Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Keep Your Holiday Spending in Check

The holiday season can be associated with stress instead of being joyous and thankful. Most of this anxiety comes from budgeting money and time for all of the various celebrations. During the most wonderful time of year, it’s important not to let the stress of budgeting and scheduling take over the true meaning of the season.

Community Financial wants to help you bring back the magic of the season by offering tips on how to budget and plan ahead for the holidays. We’re here to help keep your celebrations merry and your finances jolly and bright.

Make an attainable budget for the season. The National Retail Federation estimates the average American will spend $700 on gifts this year. Our financial experts recommend putting no more than 1.5% of your annual income in your holiday budget. This should include gifts, food and hidden expenses like wrapping paper, cards and shipping costs. If holiday travel expenses are not in your annual budget, add them to your holiday budget to make sure they aren’t overlooked.

Complete a holiday shopping list
. Once you have your holiday budget established, create a list of everyone you’d like to buy a gift for. Be sure to include hostess gifts for parties, too. Refer to your list often to keep from forgetting a gift for an occasion. If you are a frequent party-goer during the holiday season, it might be a good idea to buy a few items that could easily be gifted at the last minute.

Shop around before buying. The feeling you get after seeing an item you just paid full price for is now half off is the worst. Avoid it by doing your homework and shopping around early to scope out deals. If you’re a Black Friday shopper, develop a strategy for the day instead of just winging it.

Let Community Financial help. Just in time for the shopping season, our special holiday loans are back again. With rates as low as 4.99% APR, a holiday loan will help you get the funds you need to make shopping easier. You could also use our VISA Platinum card to receive two times the points during the holiday shopping months. With the added shopping expenses during this time of year, these rewards will add up quickly!

Create a payoff plan. Here’s where you can really take the stress out of the holidays. If you establish a plan on how to pay off all of your holiday expenses, you’ll enjoy the festivities much more. It’s important to set a payoff plan that you’re comfortable with and that fits within your current budget.

Use these tips this upcoming gifting season for stress-free budgeting and buying! Community Financial wishes you and your loved ones a very merry holiday season.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Take the Stress Out of Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

Whether it’s your first time tackling the meal or you consider yourself a master chef, Thanksgiving dinner is always is a lot of work for the cooks in the kitchen. After all, there is no better way to tell all of your guests how much you care for them than by filling them with a delicious meal that you’ve made! With about two and a half weeks to go until the big feast, now is the perfect time to start planning the menu and figure out how you will tackle all of your cooking.

Here are some tips to take the stress out of hosting the perfect Thanksgiving for your guests:

1. Buy everything beforehand - About one week out from Thanksgiving, it will be time to clean out the fridge and go shopping. Take a look at your guest list and make an inventory of food allergies and intolerances so you can make a menu based off your guests’ preferences. Purchase foods with a longer shelf life in advance to keep your grocery trips shorter as you get closer to Thanksgiving. This is also a good time to make sure you have all the correct pots, pans and utensils you need. Never leave your shopping until the day before a holiday. This way you can avoid the crowds and also save some money by shopping around for the best prices beforehand.

2. Prepare your home ahead of time - Clean your home, set your table and prepare centerpieces three to five days ahead of time so they are ready for your guests on the actual day. You should also lay out your outfit the night before so you can quickly change into it before your guests arrive for dinner.

3. Make a cooking schedule - Almost everything will need some time in the oven, so a timetable of what dish goes in at what temperature and time will help you bake everything in time for dinner. Depending on the size of your turkey, it might need to thaw three to four days before. Some items can even be made a few days in advanced and frozen, like your pies, soups and cranberries. Casseroles can be prepared and put in the fridge until they need to be baked the day of. The key to getting everything accomplished the day of is prioritizing and not worrying! If things go awry, jump on the Internet to read about quick fixes to dishes you think you may have lost. If you run out of oven space, improvise with a crockpot or the microwave.

4. Be realistic - Don’t worry about impressing your guests with expensive decorations and high-end dining. Making simple and well-known dishes is often better than breaking your budget on a fancy meal you’ve never made before. Set a flexible schedule and be organized the day of, since even the best laid plans can go off track. Just remember that Thanksgiving Day is a family holiday, which we usually enjoy with our relatives and friends. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to make everything perfect.

5. Accept help from others - You might be hosting Thanksgiving dinner at your house, but that doesn’t mean you need to provide all of the food and do all the work. Have your guests bring their favorite side dish or dessert. Delegate kitchen tasks like prep and clean-up to family and friends to alleviate your workload. As a result, you will have more time to enjoy your guests and they will feel included in making the meal a success.

Once everyone is seated at the table eating, bask in the accomplished feeling you have of hosting a wonderful holiday meal! Share your favorite Thanksgiving recipes or tips in the comments section below.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Only Constant is Change

I saw a funny video on Facebook starring Christina Hendricks whose 1960s Mad Men character finds herself in a modern office. She tries to put typing paper in the computer monitor, smokes at her desk, and discovers that nobody knows how to send a fax. The differences in work and the workplace that have occurred between then and now are pretty clear. What isn't so obvious is how quickly and regularly those shifts occur.

The impact of change isn't a new concept: the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed that, as in life, you never step in the same river twice. On the other side of the world, Bud- dhists consider impermanence, or change, to be one of the three basic characteristics of all phenomenal existence. Merriam-Webster even defines the word "life" as "the ability to grow, change, etc."
A career of uncertainty

What does change have to do with money (aside from random nickels and dimes)? You make money through work, and the work you do over time becomes a career. It used to be that a degree and a position at a top firm would set you up for life, but that's not the case anymore.

