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Money Matters Blog

Monday, July 28, 2014

Preparing for College - Mentally & Financially

Are you ready for college? Fall is right around the corner and that means it’s almost time to head back to school. You probably have your classes picked out and have started shopping for your dorm room or apartment, but are you mentally and financially ready for college? You’ll need to use these last few weeks of summer to prepare your mind for college level classes and your wallet for the cost of tuition. Here are some tips that could help you steady your focus.


Going to college for the first time or heading back after an absence can be an overwhelming experience. For some, it may be their first time away from home which brings its own set of life adjustments. Being organized can help alleviate some stress that you will face during this transition.
  • Keep an updated calendar or planner. Succeeding in college requires a keen sense of time management. Your classes will be longer, your study materials will be heavier and your deadlines will be shorter. You’ll want to utilize a planner more than you did when you were in high school. Buy one now and map out when midterms and finals will be so you can go into the academic semester knowing what to expect. You could also set up the calendar on your phone with reminders to reflect important dates throughout the academic year.

  • Reflect on your study habits. Did you procrastinate in high school? The first day of your college course when the syllabus is reviewed will most likely be overwhelming. You can avoid being caught off guard by the amount of work you have by looking into what your courses will require ahead of time. If you want to know what type of course load to expect you can email your professors before the semester begins. Strategize what study methods helped you in high school and weed out the ones that weren’t productive. Establishing positive study habits early on will help you with the rest of your college career.

  • Find students you have a shared connection with. Establishing relationships with at least one other student before you arrive to campus will help you feel more acquainted with the school. To find some new college buddies before you move, ask friends and other acquaintances if they know of someone attending your college. Touch base with your new connections online a few times before the semester begins. You could also research clubs and societies you could join at your school to find other students that share similar interests as you.


If you don’t plan ahead before you go to college, you may find yourself saddled with debt come graduation time. To avoid this, you will want to establish a realistic budget of what you will spend during your college career.
  • Start a savings and checking account. Experts recommend that you save at least three months of living expenses at any given time. Starting your savings account before you head off to college 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. Having a credit card while in college is for the sole purpose of building credit and should not be viewed as a way to spend more money! Always pay on time and make sure that you have the cash to pay off the card in full after each month.

  • Consider selling your car. If you are going to a school in a city where a car doesn’t make financial sense, selling might be a good option. To take a trip home you can find a carpool forum around campus or consider taking the train if it’s an available option. Not having a car while in college could help you save money since you wouldn’t have to pay for parking, maintenance fees or insurance.

  • Apply for scholarships and financial aid. Financing all of the expenses for a college education can be daunting. A private student loan from Community Financial can help fill the void. Our private student loans do not have a need-based component, so they are open to all members. You can borrow anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000 a year. Apply quickly and hassle-free with no application or processing fees on our Private Student Loans page.

    You should also apply for as many scholarships as you can before heading to college. Scholarships are the most underutilized source of financial aid for college. Every year, Community Financial grants thousands of dollars in scholarships for its student members who embody our “People Helping People” philosophy. To learn more about this program visit our scholarships page.
Deciding to go to college is a big decision. The more prepared you are mentally and financially, the easier it will be to make the transition into your new life on campus.

Monday, July 21, 2014

When is it a good idea to buy in bulk?

Have you ever wondered when it does and doesn’t make sense to buy in bulk? If you have a membership card with a wholesale retailer like Costco or Sam’s Club, you’ll want to learn which bulk items you can purchase to save money in the long run. What are some of the best and worst things to buy in bulk?

