Saturday, 25 February 2017 16:39

Best Times to Buy

When you’re mulling over a major purchase, the right price can often tip the scales. If you’re patient, willing to research and time your buys just right, you can save quite a bit of money. Here are the best things to buy during each month for the rest of the year!

February: Prepare for winter

Now’s a great time to take stock of your existing cold weather gear. If you’ve got a coat that’s seen its final winter, now’s a great time to replace it. Retailers are looking to clear out the last of the season’s merchandise to make room for spring clothes, so you can snag a deal on thermal clothes. You can also find a bargain on heaters and humidifiers to make your house more comfortable.

March: Get in shape

If you’re looking to reboot your New Year’s weight loss resolution, March is a great time to pick up exercise equipment at a discount. Treadmills and ellipticals are past their peak buying time, so retailers are looking to get rid of them. Sports equipment, like golf clubs and athletic wear, are also facing deep discounts.

April: Tech out!

Japanese manufacturers’ fiscal year ends in March, so they’re typically ready to roll out new product lines. If you’re OK with being a year behind the latest and greatest, you can pick up a fully functional digital camera, laptop computer or big-screen TV in April. Tax refund-themed sales may also make it cheaper to upgrade your technological goods.

May: Around the house

Now that the weather’s getting nicer, many home improvement shops will begin running sales on tools and other supplies. It’s also graduation time, which means dorm-stocking essentials will get some discounts. Check out basic pots, pans and cooking appliances in May.

June: Think thrifty

Everyone’s gotten a chance to get their spring cleaning done. That means thrift stores are stuffed with donated second-hand goods. Be on the lookout for bargains of all sorts, but especially for used furniture and clothes.

July: School supplies

The end of July marks back-to-school time, which means this is the month retailers start to gear up for school shopping. Look for promotions, like tax-free days, if you’re in the market for a computer or peripheral. Otherwise, you can stock up on pens, paper and other standard office essentials.

August: Beat the heat

If you’ve managed through the heat of the summer with a busted AC, August may provide some much-needed relief. Major appliance retailers are looking to shift their inventories from cooling to heating. Look for discounts on window AC units, dehumidifiers and other cool appliances.

September: Big-ticket

The new models of most major appliances start to roll out in October and November, making September an excellent time to grab last year’s model. If you need a new dishwasher or refrigerator, try to hold out until September. Also, new Apple accessories, like iPads and iPhones, typically come out in November or December, so September can be a great chance to upgrade your device, too.

October: Cars and cruises

The new model year begins for cars toward the end of summer, so there are a lot of leftovers from the previous year that need to go. Dealers are desperate to move inventory, so you can get a good price on the current year’s models. October is also a quiet season for cruise lines, so many of them run specials and sales during the month.

November: Game on

Christmas season is in high gear, and major retailers are competing for gamer bucks. Expect to see the best bundles with the hottest games for the lowest prices in November. Whether you’re trying to surprise a gamer in your life or just get the newest games for yourself, November is the time to buy.

December: Swimming

It may seem like eons away, but if you buy a pool now, you can get a great discount on next summer’s fun. There are a few smaller sales during the summer, but you’d have to keep a sharp eye out to catch them.

What’s your best deal-nabbing tip? How do you find the lowest prices for the best stuff? Share your bargain hunting wisdom with us in the comments!

SOURCES:
http://lifehacker.com/5973864/the-best-time-to-buy-anything-during-the-year
http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/best-time-to-buy-things/index.htm
http://www.businessinsider.com/the-best-time-to-buy-almost-anything-in-2017-2016-12/#july-7

Published in Blog
Thursday, 23 February 2017 15:52

Don't Bust The Budget!

Did you ever wish there was some way to get your fashion-conscious 11-year-old to realize all those things she's asking you for actually cost money? Try this activity with your child this weekend, and your wish will be granted!

