Wednesday, 09 August 2017 14:26

Back-To-School Savings

Q:

Back-to-school shopping kills my budget each year. Is there any way to start the year off right…without spending a small fortune?

A:

Rows of freshly sharpened pencils, an unopened box of crayons and a pair of shiny, new shoes will provide a thrill for any child.

As the parent, though, you’re the one footing the bill. If the thought of all that back-to-school spending makes your head pound, you’re not alone. The National Retail Federation reports that parents of children entering kindergarten through 12th grade plan to spend nearly $700 per child on school supplies, new clothing and shoes this season. That’s enough to fill any budgeting parent with dread.

No worries – as always, Wasatch Peaks has your back! Let us help you navigate the second-largest shopping season of the year with your budget and sanity intact. Read on for 12 ways to save on back-to-school shopping.

Do a house-wide sweep

Before you spend a penny on new supplies or clothing, scour your closets and drawers to see what you have lying around the house. Round up all the supplies you find and take inventory. Write it all down and keep the list handy – in your phone, purse or car – so you don’t forget what you already have and end buying unnecessary items.

While digging through your kids’ closets, sort and purge. Donate outgrown clothing (take note and get a receipt for tax deduction purposes) and throw out everything that isn’t wearable. This way, their closets won’t be cluttered with junk and you’ll know exactly what you have and what each child still needs.

Get the teacher-approved list

Most schools and teachers will send you a school supply list that details exactly what your child will need. Those lists are also often available at major retailers. Pay close attention to specifics on the list instead of buying supplies at random. This will prevent you from buying items your child can’t use and being forced to later repurchase according to teacher criteria.

Spread your purchases

Spreading your back-to-school purchases throughout the summer will allow you to take advantage of weekly sales. One week there might be a great deal on pencils, the next week, folders will be dirt cheap. Over the course of the summer, you’ll get all your supplies at terrific prices. Also, by picking up a few items a week, you won’t feel the financial squeeze as much as you would if you’d buy everything at once.

Take advantage of sales-tax holidays

Many states have a sales-tax holiday during the first week of August; others have tax-free days in July. Look up the timing of your state’s gift to budgeting parents and do your shopping then. You’ll save big!

Organize a clothing swap

The clothing your best friend is trashing may be the perfect fit for your daughter. Organize a clothing swap party with other parents in your area. Choose a date and venue, and instruct all attendants to show up with three or more items of gently used children’s clothing. At the party, parents can exchange their kids’ outgrown clothing and go home with incredible finds – all free of charge!

Find the best prices

This doesn’t have to mean touring your town in search of the best deal on crayons. Instead, hunt for specials in the Sunday paper and weekly circulars and look up coupons and deals online, at sites like RetailMeNot and CouponCabin. To make it even easier, check out PriceGrabber.com or use the ShopSavvy app for help in snagging the lowest possible price on an item.

Use Twitter and Facebook to save

Many companies will send coupon links to their followers and let them know about upcoming sales. Monitor your favorite stores’ Twitter feeds and Facebook updates to find super deals.

Follow these stores on Twitter:

Staples: @Staples
Office Max: @OfficeMaxDeal
TJ Maxx: @tjmaxx
Marshalls: @marshalls

Save through Ebates

When you buy through Ebates, you earn cash back on every purchase. You’ll also find exclusive deals and offers on the site. You can shop major brands and stores like Macy’s, Walmart, and Kohl’s on Ebates. Some users receive upward of $300 from the site throughout the year. That’s like getting paid to shop!

Time it right

Your child needs to be ready for the first day of school – they don’t need a year’s supply of paper or a full autumn wardrobe before Labor Day. Purchase what your kids need now, and save the rest for later. You’ll find deep discounts on school supplies and fall clothing just a few weeks into the school year.

Set limits

Every year there’s a must-have school supply or clothing trend. You want your child to fit in, but you don’t have a money tree growing out back!

That’s why it’s important to set limits. Share your budget with your child. If your budget allows, let them choose one or two pricier items – but that’s it! Don’t give in to every whim; you’ll be enforcing bad habits and breaking the budget at the same time. If your child insists on more, you can always check out sites like eBay and Craigslist for discounted high-end items.

Cash and debit card only!

Paying with cash or using a debit card that draws from your checking account will help you stick to your budget. Resist the urge to charge supplies if you can. You don’t want to end up paying interest on pencils for months after they’ve already broken.

Plan ahead

Finally, start thinking about the next school year now! When school supplies and backpacks are ridiculously discounted a few weeks into the school year, stock up for next year. Stash away your extra supplies to pull out at the end of next summer. You’ll be grateful you did!

Do you have a great back-to-school shopping hack? We’d love to hear it! Share your best saving tips with us in the comments.

SOURCES:
http://www.moneycrashers.com/back-to-school-supplies-list-tips/
https://www.google.com/amp/amp.timeinc.net/realsimple/work-life/family/kids-parenting/back-to-school-shopping%3Fsource%3Ddam
http://www.familycircle.com/family-fun/money/back-to-school-shopping-savings/
https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/07/22/14-back-to-school-shopping-hack

Published in Blog

Our family has started shopping for school supplies, and it was a little crazy with four kids helping me. School supplies and fees can cost hundreds of dollars, especially for teenagers. So, for this post, I planned on writing about budgeting for school expenses, but then I realized that I had written a post about that last year, which you can read here. Since I didn’t want to write that same post, I felt stuck with writer’s block.

