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Money Matters Blog

Monday, September 30, 2013

Fall Fashion Without Breaking the Budget

In Michigan, stores are filling up with warm clothes for the fall.  Women’s fashions this fall are diverse, offering something appealing for every taste.  Fashion trends include:
- Prints, especially plaid and animal prints on sweaters, dresses and even shoes.
- Leather for inner wear including sleeveless tops and soft, cropped jackets as well as longer, soft leather jackets that work indoors and outdoors. 
- Ankle boots—casual and high-heeled.
- Sweatshirt looks—pullovers in varied thin and thick fabrics, some in plaids, designed to look like boxy, crew-necked sweatshirts.
While new merchandise is typically not marked down until later in the season, some stores will offer limited-time promotions of 10 to 20 percent off on selected new merchandise to encourage shoppers to buy early.  Other ways to save include:
- Major retailers may offer exclusive online sales and merchandise that is only available for purchase online.  Even with shipping costs, online shopping can save money.
- Check online prices at retail aggregators.  For example, some shoes may be less expensive on than at a nearby store.
- Use store coupons, two-for-one offers and cash back promotions.  The savings may be worthwhile if you use the additional items—think ahead for gift needs or share the “two-for-one” offer with a friend.
 - Search for the same look at a less expensive store.  Clever shoppers can create a style similar to high-priced fashions by buying similar items at more reasonably priced stores or at a resale shop. Some trendy styles such as leopard print sweaters may be outdated in a year so buying a low-cost version makes sense.
- Buy a few trendy pieces (such as a plaid sweater or faux leather jacket) and wear them with the solid pants and skirts already in your closet.  You’ll look up-to-date without buying a complete new outfit.
For fashionistas with designer brand taste, you don’t have to break your bank to be in style.  Community Financial offers a Goal Setter’s Savings account that can help you save a little at a time for your next wardrobe renovation.   

Monday, September 23, 2013

Helpful Hints Before Buying a Car

A car, especially a new one, is typically a consumer’s most expensive purchase besides a home.  The sticker on the car window displays the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), a number that virtually no one expects to pay but where do you go from there?  Preparing yourself with a good base of information will help you negotiate.

AARP (American Association of Retired Person) suggests that buyers consider what is important to them before shopping in-person: safety features, performance, mileage, electronic and communication devices etc.  The cost of a car should be 8 to 10 percent of a buyer’s monthly income, according to AARP.

Explore online resources before visiting a dealership.  Major car manufacturers provide extensive pricing information online and some websites, like Community Financial’s Auto Resource Center, even allow you to create a personalized car with your preferred features and price.  Special promotions including rebates and financing deals may also be listed for particular models.

Visit Kelley Blue Book ( for comparative cost data or order a detailed New Car Pricing Report from Consumer Reports ( for $14.  These resources will provide the MSRP, the dealer’s invoice price and other information for the cars and packages that interest you.

For most people, financing is an important factor to consider.  Some car manufacturers have their own financing affiliate or their dealers may have arrangements with local financial institutions, but dealer or manufacturer financing may not be the best option for you.  It pays to compare these rates with those of your own financial institution.

Community Financial offers a range of financing options and through you can research any vehicle and obtain current rebate and comparative pricing information at no cost.  Visit the Auto Resource Center at to become an informed buyer and calculate sample rates and payments for different loan terms.  Community Financial is here to help you buy the new or used car of your choice.

Monday, September 16, 2013

New Ways to Save as Bargain Hunting Goes Electronic

Just about everyone likes a bargain.  From groceries and clothes to event tickets and vacations, the internet has created a new online marketplace that helps people save.  Here are some ways to find bargains online:
- Ebay ( has categories for gift cards and manufacturers coupons.  Sellers offer discounted gift cards for national chain stores as well as manufacturers coupons for everything from Ore-Ida Potatoes to Tylenol and Cascade.

- Groupon ( offers discounts for restaurants, spas and events in your area such as a combination manicure/pedicure for $34 or $89 for one night at the Weathervane Terrace Inn in Charlevoix.

- Retail Me Not ( offers bargains on clothing, accessories, food and cosmetics at national chains by providing discount codes and printable coupons.