Take your child on a trip to the mall and give her a task: She can purchase a specific item she's been asking for (a new pair of boots, a gym bag, etc.) with a set amount of cash. She cannot spend a penny more than that amount, and cannot ask you for that item again this season. Tell your preteen that you're only going to accompany him around the mall - you will not tell him which store to choose for making the purchase, or which item to buy. As an added bonus, allow your child to keep any change left after buying the item. The freedom to spend as she pleases will thrill your child, and the offer to keep the change will motivate her to spend as little as possible.

On the way to the mall, give your preteen a quick briefing on what to look out for when choosing the item - things like quality, overpriced brand-name merchandise, hiked-up seasonal items, etc.

Then, as promised, keep your mouth closed as you accompany your child around the mall and watch in amazement as he learns invaluable lifetime skills such as comparison-shopping, saving, peer pressure and more. It all happens in one productive afternoon at the mall!

Have you given your child a budget for a specific item and then watched with pride as he or she carefully calculated every penny to make the perfect choice? Share your success (or your own lessons learned) with us!

Published in Blog
Friday, 17 February 2017 22:15

Investing Step #2: Start Saving

Wasatch Peaks has decided to make this the year of guiding new investors. Throughout the 12 months of 2017, Wasatch Peaks will provide you with 12 easy-to-understand steps about investing, making you a savvy, confident investor by the time the year is out. If you missed our first step, follow this link to learn about getting your finances in order, then come back here for the second step!

Step #2: Start Saving

Don't invest a penny before you build a substantial savings account.

This might sound counterintuitive to a wannabe investor, but it's important to have a solid cushion of savings before you start putting your money into the market. Life is full of surprises. You don't want to be caught in an emergency that leaves you desperate for cash when all your funds are tied up in bonds, CDs and stocks.

This month, work on building up your savings to minimize risk. Here's how:

  1. Follow the 50/30/20 rule. Financial advisors suggest that 50% of your income goes toward necessities, like your mortgage, transportation and food costs; 30% goes toward discretionary non-essentials, like dining out, paying for a top-tier cellphone plan and updating your wardrobe; and the last 20% goes toward savings. If you begin dividing each paycheck automatically, you'll launch a habit of saving that will greatly enhance your financial life.
  2. Put away three to six months of living expenses. Now that you are in the habit of saving, the next sensible step is to put that money toward something substantial. Experts suggest the first step of saving is building up an account that is large enough to cover your living expenses for three to six months. This will tide you over in case there's an unexpected event that keeps you from earning your regular salary. That may be an illness, your company downsizing or anything that leaves you suddenly unemployed. Calculate exactly how much you need to live on each month, and start saving. Then, even if the unthinkable happens, you won't be up a creek without a paddle.
  3. Build up a series of cash reserves - including an emergency fund. Aside from living expenses, it's important to have accessible cash for those unanticipated events, like a major household repair or a medical emergency.

What steps have you taken toward building your savings this month?

Published in Blog
Thursday, 16 February 2017 16:12

Why Refinancing Might Be Right For You

It’s easy to find yourself in a bit of a financial crunch these days, and people looking for a bit of breathing room might be able to find a respite in an unexpected place: Their mortgage loan. We typically think of a mortgage as an expense for obvious reasons, but a home refinance can be a great way to increase your financial flexibility.

At Wasatch Peaks, we’re here to help you with every step as you refinance your mortgage. Why might this process be beneficial for you and your family? Let’s take a look.

Lower Payments

The primary benefit of refinancing a mortgage is lowering your monthly payment. The idea of most refinancing projects is to either extend the period of the loan or lock it in at a new, lower mortgage rate (sometimes both), both of which will lower the amount you’re required to pay each month.

In most cases, mortgage brokers recommend refinancing via interest rate reduction as a smart move if the current market is at least two percentage points lower than your original interest rate. Two percent may not sound like much, but it can have a gigantic effect over the life of a larger mortgage.