A few weeks ago, my sister and I drove past our Elementary and Junior High schools on the way to visit our Grandma. It seems so long ago that we were headed back to school at those two buildings. Shortly after that drive, I received a Facebook invitation for my 20th High School Reunion.

As I headed back to high school for our alumni reunion, a lot of thoughts came flooding in. Some were regrets. Some were memories of my best friends and what we did. Since it was the first reunion I have attended, I didn’t know what to expect. Except for being hot, it was great. I visited with classmates way past the time the reunion was supposed to end. I learned a lot from going back to school!

Lessons Learned from Going Back to High School

Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life."

In 20 years, a lot of things have changed in our lives. People have come into our lives: spouses, kids, in-laws, friends, neighbors, etc.. People have gone out of our lives: some of our classmates have passed away and our energetic principal Earl Heninger passed away over five years ago. Many of us have had family members pass away. Some have married. Some have divorced, Some have experienced severe health challenges. Some earned degrees. There have been job changes, relocations, and changes in hairstyles.

Every change in our life affects our finances. Budgets that don’t allow for change won’t work because change is inevitable. We can all plan on having changes to our plans, and that’s okay. As high school students, we were prepared for life, but we didn’t know exactly what life would bring us. We had to become flexible enough to handle change. Flexibility in your finances allows you to learn from a mistake instead of giving up on your financial plan and budget. Flexibility this month allowed for that $10 library fine. Flexible budgeting allowed me to buy new fish after ours died. Many events in life are unpredictable. Once we accept that, we can decide on how to respond financially.

Teachers can be our mentors.

Teachers have been so important in my schooling. I think they are the most important part of school. I wish they could have been at the reunion. I’m sure they have a lot of stories about our class of ‘97. My history teacher was so excited about history that it made me love European history too. I wish I had told her that. A good teacher makes so much of a difference! My art teacher loved art so much that I enjoyed it even though I wasn’t an artist. I had one teacher that didn’t care about us. We were his last class, and he really just cared about retiring. I didn’t learn much from him. He was gone as much as he possibly could be gone without getting fired.

Everyone you meet can teach you something.

Teachers are not just the paid professionals who stand in front of the class. Everyone we meet can teach us. Coaches, parents, friends, and neighbors are all teachers. Our peers can also teach us. Every classmate had a story of when they had to be strong and courageous. Our mascot was a warrior. Each of these classmates have had to be a warrior in some aspect of their lives. I loved seeing this part of my classmates. They are inspiring me to keep facing and overcoming challenges. I wish that in high school I hadn’t categorized anyone, but instead had seen what I could learn from each one of them, and what I could teach each of them. I wish I could see the courage and strength that they were developing to use when life’s storms hit them.

This applies to our finances too. It’s so important to have a good financial mentor because they inspire you to manage your money well — even if you don’t like to manage money. My grandpa was a good mentor to me. He taught me to work, give, save, and invest. Friends, neighbors, and family have been mentors to me. Many of them have taught me some simple things like save every raise that they received, pay off debt, and invest. Financially, we gain courage and strength by doing the little and simple things like tracking and gauging budget accounts. Finances have ups and downs. I would personally love to have a steady climb of income that always goes up, but these mentors have taught me that finances and life are more like roller coasters — they have a lot of ups and downs. These mentors have taught me to do the simple things in our finances in order to handle the ups and downs.

Much of our learning isn’t formal education.

Every experience teaches us something and can help us. I discussed feeling regrets as I thought back to my school days, but I decided that as long as I learn from those experiences, I never have to regret an experience. Now that we’ve all been adults a for a while, life has taught us a lot.

Much of our financial learning comes through life lessons. We learn about finances by living our life. We learn from trying and making mistakes. As long as we learn, we don’t have to feel regrets. We can take those financial lessons and help teach them to others.

The most important thing about going back to school isn’t buying the school supplies or learning the most facts. It’s about learning from everyone you meet. It’s about becoming strong enough and flexible enough to handle whatever life brings. It’s about learning to adapt to changes. It’s about learning from every experience you go through. We can apply all these lessons to our finances. What are some lessons you have learned since graduating from high school?

Whenever I talk to others about budgeting, I get asked for a recommendation for a budgeting system. (In fact, it just happened this weekend at our family reunion.) I haven’t found a magical budgeting system that will make us manage our money, but there are a lot of great tools that can assist us. Although it is a hobby of mine to try out personal finance apps and software, I don’t give a recommendation until I understand what that particular person needs. If you were to ask what kind of jeans I recommended, I could tell you, but my style may or may not be your style. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all system for managing your money.

So when I’m asked for a recommendation, I respond with questions. Please answer these, and you’ll be closer to finding a system that works well for you.

What do you want it to do?

