New Year / Fresh Start

There is perhaps no better time than the start of a new year to get a fresh start on your finances!  From your credit score to your credit cards to your retirement plan, now is the time to sit down, take stock of where you are, and make a plan to get to where you want to be by the end of 2021.
Not sure what your credit score is?  If you are not sure what your credit score is, then you know exactly where to start, don’t you?  You can get your credit score, and in most cases, your credit report for free online in any one of a dozen or more places.  From your bank to your credit cards, nearly every financial institution is offering free access these day.
Once you have that information in hand, sit down and review it completely.  Are all of the accounts listed on the report yours?  What is your credit score?  What can you do to improve your score?  Make a list. Then, move on to the next step.
Take a look at your credit cards.  Are the balances too high?  Experts recommend that you keep the balances on your credit cards below 33% in order to maintain your credit score.  If your credit card balances are above this threshold, paying them down should be a top priority.  Once you’ve looked at your balances, then it’s time to look at your interest rates.  Are you paying too much interest each month?  Perhaps your credit has improved over the past year, and you’ve gone from bad credit to fair credit, or fair to good.  If that’s the case, there may be better options than your current credit card providers, enabling you to save money on interest.  You may even qualify for a balance transfer card with a 0% introductory rate.  But you will never know unless you compare those credit cards to others that are out there.

Finally, take a look at your budget.  Where can you cut expenses?  Where can you save money?  How much more could you put into savings each week or month?  Even though 2020 was a really difficult year for all of us, getting a fresh start in 2021 may be easier than you think.  You just have to start somewhere.  Are you ready for a fresh start?

Should I Ask for a Credit Limit Increase on My Credit Card?

Asking for an increase to your credit limit on a credit card can sometimes help you through an emergency situation, provide you with a safety cushion of extra available credit, and even help improve your credit score, but should you ask for an increase?  That depends.  If you’ve only had the credit card for a short time, it’s far better to wait until you’ve established a pattern of responsible use, including maintaining a low credit limit and making your payments on time, every time.  Once you’ve proven that, you’re more likely to be approved for the increase to your credit limit.  However, if you have a pattern of missed payments, or you’ve maxed out your credit limit, it is unlikely that you will be approved  for a credit line increase.

Some lenders will automatically offer credit limit increases once you’ve proven that you’re a responsible customer.  Beware of the fine print, however, as some credit cards carry a fee of up to one third of the increase for this additional credit.  And, you’re not obligated to accept the increase, either.  The bottom line is, you know what you can afford, you know your spending habits, and you know the course of action you need to take to stay on the right financial track for you.

January’s Financial Challenge

It’s January!  Yep, Christmas is over and all those bills are arriving in the mail or in your inbox. That means that it’s time to figure out how you are going to pay all those monthly payments!  Don’t worry, you’re not alone.  Most of us spend way more than we plan to every December, and as a result, most of us are trying to figure out exactly how to pay them all off sooner rather than later.  Let’s start by taking a long hard look at your finances.

Personally, I have a worksheet that I use every month to track both my overall monthly income and my non-discretionary expenses.   The income section lists regular (normal) monthly income as well as any additional income that I earn from any outside sources.  For example, if I get a bonus at work, or if I earn a few extra dollars for selling something, or even if I just get an unexpected refund on a bill that I may have overpaid, it goes into the additional income line.  Then, I total all my income.

Dropping down a couple of lines, I have a section for my bills.  Not only do I list the payee, but I also list the starting balance for the year, then the monthly payment amount, along with the amount paid each month (in a separate monthly column).  Finally, I add a column to update the monthly balance and a column to show me the year to date change in the total amount owed.  And, here’s the hard part… I total up ALL of my indebtedness (including the house and the car) to get a true picture of everything that I owe.  Yes, when you add in both the house and the car, well, it seems insurmountable.  But it’s my financial truth.  And I am focusing on all of it.  (You may find it easier to just list your credit cards.  It depends on what you’re working toward.)