Raises Credit

Easier payments generally leads to a rise in your credit as you can hopefully dig out of any financial hole. You can also use the money you save each month to pay down other debts which might be contributing to negative credit. For some people whose belt isn’t necessarily tight financially, a home refinance can be a great way to build equity by lowering payments but continuing to make the original, larger payment anyway. Some people finish paying mortgages earlier than usual through these methods.

Changing Loan Type

Many people who sign adjustable-rate loans do so as a gamble that their rates might significantly drop through the life of their loan, but often the opposite will happen and they’ll reach a point where they can’t handle the instability of rising rates. Moving to a fixed-rate loan is one of the primary benefits of refinancing, and brings much more financial certainty in monthly payments. Check out our rates here.

Want to learn more about refinancing, or any other part of our loan services? Our financial advisors at Wasatch Peaks are standing by.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 18:34

Tips for Keeping Credit Score High

One of the most important parts of the home loan process is utilizing your credit score. Credit score is one of the primary factors that determines many of the vital financial details of a mortgage loan, and can often be the difference between you getting the mortgage rates you need and not doing so.

At Wasatch Peaks Credit Union, we’re dedicated to providing our clients all the knowledge and savvy they need to make the right personal, business and family financial decisions. We’ve seen firsthand the pitfalls of lackluster credit in the mortgage loan process, so what are some things you can do to make sure you aren’t suffering from a low credit score?

Track Spending

Keep diligent track of your spending habits, particularly your lines of credit – exactly how far these extend should be something you know, and do your best to never exceed these limits. Many financial experts suggest the “20/10” rule of thumb: Never let your credit card debt get higher than 20 percent of your yearly post-tax income, and never tie up more than 10 percent of your monthly income in credit card payments.

Keep Emergency Funds

Unexpected expenses are part of life, and if you’re forced to run these up on your credit card every time they happen, it could tank your credit score and impact your financial future. Keep a buffer of 10 to 15 percent of your available credit if possible, or even more if you can manage it. Try setting up a Budgeter Account to save money for an emergency fund. Many people try to keep several months’ worth of income saved up in case of emergency.

Organization

Staying organized prevents negative outcomes like missed payments or unnoticed spending limits. Keep track of your due dates in a comprehensive list you can easily access, and keep all your bills in one place – online and mobile banking with Wasatch Peaks has made this easier than ever.

You can schedule payments either online or in person with your credit union, and set up automatic payments. You’ll be thanking yourself down the line when your credit isn’t the thing keeping you from an affordable home loan.

Keep In Touch

Especially if you’re having any issues with credit card or other debt payments, keep an open line of dialogue with your lender. Lenders want the same result you do – their money back – and even if it often seems like you’re on opposite sides, they’ll generally work with you to restructure things if you’re falling behind.

Interested in learning more about mortgage loans, home refinance projects or any of our other services which may be directly impacted by credit score? Our financial advisors at Wasatch Peaks Credit Union are standing by.

Published in Blog
Monday, 13 February 2017 17:07

Saving Strategies that Work

According to ycharts, the average personal savings rate in the U.S. at the end of 2016 was 5.5%.

That is what my family was saving, so we are average savers right now. Savings doesn’t happen without strategy, so this statistic shows we are prioritizing savings, but we can improve this percentage.

Eight years ago, my family had a savings account with a few thousands of dollars in it. We emptied the account in order to pay for a new roof. We saved for a couple more years and then we emptied it again to pay for a fence in the backyard, which we justified as an “emergency.” It felt like we couldn’t get ahead because we were filling and emptying our savings and couldn’t ever move on.

At the same time, I was feeling pressure to save for retirement, vacations, and my childrens' future college and marriages. I wanted the time value of money to be working for us in all of these areas. That resulted in me using that marriage fund for another expense. We only saved a couple of hundred dollars for college, and our retirement savings was minimal.