I’m a nerd when it comes to finances. I can spend hours talking about finances. I have accounting degrees. I love spreadsheets, reports, and details. However, I’ve taken enough personality tests and known enough people to understand that not everyone is this way. I still think that budgeting is for everyone, but everyone needs to budget in their own way. Some people want more powerful software that does reports and details. Some like to do the work all themselves in programs like Excel. Others are super intimidated by Excel and need a simple budgeting app. For example, EveryDollar is strictly a budgeting app that I would recommend to those people. Understanding your personality is key to finding the budgeting system that works for you. I recently went to a presentation by Social Core. Check it out if you want to understand personalities better. Once you understand your personality apply it to budgeting.

How much time do you want to spend budgeting?

Budgeting really doesn’t take much time. Even detailed money management systems take under 10 minutes a day, but some have the capability of downloading your data (Mint, YNAB, Mvelopes, EveryDollar), which could save you time. For a long time, I used Excel because I liked it the most. I love to see other people’s Excel spreadsheets that they made. (I told you that I am a nerd. I’m cool with accepting this.) But, Excel does take time to learn and to use. Some people wouldn’t budget if they had to use Excel. These people could try out Peaks Money Manager or EveryDollar. These apps focus on budgeting and make it very simple. Again, your personality comes into play here. Detail oriented people are more likely to want to spend more time. Other personalities want to spend as little time as possible on managing their money.

Do you want support?

Learning new technology can be frustrating and even scary. Having support can be the difference between quitting and succeeding. Some systems have excellent support teams that answer questions when the program won’t do what you want it to do, or when other technical difficulties arise. Other systems won’t have as much support.

What does your spouse want?

If you are married, budgeting needs to be a team sport — not an individual one, but everyone can have different roles on the team. My husband is not a budgeting nerd like I am. He’s extremely supportive — even though he has fallen asleep during my budgeting meeting. Although I loved using Excel, I eventually switched over to Mvelopes and then YNAB. Lately, I’ve started trying out Peaks Money Manager to see if this sytem will work best for us as a couple. I’m happy to do all of the finances, but I know that it is better when we are both involved. Even though my husband knows how to use Excel, he didn’t ever enter in transactions into our Excel spreadsheet or look at our budget except during our budget meetings. So, I tried out other programs and found out that he will enter transactions into YNAB from his phone. Peaks Money Manager is an app that would allow him to do this too.

Do you prefer to use technology?

Budgeting existed long before computers, apps, and smart watches did. I often tell people that if they like pen and paper budgeting systems the best, there is nothing wrong with that! Technology has great tools available to assist you in managing your money, but it isn’t necessary. If you like to write out everything in ledgers- great! "Just Do It!" "Have It Your Way!" What other slogans can I quote to convince you to manage your money? Apps are great tools if they work for you. Paper budgeting systems are great, if it works for you. Budgeting software is great, if it works for you!

I suggest you try some of these budgeting systems out to find out which works best for you. Some of these are free or have a free version. Others give you a free trial period. All of these are affordable. Dive in! Trial and error is the best method to figure it out which budgeting system is best for you. I promise that you won’t break anything! Do you have budgeting tool that works great for you? If you post it, I’ll try it out.

I stayed up late Saturday night writing this post, and I heard the fireworks that were going off around the neighborhood. Those sounds reminded me about the 24th of July holiday, and I thought about our holiday memories. We often go to the rodeo and the parade in Ogden. This is the first time that my husband will have this holiday off work. Because it is a holiday that celebrates the pioneers settling Utah, and it isn’t celebrated in other states, my husband usually had to work. His past employer’s customers were out of state, but his current employer has given them the holiday off work.

So, I usually celebrate the 24th without my husband. One year, my kids and I planned to celebrate it by watching my brother run the Deseret News Marathon and then watch the 24th of July parade in Salt Lake. It was about an hour drive from my home. Ten minutes into our ride on the I-15, the rear passenger tire on my van blew out. A kind Utah Highway Patrolman came by and changed my tire for me. That tire blowout completely changed our plans that holiday. Instead of making it to the race’s finish line, we went to Discount Tire to purchase a new tire and then out to brunch. As I watched my kids eat their kids meals, I thought about how much our plans had changed for that day. Plans guide and direct us but sometimes circumstances are out of our control.

Don’t give up when plans change

Budgeting is making financial plans. We set out to do certain things with our money, but a lot of unseen circumstances change our plans. Budgeting is a constant struggle for me, which is why I blog about it. Blogging keeps me accountable to keep budgeting — even when the plan completely changes. Financial flat tires include getting sick, losing a job, illness, etc. This summer we’ve had a lot of changes to our financial plans. One of my sons has struggled to learn to read and do math, and I felt tutoring would be helpful. Our starter went out on our car. We thought the problem was fixed, but on Thursday night, the car wouldn’t start for my husband, and he called me to come and rescue them. Although we can't predict these things, we can adjust our plans to work with them. My family has relied on our emergency fund to help us get through these changes in plans. We haven’t given up on the budget, but we also have not stressed about the financial detours.

Learn from the detours and change

We can learn from these detours and change so that we are better prepared for the future. As the patrolman was changing the van's tire, I was thinking about how I could have prepared better. I could learn more about car maintenance, check the fuel pressure more often, pay closer attention to how the car drives and check my tires when I suspect a flat — especially when I'm in a hurry. Recently my Toyota Sequoia showed a warning light, which I didn’t recognize. I googled it and found out that it was a tire pressure warning. That surprised me because I had just had the tires rotated. It was inconvenient for me to have the tire pressure checked because I was taking a group of youth to Salt Lake that day, but I had learned from the experience a few years prior. I am grateful to that warning light. I went to Big O Tires, and it only took a few minutes for my tires to be checked. The technician said that the tires’ pressure was all over the place. I asked him questions to learn about why that happens. He explained that the change in weather could have done that. He was so kind, helpful, and fast. I was very grateful that I had taken a few minutes to do that so that we could have a safe ride.

