52 Week MEGA Money Challenge

For those of you who have tried the 52 Week Money Challenge and successfully completed it, I now have a new challenge for you! It’s called the 52 Week MEGA Money Challenge. Now, I know saving money can be quite the challenge, especially when you are in your 20’s. Many of us are counting every penny and it’s really hard not to spend it, let alone save it! But if the other challenge was a breeze, and you have the income to support saving a larger amount of cash, then it’s time to take it a step further!

The mega challenge is based on the standard challenge, but instead of beginning week one with a $1 deposit into the challenge fund, the mega challenge begins with $5. Then each week of the year, you multiply that week’s number by $5. In week two, the goal is $10, in week three it’s $15, and so on until the last week of the year (52) when you’ll need to deposit $260 into the fund. While the price is steep, the reward compares. If you are able to accomplish the challenge, you’ll have an extra $6,890 in your bank account at the end of the year. Imagine all of the things you could do with that extra money!


This is an excellent challenge for those who are highly motivated and currently have the income which can support these savings numbers. The purpose of these 52 week challenges isn’t necessarily about the overall money saved. The main point of it is to get you into the habit of saving money each week, and a side benefit of that is that you can begin to fund your emergency savings as well. Shoot for the highest amount you feel confident you can achieve, but definitely don’t overextend yourself to the point that you end up quitting. If you feel it’s too much some weeks, put only the amount you feel comfortable with.

Are you up for the challenge? If so, keep us updated on your journey!

Until Next Time,


Jessica M.

First-Time Homebuyer Tips

First Time HomeBuyer

First-Time Homebuyers Face Hurdles That Most Can Overcome
Buying a home can be a challenging process. So it’s best to be prepared for what you’ll be getting in to before you can move into that new place of your dreams.

First off, figure out some financial basics. How much debt do you have? How much is your gross monthly income? How much money have you saved for a down payment? What’s your credit score? All these are critical in determining whether you can get a traditional mortgage and how much it’ll cost.

Your credit score helps lenders determine what interest rate to offer you on a mortgage. If your score is too low, finding a willing lender may be difficult. Improving a low score takes considerable time.


Debt vs. income
Next, estimate your debts and income. Many lenders won’t give you a mortgage if you’re paying more than a certain amount each month on loans and other debts. All together, your loan and home-related monthly expenses, including taxes and insurance, can’t top 36% to 43% of your pretax income.

If your current debt-to-income ratio is too high, you might still find a lender, but it may cost more. Alternatively, you could try to reduce or restructure your debt, or seek a smaller mortgage. For instance, if you borrowed to buy a new car, consider selling it to pay off the loan.

Before you begin house hunting, start shopping for financing. Finding a lender like Community 1st Credit Union that will work with you and offers competitive costs will help ease and accelerate the process.

Check out mortgage rates offered and related charges. Combined, fees alone can amount to thousands of dollars, so it’s important to get a detailed breakdown along with an estimated total cost from each lender you’re considering. Compare them to see which best meets your needs. Don’t forget to negotiate — some lenders are more flexible on fees and other charges. So you may cut your costs.


Down payments
Down payments can vary, but remember the amount you put into the deal affects monthly costs. Usually, less than 20% means paying private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which can add hundreds of dollars a month to your bill.

Once you’ve picked a lender, find out how much house you can afford by prequalifying for a mortgage. It’s like applying for a loan and can make it much quicker to obtain the financing you need once you’ve found the home you want. It can also save you from the frustration of learning that your favorite place is priced beyond your reach.

Lenders are required to determine your ability to repay a loan before they give it to you. So expect to document income, employment, assets and credit history. You’ll also have to detail your current debts and related obligations.


Affordability and financing
A home’s affordability partly depends on financing, as types of mortgages can affect monthly payments. The trade-offs usually involve risk levels and total interest costs.

Fixed-rate mortgages are popular as they provide the borrower with the certainty of a specific monthly payment. With rates still near historic lows, this can be the best choice for those who intend to stay put for more than 10 years. Remember that usually mortgage interest can be deducted from taxable income, lowering the monthly expense.