  1. Fresh Produce – Bulk food wholesale stores and co-ops offer a lot of choices of merchandise these days, including fresh produce. This may seem like common sense, but unless you’re preparing food for a very large group, buying produce in bulk may not be the best choice. Many fresh produce items only remain fresh for a matter of days so you’ll want to skip buying it if you don’t plan on eating it right away.
  2. Meats and Seafood – Like fresh produce, buying huge quantities of meats and seafood can be tricky, especially when buying them fresh. Meats and seafood can develop freezer-burn after a period of time if left in the freezer too long. It’s important to store a large quantity of frozen meat and seafood in a large capacity freezer at a very low temperature. Many freezers included as part of a refrigerator might not be up for the task.
  3. Natural and organic items - Even when packaged, items that are natural or organic may have a shorter shelf life. Some natural and organic products have minimal processing and fewer chemical preservatives. While better for your health, these products may not last as long causing you to throw them away sooner.
  4. Personal Care Items – Just because it’s sold at a bulk retailer does not mean it’s less expensive. Make sure you comparison shop before you buy and always look at the unit cost. Be careful of buying items like diapers in bulk, since your child could outgrow a certain size quickly, leaving you with hundreds of diapers you don’t need. Another important factor with pharmaceuticals, makeup and personal care items is the expiration date. Check the date and make sure you’ll use the entire item before it expires.
  1. Paper goods and office supplies – Products such as toilet paper, paper towels and tissues are excellent bulk buys. These items do not expire and the unit cost is usually less as well. Significant savings can also be achieved by purchasing your office supplies in bulk. So be sure to stock up on supplies like paper, pens, pencils and sticky notes.
  2. Toothpaste and toothbrushes – The long shelf life and small storage space make toothbrushes and toothpaste great buys at a bulk store. Many people see a better value on these items when purchased in bulk.
  3. Alcoholic beverages – One of the reasons alcohol is a suitable bulk purchase is the exceptionally long shelf-life it has. Great deals can be found on cases of beer or larger bottles of wines and other types of spirits. If you’re hosting a party with alcoholic drinks, make sure to purchase the alcohol and mixers in bulk to cut down on party costs.
  4. Gas – Some warehouse clubs also sell gasoline. Check out the rates and you’re likely to save compared to what regular gas stations charge. You’ll most likely need a membership card to take advantage of their gas sales. Try to go early in the morning or times when lines are shortest, too!
Buying in bulk can be an excellent opportunity to save money, just make sure you are checking expiration dates, unit costs, and keeping your home storage capacity in mind. Most importantly, ask yourself if you really need what you’re buying. If it is an item that you know you will use in the future, then buying in bulk could be a great idea. If you find out you purchased too much, consider splitting items up with family and friends. Keeping these tips in mind can help make you a smarter consumer. Have any tips of your own about buying wholesale? Include them in a comment below.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Starting Your Emergency Fund

So, you’re brown-bagging your lunch, clipping coupons and saving your pennies. Now what should you do with your savings? It’s time to do a little planning and settle on your savings goals – both short-term and long-term.

Opening a savings account
Don’t simply decide you’ll keep your extra cash in your checking account and vow not to touch it. It’s far too tempting to justify a splurge on a cute pair of shoes or a night out when the funds are so readily available. Set up a separate account for your emergency fund. This account should be separate from any other savings account, as well.

Setting savings goals
It’s important to start with a goal in mind, but don’t set your sights too high at first. Trying to save too much and cutting out all fun money can lead to frustration and send you off course. Choose a realistic initial goal, like $500 or $1,000. Employ some of the tips from my previous post to gather up initial savings and help you reach your goal as soon as possible. Once you reach your initial goal, set a new goal. Your second goal could be to save enough to cover one month of living expenses.

Experts generally agree you should have three to six months’ worth of expenses in your emergency account. Make this your ultimate goal, but don’t get bogged down with how far away those numbers seem. Remain steadfast with your commitment to save, and watch your account grow.

Make saving a habit in order to grow your fund, and increase the amount you can save each month as your situation changes. Consider setting aside a portion of each paycheck, and have it directly deposited into your emergency savings account. You may never miss the money you don’t see in your checking account, and this way you won’t be tempted to spend it. A little bit each week can add up quicker than you think.

When to use your savings
Emergency funds are just that: funds to use only in case of a crisis. Be clear on what constitutes an emergency for you. Large car repairs, appliance repair or replacement, and loss of employment all qualify. Nearing the end of a pay cycle and not having quite enough to purchase concert tickets, however, does not. Resist the temptation to dip in when it’s unnecessary, and honor the true purpose of your fund.

And as emergencies do pop up, remember to USE your savings. Many people get caught up in hoarding their savings and forget why they created an emergency fund to begin with. Don’t sink yourself into debt when you have the cash available; you’re creating this safety net to use it when you need it. You should choose to rebuild emergency savings instead of incurring debt and paying high interest. Saving now will allow you to handle life’s future twists and turns without disrupting your living habits.

Photo by Images Money via cc.

By Erin Pittman Copyright 2014 brass Media, Inc.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ten Unique Ways to Save More Money

It’s never too late to start saving more money. Here at Community Financial, we believe that anyone can make smart financial decisions if they just take the first step of saving more and spending less. Here are 10 ways you may not have thought of to save more money.

  1. Quit speeding. Where are you driving in such a hurry? Not only is speeding inefficient on your car’s gasoline consumption, but the likelihood of snagging a ticket is pretty high. It’s not just the speeding ticket itself that’s costly; your car insurance will also increase a tremendous amount. Some drivers spend an extra $1,000 a year on car insurance because of a speeding ticket.
  2. Pack smarter. When you leave town on your next vacation, check your duffle bag twice to make sure you have everything you need. You’ll save a lot of money, and time, by not running out to the nearest mall because you forgot to bring your tennis shoes for that nature hike you’ve been looking forward to. You can also bring along snacks on your next road trip to cut back on spending money at restaurants along your route.


