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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

Christmas in July? It could save you money … big time!

Did last year’s holiday shopping bust your budget? You’re not alone. According to a Gallup poll, the average American ponied up $96 each day in December 2013. This was discretionary spending, in addition to everyday expenses. Come January, you have to wonder how many people got hit with credit card bills they couldn’t pay.

We’re fewer than five months away from Black Friday. Let this be the year you choose
a saner approach to holiday spending. Just a few basic strategies will help you spend less
and enjoy more.

Your plan should begin with an honest assessment of how much you can afford to spend. Some people add up last year’s tab and add 10 percent—easy, right? Be honest: You might not actually have been able to afford it. Maybe it took months to pay off, or maybe it sidelined your efforts to build an emergency fund or save for a summer vacation.

What you can afford should translate to “what you can pay for at the time,” whether that’s cash as you go or a credit card paid in full each month. But here’s the beauty part: If you start shopping now (more on that in a minute), you won’t be a nervous wreck come
late November.

In fact, you may be all done before you’ve snapped the wishbone come Thanksgiving. Personal finance expert Mary Hunt says that an early start can keep you from “buying emotionally” vs. being…

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


The Village Financial Resource Center is a nonprofit community service organization that provides confidential financial guidance, counseling, money management education, and debt management assistance to consumers. If you’re struggling with money problems or just need some financial guidance, we’re here to help via phone, online, or in person. More about us…

 

 

How does a certified financial professional respond to job loss in her family?

Terri Heinen
Certified Financial Professional
Village Financial Resource Center

Two weeks ago we were notified that my husband’s employer, a large printing company , was going to close the local plant in 60 days. 280 people will be out of work. My husband started at this company 31 years ago, right after graduating from high school, with plans of saving money for college. He enjoyed what he was doing, the pay was decent and he was being promoted on a regular basis so he never took the time to go to any type of post-secondary educational program.

Was the closing a shock? Not really….printing is a dying industry. But we hoped he could maintain his job until our children were through college. This company has been through numerous buyouts, mergers and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. We have been working hard to structure our personal finances over the years in such a way that we would not lose our house if he lost his job, we have the recommended 3 to 6 months of living expenses in a savings account and no credit card debt.

So we have “prepared” for this day…..yet, to have the major breadwinner in the family lose the income source our family has relied on for 30 years is still SCARY. The “what-if’s” play out in my mind: What if comparable employment is not found in a reasonable time frame? Is it realistic to expect this level of employment without a college education? Health insurance premiums can become major expenses depending on the cost of family coverage – how will this impact the household finances? We have two sons in college – will we be able to honor our offer to help them with college expenses?

I find my anxiety levels rising and falling like a roller coaster, in part because of what I see as a financial counselor. I meet with individuals on a regular basis that have been seeking employment for an extended period of time without any luck. Many of these individuals hold college degrees. I also see folks that have exhausted all funds from 401k plans – some substantial amounts – to try and stay current on debt obligations once their income no longer supports their lifestyles. I work with seniors that are struggling to pay for basic needs because they used retirement funds to overcome a hardship. Some were self-created hardships and some were situational.

 So the advice I give to others, I now need to apply to my own situation. If you’re dealing with the loss of a job, these tips could apply to you, as well:

  • Change spending habits the day you learn of the change in employment status – too many times I’ve seen folks that assumed they would find employment before unemployment benefits ran out and they waited too long to adjust spending. This is the perfect time to closely evaluate where we spend our money, what is necessary, what are we locked into and what is fluff. We started eliminating fluff and looking for cheaper alternatives to some of our “needs.” (It’s amazing what we spend on technology between cell phones, TV and internet – and our parents used to complain about long distance phone bills that were more than $50! Today families are spending anywhere from $50 to $500 plus on these services.) This is an area where my husband and I differ on the importance level that some of these “wants” hold in our everyday lives. It can be a challenge compromising on what we can temporarily give up while we prepare for a potential reduction in income.
  • In most cases, as counselors, we do not recommend you rob your future (retirement funds) to sustain material possessions today – don’t be afraid to sell the boat, the camper or even the house if need be. These items can be replaced when your situation improves. Or look for ways to make money with these assets by renting them out (will want to visit with your insurance agent and you will most likely have an increase in your insurance premium –weigh the benefits against the cost). Apartment living is generally cheaper than home ownership, even if rent is similar to a mortgage payment. Another benefit to apartment living is lower utility expenses and no property maintenance or repairs to fit into a budget.
  • Actively look for work and use the professional services available at your local unemployment agency. In my husband’s situation, he has never had to prepare a resume or interview for a position outside his current place of employment. He is taking advantage of the trainings he has been offered.
  • Apply with various temporary employment agencies – especially as your unemployment benefits are dwindling. Many times you can be placed in long-term positions that can help make ends meet, even if the position is not paying you at a level of your previous employment, you are still working, which is good for your physical and mental health.
  • Get a part-time job if you run short on income to cover all expenses – this can apply to any contributing member of the household. You may feel tired after working more hours but the extra money may relieve some of the stress that accompanies a cash flow deficit.

I let the fear of the unknown get the best of me at times, but today is a low-level anxiety day. It helps to take an active role in making changes to the spending and planning for a reduced income level. I’d rather be over-prepared than under-prepared. It also gives us a new adventure, and I will have some additional personal experiences in my tool box when meeting with clients.


If you are facing financial difficulties or just have money-related questions, The Village Financial Resource Center is here to help. Call us at (800) 450-4019 or visit helpwithmoney.org.

Money and kids: How the ‘Real World Camp’ teaches students about living in the ‘real world’

Alicia Kellebrew, The Village Financial Resource Center

In my last blog post about teaching kids about money management, I mentioned the “Real World Camp” event that happens in both Fargo and Bismarck, N.D., each year. The events are organized by the ND Jump$tart Coalition, whose mission is to improve the personal financial literacy of all North Dakotans. The volunteers in this group include many area professionals from all different backgrounds, but, as you would expect, many that work in education and finance. There are different target age groups by location that vary between fifth, sixth, and seventh graders.

There may be slight differences in the ways the different locations conduct the event, and I have only participated in the one in Bismarck so I will describe how it is set up there. In the first half of the day the participants rotate through different presentations on financial topics such as needs vs. wants, how to prepare and hunt for jobs, how to use credit responsibly, and budgeting basics.

After they have learned all about many important financial topics we set them loose in the “Real World City.” In the “Real World City” each child is given a life scenario that includes a certain level of education, career, salary, and family make up. Armed with this information they must put together a budget that covers the required expenses (housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, student loans, etc.) as well as some of the other expenses of life such as medical and entertainment. Just to keep things interesting (and true to life!) there are also “chance” cards they have to draw which may require them to get new jobs, deal with an unexpected medical issue, or pay a fine for speeding or failing to license their pet properly. This is my favorite part of the whole day as the kids have to go from vendor to vendor to put their budget together within the guidelines of their scenarios. The vendors include everything from a local grocery store, daycare provider, housing options, a student loan lender, and even our local hockey team!

I really enjoy watching the kids try to put everything together and can literally see the light bulbs going on above their heads as they realize just how expensive the “real world” can be. I remember one kid whose three chance cards all involved him losing his job so then he had to visit the employment services booth to get new ones. Unfortunately, the new jobs didn’t pay him as much as the previous ones and so he couldn’t afford to cover his family’s basic living expenses (not even their groceries!). He looked at me and said “Wow! Being a grown up is HARD!” That is exactly what we want the kids to get out of their time in the Real World City – that there are a lot of expenses in life but that with careful planning and determination it will all work out.

If you are interested in more information about talking to your kids about money management you can visit our website at www.helpwithmoney.org or give us a call at (800) 450-4019.