Variable rate loans, known as ARMs, often initially cost less per month, but can leave the borrower exposed to paying more interest should rates rise. In such a scenario, you can find yourself owing a much higher monthly amount in just a few years. So that lower initial cost comes with considerable payment risk.

Hybrid loans mix both, with fixed rates that eventually switch to variable. Hybrids can reduce the monthly cost at first, but predicting rates years in advance is virtually impossible, so there’s still considerable risk involved. These products are often most popular with buyers who expect to move within the fixed-rate period.


There’s a lot to learn for first-time homebuyers, but your lender can help you through it. So don’t let the complexity hold you back.

Ted Bunker, NerdWallet

Paying Off Student Loan Debt: It’s Time to Make a Plan

Student Loan

If you’re struggling to pay back student loans, you’re in good company. The average individual debt as of December 2014 is $32,264.  Americans owe a total of almost $1.129 trillion in student loans—an 8% increase from 2013.

Those figures can be pretty intimidating for recent graduates, especially those who haven’t yet found a job. So how can you pay off loans quickly and on time, avoiding the dark waters of default? Here are some tips.

1. Get organized
It’s important to know to whom you owe what, and to chart a course for paying it off. In addition to noting the total amount and the number of loans, write down how much must be paid on each loan and when and where payments are due. Use this information to factor your total monthly payments into a budget.

School loan payments should be prioritized just like rent and food, since missing them can have pretty dire consequences. Consider setting up automatic payments from your checking account, especially if you have multiple loans, to ensure that you don’t miss a due date. Keeping organized with a folder for all documents from lenders will help if you need to change repayment terms or decide to consolidate your loans.

2. Loan consolidation
If you have multiple loans and struggle to cover monthly payments because of the costs, or you just have difficulty keeping track of it all, consolidation may be a good idea. It involves borrowing enough money to repay all the smaller loans, streamlining the process so you’ll have just one, usually lower, payment to make each month.

Keep in mind that if you extend the term of repayment, making it longer than the terms were for the individual loans, your monthly payment may be reduced but ultimately you’ll pay more in interest. Also note federal and private loans must be consolidated separately—they can’t be lumped together.

3. Know your repayment options
If you’ve taken out federal student loans, there are several repayment options:

  • Standard repayment. Set monthly payments over a period of 10 years.
  • Graduated repayment. Lower initial payments out of school; then the amount increases over time until the loan is paid off.
  • Extended repayment. Payments are spread over 25 years instead of 10.
  • Income-based repayment. These plans use annual income to calculate monthly payments and can range from 10% to 15% of discretionary income, with repayment periods extended to variable lengths of as much as 25 years.
  • Loan forgiveness. After 10 years of payments, some people in public service positions such as some nurses, teachers, military personnel, police, firefighters, AmeriCorps, or Peace Corps volunteers can qualify for federal loan forgiveness.

4. Find support
Most creditors offer deferment or forbearance if you can’t make a payment. But it’s in your best interest to continue to make payments even in the most difficult situations, as the interest will still accrue and student loans aren’t usually forgiven even if you seek bankruptcy protection.

If you’re feeling overburdened by education loans, or fear you may be one day, a representative of a lender like Community 1st Credit Union may be able to help.

Cait Klein, NerdWallet

Kicking of the New Year the Right Way!

Well 2014 is almost over and what a fun year it has been! In less than 15 hours it will officially be 2015! Since the new year is all about making goals, have you thought about what your New Year’s resolution will be? If not, why not make it a goal to be financially savvy? Here are 3 ways to kick off your new year the right way:

52 Week Money Challenge. Remember the video I made about this challenge last year? No… well check it out! This is a tough one, but if you are dedicated you’ll have a nice chunk of money around this time next year. If you tried and failed last year… try it again! It never hurts to save money!

Start Saving Now! So, you know how I tend to emphasize the importance of saving money
and having an emergency fund? Well, that’s because it is extremely important! You never know when an emergency can come about. Financial emergencies can come in the form of a job loss, large medical expenses, home or auto repairs or something you’ve never even dreamed of. The last thing you want to do is be forced to rely on credit cards or a loan which could simply increase the problem. Most experts agree that you should keep three to six months worth of your income set aside in your emergency fund. The most common reason for the need of an emergency fund is due to a sudden loss of income.

