Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Smart Couponing Tips



On average, people spend up to 15% of their monthly budget on groceries. Considering this amount and the rising cost of groceries, it makes sense to seek out ways which could help us stretch our dollars at the supermarket. Community Financial team member Melanie has a few shopping tips to help you lower your spending.

Melanie has been saving money with coupons for as long as she can remember. Her best tip for other coupon savers out there is, “Don’t buy something simply because it is a ‘good’ deal--only buy items you need.”

Couponing has taken off tremendously since the economic recession of 2008. The I Love Coupon Month* website tells us nearly 80 percent of consumers started using coupons in 2012.

Local newspapers clippings, advertisements, Groupon.com and the Kroger mobile app are Melanie’s sources for coupons. She stresses the importance of the Kroger app for customers who frequent that grocery store. Melanie said, “If you download the 2 times fuel points coupon to your card, you will get double points when you shop on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.” She also added, “Just yesterday I saved 70 cents a gallon which equaled $11.20 on a tank of gas!”

To Melanie, clipping coupons hasn’t turned into another full-time job like it has for some of the people you see on TV shows like Extreme Couponing on TLC. Melanie looks for coupons that are delivered in free publications of community newspapers, but lately she prefers coupons that she can download on her phone. “I really no longer ‘clip’ that many coupons. The Kroger and Costco apps are great,” she said. 

Other couponing apps that have been getting a lot of attention lately for their money-saving value include SnipSnap, RetailMeNot, and Yowza*.
Melanie has many tips for shoppers who want to save more money by couponing. She sticks to this plan when shopping:
  • Make a list of what you need
  • Look at the sale ads and coupons you’ve accumulated from your various resources
  • Make a menu for the week based on your coupons and what’s on sale
  • Stick to what’s on your list
  • Don’t go to the store hungry
Melanie prefers getting a dollar amount off when searching for coupons. “I love to be able to say that I would have paid ‘x’ dollars for an item,” she said. Melanie’s yearly savings from using coupons add up to an average of $2,000. As she put it, “I think everyone should use coupons because there is no easier way to save $2,000.”

*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.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Handle the Rising Cost of College with Community Financial


Today in the United States, total student loan debt tops $1 trillion. With the cost of a four-year college degree much higher than the average salary in the United States, many families wonder if college is even worth the cost.
 
A recent New York Times article tells us college tuition in the United States has risen almost 1,200 percent in the last 35 years, which is drastically higher than the percentage of inflation.

And, it’s not just tuition that’s costing students more in today’s world. A recent Huffington Post article discussed how college textbook prices are rising faster than both tuition and inflation. University of Michigan-Flint Economics Professor Mark Perry calculated on average, college students in 2014 pay 864 percent more for textbooks than their parents would have in 1978.  

In our knowledge-based economy, obtaining a college degree can still be worth the cost. Depending on the situation, not having a college degree could end up costing individuals more in the long run. So how can students and parents afford the cost of higher education? Some popular ways include: grants, scholarships, loans, work-study programs or attending a community college. 

Scholarships are the most underutilized source of financial aid for college. Many organizations end up keeping money set aside for scholarships because they don’t receive any applications.

Parents and students should look for scholarships in obscure places because chances are, they’re out there! You can apply for scholarships for almost any reason- being left-handed, making a Duct tape prom dress etc.  Poke around the Internet and you’ll be amazed at how many scholarships are out there. The key to getting scholarships for college is to apply, and apply often! 

High school students should spend time at their school’s career center to see what scholarships and grants apply to them. Many organizations and companies give grant money to students looking to major in the same field they serve. Prospective college students should also ask different local organizations if they give out college scholarships.

A great example of this is the Community Financial’s Scholarship Program! We give away thousands of dollars in college scholarship money each year to students who embody our “People Helping People” philosophy.

If Federal loans are not enough, or if they are unavailable to cover your educational expenses, a Community Financial Private Student Loan may help fill the void. Our private student loans do not have a need based component so they are open to all members. Learn more by visiting our Private Student Loans page.   