Keep practicing and following the plan

When circumstances are out of control, we don't have to throw away the plan, but we will have to make adjustments and allowances for emergencies and other unforeseen events. The more we budget, the better we get at it, and the more we learn. As we celebrate the journey that the pioneers made, we can keep on our journey. They had so many obstacles and changes to their plans. They had sickness, deaths in their families, broken wagons and handcarts. There are many similarities between their journeys and our journeys. We can keep going like they did. We can keep stepping forward in our financial journeys.

How do you celebrate the pioneers on the 24th of July? What have you learned from them?

On June 25th, my mom sent a us a text asking if we knew what was was in 6 months? I figure it out. Mom is on top of Christmas shopping and planning. She gets her shopping done early every year. I always admire that she doesn’t stress about the holiday, but I often feel overwhelmed and don’t think I can do it. I’ve had Christmas ready early just once, so like almost every post I write, this topic is one that I am struggling through. With the weather hitting triple digits last week, and with crazy busy summer schedules, I know that Christmas is not on a lot of minds right now. I thought about changing this post, but there are some great reasons to start thinking about and planning for Christmas:

  • You can get better deals! Over the weekend I made a cheesecake and was reminded that when I plan ahead I can get a better deal. (I didn’t plan ahead, but if I had, I could have bought the cream cheese on sale or in bulk.) That purchase wasn’t a big one, but Christmas purchases can be. My mom shops sales throughout the year and can get the best possible price on the gift that she is buying. Black Friday prices can be the best prices of the year. This past year a lot of my friends gave their families annual passes to Lagoon for Christmas, and the best deal for those passes was on Black Friday.
  • Shopping early relieves a lot of stress during Christmastime. While I was stressing last year about finishing my shopping, my mom was relaxing. She avoided the lines at the post office by sending packages early to my siblings who live in other states. I wanted to relax but time was running out. I remember feeling uncomfortable chest pain caused by the stress. Pain can motivate me to change though!
  • You can have a more meaningful Christmas! Instead of fighting crowds and traveling in the cold weather, you can be home making traditions with your family. What are your favorite family traditions? We love decorating the tree. Another way to make Christmas meaningful is to make homemade gifts. I’m not crafty, but I am creative, and sometimes I think of the best gifts at the last minute when I have run out of time to do them. Also, my young kids love to make things, but kids need time to make their creations. So, I’m going to encourage them to start thinking about what they want to make for their Christmas gifts this year.
  • You can drink hot chocolate and play games with your family over Christmas break instead of shopping. Window shopping can be fun, but aimlessly walking up and down aisles isn’t any fun for me. In other words, you’ll have peace around Christmas time, which is what Christmas is about for me.
  • Selection is better! I’ll admit, there are some items that are only sold during Christmastime. Last week I was shopping for some makeup for my kids upcoming play, and the cashier told me that the only time they sell kids makeup kits is during Christmas. But, there are a lot of gifts that have a better selection throughout the year. For example, bikes go on sale in the spring. One year we decided to give our family camping gear for Christmas. We didn’t find good deals or good selection because we shopped in the fall. Please learn from our mistake, and if you want to buy a spring or summer item, shop during spring or summer.

Are you convinced to shop early? Please share why you are or aren’t convinced.

I’m determined to have my Christmas shopping done early by doing three things:

Set a goal!

Since there are so many stresses, getting ready for Christmas early had to become a priority for my family. My goal is to be done by Black Friday. Since I don’t like crowds, and I didn’t need what was usually on sale during Black Friday, it was a disappointment, but now that so many Black Friday sales are available online, I’m totally onboard with shopping on Black Friday for a few things. One good thing about stores putting Christmas items for sale after Halloween is that Christmas shopping can be done early.

Budget what you need to buy and how much will it cost.

I know this financial exercise can be painful, but it is so important because it’s the key to relieving stress during the holiday season. Plus, it gets easier each year you do it. We started doing a detail budget for Christmas in 2015. It’s a spreadsheet, so I just copied and pasted the information for 2016 and 2017. Christmas shopping is pretty similar from year to year. I usually buy for most of the same people. There are minor changes, but once you’ve done it, you can tweak the next year and it is a lot easier that the first year. Your presents will be more meaningful. Here’s a personal example. My mom’s side of the family always had their Christmas party on Christmas Eve. I remember one year as a teenager that I used my gift of money that I received from that party to buy my brother’s Christmas present. I remember I got him a CD holder at one of the few stores that were still open. I’m sure I didn’t get a great deal, and I didn’t get a really meaningful gift. When I run out of time, I buy gifts like that ... just to buy a gift, and I don’t like doing that.

