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Money Matters Blog

Monday, November 24, 2014

Be Thankful, and Opportunistic, With Your Finances this Holiday Season

This holiday season, Michigan households have many things to be thankful for when it comes to their finances.

“Despite some volatility on Wall Street and uncertain global economic outlook, there’s a lot of freedom for consumers to take advantage of financial opportunities now available to them,” Community Financial Credit Union’s Vice President of Mortgage Services Eric Esser said.

Interest rates remain low despite long-term talk by industry experts of rates rising over time. In fact, mortgage rates for many terms are actually lower than they were at this time in 2013.

Meanwhile, most homeowners have earned more equity in their homes than they have at any time over the past 10-15 years. Housing values have risen by an average of 15-40 percent in almost all Michigan markets since 2010, giving homeowners the opportunity to consider upgrades and renovations.

Finally, the stock market is remaining strong even with the recent volatility. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ and the S&P 500 all have more than doubled since the apex of the economic crisis in 2009, and were at or near their all-time highs in late October. Corporate profits in the U.S. remain historically strong, and the outlook for long-term growth appears strong.

“2015 will be a year of opportunity for our members because the fundamentals in the market remain strong,” Esser said. “However we don’t know when interest rates will rise and we have been saying that for a few years, but at some point they will go up. Now may be a time to fund that house project, or to consider selling your existing home and start shopping for your dream home.”

“Community Financial has seen an influx of inquiries from its members in recent months related to mortgages and home equity loans given the relative health of the market,” Esser said. “And the recent pull-back in the stock market should encourage investors with a long-term view to consider retirement planning or college funding for young children or grandchildren.”

“No one has a crystal ball, but now appears to be a good time for residents of Michigan to consider where they want to live in the future. It is a less expensive time to borrow money,” Esser added.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, there are many things that Michigan residents can be thankful for. Unemployment in Michigan continues to fall and borrowing is easier now than it has been at any point in the last five years.

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, Buddhists 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.