and see how it compares to the recommended percentages. No matter what adjustments you need to make, keep in mind that every month will be different. The most important thing is to be diligent.

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Checklist for first time home buyers

family_new_home_smallSpring is here and home buying season is in full bloom. If you’re planning to buy a new home this year, it’s important to get your finances organized and know what you can afford. Here’s a checklist to get you started:

Pay down your debt. Check your credit score and look over your credit report. You’ll have trouble getting a loan with a good interest rate if you have a bad credit score or a loan period if your debt-to-income ratio is too high. Before you do anything else, focus on paying down your credit cards and paying your bills on time.

Save a down payment. Most lenders prefer a down payment of at least 20 percent of a home’s total purchase price. While it’s possible to get a loan with a more modest down payment, anything less than 20 percent usually requires private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI is usually about 1 to 2 percent of the loan value split over monthly payments. For example, on a $100,000 home, that equates to almost $1,000 a year or $83.33 a month—assuming a 1 percent PMI fee. Moreover, PMI only protects the lender if the loan goes into default and has no benefit for the borrower. So while saving 20 percent may seem cumbersome, there are plenty of reasons to avoid paying PMI if you can.

Fine-tune your budget. There are more expenses involved with homeownership than just mortgage and insurance. What about home owner’s association fees or property taxes? If you’re renting now and your new home is going to be bigger, your utility expense will likely be bigger too. Don’t forget about maintenance and upkeep! Do you own a mower and other yard equipment? What if your water heater or furnace breaks? These other expenses can add up pretty quickly.

Calculate your existing expenses, and then find an amount you’ll be comfortable paying each month that won’t put you under too much strain. If you plan on living in this house long term, it’s important to consider an amount you can afford to pay should you be unable to work for any reason in the future. Visit ihmvcu.org/calculator to see how much your monthly payment might be including expenses like taxes, HOA and more.

Gather paperwork. There’s quite a bit of paperwork your future mortgage lender may want to see once you start your funding process. Get ready by gathering together your federal income tax records, recent paycheck stubs, copies of checks for rent or utility payments, credit card and student loan information. Save yourself some time and stress by going into the process well organized and prepared.

Not sure what documents you need? Check out our Mortgage Document Checklist.

Get preapproved. Preliminary mortgage approval is an essential step in the home buying process. Real estate agents and sellers want proof that you’ll be able to secure a mortgage before you start viewing properties. As a buyer, preapproval lets you know your buying power and calculate potential costs and payments. While preapproval is a good guideline, remember that just because you’re preapproved for a large amount doesn’t mean it will fit into your budget. Use our home affordability calculator to see how much home you can afford.

Find your neighborhood. You may know the general area you want to live in, like the north side or close to the river, but it helps to really drill into a neighborhood. Home prices vary based on proximity to schools, shopping and other amenities. Make sure you’re aware how much house your money will get you in your favorite neighborhood.

Ready to get started? Visit ihmvcu.org/starthere to fill out an application, contact a mortgage loan officer, and find out why IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union is a smart choice for your mortgage loan. Start with us and we’ll be with you every step of the way, because at You’re Worth More at IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union.

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IHMVCU Newsletter – Spring 2015

Your copy of Newsletter_Coverthe Spring Newsletter will be arriving in your mailbox next week!

Featured Articles:
Now Open in Kewanee
Are Your Ducks in a Row?
Your 2015 Member Advantages

Click here to read the entire newsletter early.

Newsletter_Kewanee Newsletter_Bob Newsletter_MA

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Budget Friendly Home Makeovers

Warmer weather is here to stay, but all that extra sunshine can draw attention to subtle flaws in your home that may have been overlooked this winter. Whether you want to make big changes or just add a little more life to your home, there’s plenty you can do without the help of a professional. If you home needs a pick-me-up, check out these DIY suggestions for sprucing up your home on a budget:

Paint Your Front Door
Paint damage usually shows up in the spring, especially after winters with heavy snow and rain. If painting your house’s exterior is beyond your budget, you can still make a fun change and add to its curb appeal by adding a colorful coat of paint.

The key is to pick a color that compliments your exterior color without overwhelming every passerby.

Paint Your Front Door to Boost Curb Appeal

Reseed Your Lawn
Whether you have bare spots in your lawn or you just want thicker grass, reseeding is easier and less expensive than you may think. This chore can be as big or as small as you want—churn up the whole yard and lay down a seed blanket, or just sew seeds into the bare spots. Either way, improving your lawn’s appearance is guaranteed to add to your home’s value and curb appeal. The Family Handyman: How to Reseed Your Lawn

Clean your gutters
Gutters are your house’s first defense against rain water and melted snow that might damage your foundation. Clogged or leaky gutters can cause water buildup below the roofline and could lead to a wet basement and an expensive cleanup.

Cleaning your gutters will help them last longer, saves you money, and helps your home look better from the street. At least once a year, climb a ladder and carefully remove all the leaves and debris. If this sounds like a pain, consider installing gutter guards this spring so you don’t have such a big job next year.

HGTV: How to clean and Repair Gutters

Replace or Repair Window Screens
Opening your windows on warmer spring days instead of turning on the air is a great way to save some money. If your window screens are in need of repair, fixing or replacing them will keep bugs from getting in and will instantly improve how your home looks from outside. Replacing a screen entirely is inexpensive, and repairs are easy for those screens with only minimal damage.

Martha Stewart: How to Repair Window Screens

Are you ready to tackle some larger home improvement projects? Visit us at any branch or at ihmvcu.org/homeequity to learn about how a home equity loan can help you turn your house into your dream home.

