Baby Steps to Better Finances

By Alicia Kellebrew
NFCC Certified Financial Professional
The Village Financial Resource Center

I have recently started the process of trying to navigate toward more healthy habits, and I’ve found that having a few “baby steps” to focus on has really helped me bust out of the rut of inaction towards my goals. This got me thinking about what those “baby steps” might look like when someone is working to get back on the right financial track. By implementing a few basic first steps you can get the ball of financial fortune rolling in your favor.

  1. Define It: First you must define what the issue/situation is and what your goals are in relationship to said issue/situation. For example, rather than saying “I never have any money,” you may define the issue as “I do not set aside money to help cover unexpected expenses” with your goal being to work towards saving more. The more specific you are, the easier it is to work on.
  1. Own It: Once you know what the issue is, you have to take a hard look at what caused the situation in the first place. What role did you have in the situation? There may have been factors beyond your control, but did you do all that you could with the situation? Could you have handled things differently? What thoughts, behaviors, and/or attitudes may you need to change in order to improve the situation?
  1. Decide It: Now that you have defined the task at hand, you must decide what you are going to do about it. How do you determine what your options are? List any and all possibilities. Which ones move on to the next round? Consider making a pros and cons list and going from there. Sometimes we narrow down the field by eliminating the options that just won’t work at all and going from there.
  1. Do It: Don’t sit on all this information – take action! It is far better to choose an action and then have it turn out to be the wrong one, than to take no action at all. One of my favorite sayings is “If it is to be, it is up to ME!”
  1. Review It: After choosing and executing a plan of attack, you have to pause to reflect on how effective it has been and whether or not adjustments have to be made. Sometimes you may determine that the option you selected isn’t working and try out a new one. The best case scenario would be, you would discover that your efforts are moving you closer to attaining your goal.
  1. Seek It: If you are having difficulty with any of the above steps, ask for outside advice or assistance. I have found that having someone that knows your goals is helpful because they will encourage you to stay on track. This could be family or friends or professionals that work with money management such as the Village Financial Resource Center. You can find out more by visiting our website or calling (800) 450-4019.
  1. Cut Yourself A Break: We are often our worst critics, and we’re only human, after all. So mistakes are bound to happen. Don’t let those define you. You can’t change the past but you can affect the ending.
  1. Give Credit Where Credit is Due: Even if you don’t execute all of the above steps perfectly or get to the exact outcome you want right away, give yourself a pat on the back for recognizing the issue and working toward a solution.

About the author
Alicia Kellebrew is a NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Resource Center.






WTP – What Is It and How Can It Change Your Financial Life?

By Alicia Kellebrew
NFCC Certified Financial Professional
The Village Financial Resource Center

Have you ever noticed that no matter what your college degree is in, what your professional is, or what industry you work within, that each comes with its own set of special “lingo” or “jargon?” For me, my degree is in Banking and Financial Economics and my industry is consumer credit counseling and education. This means I am full of fun acronyms like APR, HELOC, PITI, DMP, ARM, etc. But by far my favorite one has always been WTP or “willingness to pay.” And no, not because I probably heard that phrase about a million times while in college but because it plays a vital role in my day to day life.

Thoughtfully setting your own “willingness to pay” can help you identify financial priorities and stick to them. And, in the long run, that translates into meeting your financial goals.

WTP is defined as “the price or dollar amount that someone is willing to give up or pay to acquire a good or service.” So if you think about it, we deal with WTP over and over again each and every day. “You want how much for THAT?!?!” “I am NOT paying full price for that. I will wait until it goes on sale!” “I would rather spend my $50 on this rather than that!” All those statements are about WTP

Fortunately for me (and maybe unfortunately for the businesses where I shop!), my willingness to pay is usually pretty low. I determine what the maximum amount I want to pay for something is, and, if I can’t get it for that price, I walk away and wait for another day when the price is more to my liking. That means I’m in control of how much I spent — not someone else.

There are three keys to making this work. First, you have to know how much you value the item in question. Second, you have to know what the absolute maximum amount you are willing/able to spend. And, third, you have to be able to stick to your limit. Let’s look at each key in more detail.

