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Money Matters Blog

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tips for Putting Your Graduation Money to Good Use

Congrats graduate! You have successfully completed high school and are ready to move on to the next stage in your life. In between all the conversations about your future plans, you received cards filled with congratulations, gift cards and money for your graduation. By the end of graduation season, chances are you have collected some serious cash! So, what are you going to do with all that money?

Develop a Savings Plan
You may not think a savings plan applies to you, but now that you have some cash, it does. It’s good to get into the habit of saving now. The more disciplined you are, the more you’ll save in your lifetime.

Experts recommend that you save at least three months of living expenses at any given time. Starting your savings account with the majority of your graduation money is a great idea. Community Financial offers Free Basic Savings and Student Certificate of Deposits for members ages 13 to 23. We want you to feel empowered to save your money, that’s why we offer these accounts to get you started.  We even have Deposit Punch Card Rewards that pay you to save!

We also offer Free Student Checking for members ages 16 to 23. There are no maintenance fees or balance requirements, and it includes a free Visa Debit Card to help you make purchases for college and beyond.

Put money towards your future
If you’re heading off to college, you’ll most likely have expenses from tuition to dorm decorations. The average college grad in the United States owes $24,000 in student loan debt when they finish their Bachelor’s degree.  Get a head start on those bills by learning to pay as you go.

Invest in tools to succeed
You may need a new laptop to take to class or a router to link to the school network.  Investing in good technology that will last through college will help you manage your time and stay organized.  Remember that you’ll also need to buy or rent textbooks so consider using some of your graduation money towards that.

Make one splurge
It is fine to splurge a little with your graduation money. You’ve worked hard through high school, and you deserve some rewards. Take 10 percent of your total grad money earned and spend it however you want. Say you receive about $1,500. That means you can use $150 for a fun purchase of your choice.

Just remember that this is the time in your life to establish your financial future by making smart choices. So before you hop in the car and speed off to the nearest shopping mall, think about how you can make the most of your graduation money.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Camping 101: Where to Go and How to Save

Besides being a unique experience, camping is a great way to save money while traveling. I have to admit that I wasn’t always an avid camper. But while trying to find ways to save money on lodging, I discovered how helpful camping really is.

Where to go

Before you start looking for a place to camp, determine what you’re looking for. What type of activities would you like to do? Do you want a secure campground?

The U.S. National Park Park website lets you check out state parks that allow camping by state. This is where you’ll see only public camping grounds since they are owned by the government.

The Great Outdoor Recreation Pages (GORP) is a perfect site if you have specific activities in mind for your camping trip. Whether you want to fish, bike, surf, or backpack, GORP will find a camping site right for you. This search generates both public and private camping grounds.

Go Camping America lets you search by the type of site you’d like, such as a tent or if you’ll need an electricity hook-up. You can also look by the amenities available like pets welcome, internet access, and a laundry facility on site. Each park lists the surrounding tourist attractions to make trip planning a breeze.

Read reviews of campgrounds, and ask friends for their recommendations. Be aware of any issues associated with that particular location such as wildlife, plants, or insects you should be prepared for.

Save while camping

Don’t overspend on supplies.
Camping supplies can be expensive. If you’re going to be camping often, it is a good idea to invest in good quality supplies and gear to keep you safe and comfortable. If you’re just starting, however, use items you already have or borrow from friends or family. Check out eBay and Amazon for used items.

Watch for sales.
If you are purchasing new items, keep an eye out for sales and coupons at stores that sell camping equipment.

Camp somewhere close.
If location doesn’t matter and you’re just looking to camp, go somewhere close. You’ll save on gas, tolls, and any car wear and tear.

Ask for a discount.
If you’re planning on staying more than one night, ask if they can give a discount. Campgrounds also may offer discounts if you’re a resident of that state, veterans, and students so don’t forget to ask and bring along your ID or membership cards.

Sign up for rewards or become loyalty members.
Private campgrounds offer reward memberships if you’re planning on camping frequently. For example, KOA Campground offers a reward card that gives 10% off every time you camp plus points towards additional savings.

Double check your checklist.
Having the proper gear and food will help you avoid spending money while on the trip.

Camp during good weather.
Camping during ideal weather is a lot easier said then done since it’s unpredictable. But while watching the weather forecast and choosing the best time of year, you can save. Avoiding rainy season helps you save by not stocking up on rain gear. If you camp during colder weather, you’ll need a more durable tent and more supplies to keep warm.

Photo by Arup Malakar via cc.