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How to save for your first house

30s_couple_house_keys_smallMaking the move from renter to home owner is exciting, but it can also be intimidating. Your home will likely be the most expensive purchase you ever make, so it’s important to plan responsibly. Try using one of our financial calculators to help figure out if buying or renting is the best option for you, how much house you can afford, and estimate your monthly mortgage payment.

Experts agree that a home should cost no more than two-and-a-half times your annual income. Most lenders require a down payment equal to 20% of the home’s total purchase price, but how do you save that much? Here are some tips to make saving for your home a little easier.

Create a monthly budget
The only way to save is to spend less than you earn. Any savings goals you have will begin and end with your monthly budget. Setting unrealistic goals isn’t going to get you anywhere, so be honest and accurate about what your family earns and spends, then stick to it as much as possible.

Need some help setting goals and sticking to them? IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union offers FinanceWorks, a free budgeting tool within Online Branch. You can use it to set spending goals, track your purchases, and plan for saving. It updates in real time and will even send you text or email alerts when you reach or exceed your limits.

Reduce Spending
This may seem like an obvious move, but it’s definitely important. By reducing or even cutting spending on things like clothes, shoes, fancy coffees and cable, you might be surprised at how much you save each month. If you take the time to develop an accurate monthly budget and eliminate the some of the “wants” from your list, you’ll find it’s easier to put more money away.

Don’t overdo it, though. It’s hard to stick to your goals if you’re frustrated or unhappy every month. Trying to cut all your family’s “wants” is unrealistic. If you’re someone who enjoys dining out, try cooking a fancy meal at home once a week with premium ingredients. Are you really going to miss those specialty coffees in the morning? Try making your own flavored syrups and getting caffeinated at home for less money. If you decide to cut cable or trips to the movie theater, try signing up for an online service like Netflix or Hulu that’s often far less expensive.

Work More
While spending less may seem like a no brainer, people often don’t consider how they can bring more money in. Consider adding a part-time job doing something different from your career. If you find a part-time job that’s in line with your hobbies, it may seem less like you’re working on the weekends. Are you handy? Try the local home improvement store. Crafty? Inquire at a fabric or hobby store. If you’ve built a good budget, you don’t really “need” this money and it can easily go into your savings.

Cut back retirement savings
If you have an employer-matched 401(k), it’s a good idea to continue contributing enough to qualify for the maximum employer contribution. While you’re saving for your home, scale back to just the match amount and put any additional cash you may have been contributing towards your down payment. You’ll still be saving for your future, just in a different way.

If you qualify as a first-time home buyer, you may be able to take up to $10,000 from your IRA penalty free to help fund your home purchase. Just know that you’ll have to pay any applicable income taxes on the withdrawal amount, depending on your account.

Are you ready to buy your home? Don’t know where to start? Visit us at any branch or ihmvcu.org/starthere. We’ll help you find a mortgage that gets you moving.

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Spring break staycation ideas for the whole family

family_flowers_small
While it might be nice to escape the cold and snow this month with a spring break getaway, the cost of hotel rooms and plane tickets for the whole family can quickly eat away at your budget.

If staying home is a more realistic option for you and your family, check out these tips for a fun spring break “staycation.” You’ll have so much fun you won’t even notice the cold.

…Okay maybe that’s a stretch, but it might take your mind off it for a while!

Be a tourist in your home town
Whether you’ve lived in your hometown your whole life or just moved in, you probably haven’t experienced all there is to do. Check out a new exhibit at a local museum, catch a local artist performing at your favorite coffee shop, or visit that new restaurant you’ve always wanted to try. Plan it the same way you would if you were out of town—learn as much as you can about what your city has to offer and have your family help plan the day. If your town doesn’t have much in the way of adventure, plan a day trip and discover a fun new place nearby.

Movie marathon
When’s the last time you watched the entire Star Wars saga? A movie marathon is the perfect staycation activity when it’s too cold outside. Spend the whole day (or evening) in your pajamas or comfy clothes, and relax at home. It’s a great way to share your favorite movies with your kids, or check out new releases. If your family is older, consider seeing all those Oscar movies you missed. Order pizza, pop some popcorn, and snuggle up.

Organize a scavenger hunt
Depending on how old your kids are and how many adult chaperones you have, a scavenger hunt can be as small as your own backyard, or as big as your entire town. Hide goodies for your family to find, then hand out clues and maps. Make the clues as hard or as easy as you want. You can even write them as poems or puzzles and make it a learning activity by including historical fiction and easy math problems.

Go geocaching
The official geocaching website describes this free activity as “a real-life treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices.” Use a specific set of GPS coordinates to find hidden objects in your area, and maybe see some cool new sights along the way. Geocaches are hidden world-wide, so there’s bound to be something for you and your family to find. Visit geocaching.com to learn more.

Have an outdoor adventure
If it’s not too cold, go hiking or exploring at a state park or forest preserve near you. Pack a lunch, bring the camera, and make a day of it. If there’s snow on the ground, try cross country skiing or snowshoeing. If you don’t own equipment, parks or local businesses may have equipment available for rent.

Take advantage of member discounts
IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union members get exclusive discounts to local events and attractions for the whole family. Use your staycation to take advantage of buy-one-get-one free admission to QC Mallards home games and the Family Museum, or get a babysitter and enjoy an adults-only night at the Establishment Theater! Visit ihmvcu.org/memberdiscounts to find out more.

No matter what you end up doing with your time, it will feel more like a vacation if you treat it like one. Block off your calendar like you would if you were going on a real vacation, avoid the urge to do housework, and enjoy time with your family.

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