  3. Date your leftover meals. By actually writing the date on your leftover meals, it will trigger you to eat them before they go bad instead of letting the food sit in the fridge for another week. You can write on your containers with a dry erase crayon or painter’s tape and a Sharpie.
  4. Drink more water. Water is not only healthy, but it will help you eat less. Drinking one big glass of water before each meal will help you feel fuller throughout the day, which saves you money in the long run.
  5. Take a different route home. Do you routinely stop at the grocery store or at your favorite restaurant for takeout just because it’s on your way home? Try a different route home to avoid the places you automatically stop and spend money at.


  6. Eliminate impulse buys. When you’re thinking about making a large purchase, vow to wait 30 days to actually buy it. Revisit the purchase in 30 days and ask yourself if this is something that you still really need. If you have forgotten about the purchase by that time, you probably didn’t need it in the first place!
  7. Get on Pinterest. Did you know you can find a DIY recipe for every household and personal care item on Pinterest? You’ll be amazed at how much you can save by making your own laundry soap, dishwasher detergent, deodorant, Windex, toothpaste and even shampoo!
  8. Always ask. It’s always free to ask a question. Next time you sign up for a service, ask for a fee to be waived. When you want to try something new, ask for a free sample. Ask the vendor if they can produce a better price for you. You may not get a yes every time, but every time you do you’re saving money.


  9. Watch less TV. Less time in front of the tube means more money in your pocket. You won’t be influenced by advertisements on TV, and you will also be spending less money on electricity. Try picking up a book next time you are looking for entertainment.
  10. Volunteer more. The more time you spend volunteering, the less time you have available to spend your money. When you vow to volunteer one Saturday each month, you’re also avoiding the mall and shopping centers, too. Volunteering is a great way to save money and support your community at the same time.
Have any unique money saving tips of your own? Post them in the comments section below.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Budgeting for Baby

A new baby brings joy, adventure, and excitement into a parent’s life. It can also bring additional expenses. You have less than a year to prepare for your little one's arrival, so make sure to get a head start by establishing a budget before the baby gets here.

A recent article from NBC News stated that the average cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 is $241,080. That cost does not include college. The article also says that 42% of new parents never budgeted for child care expenses before having a baby.

Establishing a budget beforehand will give you realistic ideas on what to expect while you’re expecting! With a little creativity and some serious planning, you can save money and make your dollars stretch. Here are some potential ways to save:

1.   Take advantage of gently used items or hand-me-downs

Did anyone in your circle of family or friends have a baby in the past 2 years? If so, ask them if they have any items they no longer use. This could be a great way to acquire things like cribs, high chairs, toys, and clothes. Also remember that not everything needs to be bought before your new baby arrives. Make a list of items you’ll need before baby is born, 3-6 months after the baby is born and a year after. This will help you space out your costs over time, and will also give you the opportunity to shop for deals and save up coupons for larger purchases.

2.   Have a baby shower
Your friends and family want to show their support for you and your new bundle of joy. Let them throw you a baby shower. Registering for the baby shower will help eliminate getting repeat gifts and will definitely help relieve the financial burden of buying baby supplies on your own.

3.   Buy in bulk or buy generic

Diapers can cost anywhere from $600-$1,000 a year for one baby. This is one reason why cloth diapers have made a huge comeback in recent years. Many budget-minded parents have saved a lot by washing their own diapers instead of buying disposable ones. If you don’t want to go the cloth route, consider buying your diapers in bulk or shopping online to find discounts. Another great way to save on items like baby powder, wipes, and formula is to buy generic or store brand items.

4.   Make your own baby food
Baby food costs about $1 a jar. Have a food processor at home? You’ll spend a lot less on baby food if you make it yourself. You can make baby food ahead of time with fresh fruits and veggies and freeze leftovers to keep for a few months. It can also be a fun and creative way to prepare healthy meals for your little one.

5.   Ask for free samples
Many manufacturers give free samples to hospitals so make sure you ask for them before you head home with your baby. If there is a particular brand you like, make sure to register and sign-up for newsletters too so you get discounts and free samples from that company. There are hundreds of websites that provide free samples for new parents. You just need to be proactive and seek them out. You may only get a couple of uses out of anything you’ve sampled, but the products are still free.

Remember that it takes a village to raise a child, so never be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. Coming up with a plan and budget before your baby arrives will give you more time to focus on your new baby and adjusting to life as a parent.