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About J. Shane Mercer

I am the digital marketing specialist at The Village Family Service Center. Keep up with Village news and events at https://www.facebook.com/thevillagefamily and on Twitter at @VillageFamily

8 Creative Ways to Clear Clutter in 2015

Editor’s note: This article is from partner site Money Talks News, www.moneytalksnews.com

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed by the post-holiday excess all around you? Have the past several years of your family’s success with Santa left your closets, garage, attic, and office filled to the rafters? If so, it may be time for some creative clutter-busting strategies. Here are eight ways to kick the new year off right by kicking the clutter habit now:

Start with three questions - Cut through your material clutter by cutting through the mental clutter that often makes it difficult to part with things. With each item you consider, ask yourself: Do I love it? Do I use it? Will I ever need it? If your response to each of these questions is “no,” then it’s much easier to rationalize passing the item along and letting it find a new home.

Target one area at a time - It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that most of us live with. Instead of diving right in and burning out quickly, focus on one area of your home or office at a time. Because a little positive reinforcement never hurts, start with the easiest areas first. Declutter a chest of drawers, a hall closet, one kitchen cupboard, or a single drawer in your desk. Then, use that momentum to move on to the next spot. If it helps, make a list of all the clutter hot spots that need attention and check each one off as you calm the chaos.

Get rid of one item per day - If taming the clutter in your environment seems like an impossible task, start slowly. Decide to rid yourself of just a single item per day but be determined and relentless. As the weeks and months pass, you’ll begin to notice and enjoy the extra elbow room your efforts have created.

Adopt a one-in-one-out rule - To achieve and maintain a clutter-free home or office, adopt a zero accumulation habit. For every new item that comes into your space, make sure one item goes. Donate or sell usable items and toss what’s left.

Think inside the box - The four-box method is a tried-and-true way to quickly get a handle on large amounts of clutter while still ensuring that each item is consciously considered. To begin, get four large boxes and assign each box one of these labels: donate, sell, trash/recycle…

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


5 tips for building up savings

Americans are finding more satisfaction from saving money than spending money, according to The Gallup Economy and Personal Finance poll. Their results indicated that, on average, Americans prefer to save (62 percent) versus spend (34 percent).

However, the poll also found that people are not acting on this desire. So the looming question is: How can we become savers? Here are some tips.

  1. Have a budget and stick to it. While most of us hate the idea of a budget, it is an important part of the saving process. For example, if your expenses are equal to, or exceed, your income, savings will require additional effort and other issues will need to be addressed. Having a budget will help you determine how much you have available for savings.
  2. Review your budget for discretionary expenses you could reduce. Review your spending habits to find problem areas. Once you’ve identified where you are spending your discretionary income, evaluate its impact on your budget, and, ask yourself if you’d be willing to eliminate some of these items from your budget to free up more income for saving.
  3. Set Goals. Without a specific goal in mind, saving becomes more burdensome. For example, if you are saving for something specific, such as a down-payment on a home, new vehicle, family vacation, you will likely be more successful because you have a tangible goal. If you want to boost your general or ‘emergency’ savings, you can still set a goal. Maybe it is to save 3 months of your income, or maybe it is a specific dollar amount you’d like to save. Having a specific goal gives you something to work toward, rather than the ambiguous, “It would be nice to have some savings.”
  4. Separate your savings from your spending money. Whether you keep your funds in a bank or operate on a cash basis, co-mingling your savings and spending money can be too much of a temptation to spend. Separating your savings and spending money makes you less likely to dip into your savings. You will also typically find satisfaction in hitting certain milestones in savings. So even if you occasionally pull funds out of savings, you won’t want it to dip below that milestone. If you mix everything together, those milestones are not as obvious.
  5. Save first, not last. It is common for people to save whatever is left at the end of the month or pay period. But operating in this fashion results in significantly less savings, if any. If you feel like you have more funds available (because it shows in your checking account balance) you may be more tempted to make impulse purchases and less likely to comparison shop. When you remove the amount you’d like to save at the beginning, you begin to live on less. We’ve all had those months where something unexpected happens, such as car repairs or unexpected medical expenses, and we find a way to trudge through the month and make ends meet. Saving first operates under this same principle. Once you’ve proven to yourself you can make it through the month with less money in your budget, by taking the savings out first, you will find you can still get by.

