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Money Matters Blog

Monday, July 30, 2012

Saving Money with “Gently Used” Treasures

Lauren Patterson, a Canton Center branch
team member, shares her insights on
shopping at thrift stores.

One person’s donation can be another person’s treasure – or living room set, or television, or even wedding dress.

In recent years, the growth of thrift and second-hand stores has been evident in the metro Detroit area, as more stores spring up and those stores look to hire more and more people. For example, according to a recent article in Crain’s Detroit Business, the Salvation Army is looking to hire between 150-200 people by the end of August and is expanding several of its stores.

For Lauren Patterson, a 23-year-old college student and Community Financial team member who frequents the Canton Goodwill store, those donations are helping furnish her first apartment.  Since she is still in school, and paying for it without any loans, living on a budget is a way of life.

“I’m still paying for college, decided to move out of my parents’ house and don’t have a whole bunch of money, it made sense,” Patterson said of shopping at thrift stores to furnish her new apartment.  “I like getting good deals on things and sometimes you can get a really good deals there.”

According to Patterson, people are going to thrift stores more often for budget reasons, but the Gen Y crowd is shopping there for other reasons as well.

“I think clothing wise, the more vintage stuff is coming back in,” she said.  “It is also helping the local economy and it’s kind of ‘going green’ to spend money on gently used stuff.” 

She has even tried to point out different items to friends to get them into the thrift spirit.

“I have tipped people off, saying  ‘Oh I saw this really cool thing at the Salvation Army store,’” Patterson said.  “I love it, I love getting a good bargain, and I have tried getting other people to do it, but the item might be gone because the merchandise turns over so quickly.”

What item is she most proud of?  Her “new” couch.

“I sent a picture of it to my boyfriend right away,” she said.  “It is in perfect, immaculate condition.”

For Patterson and others, particularly when money is tight and the economy is slow, shopping for bargains is a great way to save.  It takes some patience and willingness to purchase “gently used” items instead of the latest and greatest clothes or gadgets.  But in the end, especially for Patterson, along with saving money, the adventure is part of the enjoyment.

“Heck yes,” she said. “Definitely.  It’s fun!”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Surviving the College Experience – Part 2

This is the second of a two-part series on preparing for and surviving college from Ahson Hamid, a computer engineering major at the University of Michigan.  Ahson has worked as an IT Support assistant at Community Financial part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer since 2011.  Part One of the series can be found here.

In this blog installment we continue to look at how to make the college experience more affordable and enjoyable. Here are a few guidelines to help you get through college with less stress and less debt:

  •        Surround yourself with motivated people - There are a number of benefits to becoming friends with smart people. The academic benefits are very obvious: if you are having trouble understanding a particular subject, your friends may be able to help you.  Next there are the social benefits. Generally speaking, being around other serious students will help you expand your horizons. Engaging in intellectual conversations and debates will expand your world and challenge, or even change, some of your ideologies, and most important, you will learn about things you never thought about!
  •       Learn how to study - Learn a way to study that works for you so that you will retain information.  There may be no “right” way but try making note cards,  using new educational apps that teach effective techniques, or even studying with friends; all will reinforce what you learn in class and help you avoid cramming for exams. Learning the material the first time will also save you money by not having to repeat courses. 

  •        Learn as much as you can - College is a time to study a wide variety of subjects you may have an interest in or may not have the chance to study later in life. Use your elective credits to explore history, literature or make self improvements.  READ. READ. READ. Textbooks, magazines, novels, or anything else you can get your hands on.  Being well-read may help you ace your first job interview and better prepare you for the real world.
  •        Other real ways to save real money

o   Minimize driving.
o   Buy or rent textbooks online and save more than 50%.
o   Use an on-campus gym as opposed to purchasing an off-site gym membership.
o   Use the on-campus internet connection instead of paying monthly.
o   Become a discount-hawk. Look for deals wherever you shop.
o   Get a free checking account and avoid bank fees.
o   Learn to cook your own meals, so you don’t go out to eat often.
o   Stay away from using credit cards if you don’t pay the balance every month.
o   Be creative, DIY (do-it-yourself). 
  •         Enjoy the college experience!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Surviving the College Experience – Part 1

This is the first of a two-part series on preparing for and surviving college from Ahson Hamid, a computer engineering major at the University of Michigan.  Ahson has worked as an IT Support assistant at Community Financial part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer since 2011.

College is a crucial time for everyone involved: students, parents, and even school faculty. Yes it’s difficult, yes it becomes difficult to manage time, yes you’ll have to deal with new responsibilities, and yes you will lose lots of sleep.
However, one of the most important things to do, well before arriving on campus, is to plan on making smart financial decisions. Simply paying the cost of tuition and books is a huge hurdle and living comfortably after that is an even bigger challenge. Here are a few guidelines to help you get through college with less stress and less debt:
  •       Find a job - College comes with a lot of unexpected costs and getting a job will help you address them.  It is also a great way to learn, a campus job can be a way to explore your interests. If you maximize your work hours during the summer and you may even be able to pay off a good chunk of the cost of one semester’s tuition!