  1. How much do you value the item, good, or service?For each of us, there are things we value more than other things. For example, imagine your favorite musician/band is coming to town. If they are coming to play a show and they don’t usually do that, you may be willing to pay more for that than you would to see a band that you don’t know or don’t really like. So what you would be willing to pay in the former case would be relatively high.
  2. What is the maximum amount you are willing to pay for the item, good, or service?You have to know what your limit is so that you can be a “price maker” instead of a “price taker.” What does that mean? You work to do all you can to get the price where you want it — use coupons, wait for sales, ask for discounts, etc. — rather than just take the price as it is. A good method for keeping this in perspective is to sit down and calculate how many hours you have to work in order to pay for something. I have done this many times and determined that the cost of a particular item wasn’t worth that much of my hard work!
  3. You have to be able to stick to your limit which requires determination, discipline, and patience.Sometimes this means waiting to purchase until the price is right. I have found quite often that if you show that you are willing to walk away, the price or terms have a tendency to become a little more favorable pretty quickly as they would rather lose out on a few dollars than the entire sale. And sometimes you find the terms don’t become more to your liking but that the value you thought that item, good, or service had isn’t as high to you as you initially thought.

Bottom line: Knowing and sticking to what you are willing to pay requires a little reflection and insight into what you value as well as the ability to delay gratification. But in the end you may surprise yourself at how good you get at it over time and how beneficial it can be in the long run.

About the author
Alicia Kellebrew is a NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Resource Center.


How to be a Social Butterfly Without Breaking the Bank

By Alicia Kellebrew
The Village Financial Resource Center

You can maintain your budget and still have fun socializing with friends.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am quite the social butterfly. I love spending time with others and hearing their stories. After spending a weekend with my friends, it reminded me just how much we have a tendency to use eating out as our socializing time/entertainment. Unfortunately, as we all know, this can become expensive quickly. So what is a person to do?

Fortunately, I am the type of person who is not afraid to suggest an alternative because I figure that I am not the only one on a quest to keep my budget intact. I am always on the to do things the most economical way possible and would like to share some of my ideas in the hopes that they may spark some others. This is only a short list of ideas and suggestions based off my own experiences – but the possibilities are endless.

  1. The “What Do You Have in Your Fridge/Freezer?” Get-Together- There have been many times when my friends will say that they want to get together but then follow that up with “But I really can’t afford to eat out right now….” Our solution became calling each other up and asking what they had in the fridge or freezer. For example, they may say that they had burgers that they were going to grill up but no sides. So I would find some sort of side/dessert/drink to bring along with me to round out the meal.
  1. The “Let’s Relive Our Childhood” Get-Together – For this one you call up your friends and ask them to bring over their favorite game from their childhood. Chances are we all probably have at least one of them hanging around somewhere. I always found it fun to see what everyone else’s favorite was when they were little and every now and again you discover a game you didn’t even know existed. This would also work with games geared towards adults if that were preferred.
  1. The “Bring Your All-Time Favorite Movie and Have a Marathon” Get-Together – With this one, you may find out that one of your “tough” or “serious” friends has an interesting movie choice that may surprise you. You may also discover a hidden gem that you wouldn’t have given a second thought. Just don’t fall asleep like I always do!
  1. The “I Can Cook/Bake Better Than You Can” Get-Together- Maybe you have friends that like to showcase their talents and introduce a little competitiveness to an activity. Ask everyone to make their best creation, and then everyone in attendance can vote on their favorite. You could pool funds to offer a prize or could compete for bragging rights within your circle.
  1. The “I Am Sick of Eating the Same Thing” Get-Together- This one is similar to the one above but encourages the group to cook one of their favorite “outside of the box” dishes and bring copies of the recipes along so that a little taste testing and recipe swapping can happen. It may even help you break out of a food rut you have been in for a while.
  1. The “Let’s Get Creative!” Get-Together- Ask all of your friends to bring a project idea and part of their craft supply stash along and then co-create together. Maybe your friends can help you figure out just how to complete the craft if it’s complex, or maybe they will have supplies in their stash that you didn’t.
  1. The “Let’s Expand Our Knowledge” Get-Together- This one can be done a couple of different ways. First, you may ask your friends to teach the group how to do something they don’t know how to do such as some sort of craft or other specialized hobby. Or, you could have everyone show up with their favorite book and do a (temporary) swap. Again the idea is to expose yourself to something new that you might not have found on your own.
  1. The “Let’s Dance/ You Probably Don’t Want Me to Sing” Get-Together- Everyone has a favorite (or least favorite!) song or dance move. Why not share them with the group? You can spend your time together evaluating each other’s talent levels or reminiscing about favorite memories stirred up by what is shared. It could even lead to dance lessons or the forming of a band!

Bottom line: Maybe it is time to think outside the box when it comes to socializing and entertainment. Besides think of all the cool stories you will have to tell about these activities later!Watching your money doesn't mean you can't have fun .

About the author
Alicia Kellebrew is a NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Resource Center.