Going to college for the first time or deciding to go back to school is a big decision. Let our team members at Community Financial help you make a decision that will help you achieve both your financial and educational goals.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Best Apartment for Your Budget

Searching for an apartment can be overwhelming, and trying to find a nice place to call home while sticking to a budget can get tricky. Before you begin your search, consider these tips for determining how much your apartment will really cost you and how to find the best place without going broke:

Do your homework.
Before you even begin your apartment search, make a list of everything you are looking for in an apartment. This way you’ll know what questions to ask the landlord while you’re checking the place out. The next assignment is researching your prospective area. Know the average rent prices so you know what to expect. You might find that the next town or neighborhood just a few minutes away has significantly lower rent.

Consider the amenities.
Many apartments offer amenities that could end up saving you money. For example, an on-site gym can save you hundreds per year on a pricey gym membership. A business center can save you the cost of paying for Internet, a printer, ink, and paper. Some apartment communities offer discounts at local businesses, free events for residents, and much more.

Know all of the costs.
While your apartment’s amenities may help you save, the extra costs can do some damage. First, know what utilities are included, if any. If they aren’t, ask your landlord what the average price is for a unit your size so you can determine what your monthly bill will be. Parking may also become an expense, especially if you’re moving to a large city.

Factor in location.
The location you choose for your apartment can severely affect your cost of living. For starters, how close are you to your job? If you are choosing to live further away, you’ll have to include the costs of gas and transportation. If that’s the case, you might choose an apartment near public transportation to save on commuting. How close are you to affordable activities and entertainment?

Consider downsizing.
When I rented my first apartment, I opted for a second bedroom because I thought I’d really need the extra space. I soon realized that while it was great for occasional company, it was not worth the extra money each month. I much would have rather had a little smaller space but an extra $200 a month to save or go out and have fun around my area.

Look for a deal.
Before you sign the lease, look for a deal. Rental websites like Apartments.com and ApartmentGuide.com often offer move-in deals if you say you found that apartment through their website. They may waive your first month’s rent, give $100, or even throw in a new TV.

Compare many different apartments during your search to see what’s out there and to see what various places offer. While rent may be cheaper at one place, once you factor in these above issues, it may not be the best place after all. Be flexible, but also be sure you’re getting what you want so you’ll be happy in your new home.

Photo credit ryarwood via cc.

By Kristen Kuchar Copyright 2014 brass Media, Inc.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Stick to Your Wedding Budget with Tips from Community Financial



With the right amount of research, you can get a deal on almost anything. Planning a wedding is no exception! Given the seemingly endless ideas and tips available for soon-to-be brides and grooms, we’re here to help you sort out some of the best ways to stick to a budget for your big day.

Three of our Community Financial team members (Rachel, Laura and Alex) offer tips on how they saved when planning their weddings.

The Dress

Laura suggests finding a dress you love, not a designer everyone knows. “If it looks beautiful on you, who cares who designed it or where you bought it? I was able to get my dress and veil for under $1,000 at David’s Bridal. Everyone complimented me on it,” she said. If on a tight budget, try to buy a dress off the rack instead of getting one custom made. This can save the bride hundreds of dollars. You should also research whether there are any resale shops or bridal outlets in your area.

Some brides prefer to shop online for their wedding dress. If you go this route, just make sure the website is legitimate and offers free returns in case the dress is not what you expected. The best way to get an idea of the different styles out there is to go to an actual wedding dress shop. This way you can try on a variety of styles and see what works best for you. If you find your dream dress you can always write down the designer and item number and potentially purchase it online for a lower price.

The Venue

Finding a venue with a smaller price tag was one of Rachel’s challenges. “The cost of having it at Cobblestone Farm in Ann Arbor was around $1,600. It included the entire use of the barn, the bridal suite, access to the farm grounds, indoor tables and chairs, etc. I found it very hard to try and find a 'deal' on a banquet facility,” she said.

Alex actually saved money on the venue he and his wife chose. “I knew that we would be spending a lot of money on the reception location. Luckily, the rental cost for Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Café came in well under what other places were charging, so we saved money immediately by picking Bell’s. Along with the rental fee for Bell’s, we also saved money by using the provided tables/chairs/linens. We didn’t have to pay extra for use of their staff either, since that was included in the facility rental fee,” he said.