According to 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median number of years workers stay with their current employer was 4.6, and for those ages 25 to 34, the average drops to 3.2 years. If you work from age 18 to retirement age at 62, that's between 9 and 10 jobs during a career.

Whether you go all-in on the freelance "gig economy" or simply move between companies as opportunities arise (and, increasingly, disappear), prepping yourself for a work life that is unpredictable is both thrilling and terrifying. So we've dedicated this issue to helping make you ready for anything.

Follow the "squiggly path"
Author Mitch Joel suggests the modern career path isn't a clear line but a squiggle, meaning you should be ready when new opportunities arise, take on projects that are interesting and challenging, and be willing to buck the status quo.

It doesn't matter what field you're in, today's careers are more dependent upon your brain than your brawn. Working in the 21st century:
  • requires problem solving, reasoning, and attention.
  • is team-based and collaborative.
  • depends a working understanding of technology.
  • has tight deadlines.
  • means it doesn't always matter where you live and work.
The good news is that it's in your power to develop the skills and abilities to cope with change. It's hard work, and it requires effort almost every day, but it's going to pay off in the end.

By Matt Neznanski Copyright 2014 brass Media, Inc.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Weatherproof Your Home for the Winter Season

With winter slowly encroaching on us, it’s time to make sure the temperature in the house won’t match the temperature outside! Taking some simple steps to winterize your home before the temperature drops to zero can save you money. You’ll thank yourself later when you receive your gas and electric bills! Here are some quick and easy projects and tips to get you on the road to saving some money during the winter.

Construct a draft snake
(think bolster pillow that sits at the base of your door). You can do it the old fashioned way and roll up a towel, or sew one up yourself and fill it with some heavy fabric or sand for weight. Weather stripping the house will also help you seal gaps in drafty nooks. Updated weather stripping has proved to save homes an average of 10-15% on energy bills. Both of these easy projects will help you divert the drafts from leaking in the doors in your home.

Replace your furnace filter
often during the months you have your heat on. Experts say to replace your furnace filter once a month during the winter months. Dusty filters restrict airflow and will increase the energy demand your home makes to heat it. The genuine HEPA air filters usually give you the most bang for your buck.

Run your ceiling fans in reverse
. While counterclockwise rotations give you cool air in the summer, clockwise rotations in the winter can circulate the warm air that has risen to the top of a room down into the living space.

Check your water heater
before winter starts. First, water heaters can lose a lot of heat through the side walls in the cold months. If you buy an insulating blanket for it, you can reduce the amount of heat lost, and the amount of energy your water heater uses. Next, take a look at how high the water heater is set at. If it’s set anywhere above 120 degrees, chances are you don’t need that much hot water. Bump it down to 120 degrees to save. The last thing you should do before winter is flush your water heater. The sediment and other particles that can accumulate in it will obstruct its efficiency.

Break out the box of old, comfy sweaters. A heavy sweater can be worth roughly 4 degrees. Channel your inner Jimmy Carter and keep extra sweaters and blankets around instead of bumping up the thermostat for more heat.

Clean gutters will allow for free flow of water through the gutters. Before it snows, clean out your gutters to prevent those pesky icicles from forming later.

Do you have any winterizing projects? Share them with us in the comments section below!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Have the Talk: Financial Planning with your Partner

 Money can have a huge impact on relationships, so much so that it can contribute to marital discord and even divorce. If you're married or in a long-term relationship, it's important for you and your partner to either be on the same page financially or discuss your differences openly and learn to compromise. When mapping out your joint financial future, cover the essentials.

Spending habits and attitude toward money
Are you cautious about spending, or do you believe in enjoying the things money can buy and dealing with the consequences later? Understanding your partner's attitude toward money is a key component of financial planning. It’s okay if you’re not on the same page, but you’ll need to learn to compromise and reconcile each other’s habits with your financial goals.

Financial goals
Do you want to purchase a home in the next few years? Start a family? Retire early? Discuss your short-, medium-, and long-term financial goals early, and reach an agreement about where your money needs to be going. Setting mutual goals or agreeing to support each other's goals, can help you and your partner avoid conflict and resentment down the line.

Let’s say your five-year plan centers on buying a house, whereas your partner isn’t particularly motivated to own property. If you don’t discuss your goal up-front, you may end up feeling bitter toward your partner if you’re not in a position to buy five years down the line when he pushed you to travel and purchase cars and electronics instead of save for that down payment. But if you make your goals clear and create a specific savings strategy, you’ll be more likely to achieve them and less likely to harbor negative feelings about your partner’s lack of support.

Appetite for risk
Once you've established your financial goals, you'll need to figure out how to get there. Before you start building your portfolio, openly discuss your feelings about risk-taking. If you're both conservative, you may lean toward safer but low-yield investments like bonds or certificates of deposit. On the other hand, if you're both open to being aggressive and aren't afraid to lose some money in the short-term, you could opt for stocks or even real estate. Now if one of you is a financial risk-taker and the other isn't, you'll need to negotiate a strategy that works for both of you. This could include a mix of mutual funds, individual stocks, low-yield bonds, and money markets. Diversifying offers a degree of financial protection and peace of mind; and if you and your partner have differing tolerances for risk, it’s a good compromise toward meeting your goals.

By asking the right questions and approaching the discussion with open minds, you and your partner can set yourselves up for a solid financial future without letting money take a toll on your relationship.

Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy via cc.

By Maurie Backman Copyright 2014 brass Media, Inc.
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