‘Small Personal Finance Changes = Big Results’ or ‘What a Billionaire Can Teach You About Personal Finances”‘

Magnified Chart

By Alicia Kellebrew
The Village Financial Resource Center

I’m always on the lookout for an inspiring story or good advice. Here’s one that supplies both. Sir Richard Branson is known as one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, but I had never heard the story of how his success began. Branson was traveling to Puerto Rico when his flight was cancelled, leaving him and many other passengers stranded at the airport in the middle of nowhere. At that point, he tracked down a private chartered plane, divided the total cost of this flight by the number of seats available, and offered the seats to the others at a price of $39 each. Even though he had no money to rebook his own flight, he managed to sell all the seats on the chartered plane which made his new flight free! This is the story of the humble beginnings of the Virgin Group, which, today, is made up of over 400 companies, including Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic. And, to think it all started with an inconvenience and a little problem-solving!

There are a couple of lessons in this tale. First, don’t let a lack of money (or other resources, for that matter) stop you from trying. And, second, the best way to make money is to solve someone else’s problem (but I would add this can work for yourself as well).

How do we apply these ideas to our everyday lives especially when it comes to our personal finances? Well, for starters, it’s human nature to sometimes feel overwhelmed to the point that we don’t know where to start in facing a difficult situation. So we do nothing at all – which is always the worst possible solution. Clients often tell me that they don’t have enough money to have a budget, save, or knock down debts. But you have to start somewhere even if that means starting small. By starting small you are putting the wheels into motion and taking control of what you can do rather than focusing on what you can’t do. Sir Richard Branson could have just decided to wait on the airline to get another plane there for free (who knows how long that could have taken!). But, instead, he took the initiative to seek out another solution and try to make it work.

The second lesson from this story is that the best way to make money is to solve someone else’s problem. This can be applied in many different contexts in life. The first one that probably comes to mind for most people is being as valuable as possible to your employer, which will hopefully translate into a higher salary and/or promotion – a sure boost to your personal bottom line. Another way to look at it, though, is that there are problems we can solve for ourselves and “make” some cash either by saving existing money or generating more money. For example, tracking expenses draws our attention to where our money is going and makes us evaluate whether or not certain expenses are really necessary. By becoming aware, we can reduce costs that are not high priorities to us. Or maybe you find yourself in the situation where you can’t find a babysitter or dog walker so it may spark the idea to start providing that service, or something similar, in order to generate cash or use it to barter for your own similar needs. You’ll be solving someone else’s problem as well as one (or maybe even two!) of your own.

If a multi-millionaire can create his empire out of one difficult situation why can’t you?

About the author
Alicia Kellebrew is a NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Resource Center.






The Art of Bartering in the Modern Age

By Alicia Kellebrew, NFCC Certified Financial Professional
The Village Financial Resource Center

I have been accused of being somewhat of a “throwback.” I can’t help but see a lot of value in the way our parents, grandparents, and beyond used to do things and feel that some of those old practices could serve us well in the present age. By far, my favorite one of those is the barter system.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term barter as “to exchange things (such as products or services) for other things instead of for money.” Back in the times before established currency forms, people would mostly trade a good or service that they specialized in for another that they didn’t specialize in (but needed). Unfortunately, somewhere along the line this fell out of popularity especially in modern times. I, for one, would love to see it make a comeback in a HUGE way. In fact, there are many facets in my life where I use the barter system, and while initially it may be met with some weird looks or comments, everyone is usually happy with the end result.

So what are some of the most common goods I barter with? Well, the commodity that I find to be the most popular is homemade baked goods. Baking is something that I enjoy, and it’s a good way to get out of my own head for a while. But, of course, having too many baked goods on hand can be pretty dangerous! So trading extra baked goods for things I need help with really works out nicely.

I started developing my bartering skills in college. When I first started at UND I couldn’t afford a car so I had to take the city bus to and from work. Even though it meant I had to leave an hour before I had to be anywhere, I really didn’t mind because the fare was drastically reduced for students. The only snag was that the bus didn’t run on Sundays, and I would always work a full day. So in order to convince my friends to drop me off and pick me up, I would offer to bake them a dozen of whatever their favorite baked treat was. Fortunately for me, baking is another somewhat lost art form in our times. So that offer was usually met with enthusiastic agreement.

Although baked goods are my primary form of bartering “currency,” there are many other things a person could use such as babysitting services, dog walking, house cleaning, errand running, snow shoveling/leaf raking, car or home maintenance/repairs, prepping or cooking meals, hair cutting/styling, crafting, etc. The key is to stick with something that you have a knack for and to find someone who has a knack for something else and politely propose a swap. After all, none of us is good at everything.