Budgets help me do what’s best for our family. I mentioned that a lot of my friends bought Lagoon passes, and they are loving them, but Lagoon passes were not the right choice for my family. My husband and I don’t love amusement parks. We have only gone to Lagoon once together since we’ve been married (almost 14 years). Although we had a good time, we would much rather be at a national park than an amusement park. When I buy passes like this, I want to get my money’s worth, so if I had bought a Lagoon pass, we would be going more that we would otherwise go just to get our money’s worth, and I don’t want to do that. So, we bought a pass to an aquarium instead. I’m able to feel happy for my friends because Ty and I intentionally chose what was the best option for our family’s personality and ages of our kids. I enjoy my friend’s pictures and stories without feeling envious or left out.

Budgeting helps me figure out how much money we will need. Finding money for Christmas is the hardest part for me about shopping early. There are so many other financial pressures that make it a challenge to save the money early for Christmas, which is why I chose to publish this post during extremely hot weather. (It helps me to be accountable.) I don’t have an solution wrapped up for you that will magically make money appear. We all have to figure it out, but by thinking about it, we get so much closer to finding an answer to this dilemma than we will by burying our heads in the sand. Besides, the sand is way too hot for that!

One idea is to use extra income that you receive to pay for Christmas. This is what we try to do, although I also considered working part-time. What other ideas do you have? I would love to hear what you are able to figure out because it will probably help out someone else. Another idea is to use a Christmas Club account to automatically save for Christmas.

Shop while I’m running other errands or shopping for other items online.

Finding extra time to be shop can be hard! So, by starting early, I can shop a little at a time and multi-shop. Since my Christmas list is in the back of my mind, when I see one of those items for a good price, I can buy it. If you know what you are looking for, you can look while you’re shopping for other things. We are going to give our kids carry-on luggage, so when i was shopping for groceries at Costco, I walked by the luggage and started pricing it.

Although these are simple suggestions, they can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s our plan for Christmas:

1. Goal: Be done by Black Friday!

We want to give an experience — a trip to visit my sister’s family who lives in Alaska. My family is planning a family reunion there next summer. Everything will be that theme. Luggage and tickets.

When others share what they are doing, it helps me come up with ideas. So, I hope this helps!

2. Budget

Christmas 2017   Amount
Family Luggage 600
Ty   50
Nat   50
Jackie basketball warm up suit, book 50
Wes book, 50
Tommy   50
Chloe book, swim toys 50
Parents   100
Murray draw   25
Service Angel tree? 50
Neighbors use grocery budget 0
Teachers Make lotions 50
Stocking Stuffers use grocery budget 0
Christmas cards/ letters, stamps Smilebox Christmas slideshow 50
Decorations Tree Permit 25
Grandmas   50
Miscellaneous   100
travel use gas budget 0
Total   1350

 

Do you have suggestions to improve my budget?

We put Christmas music on the other day and my kids asked to put it on again. (I haven’t yet though!) I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking I’m not on top of everything. I’m not. I do plenty of last minute things, but I’m trying to start thinking about Christmas along with everything else.

A couple of months ago, I was thinking about how similar eating and spending are. Although I planned my spending, I wasn’t planning what I ate, and I realized that was silly because I already knew how. So, I decided to apply budget my eating. Before doing this, I thought that I was healthy. I started trying out different apps to track my eating. As I tracked, I realized that I didn’t eat as healthy as I thought that I did. A lot of little things, like mayo and snacks, added up. Last week I put on some jean shorts, which I hadn’t worn for a year. A year ago these were very comfortable, but this year they fit very tight! One of my friends called these my “gauge jeans.” As soon as I put them on, I knew I had gotten bigger over the last year.

The same principles of physical health apply to financial health. We have to have a gauge that lets us know when we are keeping within our budget. We can think we are doing fine but unless we are really tracking it and gauging it, we won’t know until we incur overdraft fees, denied debit cards, or other negative consequences.

Can you imagine driving your car without a fuel gauge and trusting your general feelings that you are fine since you filled up the tank recently? That may work for a while, but eventually you would probably run out of gas. I like to keep the gas tank in my car half full, but the other day I looked down and it was almost to the E! If I hadn’t had my gauge, I probably would have thought that there was plenty of gas, but we had driven more than usual, and we hadn’t filled up the tank.

When Ty and I first started budgeting, we didn’t gauge our spending, and every month we overspent. I only reviewed our spending at the end of the month. After a few months of doing this, I realized that we needed to have a spending gauge — like our car’s fuel gauge. I needed to know how much I had left in my groceries and repairs budget. Although I could still overspend, I would be aware that I was overspending. Our car still run out of gas even with a fuel gauge, but the gauge makes you aware of what will happen. On holidays and vacations, I know I’m going to spend more than usual because I have tracked it, so I have to allow myself more calories and more money during those times. Tomorrow, being the Fourth of July, will be one of those times. I can allow more and still use my gauge.

Noom Coach, which is the app I’ve been using for tracking my eating, works well for me personally because I can relate to it. It even calls my eating plan a “budget” and it has a gauge built in gauge. The other day it told me, “1576 calories left in budget.” I’m not a nutrition expert, but I do know enough to know that nutrition is more complicated that just calories. I'm just simplifying the analogy in order to illustrate my point. Tracking and gauging my spending and my eating make me so much more mindful than when I don’t track and gauge them. If I consistently overeat, my pants are going to get tighter and tighter until they don’t fit anymore. If I consistently overspend, my debt will increase and money will become tight.