Where should you start?

If you feel it is hard to begin saving, simply start with a small amount. Each month put aside $20-$30 and as you learn to budget and eventually make more money, you can increase that dollar amount. To help you stay on track, set up an automatic transfer at your Credit Union. Each month you can automatically transfer a certain amount from your checking to your savings account for no fee at all!

Manage your Debt. Whether you borrowed to pay for college or to enhance your lifestyle, it is difficult to feel financially savvy if you are drowning in debt. Make a plan of action! Start by paying off debts with the highest interest rate first (ex. credit cards). Also, try paying more than the minimum payment. You will be able to pay your loan off faster and the overall interest amount will decrease saving you a good amount of money!

If none of these helped you out, I’m confident you will be able to make good decisions on your own! I wish you all a happy and successful New Year! Good luck and I will see you in 2015!

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

Last Minute Christmas Shopping Tips and Tricks


Christmas is six days away and you still haven’t finished buying gifts for your loved ones? Knowing when and where to shop will help save you time and money in these last days of the Christmas shopping season. So, before you go into panic mode, check out these last minute shopping tips. You’ll find everything you need with plenty of time to spare, and nobody on your list will know you procrastinated…..again.

Shop Online: If you want to avoid the crowds and long lines, go online to purchase your gifts. Just be ready to pay higher shipping fees if you want it in the next few days. Also, keep your eyes open for deals! Many retailers have offered lower prices online this year versus shopping in stores.

Become a Night Owl/Early Bird: To avoid long lines and the crazy last minute shoppers like yourself, one tactic is to become a night owl. Many retailers are open longer in the week before Christmas. If that is hard for you, try getting there right when the mall opens. I did this last weekend, and it was much more relaxing trying to finish up my Christmas shopping. There were hardly any lines and I didn’t have to say excuse me every five seconds just to get across the store.

Baked Goods: Did you bake more cookies than necessary this year and are unsure what to do with all of them? Well I have the perfect answer for you. Give them away as Christmas gifts! Those diets aren’t starting until after the new year anyway, right? Christmas doesn’t have to be all about buying the most expensive gifts, it’s the thought that counts. Your guests will be just as excited to receive baked goods from you as they would if you went out and bought a gift from the store!

Give a Gift Card: Almost every retailer offers gift cards now, so forget the idea that plastic is an impersonal gift. After all, who wouldn’t want to go on a shopping spree at one of their favorite stores? To dress it up a little, add a personal touch, such as a coffee mug filled with their favorite candy or a gift card to a book store tucked into their favorite novel.

Wait Until the Weekend After Christmas: You’ve waited this long, why not wait just a few more days! The sales after Christmas are usually the best deals of the year as stores are trying to prepare for spring inventory. Check out this list of things you should wait and buy after Christmas to help you save a few extra dollars this holiday season!

Get Creative: If you have some time to spare, get in the spirit of DIY (do it yourself). Not sure where to start? Pinterest is what I like to call the “creativity hub” as it offers a number of do-it-yourself project ideas along with instructions on how to create the perfect gift for your friend, family member or colleague at little or no cost to you.

Regift: Just to throw it out there, I don’t necessarily recommend this but… it’s an option. Do you have any brand-new items sitting around the house? Perhaps you’ve received a few gifts in the past on special occasions that you have no use for? These items are perfect to regift. Before you dust them off, be sure you’re aware of who gave the gifts to you so they don’t end up in the hands of the original purchasers. That would be a nightmare.

If you are going to be at the mall this weekend, prepare yourself now for long lines at checkout, no parking spots and large crowds! Don’t say I didn’t warn you ;) With these tips, I wish you the best of luck in your last minute Christmas shopping adventures! Merry Christmas everyone!
Until next week,

Jessica M.