No one ‘accidentally’ saves money. It is a conscious effort. By implementing some saving strategies intentionally, you will see your savings grow. Typically starting is the hardest part. Once you experience the satisfaction of a growing savings account, continuing to save will become easier.

Jenna Boerger is a certified financial professional at The Village Financial Resource Center. For more information about FRC, visit helpwithmoney.org or call (800) 450-4019.






8 ways to find cash for holiday expenses

Many people are entering the largest shopping season of the year financially ill-prepared. For some, the ghosts of Christmases past are still haunting them in the form of unmanageable credit card debt. For others, finding $800, the amount the National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend during the holidays this year, is seemingly beyond their reach.

“For the many Americans who struggle to meet daily living expenses, the thought of the holidays approaching brings anxiety instead of joy,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling®. “The pressure to purchase can be overwhelming, causing even the most well-intentioned to take on additional debt.”

To help people find money for holiday expenses and avoid creating debt, NFCC certified financial professionals at The Village Financial Resource Center, offer the following tips:

  1. Take advantage of seasonal hiring by finding a second job doing something enjoyable, and earmark each paycheck for holiday spending. Even a 20-hour-per-week job can net hundreds of dollars by year-end. It may not sound appealing to take on a second job, but remember that debt is its own burden.
  2. This is the perfect time of the year to sell unwanted items. Scour the house for things that are no longer needed or used. Sell them locally or online and reap the benefits of having rid the house of clutter while generating extra money.
  3. Look for free ways to buy. Now may be the time to use any gift cards that have been saved. Check out how many reward points have been earned through credit cards. To maximize the points, evaluate making purchases through the card’s online partners. If using a cash-back card, consider redeeming the money available.
  4. Cut back on expenses. This may seem like an odd suggestion during the largest spending season of the year. However, the fact is that there’s a finite amount of money available, thus when spending in some categories increases, it means that spending in others will have to decrease. Make a conscious decision where to temporarily eliminate or reduce spending to make money available for holiday purchases.
  5. Consider re-gifting. Re-gifting has an undeserved bad image, but when looking at the facts, it actually makes sense. A perfectly good item that isn’t liked or used benefits no one sitting in a closet gathering dust. It could be just the gift someone else has been hoping for.
  6. Instead of purchasing gifts, give the gift of self. Donate your time in another person’s name to a charity and send cards to those on your gift list letting them know of this contribution. It will likely be appreciated and remembered much longer than any store-bought present. As an added bonus, it may inspire them to do the same.
  7. To free up money for other expenses, when entertaining have a potluck dinner instead of assuming the cost of the entire meal; when traveling, stay with friends or family instead of a hotel; consider buying a gift for the entire family instead of individual presents.
  8. If forced to charge expenses, put all holiday spending on one credit card, and commit to repaying that debt in the first quarter of 2015. Doing this will not only avoid paying excessive interest on the debt, but will prevent the holiday spending from being co-mingled with existing debt, and allow a more comprehensive picture of the spending.

“Looking forward, resolve now to have cash available for 2015 holiday spending,” continued Cunningham. “Total the 2014 expenses and divide by 10. Commit to saving that amount from January through October, making the first gift of the 2015 holidays one to yourself—a debt free holiday season.”

If you need help finding money to satisfy holiday expenses, contact The Village Financial Resource Center at 1-800-450-4019 or HelpWithMoney.org. NFCC certified financial professionals at The Village provide financial counseling services in person, over the phone, and online.

For more information contact:
Joshua Huffman, The Village Financial Resource Center, 701-451-5003, or visit 

5 tips to pare down your Christmas list without looking cheap

The holidays can be a social landmine. There are so many emotions and expectations tied up in gift-giving. Rather than risk offending someone, we often go overboard and end up with a gift list nearly as long as Santa’s.

Whether your budget is stretched thin or you have had it up to here with Christmas commercialism, here are five ways to reduce the number of gifts you’re giving without looking like a skinflint.

