Tag 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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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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4 fall projects to get your home ready for winter

Summer is coming to an end and it won’t be long until temperatures start to drop. Winter may still be a few months away, but it’s never too early to start preparing. The best way to have a warm and cozy winter is to start winterizing your home while the weather is still nice. These fall home-improvement projects will get you outside on the last warm days of the year, and help keep you toasty when winter finally rolls around.

$ = inexpensive
$$ = moderate
$$$ = expensive

1. Replace or seal old and drafty windows
Are there windows in your home you avoid sitting by in the winter? Do they let air in or even get frosty when the temperatures are low? If you said yes, you just found your first project. Installing new windows with multiple panes, spacers or filler gasses like argon or krypton can help keep the cold air out. If you aren’t ready to take on the cost of total window replacement, take care of just the problem areas first. Before you buy new windows, check with your energy company to see if purchasing certified energy-efficient windows will qualify for a rebate or financing assistance.
Estimated Cost: $$ – $$$

Looking for something a little easier, and a lot less expensive? Caulking and weather stripping is a good, temporary solution. Caulk any visible cracks around windows and doors and add new weather stripping. If you really want to keep the air in, seal your windows with plastic for the winter to lower energy costs and prevent drafts.
Estimated Cost: $

2.Fix exterior paint
Peeling or bubbling exterior paint is the first sign that the paint film is compromised and it can no longer protect the siding underneath. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to look into repainting the outside of your home before snow and wind damage the siding. You can do this yourself, but a professional will have all the appropriate tools and knowledge to get it done quickly and correctly.
Estimated Cost: $$$

If there are only a few trouble spots, you can do touch-ups yourself. Resealing those spots will help keep the winter weather from eating away at your paint and making the problem worse.
Estimated Cost: $$

3. Install or maintain exterior walkways
If you’ve been walking through the grass and mud all summer to get from your car to your house, now may be a good time to install a safer walkway before the snow and ice comes. Use one of the last nice weekends to install a brick walkway. It will be easier to keep snow-free come winter, and any holiday guests you might have will appreciate a safe path.
Estimated Cost: $$

Check your driveway and any existing paths or sidewalks for cracks. Filling them now will prevent the winter freeze from making them any larger.
Estimated Cost: $

4. Tune-up your furnace
Living in the Midwest, your furnace is one of the most important parts of your home come November. It’s worth the occasional visit from a professional to keep it running efficiently and prevent any catastrophic damage down the road.

Check with your energy company to see if they offer rebates for HVAC tune-ups and repairs. If your furnace needs to be replaced, you may even qualify for a significant rebate when you purchase certified energy-efficient models. Most energy companies offer free home assessments and will let you know exactly what to replace or repair, and how you can save money doing it.
Estimated Cost: $$

If you have a forced air system, changing the air filter will create a noticeable difference in air quality and will keep your furnace from overworking to push air through.
Estimated Cost: $

If your home needs a little more work than a fresh coat of paint and caulk can cover, consider a home equity loan from IHMVCU. Visit us at any branch or online at ihmvcu.org/homeequity to get started.

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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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How to save for college

Experts estimate that the average college tuition cost for the 2014-2015 school year was $31,321 at private colleges, $9,139 for students attending a public college in their home state, and $22,958 for out-of-state residents at public universities. That’s a big price tag, and it’s likely to go up every year. Creating a plan to pay for college ahead of time will save you time, money and a lot of stress. Check out these tips to make the most of your savings plan.

Don’t sacrifice your retirement
If you plan on footing the bill for your child’s college education, don’t do it at the expense of your own retirement. There are more sources of college funding available for your kids than you’ll have for your nest egg.

If you start early enough, however, the tax benefits and flexibility of a Roth IRA can help you hit both goals. Your money will grow tax free, and you can avoid a penalty fee if you use the money for educational expenses. The maximum annual contribution limit is $5,500 if you’re under 55. If you and your spouse contribute the max over 18 years, you’ll have $198,000 in contributions alone. Assuming an 8% annual return, you’ll have over $400,000—enough to fund a college education and still have a plan for retirement.

Sound like the right plan for you? IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union can help! Click here to learn about the benefits of an IRA, or visit us at any branch.

Explore investment opportunities*
The cost of college tuition goes up every year. So in addition to starting to save early, it’s a good idea to look for the highest rate of return. According to CNN, an investment portfolio tilted toward stocks could be a great way to build savings long-term. You can adjust your investments and shelter your returns as your child gets closer to college age by switching more money into bonds and other low-risk investments.

If you’re not one to watch the stock markets, investing in mutual funds will put a professional in charge of your savings.

Read CNN Money’s “Best investments for college savings” to learn more about educational investments.

Want to know more about your investment options? Our financial advisors at IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union Investment Services will help guide your management decisions. For more information, visit ihmvcu.org/invest.

Start saving now
A modest savings is better than no savings at all. Putting away just $100 a month for 18 years will yield more than $20,000, and that’s without calculating the added interest. It may not seem like much, but that’s enough to pay for two years of in-state tuition.

If you want more of a return than a simple savings account can offer, education savings accounts (ESA) offer tax-free earnings. The two most popular options are the Coverdell Savings ESA and the 529 College Savings plan.

Coverdell accounts are similar to IRAs, with the exception that the funds must be used for qualifying educational expenses. The funds can be used for education at any level (elementary through college), but contributions can only be made to the account until the beneficiary turns 18. Like a Roth IRA, Coverdell accounts have income and contribution requirements.

529 College Savings Funds can be opened for anyone regardless of annual income or age, and there’s no contribution limit. The funds in a 529 can only be used for college expenses. This account functions similar to a mutual fund—contributions are invested into many companies and its gains/losses fluctuate with market conditions. 529 College Savings Funds are best when you have plenty of time to save.

Other options
If you’re unable to save the entire cost of four years of college, federal, state and private grants and loans can bridge the gap between your savings and the cost of school. We recommend using the “free” money, like scholarships and grants, and “cheap” low-to-no interest Federal Direct loans before looking for other sources.

If you still have a gap after using your savings, grants and federal loans, consider a student loan from IHMVCU. We offer smart, responsible student loans that won’t leave you in a mountain of debt. For more information, visit ihmvcu.org/studentloans.

Saving for college is a big deal. Though it’s best to start early, it’s certainly never too late. Visit ihmvcu.org/calculator to see how you’ll need to save to reach your goals.

Not sure what’s best for you? Visit any branch today and speak with a member of our financial services team to help you weigh your options.

 

*Our advisors are securities licensed in IA, IL, and WI. Securities offered through Broker Dealer Financial Services Corp., Member FINRA & SIPC. Securities are not are not federally-insured; are not obligations of the credit union; are not guaranteed by the credit union; involve investment risk, the value of the investment may fluctuate, the return on the investment is not guaranteed and loss of principal is possible; may be offered by a dual employee who may accept deposits on behalf of the credit union and may sell non-deposit investment products on behalf of a third-party securities broker-dealer.

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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.

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