Watch-It-Wednesday: My Top 10 Favorite Christmas Movies


It’s the most wonderful time of the year and one of my favorite ways to get into the holiday spirit is turning on the fire place, kicking my feet up and watching my favorite Christmas movie! Below is a list of my all time favorite Christmas movies! If you haven’t seen them, I definitely suggest you squeeze a few of them in before December 25th! Enjoy!

1. Elf (2003)
This is by far my favorite Christmas movie! I could honestly watch this once a week and not get sick of it. After inadvertently wreaking havoc on the elf community due to his ungainly size, a man raised as an elf at the North Pole is sent to the U.S. in search of his true identity.

2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
This is an oldie but a goodie! The Griswold family’s plans for a big family Christmas predictably turn into a big disaster.

3. The Santa Clause (1994)
When a man inadvertently kills Santa on Christmas Eve, he finds himself magically recruited to take his place.

4. Home Alone (1990)
This is definitely another classic but one of my all time favorite movies! An 8-year-old boy who is accidentally left behind while his family flies to France for Christmas must defend his home against idiotic burglars.

5. The Polar Express (2004)
This is the story of a young hero boy on Christmas Eve who boards on a powerful magical train that’s headed to the North Pole and Santa Claus’s home. What unfolds is an an adventure which follows a doubting boy, who takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole; during this ride, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery which shows him that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.

6. Jingle All The Way (1996)
A father decides to dream the impossible; to get a Turbo Man action figure for his son just before Christmas. If only he knew the price he’d pay for that Turbo Man!

7. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Inside a snowflake exists the magical land of Whoville. In Whoville, live the Whos, an almost mutated sort of munchkinlike people. All the Whos love Christmas, yet just outside of their beloved Whoville lives the Grinch. The Grinch is a nasty creature that hates Christmas, and plots to steal it away from the Whos which he equally abhors. Yet a small child, Cindy Lou Who, decides to try befriend the Grinch

8. The Holiday (2006)
Two women troubled with guy-problems swap homes in each other’s countries, where they each meet a local guy and fall in love.

9. A Christmas Story (1983)
Christmas is approaching and 9 year-old Ralphie wants only one thing: a Red Ryder Range Shot 200 BB gun. When he mentions it at the dinner table, his mother’s immediate reaction is that he’ll put his eye out. He then decides on a perfect theme for his teacher but her reaction is like his. He fantasizes about what it would be like to be Red Ryder and catch the bad guys. When the big day arrives he gets lots of present under the tree including a lovely gift from his aunt that his mother just adores. But what about the BB gun?

10. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. One day he stumbles into Christmas Town, and is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween — but alas, they can’t get it quite right.

Did your favorite Christmas movie make my top 10 list? Share with us below!

Happy Holidays Everyone,

Jessica M.

Holiday Fraud Fighting

Today we have a guest post from Cait Klein at Nerdwallet! NerdWallet is a personal finance website that is focused on helping people lead better lives through financial education and empowerment. When it comes to credit cards, insurance, loans or expenses like hospital costs, consumers make almost all their decisions in the dark. NerdWallet is changing that by building accessible online tools and providing research and experts that can’t be found anywhere else, all to balance consumer finance in favor of the consumer. They call it putting knowledge in your wallet.

No fraud

The holidays are a time of family, friends and fun, but for an unfortunate few, it’s also a season marred by fraud and even theft. Here are some tips to help you protect yourself while shopping online and at the store.