1. Start with the low-hanging fruit. I’m talking about the people you give to out of habit or obligation. The nephew you haven’t seen in three years who never says thank you for the holiday check? Cross him off the list. The neighbor who moved in 2008 and is your Facebook friend now? They don’t need a gift either.

Likely, many of the people who fall into the casual acquaintance category aren’t expecting a gift and won’t even notice if you stop mailing them the annual fruitcake. Well, your nephew might notice there is no check, but that’s his fault.

In the event you do get caught off guard with a present from someone you crossed off your list, it is always a good idea to have a couple of relatively inexpensive, but nicely presented, gifts at the ready. For example, soap that is beautifully wrapped with a sparkly bow, a bottle of wine in a gift bag, or goodies such as jam or candies can make great presents. If you don’t need them for Christmas, you can repurpose them for other occasions later in the year.

2. Tackle the family and office Christmas party. Now let’s move on to the family and office parties. The gift-giving expectations run the gamut during these events. Some parties may not include any gift exchange, while others operate under the expectation everyone will be gifting to everyone else.

If yours falls into the latter category, it’s time to rein in the madness. The key is to
find a couple of like-minded people on your side. If you have a co-worker living
on a tight budget, they could be your ally. The cousins with three or four kids each
could also be looking for a way to pare down their lists.

Once you have a couple of people who are ready for a change, approach the person in charge to propose an alternative. It could be your boss, the HR director, or the grandma who hosts the holiday party each year.

Be sure to stress you have loved past parties but budgets are really tight this year (or your kids have too much stuff) and would it be possible to do something different. Secret Santa arrangements are one option, but my favorite is a gift exchange such as a white
elephant game. Not only does every participant only need to bring one inexpensive gift,
it also gives the family/office something to do rather than talk about the weather for two hours.

3. Consider the creative use of cards. On your holiday list, you may have some people you appreciate but don’t interact with on a regular basis. These people may include the postman, your co-workers the next department over, or the custodial…

Read the full story on our website at https://www.helpwithmoney.org/consumertoolsandresources/paredownchristmas.


Consumers don’t need make-believe Halloween fears since real financial fears haunt

Scary costumes and haunted houses can be fun one night of the year, but dealing with real-life financial fears on a daily basis is no treat. However, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® Financial Literacy Survey revealed that 71% of respondents admit to having financial worries.

Sharing the top spot on the list are concerns about a lack of savings, equally divided between not enough savings for everyday emergencies (16%), and not enough money for retirement (16%).

Other top worries included the following:

  •  Not surprisingly, fears related to either losing a job or not being able to find a good-paying job was second on the worry list (13%).
  •  Worries associated with debt held the third spot (7%), and included concerns about not being able to pay credit card debt, student loan debt, a monthly vehicle payment or existing medical debt.
  •  Four percent of respondents worry about not being able to afford health insurance.  Four percent also have concerns about their credit score and access to credit.
  •  Rounding out the list were fears that their personal financial situation is out of control, not being able to afford to send children to college, not having a good overall understanding of personal finance, losing a home to foreclosure and potentially having to file bankruptcy.

“Admitting financial fears is the first step toward resolving them,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.  “The next step is taking action to resolve the problem.  NFCC certified financial counselors have experience addressing financial fears and are well-equipped to help consumers find answers and solutions that replace their fears with financial peace of mind.”

6 steps to budget your way to your financial goals

By Maryalene LaPonsie
Money Talks News, moneytalksnews.com

Regardless of whether you want to save more, spend less, or finally take that trip to Tahiti, a budget can get you there.

Step 1: Set Your Goals
The first step in the budget process is simple. Ask yourself: What do you want your money to do for you? Here are some ideas to get the wheels turning.

• Do you want it to buy you a vacation?

• Do you want it to buy you a house?

• Do you want it as a security blanket in the bank?

• Or would you merely be happy if it would pay the bills each month with a little left over?

Budgeting can help with each and every one of these goals. In addition, by having a concrete goal, you increase your chances of sticking to your budget. Some people even create dream or vision boards with photos representing their goal to motivate themselves.

Step 2: Track Your Expenses
Next, you need to get a handle on where you are already spending your money. This step is important for two reasons.