Then, at the bottom of each column, take your total income and subtract your total expenses.  This should give you an amount that will be your discretionary spending each month. (For me, discretionary spending includes my grocery bill because that’s something that I can change by shopping smart, but it doesn’t include utilities because that’s pretty much set in stone – I just use an average amount and put it in the non-discretionary column.)   The higher the amount of discretionary spending money that you have, the better your bottom line.  Pretty simple, isn’t it?

Now that you have an overall financial picture, you can look at ways that you might be able to reduce these costs.  For example, is there a better cell phone plan for you?  Perhaps you may decide to change your cable subscription?  (I dropped my cable company, then signed up for a couple of streaming services, and saved over $70.00 per month.)  And most importantly, you can look at how quickly you can pay off some of those interest bearing accounts!   For me, seeing the balances of credit card bills decreasing on a regular basis is the best motivation there is for sticking to my financial plan.  But, this is also about you…

What’s your motivation?  Find it.  And then, start saving money!

 

 

 

Fingerhut

With Black Friday looming, there are so many promotional offers, sales, and deals out there that it’s hard to know where to start shopping for Christmas, but here’s an idea that might just keep you home on Friday morning… why not order everything online this year?  You can save the time, skip the crowds, and get some deals that you just won’t find anywhere else.  And if you do it right, you’ll only have one bill that you have to pay after the holidays have come and gone… that’s right, just one bill.  (I don’t know about you, but one bill sounds far easier on the budget than multiple new credit card bills, doesn’t it!)

Not an Access Card

With your Fingerhut Credit Account issued by WebBank , you can shop literally THOUSANDS of name brand, competitively priced items, including clothing, shoes, computers, electronics, home appliances, furniture, toys, and so much more, all at the same place.  All you have to do is make your selections, place your order, and your shopping is done… and you know what’s even better than that?  Before you ever even submit your order, you’ll know upfront what your monthly payment is going to be.  No more January surprises in your mailbox – you can plan your spending around what you can afford, so you’re not broke once the holidays are gone!

What could be easier than doing all of your Christmas shopping with Fingerhut?

Did I mention that if you sign up for a new Fingerhut account now, you can start shopping right away?  That’s right – sign up today and start shopping today!

Here are the details on Fingerhut Credit Account issued by WebBank :

Budget Your Way to a Fresh Start

 The fastest way that I know of to get a real fresh start on your financial life is to build a realistic budget and then stick to it!

  • Housing (rent or mortgage)
  • Insurance premiums
  • Car payment
  • Utilities
  • Child care costs
  • Debt payments (credit cards, personal loans, etc.)
  • Car and home maintenance

Then, list the expenses that you have some control over, that may change from month to month:

  • Groceries
  • Savings
  • Medical costs
  • Monthly fees and subscriptions
  • Gifts  (Christmas, birthday, etc.)
  • Entertainment

For those expenses that fall outside your normal weekly or monthly budget, you’ll want to be sure to set some money aside so that you are able to pay them when the time comes.  For example, if you pay your homeowner’s insurance annually, you’ll need to save a certain amount of money each time that you get paid for your homeowner’s premium.  (Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll save for it later or that you’ll come up with it somewhere – you won’t!)

Now, you’ve listed your income and your expenses.  The difference between your income and your expenses is your net gain or loss.  If your income is greater than your expenses, then you can probably save a little more or have a little extra spending money.  But, if your expenses outweigh your income, then you need to be looking for ways to cut corners.  Clip coupons on groceries, cancel the upper tier cable channels, skip dinner out once or twice a month, or if you’re seriously in the hole, you may decide that you need to find a second job or an additional source of income.  Whatever your financial situation – you cannot do anything about it until you’re aware of it!

Don’t just stop with the budget!

Now that you’ve made a budget, and you’re well aware of your true financial situation, don’t just walk away from it.  Pay attention to your spending.  Sit down each and every month and study your receipts.  How does your actual spending compare to your budget?  Are there places where you can cut corners?  And are there places where you underestimated the expenses and need to readjust your numbers?  The more you begin to pay attention to your spending, the more that you’ll notice when you overspend, and you’ll find that you will subconsciously start to live within your means very quickly.