Focus on One Savings Goal

In 2010, we decided to focus on one savings goal and invest 3% towards retirement. We decided that our first goal would be to fully fund an emergency fund, which we would only use for emergencies. (Home improvements didn’t count as emergencies for us anymore!) About a year and a half into the goal, we had saved ¾ of our goal amount. I felt tired as we hit a savings wall. I started to justify that we had enough saved, but our commitment to this goal helped us to stay focused on it and climb over the savings wall. About a month after hitting that wall, Ty received a promotion and large raise from his employer. This raise was 5X bigger than any raise he had ever received in the past, and it allowed us to reach our savings goal within a few months.

I remember the Magic Eye 3-D images that required me to relax, focus, and disregard all of the distracting images in order to see the 3-D image through the busyness. You have to be committed to finding that 3-D hidden image. That’s what happened when we focused on one savings goal. We were able to ignore all of the busy distractions. We relaxed and focused in order to see the goal realized.

Savings Snowball

I don’t know who to give credit for the term “savings snowball.” When we were going through our Savings Attention Deficit Phase, I knew about the debt snowball. This focused on paying one debt off at a time while paying the minimums on everything else, and I thought it would be great to do that on the savings side so that we could avoid debt. I googled “savings snowball,” and found the phrase several times, so I wasn’t the first to coin it.

Think about how we make snowballs. My kids have been making a lot of snowballs. They can make a lot of little ones for a snowball fight, but to make a snowman, they have to focus on one and roll it until that snowball gets bigger and bigger. Pretty soon, we have a large snowball to use to build the base of a snowman. Once the snowball is big enough, we can move to the next snowball, which doesn’t need to be the same size as the first. We decide how big it needs to be, and then we roll it until it gets to be that size.

We started doing this with our savings. After saving for an Emergency Fund, we saved for a trip to Disneyland, which was a much smaller goal that we reached quickly. Then we saved for a minivan. Now we are saving for an SUV to replace my husband’s SUV. The savings snowball has worked well for us because we see progress in reaching our goals in a relatively short amount of time.

This method also helped me relax and focus. I don’t goal hop anymore or try to do everything. The percentage of our income that we saved has changed. We started with about 5%, and each time we got a raise, we put it towards savings until we were saving 20%. Then, with our job loss, we weren’t saving at all for a short time. Then, once again, we started saving 5%, which is where we are now.

Look at your budget to determine what percentage number is right. As you free up money by reaching your savings goal or increasing your income, you can add to that. What other savings strategies have helped you?

Creature comforts like smartphone bank deposits are nice, but how much are they costing you? Your statement might not show the costs directly, but there’s an old adage about situations like this: If you’re not paying for a service, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. In this case, corporate banks use slick technological bells and whistles to get you in so you’ll be more likely to take out loans and use other for-pay services.

If you’re tired of being treated like a product, you’re not alone. Last year, 2 million people between the ages of 18 and 35 joined a credit union. 28% of credit union members are under 35 while 54% of them are under age 50. The tools of technology are making it easier to see the value that credit unions offer.

Don’t just take our word for it. Do your research and see for yourself how credit unions compare to for-profit banks. Consider these five categories:

1.) Ease of service

Here’s a fun game. Call a corporate bank with a simple request, like checking the balance of a savings account. Count the number of irritating phone tree menus you have to sift through before you could talk to a real person who could answer your question. You win when you get frustrated and slam the phone down in anger!

For-profit banks have earned a reputation for cumbersome customer service and out-of-touch policies. Getting information on financial services, like credit repair or auto loans, means sitting on hold for hours. Credit unions, on the other hand, provide easy-to-use services and real, live human beings who can answer questions, make recommendations and help you understand the complicated world of finance.

2.) Lending practices

For-profit banks answer to corporate owners. They expect a predictable, stable rate of return on their investments. This demand puts a straitjacket on lending and ensures those practices never deviate from a pre-determined formula. Take income, multiply by credit score, divide by 2, that’s the interest rate they’ll charge.