- Living Social ( provides local deals on everything from eye exams meals.
All You ( This site focuses on coupons for household items.
- Coupon bloggers— Search the term “coupon bloggers” to find online bloggers who have compiles special deals.
When bargain hunting online, read the fine print.  A coupon, discount or voucher is only a good purchase if the item is something that you can and will use.  Make sure you check:
- Expiration dates and exclusion dates.  (Weekends and holidays may be excluded).
- Specifics about which products and services are eligible for the discount.
- Store locations where the coupon can be used.
- Some discount web sites promote their bargains at national retailers but a click to that specific offer just connects to that retailer’s web site.  National retail chains often offer special deals online without having to go through a discount/coupon aggregator site.
Don’t forget about eCoupons.  Many grocery retailers such as Kroger and Meijer offer additional discounts when you load their online coupons to your store loyalty card.  These are convenient because you can load them to your card using your computer or mobile phone, through the stores app.  Discounts are automatically taken at the register when your card is scanned. 

Behind the scenes, online coupons and discounts are offered to encourage purchasers to try something new.  The retailer/advertiser hopes new customers will have a great experience and will return.  In other cases, slow business may be the root of the discount offer as a way to generate revenue.  Either way, savvy buyers can benefit.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cider Makes Autumn a Sweet Time

As summer vacations come to an end, the prospect of crisp apples and fresh cider makes fall a little more appealing.  Many families have a tradition of visiting a cider mill to watch cider-making process and to buy fresh apples.

Michigan residents are fortunate to live in a state that is the third largest apple producer in the U.S., harvesting 30 million bushels of Honeycrisp, Jonagold, McIntosh, Zestar and many more varieties.  Apples, a healthy food, are delicious for the lunch box, pies, sauce, salads and more.  (Visit for recipes.) 

This year’s crop is expected to be exceptional with prices back to 2011 levels, making up for last year’s high costs after many orchards were damaged by bad weather. If you’re going to buy apples already picked at a cider mill or orchard, a half-peck bag may cost from $5 to $7.95, depending on the location and variety.  Some cider mills and orchards offer the “pick your own” option—a fun family activity which may be less expensive than apples that have been picked for customers.  Either way, they’re fresher and less expensive than most supermarket apples.

Apple harvest times vary for different types of the fruit so it’s best to call ahead if you’re seeking particular varieties.  Don’t expect apples purchased at an orchard to be shiny like the ones at the supermarket.  That shines comes from wax and who wants wax on their apples?

Cider mills often sell other varieties of fruit, baked goods, jams and preserves, and pumpkins.  Some cider mills offer hay and tractor rides, corn mazes, pony rides, and pumpkin picking although there may be additional charges for some activities.

A selection of local cider mills follows:
Western Wayne County Area
·         Plymouth Orchards and Cider Mill, 10685 Warren Rd., Plymouth; Phone: 734-455-2290 

·         Parmenter’s Northville Cider Mill, 714 Baseline Rd., Northville; Phone: 248-349-3181 

·         Three Cedars Farm, 7896 Six Mile, Salem Township; Phone: 248-437-8200 

·         Apple Charlie’s, 38035 S. Huron Road, New Boston; Phone: 734-753-9380 

·         Erwin Orchards U-Pick, 61475 Silver Lake Rd., South Lyon; Phone: 248-437-0150

Northern Michigan
·             Knaebe’s Mmmunchy Krunchy Apple Farm and Cider Mill, 2622 Karsten Road, Rogers City; Phone: 989-734-2561

·        Farmer White’s, 11373 U.S. 31 South, Williamsburg; Phone: 238-632-1500 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Celebrating National Grandparents Day

National Grandparents Day is a time to celebrate grandmas and grandpas who have given us so much, including a special kind of wisdom.  This year, September 8th is designated to acknowledge the many contributions of grandparents.

Grandparents often give insight on all aspects of life, but one of the best things one can learn is how to save money.

Here are some saving tips we’ve learned along the way:

“Don’t Spend Beyond Your Means”: Quite possibly the most straightforward and common sense of all financial advice but it’s something that is often forgotten. Before credit cards were widespread, our grandparents made sure to only spend what they made. That’s not to say that credit cards are entirely bad but it’s important to use credit cards wisely, only spending what you can afford.

“Save Money - Eat at Home”: Cooking at home used to be a staple in American kitchens, things are different now. Over 40 percent of the average American’s budget in 2011 was spent eating out according to the website Investopedia.  Save money by cooking at home, and you may be rewarded with better quality food and more valued time with the family.

“Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do or Do Without:” This phrase dates back to the Great Depression, and stresses the importance of making the best use of the things you have rather than throwing them out and buying new ones.  Savings add up over time when you use items you already have to their fullest.  Get creative. Many people love to shop, but sometimes the reward is greater when you hold off and only spend money on things you truly need.