The Photographer

Photography costs range depending on which photographer you choose. The most important thing about choosing a photographer is making sure you like that person’s style and vision. Make sure you view their wedding photography before signing any contracts. Research is imperative when trying to pick the best photographer for your wedding. Photographers usually set their fees based on experience, time and travel.

Photographers increase their prices each year as they gain more experience. One way to save money is to try to find a talented and up-and-coming photographer. You could get a great photographer at a fraction of the cost if that person is trying to build their portfolio. Most photographers charge based on the amount of hours they spend with you and your partner. One tip to save money is to ask the photographer to shoot for less time during the wedding day. Another money-saving tip is to research photographers located in your geographic area. Some photographers charge mileage fees if your wedding location is over 50 miles away from their home location.

All our newlyweds suggest using professionals, but also asking around to see if you know someone who can take nice pictures. Both Alex and Rachel were able to utilize friends and college classmates who were photographers and wanted to build their professional portfolios. Laura spent much of her budget on her photographer. “You can’t re-take your wedding photos!” She said.

The Gifts

A great way for guests to save money on gifts for the couple is to offer help with the wedding. Rachel had friends and guests help coordinate appointments and decorations. This way they could still contribute to the wedding without spending an arm and a leg on gifts.

The Flowers

Flowers are usually an expensive part of any wedding. When trying to stick to a budget, consider buying wholesale flowers and putting together arrangements yourself for centerpieces and bouquets.

Laura was able to spend less on flowers because she happened to have an expert in the family. “My mom used to be a floral designer and we made all the centerpieces, bouquets, boutonnieres and church flowers together. My aunt also has designing skills and helped my mom. We were able to get all the flowers at wholesale price, which saved money,” she said.

Rachel took the same approach and did her flowers herself. “My mom bought our flowers wholesale. I made the vases to put them in, and my husband and I cut the stems and constructed the vases the night before the wedding,” she said.

The Decorations and Invitations

When it comes to decorations, consider using a social media site like Pinterest to get creative ideas. Having a “Do-It-Yourself” wedding can be time-consuming but also financially smart. Our brides and groom suggest repurposing and DIY-ing anything and everything you possibly can. Rachel saved about $3,000 just by building and making decorations with her husband.

Laura decided to do DIY invitations. She said her invitations were simple and elegant. “I had invites that tri-folded into each other and the RSVP card tore off like a post card,” she said. 

Alex spent extra time figuring ways to make his invitations less expensive. “To save money, I designed the ‘Save-the-Date’ cards and invitations. To save further on the cost, we printed them using Vista Print,” he said. You could also consider using postcards for your “Save-the-Dates” to save money on postage.

The Extras

When it comes to your wedding, decide what your priorities are and splurge on those. 

Laura went a more expensive route with her hair and makeup, but was awfully glad she did. “I tried to go the family and friends route and it blew up in my face. Two weeks before the wedding I found myself without someone to do my hair or makeup. I found a GREAT salon and was so pleased with the results. I’m glad I went the professional route. They were able to airbrush my makeup on. My hair and makeup stayed beautiful all day and night,” she said.

Rachel splurged on her DJ and a photo booth. Since she and her husband decided to go easy on the drinks by serving beer, wine coolers, pop, and water, they spruced up the other outlets for entertainment.

Rachel also spent some extra on the DJ to have him play one last slow song at the end of the night. “It was just my husband and I on the dance floor… I will say it was a very magical and relaxing moment; all the guests had left, he and I were in each other's arms and we were able to take in the last few moments of our wedding day.”

Laura’s special touch was an arbor she decorated for the backdrop of her ceremony. “I decorated an arbor with flowers and garland. We put it behind the minister at the church and it was later brought to the reception hall. It was beautiful in the pictures. When everything was done, we took the flowers off and now it’s in the garden in my backyard. Every time I look at it, I think of that special day,” she said.

At the end of the day, your wedding is for you! Don’t worry about all of the small details not getting done at your wedding. Just enjoy the day and realize that everyone is there to celebrate the two of you joining your lives together.

Community Financial Credit Union, P.O. Box 8050, Plymouth, Michigan 48170-8050;
© Community Financial 2013
Federally insured by NCUA.
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Federally insured by NCUA.