However, let’s pretend you just got a new job, so last year’s tax returns aren’t a good indicator of how much you are earning. That’s not in the formula, so it doesn’t matter. Credit history ruined by an old medical bill? Corporate banks stop reading after the first three words of that sentence. In short, there’s no room for flexibility and interest rates tend to be much higher.

Credit unions are community institutions, so helping people out is part of what we do. Our rates tend to be lower than those of corporate banks. We also tend to be more willing to make exceptions for details that may not be reflected in the conventional lending formula.

3.) Online banking is everywhere

In the wild west days of the Internet, only corporate banks could afford online banking. Now, your pet gerbil can have his own website. The Internet is everywhere and credit unions are on board. The services you use every day, like online bill pay, direct deposit and checking on account balances are just a click away. Follow this link to learn more about the mobile banking that Wasatch Peaks offers.

Most people don’t handle paper checks anymore, so banking from the computer or mobile device is all most consumers really need.

4.) Educational resources

Corporate banks have historically made a killing by keeping people in the dark about their practices. Credit card companies made it hard to tell exactly how much interest you were being charged. Banks charged overdraft fees without ever telling you they were doing it. These things got so bad, Congress took action. Consumer ignorance was built into the profit model of big financial institutions. Educating consumers was not just a waste of money to them, it was actually costing them business.

Credit unions are not-for-profits that want to make their communities a better place. Wasatch Peaks donates thousands of dollars and volunteer hours each year to our community. Part of the mission of making our community a better place includes financial education. If you need advice about home-buying, making a budget or using credit responsibly, Wasatch Peaks will be happy to help. We also have a blog called "Peaks Financial Fitness" that is published every Monday. It relates everyday topics to finances in a way that is applicable to almost all lives.

5.) Savings

Credit unions work for their members. We pay back the money they make to their members in the form of dividends. Since our members are also the people paying for their services, we don’t have much of an incentive to charge an arm and a leg in interest and fees.

Wasatch Peaks Credit Union offers competitive rates on savings accounts and CDs/certificates. Because we don’t have to siphon off money to pay shareholders, we can return that money to their investors: you know, the people who do their banking with the credit union. Compare the earned interest on a credit union checking or savings account to those offered by a for-profit bank. Then, go open an account at a credit union, like Wasatch Peaks. You’ll thank yourself later.

Published in Blog

Over the weekend I bought Valentines for my family. Those are the first of the many gifts that I will buy this year. Budgeting helps me enjoy gift giving and helps me give more meaningful gifts.

The budgeting category of gifts can be challenging. It really is a subcategory that requires more planning. It’s not like my phone bill category that I allocate money and then pay it. Gifts need their own detailed plan within the budget plan.

Gifts and I have a love/hate relationship. I love giving gifts - especially when I find the “perfect gift” that will mean a lot to the person who is receiving it. Long before the Internet, I remember ordering gifts by phone. My sister and I were watching TV and saw an infomercial for a classical rock CD. She got excited and said she wanted it, so I sneakily wrote down the phone number and ordered it. Her eyes lit up when she opened it. That was so cool! I also love receiving gifts - especially surprises. I hate when I feel obligated to give a gift and can’t find one. In the past, I felt like I need to give someone a gift at Christmas because they gave me one, instead of graciously accepting what they gave. I’m trying to eliminate giving out of obligation, but I admit it is still a struggle.

Budgets make gift giving fun because it helps you avoid feeling regrets or other bad feelings. Here are steps to create your giving plan for this year:

Step One

Leave some flexibility in your gift budget. I’ve realized that there are some gifts that I’ll want to give that I can’t predict. I leave some flexibility in my budget for the baby showers, wedding showers, and graduations which will inevitably come up. We budget $20 a month to our miscellaneous “giving” category, so that we have some flexibility to give. Including this has been key to our gift budget.