7 ways to help your kids become good money managers

By Alicia Kellebrew, NFCC Certified Financial

Professional I recently had the chance to spend a lot of time with  middle school kids (between ages 12 and 15). I always ask them if their parents ever talk to them about money.  Oftentimes, many hands shoot up in the air, which doesn’t surprise me. The interesting part is when I ask them what their parents say to them about money. The top three responses are: “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” “Stop
spending your money on stupid stuff!” and “You should save some of your money!”
While all of these words of wisdom ARE good advice,  they aren’t really giving kids the “how to” of money management. Here are a few ways you can fill in the blanks for your kids:

1. Watch what you say and do with money—your kids are watching. For example, they will see if you take the time to balance your checkbook, listen to you and your spouse having a discussion before making a big purchase, and pick up on any family money philosophies, such as whether …

 

Read the full article in The Village Financial Resource Center’s “Real Money” newsletter.

 

Cyber-shopping and money-saving determination

By Carol Harrison
The Village Financial Resource Center

I prefer to shop online. I tend to shop when there are specials and free shipping to avoid the extra costs, and I also prefer that there be free return shipping or a brick-and-mortar store nearby so that, if I need to, I can return items without paying to send them back. I search the internet for discount codes for the product I need or for the “store” at which I’ll be shopping. Some sites you might want to check out for discounts include retailmenot.com, coupons.com, currentcodes.com and coupons.answers.com. But stay away from sites that make you download software or enter financial information to access the codes.

There are times that I want to order something for a specific event such as a wedding. In those cases, I put off ordering in hopes that I can snag a discounted price. Recently I gave in and purchased an item without finding a discount because I was running out of time. As it turns out two days later they were offering 25 percent off and free shipping on orders. But there was a disclaimer saying that this offer didn’t apply to pending or previous orders. But, that didn’t stop me from trying to get the discount on my order. I quickly shot off a chat message to the company, including my order number and date of purchase.

An agent responded: “I’m sorry, per the disclaimer of the promotion code it states that it cannot be applied to pending or previous orders.” But, I’m a pretty determined shopper, and that didn’t end it for me. My response back: “So, in essence I could return the items to a local store and then repurchase them using this discount code.” The agent responds “You may do so if you choose, however, I’ll be happy to apply the 25 percent off as a courtesy.” Voila! I got the discount I was hoping for without the trouble of returning and/or re-ordering.

When shopping online, make sure you only do business with protected or secured websites. There are two general indications of a secured web page: 1) Look for indicators that the site is secure, like a URL that begins “https” (the “s” stands for secure). 2) Look for the “Lock” icon. It looks like a padlock.


If you are facing financial difficulties or just have money-related questions, The Village Financial Resource Center is here to help. Call us at (800) 450-4019 or visit helpwithmoney.org.

 

Little things add up: How much is that specialty coffee costing you?

By Carol Harrison
Financial Counselor with The Village

Do you stop on the way to work to buy coffee or do you buy that occasional specialty coffee drink? If you were to purchase one specialty coffee drink at an average price of $4.57 (including tax) five times a week, you would spend approximately $1188 per year.

In comparison you could purchase a 2-pound bag of coffee beans that should yield 129 cups of coffee at a cost of 13 cents per cup or $34 for 260 weekdays per year. Your specialty coffee costs you $1154 per year. If you were to invest this money (savings) into 3% interest bearing account in 10 years you would have accumulated approximately $13,244. If your investment had a 2 percent return you would have accumulated approximately $12,640.

Now let’s be realistic, I for example, enjoy an occasional specialty coffee drink. I don’t usually recommend that a person totally delete an expense from their budget. After all, we should include some fun money in our budget if we want it to be successful. Perhaps a realistic goal would be to limit your specialty coffee drinks to 2 to 3 times per week. As long as you had the money in your budget to cover this cost previously you should be able to invest that money saving approximately $6300 or more in a 10 year time frame.

And now, all this coffee talk has left me craving coffee. Do I brew my own or head to the coffee shop!?


Go back to the Real Money front page for more money articles.

Where Do We Learn How To Manage Our Money?

By Alicia Kellebrew, NFCC Certified Financial Professional

As a part of my job I am given the great honor and privilege to meet and talk to people from all backgrounds and walks of life-in fact that is the thing I love the most about the work I do. Recently, I have had the chance to spend a lot of time with kids that are middle school age (between 12 and 15).

