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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 and on Twitter at @VillageFamily

What a Financial Pro Learned About Money From Her Parents

By Alicia Kellebrew
NFCC Certified Financial Professional

I would say that the two most common comments that my clients make to me in my office are “My parents never talked to me about money” and “Your parents must have talked about money with you a lot for you to know what you do.” I absolutely credit my parents for my money know-how, but what people have to understand is that it isn’t always what you SAY but what you DO and model for your family. My parents have always led by example, and I am very thankful for the example that they set. I would like to share some of what I learned from them with you as it has served me pretty well in my life.

  1. Cars are a mode of transportation. Hence, the most important consideration is “Does it get you from point A to point B safely?” If so, it is serving its purpose. My family’s philosophy on cars has always been buy used cars for reasonable prices, take good care of them, and hope for the best. I understand used cars can sometimes be a gamble.That’s why buying them for the right price, maintaining them well, and knowing when it’s time to move on to something else is key.
  1. More wisdom on cars: If you must take out a loan try to put down a sizable down payment without cleaning out your emergency fund to lower your payment. Finance the loan out for the five years to make sure the payment is manageable, but, by all means, pay it off as quickly as possible. Lastly, even after you pay it off, continue making that payment to a separate “car fund” for as long as you are able. This will give you money for repairs, and, when it is time, a down payment on something else. You are already used to making that payment so you may as well build up an additional cushion.
  1. There is a definite difference between a “need” and a “want.” I remember being a kid and always wanting the name brand clothes and shoes. I also remember being really irritated when my parents told me shoes were shoes. But I am so thankful now that they stood their ground. While there is nothing wrong with splurging every now and again, if you make that a habit it can really get you in trouble.
  1. If you make being careful and smart with your money a priority, it will pay off in so many ways. I always watched my parents save money wherever they could which gave us the freedom and ability to take care of what we needed to when it came up (and a little extra for some fun too!).
  1. Having a financial cushion provides a sense of security. While no one “enjoys” carefully accounting for their money or saying “no” to their wants or those of their family, it gave all of us a sense of security and peace knowing that we had a cushion in case something unexpected happened. Seeing it work so well for my parents when I was young made me want to strive for the same for myself. Besides, it is much better to be able to “borrow” from yourself!
  1. Buying and/or receiving stuff doesn’t equal happiness or love. While it is nice to buy things for people sometimes, the emphasis in my household is always on spending time together. Those are where the memories are – my mom spending hours upon hours teaching me how to craft or my dad dropping everything to take me to see the Stanley Cup, for example.
  1. Life is not a competition of who has the most or best stuff. It is about who you are and what you do. We often compare ourselves to others based on what we have or don’t have and what they have or don’t have. What we must remember is we don’t know the whole story; for all we know, they might be struggling with a large amount of debt to keep up the appearance that things are going well.
  1. Life is about sacrifice and compromise. Sometimes you have to say no to something in order to say yes to something greater. For instance, in some jobs there is high pay but it may come at the cost of time with your family.
  1. “Lifestyle inflation” is very real and something we have to watch out for. Have you ever wondered to yourself how you made it on the income from your first job? I do and when you really look at it you realize that back then you made it on what you had because you had to.Sometimes it is helpful to look back and take note of what we trimmed or cut out to make everything fit. If we could do it then chances are we could do some of it now to free up some funds for other purposes or goals.
  1. Never loan something to someone you can’t afford to lose – money or possessions – as it might result in the loss of the item/money loaned AND the relationship.

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

Dishonesty and disagreements related to money are common

Nearly half of all participants (47%) in the January online poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC) responded that disagreements about money are most likely to cause the greatest stress in their relationships.

Disputes about money management can begin as early as the first date, but they become lethal to relationships when they go unaddressed. As the years go by, what could have started as a constructive conversation about finance becomes a heated battle over who is right. Observations become accusations, and trust becomes suspicion. Growing levels of mistrust can lead to financial infidelity, which registered on the survey as a top stress point for 25% of the respondents.

The NFCC recommends that couples press the pause button before things spiral out of control and have a constructive conversation about money. “Most people have a different approach to money management than their spouse or partner. Left unaddressed, those differences can lead to the end of the line for many couples. Understanding those differences means having honest discussions early in a relationship so the rules are mutually accepted and the financial goals are clear. No matter the differences or challenges, the best approach is to start communicating early” said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the NFCC.