Step Two

Personalize your gift giving category. Make it work for you. When I give small gifts like the Valentines that I bought, I include them in my groceries. I keep it simple if it is minor, but for big gifts, I plan them out. There is no right or wrong way as long as it is your way! Just figure out what your way is. I learned to do what is right for my family.

Around our 10-year anniversary, I started to feel pressure to go on a big trip. When I thought about why I felt that way, I realized it was because my cousin and his wife had just posted pictures from their 10-year anniversary trip, but we didn’t have the money budgeted for that and didn’t even really want to do that. So, we didn’t. It’s cool that my cousin wanted to do that and had a great time. I was able to feel happy for them and feel content that we didn’t spend money we didn’t have on a trip we didn’t really want to do. By personalizing your gift budget, you give the way you want to give and can feel content.

Step Three

Plan to save for the gifts that you can predict. Many of the big gifts that we give are predictable, like Christmas and birthday gifts. All of my family’s birthdays fall in the first 7 months of the year. I like this, but I have to plan for it. Some years I save throughout the year for birthdays and Christmas. This year, I don’t have the money saved, so I’m budgeting birthday money for the first six months. My husband is paid bi-weekly. I figured out when the 3rd paychecks of the month will fall, and designated those to go towards Christmas this year and birthdays for next year.

There are a lot of ways to save for gifts. Look at your personal situation to figure out how to save for those. Would it work best to put it all away at once or save every month? If you are self-employed and have a busy season, it could make sense for you to save for all your gifts during that time. Wasatch Peaks has a Christmas Club Account and Budgeter Accounts that could be a great tool to do this. I have used a spreadsheet or budgeting software to make electronic envelopes and set aside the money for birthdays so that I don’t spend it. Thinking through these details has relieved so much stress.

Step Four

Don’t just give because you feel obligated. When I do this, I feel bad afterward. My mother-in-law asked us not to give her anything for Mother’s Day except a homemade card. This was very hard for me because I love her so much and really wanted to give her a gift. She knew this and told Ty that she would be mad at me if I did something. I learned a lot from this. If we can think of something she would enjoy, like pictures of our family, we give them, and she graciously accepts them.

Express love through gifts. We can’t buy love, but we can buy gifts, and if done in the right way, they can help express love and strengthen relationships. When we were dating, Ty made me a DVD with songs to go with it. He also gave me a watch. The DVD meant a lot to me because it was so thoughtful. And after 15 years, I still have the watch (it just needs batteries). These are gifts that last. Since that time, I remember only one other Valentine's gift. Instead of focusing on Valentine's Day, we try to show love all the time. It’s so fun to pick up a favorite treat for my husband while I’m at the store. We aren’t anti-Valentine's Day - if you buy the heart balloons, big stuffed teddy bear, and heart shaped chocolates, that’s cool with us! My husband has gone to Walmart the night before Valentine’s Day for entertainment. He loves to watch dazed shoppers searching for a gift.

Step Five

Give what you can afford to give. Often, the best gifts are the gifts that mean the most to the receiver. These gifts are heartfelt, and not because they are expensive. They are often super simple and cheap, but require understanding what would mean the most to the receiver.

Almost 2 years ago, I attended a youth conference with a group of youth and adults. We got to know each other really well on that trip. One of the leaders served as our cook. At lunch time one day, he found out that I love eating the ends of the bread. On the way home from this youth conference, I found out that my husband had be fired unexpectedly and without cause. This was an emotionally hard time for us. We really needed support as Ty & I clung to each other and our young family. One morning soon after, I opened my door and on the porch was a bag of bread heels! I knew who had left them. I’m sure that this unconventional gift that didn’t cost much more than the trip down to the bread store. Most people wouldn’t get emotional or appreciate a bag of leftover bread heels, but that gift is one of the most thoughtful, unique, and meaningful gifts I have ever received. Tears come as I think of the kindness of that dear mentor!

Gifts can be a major or a minor budgeting expense. It’s up to you! Budgets are personal. You can make your gift budget as small or as large as you want it to be.