By Kristen Kuchar Copyright 2014 brass Media, Inc.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Summer of Sharing Donation Helped Kids Get Into Books

Claire Swisher and Sally Walton are always looking for new ways to get their middle school Language Arts students hooked on reading. To accomplish this, they started an audiobook club with their 8th grade students at Pioneer Middle School in the fall of 2012.

The students met on Tuesdays and Thursdays to eat lunch and discuss the audio books they listened to. The program picked up momentum throughout the 2012-2013 school year, and soon, Swisher and Walton needed more audiobooks to feed the hungry minds of the club members. 

Last year, the duo of teachers was nominated for a 2013 Summer of Sharing donation on Community Financial’s website. When Community Financial team members read about the new audiobook club and how it was encouraging kids to start enjoying books, Community Financial awarded them $1,000 for the good they were doing in their school.

Swisher and Walton used their donation to support the purchase of audiobooks and iPods so students without their own portable device could participate in the program. Two of the club members would not have been able to participate without the donation. “Our audiobook collection has grown to 27 titles now,” Walton said. “So summer reading can continue, our book collection remains available for students to checkout online.”

Students who participated in the newly found audiobook club started listening to books they never would have considered until fellow students recommended them. A few of the members had never listened to an audiobook before, and fell in love with the style of reading immediately. 

Sara Roza was one of the founding members of the club. She enjoyed the club because it gave her an opportunity to discuss her interests with classmates. "It was pretty cool because it gave me something to do during lunch,” she said. “We all liked reading and it gave us a chance to discuss our similar interests and recommend different books to other students."

Other students like Kyra Frye joined the club because it gave them an activity outside of the classroom. "I was able to read my book outside of school too.  I was able to download it on my iPod and listen to it at home when I was bored,” Frye said.

With the help of the Summer of Sharing donation, the program will be available to 7th grade students as well in the fall of 2014. The program will keep growing, and more students will have access to audiobooks.

“This program makes me so excited to bring the joy of reading to my students,” Swisher said. “Just the other day, I met an incoming 6th grader and his parents. As a special needs student, he does not read much in print. But, when I shared the information about our audiobooks program, his mom was very excited to have him listen to books this summer.”

There are many reasons why Community Financial continues to bring back the Summer of Sharing campaign, and the Pioneer Middle School audiobook club is just one example of the good that is happening in our communities every day.

The Summer of Sharing charitable campaign will run this year until August 29. We’re giving away $1000 a day for 60 days to encourage the positive efforts of those in the communities we serve. Nominate a non-profit, educational, or charitable organization today at

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Budget-Friendly Vacation Ideas

For some people, taking a vacation can be one of their biggest annual expenses. The cost of transportation, hotel rooms, food and entertainment can really add up when planning a trip. Here are some ideas to help you spend less the next time you plan your getaway.

An article by the U.S. News & World Report names Yosemite, Yellowstone, Nashville and Savannah as some possible vacation destinations that cost less than others. With the cost of air travel on the rise, consider taking a road trip to one of these less expensive destinations. If you do not need the extra space, try taking a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle on your trip. You can also use a mobile app like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas prices while on the road.

If traveling with a larger family, consider camping or renting a cabin to cut down on lodging costs. It costs an average of $20 a night to stay at a campground. You can find national campsites at websites like

If sleeping in the great outdoors isn’t for you, trying staying at a hotel a little further out than your destination. Staying on the outskirts of a big city and taking advantage of public transportation can help you save. You could also visit your destination in the off-season to find additional savings on hotel accommodations.

Spending a fortune on a nice meal out doesn’t have to happen while on vacation either. Visit to find discount gift certificates for restaurants in the city you are visiting. The website offers more than 50,000 discounted gift certificates each day. You could also consider renting a place with a kitchen during your vacation. Part of the attraction of being on vacation is freeing yourself from chores like cooking, but you can save a tremendous amount if you take a trip to the local grocery store and prepare a few selected meals while you’re away.

Michigan is also climbing the charts as a popular vacation destination. In fact, USA Today just named Saugatuck, Michigan as “Best Summer Weekend Escape.” An article on mentioned that tourism brings $255 million to the small town of Saugatuck each year.

How much of your own state have you seen? Michigan is home to beautiful lakes, wineries, art, culture and many historic locations. Visit to find a Michigan destination you haven’t been to yet.

Vacations are important to our physical and mental health. Even the shortest of getaways can help a person relax and refocus. You don’t need to spend a fortune or leave for an entire week to get the refreshing benefits from a vacation.

Have you saved money on a vacation? Post your tips and stories in the comments section below.

*Community Financial does not endorse the information, content, presentation or accuracy, nor make any warranty, expressed or implied, regarding the websites and/or apps mentioned above.