Tag Archives: 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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5 Ways to save money on your first apartment or dorm

Skip paying for movers--have your friends move your stuff.

Skip paying for movers–have your friends move your stuff.

Venturing out on your own for the first time? Whether you’ve just signed the lease for your first apartment or you’re heading off for your freshman year in a college dorm, the prospect of moving into your own place can be overwhelming.

Moving into your first place means starting from scratch, and that can be expensive! There’s a lot to buy, and a lot of expenses you’ve probably never considered before (like a shower curtain and cleaning supplies). Never fear—there are plenty of ways you can make it on your own and save some dough.

1. Don’t do it all at once.
There are a few things you’ll definitely need to get through your first night in your new place—like a shower curtain and a mattress (or at least something soft to sleep on). But you don’t have to move in with everything you’ll ever need.

After spending some time in your place, you may realize that you have no need for things other people claim they can’t live without. This rule is especially true when it comes to décor. Your place doesn’t have to be fully decorated on day one, and will have a more authentic feel if you take time finding the perfect pieces to complement your space and your stuff.

You might get there and realize you already have way too much stuff, especially if you’re in a dorm. Save your parents the trouble of hauling your excess stuff back home and wait to buy furniture and other big stuff until you’ve spent some time inside the apartment or dorm you’ll actually be living in.

2. Ask for help.
Chances are your parents, grandparents or other relatives have a basement or attic full of stuff that’s perfect for your new place. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s probably going to be free (and that’s hard to beat). Most people have too much stuff, but don’t want the hassle of selling it. Let everyone know you’re moving and you’ll be amazed at how much stuff people are willing to give away to a good home..

3. Buy used.
While we don’t recommend you thrift your mattress or bath towels, not everything in your apartment needs to be brand new. Thrift stores, garage sales, and Craigslist are all excellent places to find gently used electronics, lamps, dishes and furniture.

True story: I once bought the exact same juice glasses used on Seinfeld for $10 at a thrift store. I saved money, and I have an (almost) interesting story.

If you really want to save some dough, try FreeCycle or the free section on Craigslist. People are giving away all kinds of things, and usually all you have to do is haul it.

4. Master the art of spray paint
Ok, so maybe that dresser Grandma gave you is a little ugly or it just doesn’t match the rest of your stuff. With a little colorful spray paint even the grungiest thrift store find or hand-me-down can look fabulous. If you’ve never refinished furniture before, this tutorial from Centsational Girl is perfect for beginners.

5. Do it yourself
Anything someone else can do, you can probably do for less money. Even if you’re not handy, there’s plenty you can do yourself to save some cash. Make your own coffee, cook your own food, clean your own house, bag your lunch and (gasp!) drink tap water. Make your own budget (try FinanceWorks, a free budgeting tool in Online Branch) and measure your spending before and after you start doing things for yourself. Try not to faint when you see how much money you’ve saved.

Have some other great ways to save money on the big move? Share them in the comments!

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Last minute tips for a frugal Fourth

Throwing a party for the Fourth is a great way to get friends and family together, but if you’re not careful those party costs can stack up quickly. If you’re looking to have a festive bash without bashing your budget, we’re here to help. Check out our suggestions for frugal festivities, and share yours in the comments!

Skip expensive decorations
Fourth of July is all about outdoor fun, and usually the great outdoors is decoration enough. Instead of splurging on expensive décor that you’ll just throw away or forget about next year, get creative. Try hollowing out bell peppers as a colorful way to serve condiments, or arrange a tray of pineapple, watermelon cubes and blueberries in the shape of a flag. Edible décor is far more popular with hungry guests than fancy flag bunting.

If you absolutely must decorate, grab some miniature flags from the dollar store. You can get a flag for every guest and pay less than $20. If you’ve got some extra cardboard lying around, cut it into stars and cover it with aluminum foil. You can hang them around the yard or use them underneath bowls of fresh fruit for centerpieces.

Stick with solid-colors
It can be tempting to go crazy at the party store and buy all the star-spangled cups, plates and napkins. It’s also crazy expensive. Save some green and stick with solid red plastic plates and white napkins. It’s still patriotic, and any leftover plates can be used for Christmas or Valentine’s Day.

Make it a potluck
Having everybody bring a little something is the best way to cut costs. As the host, you should provide the bulk of the meal—like hotdogs and hamburgers to throw on the grill. Ask guests to bring buns, side dishes and desserts to round it out. It might feel like cheating, but chances are your guests will enjoy the opportunity to share their family’s top secret potato salad recipe.

Provide a cooler of waters or sodas, but ask guests to bring their own alcohol.

Do something different
If your friends and family usually get together for the local parade, mix it up and have everyone over for brunch afterwards. Eggs and bacon are an inexpensive way to feed a crowd. Plus, you’re free for the rest of the day.

If you usually go to a local park to watch the fireworks display, why not host a picnic? Meet there early enough to get a good spot and enjoy some snacks in the grass. Bring sandwiches or other finger foods and ask guests to bring a dish to share.

. . . but don’t make your own fireworks display
Seriously. This can’t be stressed enough. Fireworks are expensive and more importantly, dangerous. Host your bash before or after your community’s annual extravaganza, or provide sparklers and check out your crazy neighbor’s display instead. When the day is done, your wallet will thank you and you’ll still have all the limbs you started with.

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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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