A few other situations where I have engineered barters include trading babysitting services for dinner that night while watching the parents’ extended cable package, swapping a craft lesson for a baking lesson, or even a customized handmade jewelry set for tutoring in college.

This could also work nicely if you are planning a wedding or any other party. If you have talented friends (and who doesn’t?), you could ask them to provide a good or service as their gift (instead of a purchased item). Examples could include help with invitations, flowers, photography, cooking/baking, etc.

Bottom line: It doesn’t hurt to think outside the box and propose a swap. The worst thing that can happen is the other person will turn down your offer, and the best thing that can happen is you find a lifelong bartering partner and friend — all without having to open up your wallet. Sounds like a win-win to me.


About the author
Alicia Kellebrew is a NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Resource Center.


10 money habits that are robbing you blind

How to Quit Ten Bad Money Habits That Rob You Blind

Dropping bad money habits makes it easier to power up your financial life. Following are 10 bad habits, and tips for ending them.

1. Carrying a credit card balance
High interest rates on credit cards make plastic one of the most expensive ways to borrow. Build a better habit: One approach to erasing the card balance is to devote every spare penny to getting rid of it. If you have other pressing debts, you’ll need to make a plan for dealing with all of them. Keep the balance from building again by making it a new habit to pay off the entire bill every month—no exceptions ever.

2. Failing to fund a retirement plan
How much should you save? “Ten percent is the minimum [monthly contribution] for anyone in any situation,” Arlington, Virginia, financial planner Claire Emory tells Women’s Day. Build a better habit: Imagine yourself at age 70 or 80. Picture concrete details—how you’ll look, your surroundings, how you’re spending time, and who’s with you. The more real your future self is to you, the more likely you’ll care for her or him today.

3. Not shopping for monthly services
Hopefully, you comparison shopped when signing up for insurance policies, and phone, Internet, and cable service. But you may be missing savings if you’re not checking prices again once a year. Build a better habit: Be willing to put some energy into improving your financial life. Once a year, spend 30 to 60 minutes price shopping for monthly services.

4. Paying for cable and landline
Cable prices are going nowhere but up. Free and cheaper alternatives make experimenting worthwhile. But will you get out of your rut and try something new? Build a better habit: Before trying a change, just observe yourself and your habits. Record your viewing habits for a week or two to see how and … (Read the full article on The Village Financial Resource Center website.)

–Reprinted with permission from partner site


How a school bus can drive you to good financial decisions

By AlicBus Backendsia Kellebrew, NFCC Certified Financial Professional
The Village Financial Resource Center

When people walk into my office, they may notice the little, bright yellow die cast school bus prominently displayed on my bookcase. It sits there right in my line of sight, and that of my clients, for a reason. Every now and again someone will notice it, smile, and ask me what it is doing there. I always respond with the short version of why it is there: to remind us all that WE have to drive the bus. Of course, that’s the short version because it is a metaphor, not only for money management, but also for other life issues as well.

Here are just a few of the things that we can take away from my little yellow school bus:

  1. First, “YOU have to DRIVE the bus!” No matter what type of situation or struggle that is going on around us, we have to do our part to be proactive, take charge and do what we can with and in the situation. No situation gets resolved by doing nothing; in fact, that is usually the worst idea. “Driving the bus” may include determining and evaluating options, seeking advice or assistance from others, or simply deciding on a plan of action and putting the wheels in motion.
  2. There are are a lot of people counting on the bus driver: the school, the parents, and the kids. What would happen if the bus driver didn’t take care of themselves and couldn’t drive the bus? Not only would they be compromising themselves, but they would also be creating a ripple effect that would cause issues for many others as well. Who is it that counts on you? Your family? Your friends? Your employer? Before we can do anything else, we have to make sure that we are taking good care of ourselves, which means prioritizing essentials above other expenses, even debt payments.
  3. The stop sign on a school bus reminds us that sometimes we have to stop and carefully consider all options and consequences before making any big financial decisions. The point at which we have the most say in the matter is BEFORE we sign any contracts not AFTER. If things become difficult after we sign a mortgage, car, or student loan, there may not be as many desirable options available to us as we would like. This shouldn’t stop anyone from trying to communicate with creditors if they are having issues though, as there may be ways they can help.
  4.  The door on the bus reminds us that we have to stay open-minded when looking at possible solutions to financial difficulties. Even the options that are not our first choices or the most desirable should be considered. Sometimes we end up making the hard choices by eliminating the options that just won’t work at all and then picking the best of what is left.
  5.  The cheery yellow color of the bus reminds us that even the most difficult situations are easier to deal with if we can stay positive. When clients who are struggling with finances come into my office, I try to be an encourager to show them that no matter what the situation is, things can get better; it just takes time.Bus Backends

About the author
Alicia Kellebrew is a NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Resource Center.


