It’s that dreaded time of year again…. Tax Time! Have you filed your taxes yet? Will you be receiving a tax refund this year? If so, how you will you be spending your money. If you are planning on putting it directly into your checking account, you are on a fast path to losing track of where and what you are spending it on! Instead, get smart and create a plan for your refund. Check out these 5 tips to help you spend your tax refund wisely!
1. Create an Emergency Fund
In case of a financial emergency, it is ideal to have money saved. That way, you can get out of a situation without breaking the bank or having to turn to a loan for help.
2. Pay Off High-Interest Debt
Use your refund money to pay off that high interest student loan, auto loan, or high-interest credit card debt. It never hurts to get a head start on paying off your loans, especially ones with high interest rates.
3. Fund an IRA Account
If you think you are too young to start thinking about retirement, think again! Saving for your retirement early is one of the best things you can do for your financial future.
Use the money to open a higher-interest earning account at your credit union! There are several options when it comes to high-interest earning accounts, and you can use the money to help grow your savings early.
5. Spend it on Something You Need
Are you having car trouble, did your computer crash, or have you put off dental work? You need to take care of these essentials, and now that your refund is here, you can cover the cost.
Are you getting a refund this year? What do you plan to do with it? Are you smart with your money, or do you tend to quickly spend your refund?
Until Next Time,
Valentine’s Day is inching closer but there is no need to panic. If you’re worried that your funds can’t stretch far enough to give your beloved a Valentine’s Day to remember, realize that the best gift you can give on Valentine’s Day is letting your significant other know that they’re loved, cared about, and wanted. You don’t need expensive jewelry or a five star meal to win them over. Save your money and still have a great Valentine’s Day with some of these ideas listed below:
- Give them time
If your significant other is stressed and tired from a busy work life, give them the time they desperately need to relax. Take over their responsibilities at home for the day, whether that means doing household chores, going to the grocery store, etc. Throw in a back rub, make their favorite dinner and watch their favorite movie. You’ll give them the chance to recharge and that will mean more to them than chocolates ever could!
- IOU Coupons
An excellent way to show your love can be through making IOU coupons or vouchers. Some examples include:
- This voucher is good for one week of dish washing by me, no questions asked.
- This voucher is good for guaranteeing one season of your favorite TV show to be shared with me. And a promise that there will be no channel surfing during said show.
- This voucher is good for one foot massage. To be redeemed any time.
- This voucher is good for one breakfast in bed.
- Get Cooking: Instead of spending a fortune at an expensive restaurant, run to the grocery store and pick up the essentials to make your loved ones favorite meal. Light some candles, dim the lights and play some romantic music in the background. Don’t forget the desert!
- Plan a throwback night
Still have a vintage Nintendo or PlayStation tucked away in storage? If your significant other is into video games, plan a “throwback” night with old-school games (video or board)!
- Get Creative
I’m sure you’ve heard this before but, there’s nothing wrong with a homemade gift. Your significant other will be swept off their feet when you give them a heartfelt, handwritten letter on notebook or construction paper, I promise. If you have extra time, print off a photo of you and your boo and stick it in your homemade card. Add a meaningful note and you are all set!
If flowers are a must, you may have to cash up a few extra dollars. Flower bouquets are always extremely over priced on Valentine’s day. My recommendation is to pick some up from the grocery store as opposed to a flower shop. Also, try looking for flowers at wholesale stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. They will be cheaper, and your loved one will never even know the difference! It’s the thought that counts, right?
Whatever your gift might be, the most important feature of any gift is sincerity. Show your Valentine you’re happy they’re in your life. The best gift of all should be spending quality time with your loved one and showing them how much you care about them, not just on Valentine’s Day, but everyday!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
There are just two days left until the most watched annual sporting event in the world airs on NBC… Super Bowl XLIX. That being said, many of you may be interested in hosting a Super Bowl party with your friends or family, so I thought I would share some of my favorite game day recipes that your guests won’t be able to resist. Now, I am all about healthy eating, but sometimes I just like to let loose, watch football and enjoy some good food. If you are looking to host a Super Bowl party this year, be sure to check out these delicious yet budget friendly appetizers:
1. Ham and Cheese Sliders
I know what you are thinking…ham and cheese sliders…. does that really require a recipe? The answer is YES it does. These have so much flavor and everyone at your party will absolutely love them. If you are interested, click here for the recipe!
2. Bacon Wrapped Smokies in Maple Glaze
Of all the football food I have made, this is by far one of my favorites. Warning: They are super addicting! They aren’t necessarily the most healthy food of choice, but they sure are delicious and super easy to make! Plus, who doesn’t love bacon!? For the recipe, click here!
3. Skinny Taco Dip
In case you are looking for something a little lighter, check out this skinny taco dip! It’s delicious, popular and it only takes about 5 minutes to make! Just don’t forget the Tostitos! Click here for the recipe!
4. Buffalo Chicken Dip
You can’t go wrong with buffalo chicken dip and a bag of Tostitos! Delicious, crowd-pleasing and very easy to make! Click here for the recipe!
Veggie platters are always a great choice for a party. Crisp, seasonal veggies can add color and flavor to a table, and heath conscious guests will appreciate the tasty, guilt-free offering. Add some dips to the mix and you are all set to go!
If you are looking to host a low cost party, why not turn it into a potluck? Have your guests bring an appetizer and beverage of their choice? This will help save you time and money! Plus everyone will be pleased no matter who wins the game!
Who will you be rooting for this Sunday? Seattle Seahawks or the New England Patriots?
Until Next Time,
Well, the weekend is almost here and in just a few short days, millions of viewers will be in front of their TV’s watching the Super Bowl XLIX. What do you need to know about this year’s Super Bowl? Well, I have done some research so that you can feel fully prepared to watch the game this Sunday! Check out some fun facts below!
Game Info: Sunday, February 1, 5:30 PM on NBC @ University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Teams: Seattle Seahawks vs New England Patriots
- The Seahawks and Patriots are both the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences
- The Seahawks are the first team to play in consecutive Super Bowls since the Patriots did it in 2004-05
- Tom Brady’s 6th Super Bowl appearance is the most in the NFL for any quarterback. With the win against the Indianapolis Colts, Brady broke his tie with former Denver Broncos great John Elway as the only quarterbacks to have been in five Super Bowls.
- Arizona is hosting the Super Bowl for the third time in 19 years.
- A 30-second ad cost $4 million in 2014, and that number is expected to rise to $4.5 million this year.
- Katy Perry is the featured artist for the halftime show. Lenny Kravitz will join Perry as a guest performer. The very talented Idina Menzel will perform the national anthem, while Grammy winner John Legend sings “America the Beautiful.”
- There will be 120 footballs ready to go on Sunday. Let’s hope they are all regulation size.
- The well known sterling silver Lombardi Trophy, is made by Tiffany & Co. and weighs about seven pounds.
Do you have some fun facts to share about Super Bowl XLIX? If so, leave us a comment below!
Who will you be rooting for this Sunday?
Until Next Time,
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,
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 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
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
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,
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,
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,