It’s easy to say, “I’m frugal.” It’s a general statement and anyone can say they are frugal because they can easily compare themselves to others who spend a lot more that they do, but as you track and gauge your spending you may find you are overspending. A lot of small purchases can really add up.

I struggle with self-discipline, so a gauge helps me realize what’s going on. Gauging can’t force me to stop spending or stop eating, but it lets me know what I am spending and helps me to be more mindful of what I’m doing. If I’m wise, I won’t go past the “empty” mark on our gauge, because doing so will make me run out of money and be forced to call for help or refuel (earn more).

There is no magical app that can force you to be financially fit, but apps can be so useful. I love to try out new financial apps! What’s your favorite app for managing your finances? If I haven’t tried it, I will.

Did you know that Wasatch Peaks Provides access to the Peaks Money Manager app? I’ve been trying it out. Here are a few things that it helps me do.

  • Keep track of all my accounts. I can put all your financial accounts into this so that I have a picture of your financial situation. Simplifying your finances helps to understand them.
  • Track net worth. Tracking networth motivates me. When I don’t feel I’m making progress, I can look at my net worth and realize that I have paid down debt and increased my net worth.
  • Set goals. Again, it’s nice that everything can be in one spot.
  • Budget. The Money Manager program tracks my spending. I can then use that information to set up your monthly budget.
  • Alerts. Peaks Money Manager sends alerts when you are running out of money in a category. This is a spending gauge. This is especially helpful if you pay for almost everything electronically.

Do you gauge your spending? If so, how?

Q:

Summer always puts a big strain on my budget. There are so many extra expenses! I've been looking for a way to get through these months without racking up a huge credit card bill, and one option I'm considering is Skip-a-Pay. What do I need to know about this program?

A:

Summertime brings loads of expenses that can bust any budget. There are family vacations that put a serious strain on your wallet, costly camp fees for the kids and dozens of other expenses that may not always be part of your usual financial planning.

Many people wonder how they'll get through these months. Fortunately, Wasatch Peaks offers an exclusive break from your loan payments during this costly time of year. Now that sounds like a dream vacation!

Skip-a-pay is a program that allows members to skip a monthly loan or credit card payment during an especially tight financial season. Most credit unions offer this program during the holiday season, and again during the summer. Members can choose to skip a payment once a year. There is usually a small fee attached to the payment omission.

Specific criteria must be met to qualify for skip-a-payment. The program is generally only allowed for loans with terms that are 12 months or longer, have been open for at least 9 months and have a good payment history of 6 or more months. Some credit unions allow payment omissions on most loans with the exception of real estate loans. Others only allow the payment break on fixed, closed-end consumer loans like auto and signature loans. Some do not allow it for credit cards and lines of credit. Nearly every credit union requires you to be up to date on your loan payments, and for you to have sufficient funds in your checking account to cover the nominal associated fee.

At our credit union:

  • There is a $25 fee per loan payment skipped
  • Only one payment may be skipped in July, August or September
  • Skips exclude all real estate (including HELOCs) and VISA payments
  • Loan must have been opened prior to May 1, 2017 and made at least one payment
  • Loan must be current and in good standing
  • Interest on the loan will continue to accrue
  • Payment will be added to the end of the loan
  • Paid-ahead loans are excluded
  • Any insurance on the loan will expire on its original expiration date

If you are considering skip-a-payment, speak to a member representative for full details. Additionally, here are some important points to consider before you decide to skip a payment:

1.) Breathing room

The primary benefit of choosing to skip a payment is quite obviously, the extra cash flow. During an expensive time of year, you might not make it through the month without resorting to swiping your credit card - and paying high interest on every purchase you make. By opting to skip a large payment on a loan or credit card, you'll free up cash for your daily expenses so you don't finish the month in the red. Summertime is so much sweeter when you're not sweating about your bills!

2.) Longer loan term

It's important to remember that by skipping a payment, you're lengthening the life of your loan. True, you're skipping a payment now, but you'll need to make that up one day. You're essentially moving this month's payment to the end of the loan.

3.) Accrued interest

While you won't be racking up credit card bills with high interest rates this month - thanks to the extra cash you'll have - you will be billed for interest on the skipped loan or credit card payment. You'll need to pay that up at the end of the loan term. This means you'll end up paying a bit more in interest during the life of the loan.

Did You Know?

  • Many people fall out of the habit of making their monthly payments when they choose to skip just one payment. Payment history influences credit scores most, putting you at significant risk of hurting your score if you skip a payment without your lender's permission. Remember: this is a one-month-only deal! Be sure to make your payments next month.
  • The popularity of skip-a-payment programs plunged at the turn of the millennium. They are now offered almost exclusively by credit unions, with very few banks still offering them.
  • If you feel like you could use skip-a-payment every month, you may be in financial trouble. Speak to a Wasatch Peaks member representative for advice on money management, debt counseling and budgeting tips. We're always here to help!

Want to hit the road without worrying about bills? Call, click or stop by Wasatch Peaks Credit Union today to learn about our skip-a-payment program. Take a break from your loans!