During these interactions I have been asking them if their parents ever talk to them about money. Often times, many hands shoot up in the air which doesn’t surprise me. The interesting part is when I ask them what their parents are saying to them about money. The top three responses are: “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” “Stop spending your money on stupid stuff!” and “You should save some of your money!” While all of these words of wisdom ARE good advice they aren’t really giving kids the “how to” just the “do or don’t do” aspects of money management and finances.

So then I ask if their parents tell or show them how they should manage their money such as how to set up a budget, showing them just how high the cost of living is when you factor in all your bills, or how to avoid getting into too much debt. Almost of them say no so then I ask “Where do people learn to manage their money?” Some of them say they talk about it in some of their classes at school or they attend financial literacy events such as the “Real World Camp” (Be on the lookout for a description of this in one of my future blog posts). Some others say that maybe people figure it out as they go along after they move out on their own for the first time. This is usually when I explain that it is ok to ask others for information such as their parents, siblings, relatives, friends, or even professionals like myself.

The point I am trying to get at is that these kids are extremely smart and they understand that money management is very important but they need a little help to put it all together. Here are a few ways that parents can help fill in the “how to” for their kids:

1. Remember that kids watch and hear the things you say and do with money. For example, they will see if you take the time to balance your checkbook, hear you and your spouse have a discussion before making a big purchase, and pick up on any family money philosophies such as whether you are careful with money or spend it as it comes in.

2. Sit down with your kids and help them plan out how they will allocate their allowance or other money that comes in. This might include talking with them about how much they will save and how they will spend, what they plan to spend and on what. Starting and maintaining an open dialogue for money management as well as other topics in general, will send the message that it is ok to ask questions and will allow you to share your experiences and values with them.

3. Help your kids to learn the difference between needs and wants and let them know that those two categories are not always black and white. While a person may need something, food, clothing, shelter, etc. it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t consider all their options and make careful decisions. Being able to know the difference and understand that even with needs people have choices will go a long way in helping your kids become financially successful in the future.

4. Remember that it is never too early to talk with your kids about money management. Most parents wait until their kids are in high school or college to have these discussions, if ever. The earlier you talk with them the better as it will help shape their habits as they get older. It is better to learn about financial management while there is still a margin for error that to figure it out after making mistakes that could affect the rest of your life. By talking about money often you send the message that money management and finances are something that they should keep on top of and handle with care.

5. Give them a set amount to cover their own expenses, for example back to school clothes and supplies or entertainment costs, but explain it is the only money they will get for those items for a set amount of time and stick to it. For example, give them $200 to cover all their back to school clothes and supplies and let them know that whatever they buy will have to last them the year. It is amazing how creative kids can be with ways to stretch their money when they know they have limited resources.

6. Give kids a chance to get a glimpse into the inner workings of your family’s household budget. This doesn’t mean you have to disclose all the details (like how much you make) but it will let them see that there are many expenses to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and the heat and lights on. Seeing those numbers will help them see that life is expensive and making sure everything is covered takes careful planning.

7. Look for opportunities in your community that offer the chance for you and your child to learn about money management topics. I mentioned the “Real World Camp” above which is a financial literacy event for middle school aged kids put on in Fargo and Bismarck to teach kids about financial topics. You may be able to find other events or resources through your local newspaper or on our Village Financial Resource Center website at www.helpwithmoney.org. Our website also offers tools and resources that can help you and your kids learn more about money management and finances. If you are interested in coming in to discuss your finances with a professional you can set up an appointment by calling us at 1-800-450-4019.

The prairie economist: Make hay while the economic sun shines

It’s an exciting time in North Dakota. The state’s economic growth (not to mention population growth) has made headlines. This growth and the associated jobs provide higher wages and more disposal income. Along with that extra money come opportunities to make some significant financial progress … and the temptation to overspend.

Down on the farm, there is a saying that applies to this time: “Make hay when the sun is shining.” When the conditions are great like they are now, resist the urge to spend more or take on more debt. Now is the time to pay off debt and create a position of financial strength. Remember once a dollar is spent, it is gone forever. So each dollar must be spent wisely. Income can change, and if one has overspent, it strains the budget and can make it impossible to keep one’s payments current.

