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.

Money challenge: I challenge you all to “Pull an Alicia” for one month

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

Is there a particular type of behavior that is so closely linked to you that your family and/or friends say “I’m going to pull an (your name here)” if they’re going to do something similar? Some of these behaviors might be silly (like purposely mismatching your socks), annoying (like being obnoxiously loud), or forgetful (like misplacing your keys). Others might include more self-preservation types of things like repurposing things you already have around your home or frequenting thrift stores and garage sales for the items you need.

In my circle of family and friends you will often hear the words “pull an Alicia.” When I first heard that phrase I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered or slightly offended. So what does “pull an Alicia” actually mean? “Pulling an Alicia” is (simply put) finding the most cost-effective ways to do the things you have to and want to do. For instance, if you know eating out is your primary source of entertainment (I really should find another one!), then you take note of any specials, deals, coupons, or discounts that are available. This may mean planning ahead, eating a little later than normal, splitting a meal, carrying around loyalty cards, or even creating a separate email account that you use strictly for joining your favorite establishments’ “e-clubs” and getting their coupons that way. Did you know that if a person knows what they are doing they can eat for free for almost the entire week of their birthday?! What could be better than that?

So what are the keys to “pulling an Alicia?”

  1. Be aware of how much things cost and how long it takes you to earn the money required to do or purchase what you want.
  2. Always keep your eyes and ears open for deals.
  3. Refuse to pay full price if you know you can get it for less.
  4. Be flexible about how and when you do things. If you know that doing something sooner than usual or later than usual or trying a different location will save you money, do it!
  5. Know what you are willing to pay and stick to it.
  6. Carry your coupons and discount cards with you (all the time). If you don’t and you are truly “pulling an Alicia,” you will go back home to get them.
  7. Don’t be embarrassed by your efforts to save money. Sure, some people will think you are strange, but deep down they are probably pretty impressed.
  8. Find out about good deals or sales and share the news with others so they can save a few dollars too.

The last time I was home with my family I reminded them about a few discounts they forgot about. In the two days I was home, I saved them about $10. I laughed and said, “You know, we should put the money I save you in a jar!” And they said, “You just want to do that so you can have it!” I don’t think they believed me when I said I just wanted to see how much money can be saved in a month by putting my methods into practice.

So now, I officially challenge you to “pull an Alicia” for a month. Find a jar or box or envelope and stash all the money you save. If you don’t deal in cash, just keep a running tab in a notebook or on an index card. Or, if you want to get really fancy you might even write it out in your money journal.

Afterwards, please share in the comments section of this blog how much money you saved and some of your best savings ideas. Who knows? By the end of the month, your family and friends might be referring to your money-saving techniques as “pulling an (your name here).”

I don’t know about you but if people consider me to be a smart money manager, I consider that to be a compliment!


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

 

 

 

 

 

Financial counselors provide financial essentials checklist for the college bound



 

Many young adults are leaving home for the first time, yet remain ill-prepared to independently manage their personal finances. This is predictable considering that less than one-half of U.S. states mandate a course in personal finance as a requirement for high school graduation. Further, the 2014 National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC) Financial Literacy Survey revealed that the majority of adults say they learned the most about personal finance from their parents, which is true whether mom and dad possess good or bad financial habits. Proving that parents may not be the best teachers of personal finance, more than four in 10 survey respondents, 41 percent, gave themselves a C, D, or F on their grasp of personal finance. Therefore, it should be no surprise that many young adults smart enough to get into college remain ignorant of even the most basic financial skills.

“Whether it’s off to work or off to college, parents put a lot of time and money into preparing their child to leave home, but often neglect the basic life skills associated with personal finance. With just a few weeks until the young adult children will head out the door, the time is now for a crash course in personal finance,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.

Counselors at The Village Financial Resource Center, an NFCC member agency, provide the checklist of basic knowledge everyone living on their own for the first time needs to possess in order to start off on the right financial foot.

• Start with budgeting. Learned early, the discipline to live within a budget is a skill that will pay benefits for a lifetime. Parents should be transparent with their child about how much money is available for expenses and jointly create a workable monthly budget. Once on their own, students should track their spending to know where their money goes and stay in control of spending. This can be accomplished by tracking on paper, using a budgeting computer program, or a smartphone app. The method isn’t important, but knowing how the money is being spent is.

• Understand basic banking. Even those who do not write many checks each month need to understand the importance of recording transactions in their check register and promptly balancing the bank statement. Along with checks, ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases should be recorded in the checkbook after each use, with a running balance tallied …

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

Vintage vid: The Village Financial Resource Center in the 1980s



A look at The Village Financial Resource Center from a 1980s video about The Village. There are some awesome 80s clothes and facial hair herein to be sure … Enjoy! If you’re struggling with financial problems, have money questions, or just want to get your family off on the right fiscal foot, The Village Financial Resource Center is here to help. Call (800) 450-4019 or visit www.helpwithmoney.org.

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?

By Terri Heinen
NFCC Certified Financial Professional
The 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.


Terri Heinen
Certified Financial Professional
Village Financial Resource Center

 

 

 

Terri Heinen is a NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Resource Center.

 

 

 

 


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.