Online Safety Tips

  1. Shop smart: If you plan on making purchases online, only use secure websites with URLs prefaced with https://,  rather than http://. Think of the extra “s” as standing for safety.
  2. Bolster passwords: If it’s been a while since you last changed your passwords, now’s the time. Avoid using the same one across multiple sites so that if one gets hacked, others won’t fall as well. Make passwords a mixture of upper- and lowercase letters and numbers, along with symbols. For example MeRRyXmaS!* is a much safer password than MerryChristmas.
  3. Log out when done: After completing an online transaction, make sure to log out of the website and close the browsing tab instead of hopping directly over to another site. It may be tempting to keep multiple sites open at once to speed movement between them, but avoid creating this browser mall. For each purchase, open a new browser to ensure security.
  4. Watch for porch poachers: As online purchases are shipped, keep track of when the orders are set to reach your door. You can track packages online to make sure they don’t sit on a porch or step for hours, presenting a tempting target for thieves. Try to be home to accept deliveries, or ask a neighbor to grab them.
  5. Beware of identity theft: Personal information about tens of millions of people in the U.S. has been exposed by data breaches, mostly involving big retail chains like Target, Home Depot and T.J. Maxx. While taking precautions such as changing passwords can help you avoid becoming a victim, keep an eye on your accounts for any suspicious activity. Most bank, debit and credit card accounts can be monitored online and with smartphones as well as through mailed monthly statements. Financial services providers like Community 1st Credit Union often offer online and mobile apps to help you keep an eye on things. If you think one of your accounts has been compromised, report it to the account provider first, then file an identity theft report  with the Federal Trade Commission.
  6. Shop smart: If an online deal sounds like a holiday hoax, chances are it is. Be skeptical about closeouts, super discounts and terms that seem too good to be true.

In-Store Safety Tips

  1. Shop in numbers: The more the merrier—as well as safer. Shop with a friend or family member to help you avoid in-store predators. If you’re lugging more bags than you can easily carry, it can attract a thief who could grab a sack or slip something out of one unnoticed.
  2. Hide and lock: Keep purchases hidden from view in your vehicle’s trunk or covered cargo space, and remember to lock the doors. Bring along a blanket or extra jacket to toss over any purchases you must leave on a seat.
  3. Watch out: Heading to and from the parking lot, keep an eye out for sketchy characters hanging around, and keep your purse or wallet tucked inside a jacket. Danger isn’t everywhere, of course, but it’s better to be safe than sorry — and it never hurts to be alert to your surroundings.

Simple precautions like these can help keep you safe this holiday season, both online and in stores.

Cait Klein, NerdWallet

Ugly Sweater Christmas Party on a Budget


Well the most wonderful time of the year is here! Christmas lights are shining, snow is falling and ugly sweaters are EVERYWHERE. If you are in need of an ugly sweater or need tips to host a budget friendly party this holiday season, you came to the right place!

Finding an Ugly Sweater. Ugly sweaters have become increasingly popular over the years and each Christmas they seem to get more and more absurd. If you are a crafty individual, check out Pinterest for some new and unique ideas! For those of you who are constantly on the go and don’t have time to create one yourself, check your local thrift stores, Ragstock, or head on over to The Sweater Store online!

Hosting a Party. Hosting a party around the holidays is a great way to reconnect with friends and family. Why not spice it up a bit and host an ugly sweater party? Ugly Sweater parties allow us to remove ourselves from societal norms for a day.  We get to let loose, take down all of the guards and just be…well… ridiculous. If money is tight this holiday season, try some of these fun tips to keep your party on a budget:

  1. Use social media to send invitations.
  2. Have your guests bring a side dish and their drink of choice to save you time in the kitchen and money!
  3. Create a photo booth area in your home for guests to take pictures! Use silly items you have lying around the house or check out the dollar store for some tacky photo booth props!
  4. Decorate your home! The tackier the better! Deck the halls with Christmas lights, tinsel, bows, paper snowflakes and wrapping paper. You can find tons of fun decor lying around your house or at your local dollar store.
  5. Play holiday music! Don’t bother spending hours creating a playlist or purchasing music from iTunes! Instead, use Pandora and create a new Holiday station! Best of all, it’s Free!
  6. Have some fun games for your guests to play! My favorites include Heads Up, Catch Phrase, Scattergories or even just a plain old deck of cards! Use this as a back up plan incase the conversations start to dwindle!

Vote for the “Ugliest” Sweater. Have some awards ready for the best (or worst) sweaters. Check out some of my recommendations below:

  • All Around Ugliest
  • Most Original
  • Best Matched Couple
  • Loudest
  • Most Outrageous
  • Scariest
  • Most Shameful
  • Most Festive

Prior to the party, print off some ballots so your guests can vote on their favorite sweaters at the end of the night! If you are looking to give away prizes to the winners, purchase a few gift cards ranging anywhere from $5-$20 or check the dollar store for some tacky yet hilarious prizes!