1. It can help identify leaks in your budget, such as the $100/month you’re spending on fast-food breakfasts.

2. It can help you make a realistic budget. If you are currently spending $800/month on groceries, budgeting for $500 is probably setting yourself up for failure.

The old-fashioned way to track expenses is to collect your receipts and keep a log of every penny you spend for the next month. However, you can make the process much simpler by signing up for an online money management tool like PowerWallet or Mint. These services track your expenses automatically and neatly categorize them for you. Best of all, most of them don’t cost you a dime.

Step 3: Write It Down
Now that you’ve tracked your expenses, you can use those amounts as a guide to create a written budget. Whether you use an online tool, Excel spreadsheet, or a notebook and pen is up to you, but you want to have your budget recorded in a location where it can be easily…

Read the full story on our website at https://www.helpwithmoney.org/consumertoolsandresources/6budgettips.

Ten things you should know about identity theft

Identity theft is often in the news, but there are a lot of misconceptions swirling around about how to best protect yourself.

While some identity thieves focus on getting our credit cards and maxing them out before you even realize they’re missing, an increasing number are using one piece of information about you–– often a credit card number––in order to steal your entire identity.

Though many folks worry about keeping their credit card information secure when shopping online, the top methods that identity thieves use to steal personal data are still low-tech, according to Justin Yurek, president of ID Watchdog, an identity theft monitoring firm. “Watch your personal documents, be careful to whom you give out your data over the phone, and be careful of mail theft,” he says.

A recent study by Javelin Strategy & Research found that of the 9.9 million identity-theft cases reported in 2008––resulting in a loss of $48 billion––online theft only accounted for 11 percent of incidents. Stolen wallets, checkbooks, and credit and debit cards made up almost half.

No one is immune to identity theft, but armed with a little knowledge about how identity thieves operate, you can stay one step ahead of them.

1. Thieves don’t need your credit card number in order to steal it.Conversely, they don’t need your credit card in order to steal your identity. Sometimes all they need is one piece of information about you and they can easily gain access to the rest. As a result, says Heather Wells, recovery manager at ID Experts, today it’s crucial to lock up important documents at home. “Secure birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports, in a safe deposit box or in a safe hidden at home,” she says.“And that includes credit cards when not in use.”2. The nonfinancial personal information you reveal online is often enough for a thief. Beware of seemingly innocent personal facts a thief could use to steal your identity. For example, never list your full birthdate on Facebook or any other social-networking websites. Don’t list your home address or telephone number on any website you use for personal or business reasons, including jobsearch sites.

3. Be careful with your snail mail. “Follow your billing cycles closely,” says Lucy Duni, vice president of consumer education at TrueCredit.com. “If a credit card or other bill hasn’t arrived, it may mean that an identity thief has gotten hold of your account and changed your billing address.”

“Stolen checks can be altered and cashed by fraudsters,” says Duni. And never place outgoing mail in your post office box or door slot for a carrier to pick up. Anyone can grab it and get your credit card numbers and other…….

Read the full article on The Village Financial Resource Center’s “Help With Money” website.

Free document shredding until 1 p.m. in Fargo today!

The Village Financial Resource Center and Record Keepers, LLC are providing free document shredding at The Village (1201 25th St. S., Fargo) until 1 p.m. today (Oct. 9). Enjoy some cookies and coffee during your visit!

Material is limited to four banker boxes or shopping bags, and two hard drives (removed from the CPU). We will also be accepting food pantry donations. For more information, contact The Village Family Service Center at (701) 235-3328 or (800) 450-4019.

Free document shredding, hard drive destruction at The Village today and tomorrow

Bring your outdated financial records including bank statements, old checks, credit card statements and offers, and other items that contain personal and financial information for free shredding donated by Record Keepers, LLC. You can also have old hard drives destroyed, and an identity theft expert will be on hand. Coffee, juice, and cookies will be served.

The event goes until 5 p.m. today (Oct. 8) and from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. Oct. 9 in the parking lot of The Village Family Service Center, 1201 25th St. S., in Fargo.

Material is limited to four banker boxes or shopping bags, and two hard drives (removed from the CPU). We will also be accepting food pantry donations. For more information, contact The Village Family Service Center at (701) 235-3328 or (800) 450-4019.