Duane Emmel
Village Financial Professional

Now is a great time to pay off debt, save money, and invest for your future. If you are struggling to keep current on the bills or just want to go over the budget to determine how you can improve your financial situation, don’t hesitate to contact the Village Financial Resource Center and speak with a certified financial professional.

9 tips for single parents heading to college

Making it through college can be a challenge for any of us—add to that the responsibility of being a single parent and college can be especially demanding. Dr. Bill Burns, director of the North Dakota State University Counseling Center, and Maggie Pearl, admissions manager at Rasmussen College—Fargo campus, share some of their tips for helping single parents be successful students and parents.

1. Identify your support network. The first thing Pearl tells students is to think about who supports them in going back to school. “Who is your biggest cheerleader?” she says. Tell that person you’ll be counting on them for encouragement when times get tough. There will be days when you feel like graduating from college is an impossible goal and you’ll need someone to both listen and cheer you on.

Also check out the support services available at the college you have chosen. Burns says, “If you’ve been out of school for a while, knowing how to work through the systems of the university can be daunting. Make sure you have a good connection with an academic advisor to help you through the process.” ‘

2. Secure consistent child care. Burns said not having consistent child care is one of the biggest barriers parents face in going back to school. “You need someone to watch the kids so you can go to class and do your work outside of class.” Some schools have child care centers on campus. If they don’t, the student affairs office will probably be able to give you references for local providers.

3. Make a schedule. Time management is a must when single parents go back to school. “Block off your class and work schedule. Block out time for homework,” she says. “Put it on your fridge so your kids will know where you are, what you are doing and when you’ll be available.” Pearl also suggests that having a consistent bedtime for your children is very important so you have time after they go to bed to do chores or homework.

Burns said the ratio of class time to homework and reading vary depending on the class and/or the professor, but a good rule of thumb is that to do well you’ll need to spend 2-3 hours outside of class for every hour you spend in class. “I tell students to think of school as their full time job—if you are in class 15 hours a week that leaves you about 25 hours a week to study. You can still have a life outside of school. People who work 40 hours a week and have children do it all the time.”

4. Communicate. We are all human and things come up. This is especially true for single parents. You can never predict when your kids will get sick or hurt and need you to be home with them. Burns says to introduce yourself to your professors at the beginning of the semester and tell them your situation. “Be someone the professor knows. Even in a big lecture class, that can go a long way.” Then, if something comes up, let them know right away.

5. Don’t overload yourself with work and class. Burns suggests limiting your work hours as much as possible. “Anything more than 17 hours a week starts to interfere with a student’s academic success,” he says. If you have to work more than 17 hours a week to make ends meet, consider taking fewer credits. It may take you longer to complete your education, but you’ll be less likely to burn out and quit along the way.

6. Do your homework with your children. Depending on the age of your children, you may be able to do homework with them. If they aren’t in school, have them sit at the table with you coloring or practicing their ABCs. “Your kids will feel like you are doing something together but you are also getting studying done,” says Pearl

7. Let go of parental guilt. Pearl says, “The time that you’ll be in college is a very short period of time in your child’s life.” Explain to your children why you are going back to school—tell them it’s to give them a better life and that you need their support as much as possible. They might complain because that’s what kids do—but in the long run most children not only understand why their parent went back to school, but respect them for doing so.

8. Take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep and build a social support network. Burns says, “Taking care of yourself will make it all more manageable.”

9. And we would add a ninth tip to the list: Have a financial road map. Stop by for a quick visit with a financial professional (like those at The Village Financial Resource Center) and have a plan for controlling your finances while your in school and make sure that you’ll be able to deal with debt you may incur while in school.

Going back to school as a single parent won’t be easy, but when you are standing on stage at graduation receiving your diploma, with your children watching you with pride, you’ll know it was worth it.

Village financial expert talks about what to do with that tax refund check

Village financial expert Morgan Almer talks about what to do with that tax refund check on “North Dakota Today.”

Watch both parts of the interview below.

 

Valley News Live – KVLY/KXJB – Fargo/Grand ForksValley News Live – KVLY/KXJB – Fargo/Grand Forks

 


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