I have received a lot of gifts over the past 4 decades and I really appreciate those gifts. Budgeting has improved my gift giving! It makes it less stressful and more fun. The work it takes to create gift budgets has been so worth the reward.

In 2006, my sister got married. On the day before the wedding, I was asked to run a few errands to pick up some last minute items for her reception. I bought some music. I also bought a cardboard cutout of President Bush (which we turned into a cutout of my brother who was unable to attend). Lastly, I bought some decorations. A few days after the wedding, I checked my account and saw THREE overdraft fees for $25 each, which totaled $75. When I had made those purchases I knew that I had money but didn’t realize that it was in our savings account and not our checking account. The overdraft fees cost much more that the items I purchased.

I learned a lot of lessons from this experience.

First is to plan (aka budget) for parties. Because it was my sister’s wedding, I really hadn’t planned to spend money besides her gift. By planning, you can avoid costly fees and spending hangovers/aches. It was nice of me to want to help out and run the errands for my mom who was very busy, but I should have made sure that I could afford them or honestly said that I couldn’t.

If I could afford them, I needed to make sure that I had the money in my checking account. The items I bought were not that important for the party. We could have gone without them or my mom could have paid for them.

Secondly, I learned that mistakes can teach us. I haven’t had an overdraft charge since that day over 11 years ago because I decided that I would never let that happen again. At the time, it seemed like a very expensive mistake, but looking back, it was a cheap mistake that has saved me a lot of money because I decided to change. This mistake inspired me to become a budgeter.

Although I’m not perfect at budgeting, I have improved so much. Parties are all about celebrating something: life, friendships, and accomplishments. I don’t want the celebration to leave me with regrets. When you follow a budget, you enjoy the party before, during and after. By sticking to the plan, you feel like you do after a workout - you feel good.

Budgeting for a party does not have to mean that has to be cheap.

For example, a wedding budget could be $5,000 or $20,000. If you have a large budget, you can do an expensive party. If you have a small budget, then it will be a less expensive one. Both can be great, but the budget will determine the party. By spending what you plan to spend, you feel less stress and can really enjoy the experience and the memories which come out of it. I’ve been to wedding receptions that were expensive and some that were not expensive. Both were great because they were what that couple wanted. Some of my favorite parties have been the inexpensive ones. The memories made were priceless.

I’m not much of a partier. It’s probably because a lot of parties involve late nights and I like to go to bed early, but if you are a partier that is great. I saw a commercial for the upcoming Super Bowl parties. If you are a fan, you are counting down the days to watch the Patriots and Falcons face off in the Super Bowl this year. You might be planning how you’ll cheer on your team.

There are several ways to budget for parties.

Answering a couple of questions will help you decide the best way for you to plan the finances for your parties.

  1. Are parties a regular expense for you? What traditional parties do you have? Because it isn’t a huge expense for me, and because I usually bring food for parties, I use money in my food category to pay for most party expenses. Birthday parties are our biggest party expense, and we budget for them as part of the birthday, so I don’t have a party budget category, but that would be a great idea if it is a regular expense for you and if it is a substantial amount.
    Christmas and birthday parties are easy to predict because they are always on the same day. A lot of parties are annual parties. However, parties like weddings are fairly predictable in some ways, but the timing isn’t always predictable.
  2. Which of these parties do you plan on hosting or attending this year?
    *Birthday Parties
    *Super Bowl
    *Easter
    *Halloween
    *Christmas
    *New Years Eve
    *Dinner
    *Baby Gender
    *Baby & Wedding Showers
    *Weddings
    *End of school
    *What other parties do you attend?
  3. What expenses will you have in conjunction with each party? Budgeting always starts with what you know. If you have those parties annually, how much did you spend on it last year? This gives you an idea of what to budget this year.
    Decorations can cost a lot or a little. I have a friend who is very talented at making decorations. She made decorations with cheap materials from the dollar store. She makes party games with household items. She can do great parties on a small budget. I don’t like to spend a lot on decorations. I value great food rather than great decorations. Food costs can also range. Are you planning on catering the party or making the food? What about presents? Many of the parties I attend have some kind of present involved.