Fortunately, with so many free tools available today, you can easily keep track of your budget on your phone, your laptop, or even with an old fashioned pen and paper.  Whichever way you choose, just be consistent.  Sit down, study your income and your expenses, pay your bills, and start putting back any excess for that emergency fund.  You’ll be surprised by how quickly you can get your finances under control if you just work at it!

 

Breaking the Cycle of Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck

Do you make a decent living yet see yourself counting on that next paycheck to survive? A recent study (PDF document) conducted shows that 47 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Whether it is due to poor budgeting skills, or perhaps not knowing how much to save a month, people are finding it hard to break out of that cycle.

If you are looking for ways to stretch your pay and break that cycle, here are some things to pay attention to.

Pay attention to where your money is going.

I’ve written about our family’s journey of overcoming debt. One thing I learned, absolutely nothing will change if you aren’t keeping track of where your money is going each payday. You should have a budget set as well as a method of tracking your spending. You will not be in control and break the cycle without both of these working together.

Pay attention to what your budget says.

Your budget shouldn’t be flexible; this mentality makes it awfully hard to save. Once you make your budget, you should not be changing it unless you have to add to it, or adjust the numbers based on the amount of the bill. This skill was also something me and my spouse had to learn. Also, don’t skip out on paying a bill one month so that you have a little extra spending cash. If you have no disposable income at the end of the month, what are some things you can do to fix this? Perhaps you can pick up some more hours at work, or a part time job? You can also get rid of unnecessary bills and spending, using the money saved, open a separate bank account. A great way to reduce the chances of using this money is to either not request a debit card, or never carrying it with you. This will help with the temptation of spending.

Pay attention to what your spending says.

Going back to what was said above; tracking your spending will be helpful in determining how much you are spending monthly on things that are not in your budget. Are there any areas where you can reduce spending? Perhaps you like to eat out frequently, or like to go to the movies. If you are seeing a frequent spending pattern, consider cutting down or going without completely until your spending is under control. This can be harder to do, but once you see the money saved at the end of the month, it will be a sacrifice well worth it.

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‎04-10-2017 07:10 AM

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

By Angela Caban

Creating a Realistic Budget

It’s February; shouldn’t we already have our 2017 budgets created? If you don’t, please don’t beat yourself up about it. It is never too late to start planning and budgeting for the year. If you already have your budget created, perhaps there is something that you missed or need to change?

How do you create a budget and keep it realistically flexible enough to meet the needs of you and your family?

I have seen my budget fail four times. Why? Because it wasn’t realistic. We all want to be in a place where we are saving as much as we can and have little to no debt. It’s easy to sit down and write numbers down, such as “I want to put $1,000 a month into savings”, but what if that isn’t realistic. What do you do?

Here are 3 Ways to Create a Realistic Budget

Analyze Your Spending

You need to know what you have coming in and going out each month. Step one is to review all bank accounts and credit cards statements for at least three months. This will give you a good picture of where you stand for the month.

Categorize

Using the Zero-based budgeting method (which is my favorite), list all your expenses for the month. Zero-based budgeting is a method in which you count all the money coming in, every single penny.

Once you have the amount of all the money coming in, you then make categories for all your expenses. By the time you add your budget for each expense, you should have a total of zero dollars at the end of the month. All the money is accounted for, but again, be realistic with what you are spending so that there are no surprises at the end of the month.

Track Your Spending

Even though you have your budget, you should always monitor what you spend. Because life happens and there will be moments when you may have to move some of the numbers around. Try to only do this during those emergency situations (car troubles, medical issues, etc.). Using an app on your phone may be helpful; I currently use Every Dollar and Money Manager.

Maintaining your budget is hard work, so reward yourself. If you stay well within or below your budget, treat yourself out for dinner or a movie. It is a nice reminder that while you are saving, you are also working hard and deserve a treat for a job well done.

 

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‎02-13-2017 07:20 AM

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

By Angela Caban