Have you ever taken advantage of your credit union's skip-a-payment offer? Why or why not? Share your experience with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://blog.credit.com/2015/12/wait-some-banks-let-you-skip-payments-during-the-holidays-131160/
http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/12/03/the-perils-of-skipping-loan-payments-this-holiday-season
https://www.servicecu.org/mobile.asp?MPID=819

Published in Blog
Thursday, 22 June 2017 13:48

Financial Tips For Single Parents

Smart money management is always important, but it can take on more urgency for those who are without a partner. Whether you're divorced, widowed, or single by choice, single parenting brings unique budgeting challenges.

Marilyn Timbers, a Connecticut-based financial advisor, says of having to raise a child on one income: "Children are a joy, but they do not come cheap." The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes in a report that it costs an estimated $241,080 for a middle-income couple to raise a child to age 18, and some single parents have to shoulder that responsibility alone. Even if child support is adequate - unfortunately nearly 50% of that support is never paid - you'll do yourself a favor if you think ahead about financial matters as a single mom or dad.

Estate planning is your first priority, according to Lisa Hay of Ascend Financial. It's essential to make arrangements for your children should you become incapacitated, and this means spending time on two documents that no one enjoys thinking about: a will, which specifies a guardian for your children and how you'll pass assets down to them; and a "power of attorney," which gives someone the legal right to make decisions on your behalf if you're unable to do so.

You may also want to set up a trust. A trust is a legal structure in which your assets can be held for the children. It is overseen by a trustee. And check with your employer to see if it offers a disability benefit. Generally, you will get a reduced income amount when you claim disability - anywhere from 50% to 70% of your salary. "Your income is your most important asset," says Tom Morrill, owner of Morrill Insurance Group. Insuring it can be especially crucial for single parents who don't have a second income to cover a gap.

Hay also says be sure to have life insurance. What you purchase will depend on your finances, but a term policy is most economical because it's a straightforward death benefit. A healthy 33-year-old woman, for example, would pay roughly $240 a year for a 20-year term, $500,000 life insurance policy. This would get your child through college should something happen to you.

Health insurance is "the number one insurance need for a single parent," according to Morrill, who considers life insurance a close second. People often complain about the cost, but if you're uninsured, a serious medical procedure or hospital stay can be disastrous to your finances. And, of course, losing a job or becoming ill is still more catastrophic as a single parent than as part of a two-income couple. A recent Harvard study revealed that 62 percent of bankruptcies were caused by medical debt. You can comparison-shop for policies at your state's marketplace or at HealthCare.gov.

Along with the rest of your boring-but-necessary financial thinking, don't forget about tax breaks. If you're a single parent, you should probably file as head of household (not as single) because you'll often pay less and get to claim a higher standard deduction. You can also claim exemptions for yourself and each qualifying child. You also might qualify for the earned income tax credit, the child and dependent care credit (if you pay someone to care for your kids), and the child tax credit.

As far as day-to-day household operations, here are a few more things to keep in mind:

  • Credit cards - In The Financial Guide for Single Parents Workbook, Larry Burkett warns single parents that, while credit cards may seem like an easy way to fill in the gaps of a decreased income, it's wise to avoid using them as much as possible.
  • Shopping in general - Many single parents have to make lifestyle adjustments after a divorce or the death of a spouse. You may need to consider moving or changing your spending habits. Burkett notes that lots of people like to go shopping to cheer themselves up, but the added debt you'll incur will only make you feel worse. This even applies to groceries, which are an expensive part of the budget. Plan that trip carefully, too, so you can better avoid impulse buying.
  • Holidays - Guilt causes many single parents to overindulge their children, even if they can't afford it. This is especially true during holidays and birthdays. Be sure to set designated amounts for gifts, and stay within the budget.
  • Ask for help - Check with your credit union for financial advice. And there are many nonprofit organizations with programs specifically designed for single parents.

Whatever your income, it's important to give yourself a safety net, because emergencies happen. Put aside a little bit of money from each paycheck to set up an emergency fund for car repairs, broken refrigerators and other realities of life. As a general rule, experts recommend having six months' worth of non-discretionary expenses in an account that is separate from the one you use for daily expenses. That could be a savings account or possibly a low-risk investment account.

Bucket budgeting can help, says Jan Cullinane, author of AARP's The Single Woman's Guide to Retirement. That means creating four different accounts: one for fixed monthly expenses such as food and bills, another for long-term expenses like retirement or replacing appliances, a third for emergencies and a fourth for discretionary spending.

"Put the appropriate amount of money into the first three, and whatever is left is your discretionary or 'fun' spending," says Cullinane. "If there is nothing left for that month in the 'fun' bucket, you simply go without - you don't dip into the other buckets. Harsh, but necessary."

And it's more doable than you'd think. One study asked people if they could save 20 percent of their income. Most respondents said no. But, when asked if they could live on 80 percent of their income, most said yes. "Be aware of how you frame questions to yourself," Cullinane says. "You might be surprised."

Have you faced tough questions and financial circumstances as a single parent? What were the most useful solutions you found?