Parties are a great way to enjoy life and make incredible memories. Budgeting for these parties will help make them successful and allow you to party on without regrets!

Q: Winter is here in full force! Every time the furnace kicks on, I feel like it's burning up money! How can I keep my house cozy while keeping the heating costs low?

A: There's nothing better than being toasty warm when it's cold outside. Unfortunately, keeping your home at a comfortable temperature isn't cheap. Heating a house can easily eat $300 out of your monthly budget, depending on where you live and the thermostat setting.

If you're looking for ways to save money, check out these five handy tips for cutting your heating bill this winter.

1.) Heat selectively

Part of the challenge of heating a house is heating rooms that no one's in. If you've got a guest room or office that no one uses, all the hot air you pump into it is flowing right back out again. Shutting the doors and closing off the vents in those rooms could save you some green.

On the other hand, if you've got rooms that see regular use, it might be more cost effective to heat them with a space heater. That way, you can keep the thermostat low and still be warm in the rooms you use. This can knock as much as $20 a month off your heating bills!

2.) Use the sun

Long before the days of forced air furnaces and radiators, people stayed warm using solar heat. Sunlight streaming through the windows can raise the temperature and make it feel warmer. To do this right, it takes a little bit of timing.

Using thick, insulated curtains helps keep warm air in, but also keeps sunlight out. Open those curtains while you've got exposure, then close them once the angle of the sun has changed. That way, you can trap as much of the free solar heat as you can.

3.) Plug holes

Heat gets out through holes in walls. If you actually have holes in your walls, these should be your first priority. But, for most of us, those holes are a little less obvious. Windows and doors are the first culprits. An inexpensive window treatment kit, available at most home improvement stores, can help stop heat loss through windows.

Doors are trickier. If there's a patio door or another entrance that you use less in the winter, consider putting a blanket in front of it to stop drafts. You can also check weather stripping around the doors, as this can deteriorate quickly.

One hole most people don't think much about is the chimney. The only thing between your home and the outside is a sheet of metal, which is a very poor insulator. Installing glass doors, a $200-$300 solution, can save as much as 2% on your energy bill. If you're feeling crafty, a square of foam over the front of the fireplace can accomplish similar results, although it will render the fireplace unusable.

4.) Digitize

One of the worst wastes of utility spending is heating a house with no one in it. The same goes for maintaining daytime temperatures when everyone's snuggled up in blankets. Turning the heat up and down all the time can get cumbersome. Fortunately, modern technology has made it much easier.

Programmable digital thermostats will let you warm things up in the morning, ease off at night and avoid running the heater unnecessarily during the day when you're not there. The units themselves are relatively inexpensive, at around $25. Installation can be tricky, but the savings are worth it. The EPA estimates a household can save almost $200 per year with a digital thermostat.

5.) Maintenance

Proper airflow is essential to a properly functioning heating system. Anything that blocks the flow of air makes your furnace work harder, costing you money! There are two primary points of blockage: vents and filters.

Cleaning vents can be part of the ordinary process of dusting. It doesn't take any extra time at all to wipe them down with a cloth while you're already cleaning. Replacing the air filter in your furnace is also relatively simple. It only needs to be done every one to three months, depending on your use and air quality.

How do you keep warm when the weather's cold? Ugly sweaters? Imagining a beach? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2013/11/06/10-ways-to-save-on-energy-costs-this-winter

http://www.bankrate.com/finance/smart-spending/10-ways-to-save-money-on-your-utility-bill-11.aspx

http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/6-ways-to-save-on-home-heating-6.aspx

http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2012/08/how-much-should-you-plan-for-utilities/

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