Financial counselors at The Village Financial Resource Center recommend the following guidelines for couples:

  • Be honest with yourself and each other when it comes to financial matters. As financial challenges appear, work together to address them directly instead of ignoring problems and wishing they will resolve themselves.
  • Establish money rules for the relationship and hold each other accountable. Discuss what will be jointly managed and set rules for making independent spending decisions.
  • Don’t conceal debt or sources of income from each other. Financial infidelity should be taken as seriously as any other form of cheating. Adhere to a policy of financial transparency to strengthen trust in the relationship.
  • Set a time and place where financial matters can be discussed on a regular basis, free of distractions.
  • Keep the tone of the conversation casual, and remain open to what each other has to say.
  • If a disagreement should go unresolved during a conversation, take a moment to find acceptable ways to compromise or consider revisiting the issue after a short time-out.
  • If a financial mistake is made, couples should work together to find solutions without assigning blame. Be willing to accept a fair share of the responsibility for the problem and the solution.
  • When tracking joint financial goals, understand that changing circumstances require a degree of flexibility from both partners in a relationship.
  • Understand that a single financial setback impacting one person ultimately affects the entire relationship, no matter how large or small the issue.

Often, money issues may reveal deeper problems in the relationship that require outside intervention. Sometimes, it helps to seek advice from a relationship counselor if matters cannot be resolved through normal communication. The same is true for the financial side of the equation. Seeking advice from a Village financial counselor can help address challenges and restore financial health, making it easier to focus on other aspects of the relationship.

Call The Village Financial Resource Center at 1-800-450-4019 to make an appointment.


You can improve your credit score — here’s how!

Most people are aware that their credit report is a determining factor in whether or not they get a car loan, a home loan, or a credit card. And that their credit score can impact the interest rates they are offered if they qualify for those types of credit. However, many don’t realize that their credit report can impact a great many other things in their lives.

  • According to a 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 47 perc ent of employers check an applicant’s credit history before deciding whether or not they make a job offer.
  • Insurance companies use credit history, among other things, to determine your premium.
  • Want to rent an apartment? You better hope your credit report is in good shape.

Here are some ways you can improve your credit report and score.

  1. If you aren’t current on all debts, get current and stay current. Payment history has the biggest impact on your credit score, so keeping your accounts in good standing is important. If you have made mistakes in the past, that’s OK. You can always work to improve your credit. While negative information can appear on a credit report for up to 10 years, the last two years have the biggest effect on your score. If you fell past due on an account, get current and stay that way—and you see your score begin to steadily rise.
  2. Pay down your debts, especially credit cards. Credit scoring takes into account the ratio of outstanding debt to available credit. If you have a credit card with a $2,000 limit and you have a balance on that card of $1,800, you are using 90 percent of the available credit. That looks bad to the credit score models. It looks like you are close to maxing out your limit and therefore has a negative effect on your credit score. Ideally, keep your balances as low as possible for the best credit score. If your balances are high in relation to your limits, work to pay them down. In my opinion, the best way to use a credit card is to use it once every couple of months for a small purchase and pay the balance off right away. That way you don’t risk having the credit issuer close your account for inactivity, you don’t spend money on interest, and you build your score without going into debt.
  3. Focus on your oldest accounts. The longer you have had a credit card, the more impact it has on your score. A card that you’ve held for three years gives a much better idea of how you manage credit than one you’ve had for three months. If you are uncomfortable with the number of credit cards you have and are looking to close some, make sure you keep the ones that have been open the longest. By closing an old account, you could be losing some good history. It’s not often that I see credit scores in the 800 (850 is the top end of the FICO credit score). However, the credit reports I do see that have broken into the 800’s almost always have accounts that have been open for years.
  4. Pull your own credit report. This is important for many reasons. For one, you really don’t know what you need to work on if you don’t know what is on the actual report. It is very common for people to come see me and have no idea what is actually on the report. Yes, there are lots of numbers, dates and different tables, but once you take some time to get familiar with it, it can make sense. If it doesn’t, you can always get help from people like me. The second reason you want to pull and review your own report is that errors can occur. It is really not that uncommon to find errors on credit reports. Some errors are minor and have no bearing on your score, but others can be significant and can really make a difference.

Everyone is entitled to a free credit report once yearly from the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. Go to to get a copy of your reports. While you can get the entire credit report, it does not come with a credit score. However, keep in mind that the report is what drives the score. If you know your report and work to improve it, your score will move in the right direction.

Knowing your report and taking a few of these steps can really help to improve your credit and improve your financial health. Improving your score can mean lower interest rates on loans, lower insurance premiums, better access to housing, etc. A better score saves you money.

It isn’t always easy and it can take some time, but with hard work and determination, I have seen many people take control of their credit report. I have seen scores go from really bad to great in just a couple of years, sometimes even quicker. But remember, the longer you wait to take control of it, the longer it will take to get your credit report to where you want it to be.

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.

8 Creative Ways to Clear Clutter in 2015

Editor’s note: This article is from partner site Money Talks News,

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 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 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


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,

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

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 “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.