SOURCES:
Published in Blog

Although I write about personal finance, no financial topic is independent. So, I am really writing about life, death, and everything in between through a financial perspective. Memorial Day includes all of these. My husband and I have birthdays near Memorial Day, and we celebrate our lives. We also celebrate the lives of those ones who have died. My grandpa passed away on May 31st ten years ago. We visit his grave and my dad’s grave and remember them. I’ve been told that life is short and passes quickly, but the last few years I’ve actually experienced that: my babies aren’t babies anymore, my grandmas are some of the last ones living in their families, our parents retired, and kids I babysat have their own children. Now, I realize that life goes quickly.

What does the Memorial Day holiday include for you?

Memorial Day Vacations

Our entire married life, we have had a tradition to go to Bear Lake over Memorial Day weekend. This is how we celebrate our birthdays. My husband doesn’t ask for much for his birthday, but he does ask to go to Bear Lake every year. We have made so many memories on these trips. We look forward to this trip every year. This year, we really need a vacation at the end of the school year.

How do you celebrate life on Memorial Day?

Memorial Day Traditions

When I was a child, we spent Memorial Day with my Grandma and Grandpa. I remember sleeping over at their house. Then we would take flowers to the gravesites of our deceased family members. It was a simple and meaningful holiday tradition.

Memorial Day Sales

Many stores have sales on Memorial Day weekends. I’ve already received a dozen emails notifying me of sales this week. Holidays can be popular for yard sales (when the weather is good). I’ve noticed that the Memorial and Labor Day Sales often extend several days past the actual holiday. If you are planning to purchase anyway, you many want to include this into your holiday budget.

For example, a couple of our kids need new mattresses soon. Also, we are looking for a propane fire-pit. I’m hoping that we find a good deal around this holiday. Sometimes I can find sales by shopping around holidays. Last year, there was a baby shower held in December for my sister-in-law. I was able to shop the Black Friday Sales to find a gift for my nephew. Items from his baby registry were on sale, and free shipping was offered, so I was able to get her a lot more with the money I wanted to spend than I would have been able to buy shopping regular prices. I want to do this more often.

If you have the storage space, you can buy clearance items for next year’s holiday. I personally don’t have the storage space to do this, but my mom does and I have benefited from her purchases. Last year she found some Easter decorations on sale at the end of the season. She saved them, gave them to me, and I appreciated them. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t decorate for any season, but the kids really enjoy having decorations. They think it’s fun.

Celebrating

Since life gives us plenty of unexpected expenses (like a new starter for our car this week), I try to plan the expected ones.

Holidays, including the summer holiday, can break our plan if we don’t include them. What are your traditions for Memorial Day? How much does each of these activities cost? Answering those questions will help you enjoy your holiday and summer- especially if you are new to budgeting. These events have "broken my budget" because I didn't prepare for their cost.

I hope that you have a fun relaxing hoiday that comes from following your holiday plan.

I’m still cleaning walls. This job seems to be neverending, but one good result is that I've lost all desire to upgrade to a larger home. (I don't want any more walls to clean.) Last week I had to move the couches in the front room so that I could get to the walls. Underneath the couches was a big mess. I thought it would take me a few minutes to clean the front room, but it took several hours! My kids had shoved items under and behind the couches instead of throwing and putting the stuff away. I hadn’t realized that area was even getting cluttered because the clutter hid beneath the couch. I found broken junk, dirt, books, socks, shoes, and a lot of pens. Now I know why I can’t ever find a pen!

Like the couch, financial clutter is often unseen. It can be an overwhelming mess that we don’t want to uncover. I’ve observed so much pain result from cluttered finances. I hope the next few suggestions are helpful if you are feeling overwhelmed with finances.

Sort out the mess

To be honest, I felt like throwing away everything that was underneath the couches. I almost did but if I had, I would have caused other problems. It’s hard to know where to start when you’re in a mess. Financially, we can also feel like giving up. It’s not a fun feeling. When I help a family make a budget, the first thing we do is to sort through the bills and the income. We examine one financial item at a time and figure out how much is due, when it is due, and how it will be paid. This is such a simple idea, but I’ve seen people change from feeling overwhelmed to feeling hopeful. It’s not hard to sort through bills, but it is time-consuming so the next suggestion can be helpful.

Get a budgeting mentor

I have had several exercising friends over the years. It helps so much to have them exercise with me. It is helpful when they know about weight equipment and nutrition. But, even when they don’t, it helps to have someone to exercise with me. Finances can be the same way. Sometimes it just helps to have someone alongside you. It could be a spouse, friend, parent, or sibling. It really just needs to be someone who cares about you. If they have financial background, it can be helpful, especially if they are working on financial goals. We can all find someone who doesn’t mind helping us because it helps them too. It helps them to be motivated. It helps them to serve. So, it’s good for everyone. My cleaning buddy was my five year old. When she stayed with me, it was helpful. When she left, it was much harder.

Commit to your finances

That was not the first time I cleaned under the couch. In fact, my husband had cleaned behind it recently. We were both amazed at how quickly it became cluttered. Unless our family changes the habits that caused the clutter, the problem can recur. Clutter can easily come back. Financially, I have seen this happen. Oftentimes, we are making big changes, so it’s going to take more than one time. Just like exercising, each day we need to find motivation to do it. We also need to do this with our finances.

No matter how cluttered your finances may seem, you can work through it and remove the clutter. It’s such a peaceful feeling that is worth the effort.

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