With all of these ideas you are now ready to throw the most outrageously festive party you and your friends have ever been to. Enjoy!

Happy Holidays Everyone,

Jessica M.

Watch-It-Wednesday: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The year-long wait came to an end last week with the premiere of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. I finally got to see it last night and I thought it was really good, despite what the critics say. I was curious how they were going to split the last book into two movies, but they did it, and even though it wasn’t my favorite out of the three movies, I still really enjoyed it.

Following her rescue from the devastating Quarter Quell, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) awakes in the complex beneath the supposedly destroyed District 13. Her home, District 12, has been reduced to rubble, and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is now the brainwashed captive of President Snow. She meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol.

This movie was very different from the first two because it didn’t take place in the hunger games. It’s dark, emotional, and builds-up to what should be an incredible ending next year. Although I don’t think they should have split the last book into two movies, it ended just the right way and left you anxious to see the last movie. Jennifer Lawrence plays the character of Katniss perfectly once again, and the entire cast around her did their very best as well.

If you haven’t seen the movie, check out the trailer here!

What were your thoughts on the movie? Share with us in a comment below!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Jessica M.

Must Read Tips for Black Friday Shoppers

Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, is just 3 days away and once again retailers are offering holiday deals in an attempt to get more shoppers into their stores. Several of the biggest retailers are opening earlier than last year in hopes to one-up their competition. Stay ahead of the game by checking out some of these helpful Black Friday Shopping Tips!

1. Check Newspaper Ads
Make sure to check your local Thanksgiving Day newspaper because it will be full of ads and coupons. You can also get a head start by searching the official 2014 Black Friday shopping websites for ads and deals from your favorite stores! It will  help you organize your day to maximize savings, since many stores offer special discounts (early bird sales and doorstoppers) that are time specific.

2. Black Friday Apps
There are now tons of phone apps designed to make shopping for the best deals on Black Friday easier. There are apps that will help you find the best place to park at the mall, help you find the best route to stores, alert you when the stores that you need to go to have coupons and special deals, and help you compare prices while you shop. Click here for some of the best Black Friday apps!

3. Do Your Research
If you are hoping to scoop up a deal on a big-ticket item during Black Friday sales, go ahead and get your research out of the way ASAP. A bad product is a bad deal no matter how cheap it is and being knowledgeable about the products you want to buy will help you avoid being sucker-punched with loud advertising for poor products.

4. Compare Prices
Utilize price-comparison Internet shopping sites such as PriceGrabber.com to assist you in comparing product prices. Compare the “options” included with the product. Some retailers will low-ball the advertised price on a stripped down product, and then you will be charged extra for the necessary parts that will make the product perform as expected.

5. Have a Plan….and a Budget!
Don’t go Black Friday shopping unless you have a list of the items you need, the places you want to go, and how much you want to spend. Before you decide to wait hours in the freezing cold weather, sit down and create a shopping budget! If you dive into Black Friday without any price limits, then the point of super low sale prices doesn’t really matter all that much, does it? Plus, having a list of the items you already need will cut back on time and help you avoid purchasing those unnecessary items that are only hurting your wallet.

6. Wait Until Cyber Monday
As much fun as it is to see all the crazy people on Black Friday, I have slowly pushed away from the chaos. If you hate the crowds wait until Cyber Monday to do your shopping. Here are 5 reasons why Cyber Monday is better than Black Friday:

  1. It’s easier and faster.
  2. If you are going to be busy or are traveling on Thanksgiving/ Black Friday and missing the in-store sales, Cyber Monday gives you another opportunity to take advantage of the deals.
  3. You can easily compare prices online.
  4. You can shop in your pj’s or from work! Best of all you have a virtual cart to carry all of your items!
  5. Great deals, especially on clothing, and there is usually no shipping costs!

So what is your preference? Black Friday, Cyber Monday or do you just like to avoid all of it?

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.


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