Sharing Credit Card with a Parent can be Risky

Think twice before becoming an authorized user on your parents’ credit cards — even if you are handling their finances for them. If they have great credit, being an authorized user can help raise your score. On the other hand, if you have great credit but your parents don’t, being an authorized signer on their cards is risky. If the banks report you as an authorized user on credit cards with an iffy track record, your credit score could fall fast.

Except on a temporary basis when necessary — for example, when a parent cannot get out and needs someone to do the shopping — financial experts don’t recommend becoming an authorized user on someone else’s card. Co-mingling finances is just too risky.

— Adapted from article by Sally Herigstad on Used with permission.

Change your perspective on money to change your financial life!

old lady young ladyThere’s an classic optical illusion that features a drawing of an elderly woman or a young woman depending on how you look at it. It’s purposefully ambiguous. The nose of the elder woman could be seen as the chin and jawline of the younger. The ear of the younger could be seen as the eye of the elder.

The difference is in how you look at it.

As a financial counselor, I work with people to help them reach their financial goals. The process almost always entails, at minimum, a discussion about goals, a comprehensive review of assets and liabilities, putting together a comprehensive budget, and creating an action plan that details steps a person can take to reach their financial goals. And once that’s done, the real effort begins as the person sets out to follow through on steps to reach the goal.

Now, to a budgeting nerd like me, that sounds exciting. The chance to sit down with someone and plan out the steps needed in order to reach some life-changing goals sounds thrilling … to me. But in truth, for most people, there isn’t a great sense of excitement surrounding the process. Talking money isn’t sexy. People are rarely excited to talk to me about personal finances. No one in my office is sitting at the edge of their seat chomping, at the bit to dive into the process.

Working toward financial goals requires discipline over time; many times it requires sacrifice. And sometimes working toward your goals or dealing with a financial problem can become monotonous and tedious. In fact, some people do avoid it, which just compounds the problem or delays the progress.

But that’s just one way to look at the situation. If you shift your perspective just a bit, you can see something very different. It may not be thrilling to pore over numbers and make tough decisions. But do you know what is thrilling? Pulling out of the car lot in the vehicle you just purchased, taking your seat in the plane as you wait for takeoff to an exotic locale, pulling into the driveway of your new home, retiring early. And I could go on and on.
Don’t let the way you look at the task of dealing with money keep you from making changes for the better. Focus on your goals and remind yourself why you are working so hard. Don’t let tedium derail you from working toward your goal. Set smaller milestone goals and celebrate the successes. Working toward financial goals doesn’t have to be boring. Find your own ways to get excited about it, and see it from a different perspective – the perspective of possibility.old lady young lady horiz

Joshua Huffman, The Village Financial Resource Center

 About the author
Joshua Huffman is an NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Service Center.
Joshua Huffman is an NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Service Center. He can be reached at (800) 450-4019.

How New Credit Reporting Agency Rules Impact You

credit rules impact pinterest

Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission from our partner site

The country’s three major credit reporting agencies have announced plans to overhaul how they collect information about consumers and how they interact with consumers seeking to correct reporting errors, according to a press release.

For example, medical debts won’t be reported until after a 180-day waiting period. This will allow insurance payments to be applied. In addition, medical collections that have been or are being paid by insurance will be removed from credit reports, the press release states.

The agencies will no longer report debts like tickets or fines that didn’t result from a contract or agreement by the consumers to pay. Also, they will no longer accept reports that don’t include a consumer’s date of birth. Other revised rules will make it easier for consumers to dispute credit report errors that might hurt their credit ratings.

Here are the free steps you can take to repair your bad credit:

Step 1: Access free copies of your credit reports

Visit for a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Once they’re in hand, thoroughly analyze the information for errors, omissions, and fraudulent accounts.

Also, be on the lookout for negative marks that should have dropped off your report because they are more than seven to 10 years old. Most bad items drop off in seven years

Perhaps you received your three free credit reports through earlier this year and do not want to pay for new reports from the credit bureaus. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you are still entitled to a free copy of a credit report if

  • You are denied credit, insurance, or employment, or offered unfavorable rates because of the content of your credit profile. You have to ask for the free report within…

credit rules impact

Read the full article on The Village Financial Resource Center website.