  •       If you can survive without a loan, don’t borrow - If you take out a huge loan that lets you easily pay for all of your college expenses then, sure, four years will pass without too much stress. But, can you afford to pay back those loans when you graduate? What happens if you don’t have a job right after graduation or you have moving expenses? Interest is a pretty scary thing when you are talking about paying back such a large loan. So assess your needs.  If you can get by without a loan, that’s great, and it is nice to know loans are there if and when you need one.

  •       Find your passion, but do your research - You might love a particular subject and want to major in it, but during these economic times not all majors fare well upon graduation. The fact is you will need to get a real job after college. One suggestion is to mix your interests with more lucrative majors. For example, if you like working with people and are considering a sociology or psychology major, take a look at something related to business. Understanding people is an integral part of any managerial role. That’s just one example of knowing what your interests are and applying them in occupations that pay well. 

  •       Be realistic, but maximize your time - The best way to reduce your college cost is to graduate in 4 years; you will save both time and money.  The average college degree requires 120 credits to graduate but to do that in four years, you’ll need to take 14-16 credits each semester. While it is tempting to take 12 credits per semester, you would likely have to go to school another year to complete your degree.   One way to pace your class schedule is to take online or summer classes.  Taking pre-requisites over the summer may allow you to focus on your core classes during the school year and still graduate on time. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Doing Something is Always Better than Doing Nothing

Mary Kerwin uses her motivational skills as a cross-country
coach to teach students to save money.

Whether it is running to get in better physical shape or saving money to get in better financial shape, motivation and a lack of realistic goals can lead people to give up.

But not if Mary Kerwin, who coached high school cross-country for over a decade in the Plymouth-Canton school district, is around. 

Last year a colleague, Helen Miller-Padden, sought Mary’s help in training for a 5k race..  They agreed to meet once a week at 7 a.m. to run.  However, before they started, Helen offered Mary her  cell number in case she couldn’t make it as scheduled.

“I told her I didn’t need it,’” Kerwin remembered.  “I told her ‘Unless someone is dying at my house, I’ll be here and there’s no reason you shouldn’t too.’”

Some might call that tough love, but it worked for Kerwin and her trainee as they ran every week and Miller-Padden went on to complete her first 5k race.

Throughout her coaching career, Kerwin achieved success by preaching planning, setting achievable goals and taking measured steps to achieve those goals.

“It’s like drawing a map on how to get from point A to point B,” she said. “You have to have a plan.”
Kerwin  also works at Community Financial as an Educational Partnership Coordinator with the student-run credit union program that helps students learn good financial habits early in life.
“We teach them the basics of how to save and make smart decisions and then hopefully they’ll be Community Financial members for life,” she said. “We want to show them the right way then hopefully have them do it on their own.”

And Kerwin knows, just like training to run a 5K or a marathon, saving money is about setting achievable goals and taking the steps necessary to reach them.

“As a coach, you teach people that doing something is always better than doing nothing,” Kerwin said.  “Some people may say, ‘I was only able to run one mile or two miles, or I was only able to save $1 or $2.’  But doing something is always better than nothing.”

To learn more about the student run credit unions, click here.  To speak with one of our Community Financial team members on how to develop plans for other financial goals, visit

Monday, July 2, 2012

Getting Dirty and Growing Food to Grow Your Savings

Maureen Caudill,
Community Financial Asset Protection Department,
in her family's vegetable garden
When you're raising four boys, sometimes you have to take matters into you own hands – and even into your own yard.

That’s exactly what Maureen Caudill of Community Financial’s Asset Protection Department has done at her Fowlerville home.  She and her husband have steadily built a small home garden into one that is almost an acre in size and has fed their family for the last 20 years.

“With four boys to feed, it made sense,” Caudill said, explaining how she got started and why the garden grew so large.

And “feed the boys” she has over the years, with a garden producing almost as many fruits and vegetables as you can name, including corn, cucumbers, watermelon, potatoes, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, green beans, butternut squash, tomatoes, kohlrabi, cabbage, a variety of peppers, grapes, radishes, onions, leeks, strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb, and apples.

It might sound like a lot of food, but according to Caudill, it all goes to good use.

“What we don’t eat as it’s growing, I can or freeze,” she said.

According to Caudill, she spent plenty of time gardening as a child, planting tomatoes with her uncle when he came up from Florida. After planting throughout her childhood and marrying a man who also always had a garden growing up, the green thumbs came back naturally.

“When we got married, we decided it would be good to do and then it kind of evolved from there,” she said.  “As I get older, I think ‘Let’s grow these,” and my husband will say ‘Let’s grow these.”

While she has never calculated it, Caudill is sure the garden has saved her and her family thousands of dollars over the years.  For example, she estimated that it costs her about $0.30 to produce one quart of spaghetti sauce.

“I’m sure the savings are huge,” she said.

Caudill also says that gardening, like saving money, is a mindset that anyone can get into. “There is dirt everywhere and a pack of seeds is only a dollar,” she said.  It just takes time and a little research.

Research is also the key to saving money and getting on the right track financially.  For example, if you take the time to compare checking accounts and other banking services, you are likely to find you can save money by avoiding things like checking fees. 

These days, Caudill and her husband still spend their evenings and weekends tending to their garden and even racing to the tomato plants to be the first to grab the ripe ones.

“We love it,” she said.  “We just go down there and sit and look at the garden.  It's gratifying knowing you’ve done this yourself.”